Dollywood isn’t the most popular theme park in the United States. That honor goes to Magic Kingdom Park at Walt Disney World, which drew more than 17 million visitors in 2007. But East Tennessee’s Dollywood is no slouch in the popularity department, bringing two to three million guests to Pigeon Forge each year, not to mention having been referenced on “Friends,” “The Simpsons,” “American Dad!” and even the abominable “Full House.”
vDollywood mixes traditional amusement park rides and roller coasters with crafts and music native to the Smoky Mountains area. Situated on 130 acres, the park is the largest employer in Sevier County and lays claim to being Tennessee’s most ticketed attraction. Dollywood also owns the adjacent Dollywood’s Splash Country water park and the nearby Dixie Stampede dinner theater, which also has locations in Missouri and South Carolina.
Before it was Dollywood, the park opened in 1961 as a small attraction called Rebel Railroad. In 1966 the park was renamed Goldrush Junction. Ten years later Jack and Pete Herschend bought the park from the Cleveland Browns football team, which had purchased it in 1970. The Herschends renamed it Silver Dollar City Tennessee in 1977. Then, in 1986, Dolly Parton, country singer, songwriter, actress and Sevier County and Tennessee native, joined as co-owner to the park. It’s been Dollywood ever since.
Dollywood is at 1020 Dollywood Lane in Pigeon Forge, about 35 miles southeast of Knoxville, off Interstate 40 at Exit 407, then a couple of miles east of US 441. The park is open approximately nine months of the year. Hours vary depending on the time of year. Visit www.dollywood.com for more information.
Those in search of excitement will appreciate Dollywood’s numerous thrill rides. Tennessee Tornado, for example, is a spiral-looping coaster that rushes down a 128-foot drop through a mountain at speeds of 70 miles per hour. Mystery Mine is a steel coaster traveling 1,811 feet through an abandoned coal mine. These are two of several coasters and water rides guaranteed to get your heart pumping.
Artists and traditionalists will enjoy Dollywood’s daily demonstrations of centuries-old crafts like blacksmithing, hand-blown glass making and wagon building. Visit the woodcarving shop for see hand-crafted wood products like mantles and figurines, or to purchase carving tools and books for exploring the art. From blacksmithing to lye soap making, Dollywood is a do-it-yourselfer’s paradise.
Music aficionados will love the park’s shows and concerts. Live entertainment encompasses genres like bluegrass, country, classic rock and Southern gospel. Standard performers include the likes of Naomi & The Wood Brothers, the Kingdom Heirs and James Rogers.
Dollywood also hosts several festivals throughout the year. Spring brings the Festival of Nations, which celebrates international music, dance, food and artistry. Summer brings the child-friendly KidsFest. During the fall the National Gospel & Harvest Celebration means several weeks of free concerts and more up-close crafts demonstrations, not to mention special dishes like fried green tomatoes. Winter snows down the Smoky Mountain Christmas, filling the park with millions of colored lights and holiday music.
Adjacent to Dollywood is the 30-acre Dollywood’s Splash Country. Opened in 2001, the themed water park has more than 20 waterslides and attractions, including an 8,000 square foot leisure pool, a multi-person raft ride and a 25,000 square foot wave pool. Splash Country is open seasonally from the end of May until the beginning of September.
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