Nestled in the heart of the Smoky Mountains lies the beautiful mountain town of Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. Home to family-friendly activities and entertainment of all shapes and sizes, without a doubt the most popular of them all is Dollywood, thanks in no small part to the appeal of the matriarch herself, Dolly Parton.
Dollywood Theme Park
First-time visitors need to know that Dollywood is not open year-round. Unlike Disney World or Universal Studios theme parks, Dollywood does have a season of closure. Fortunately, while other theme parks are sweltering with summer heat in the busiest times of the year, Dollywood remains relatively cool (and not just because they have a water park on the property either).
While the mountains of East Tennessee provide shade and cooler weather, they are also the reason Dollywood closes for a few months during the deepest parts of winter. Regardless of the closures, there are plenty of other times throughout the year to plan a Dollywood trip. Avoid wait times at Dollywood due to crowds, weather, and other factors with this expert advice for your next visit.
Obviously, one of the first aspects of Dollywood that visitors need to know about are the popular attractions. Ride wait times for popular rides, like roller coasters, often mean long lines, but that isn’t always the case. Just like other theme parks, the flow of visitors changes throughout the entire park depending on the time of day, day of the week, and weather.
To keep an accurate account of current wait times, I highly suggest downloading the Dollywood App. It’s available on the App Store and on Google Play, and it is very helpful in navigating the park.
These are some of the most popular rides at Dollywood that can have long waits:
- Lightning Rod
- Wild Eagle
- Mystery Mine
- Tennessee Tornado
- Firechaser Express
- Blazing Fury
Lightning Rod is the most popular wooden coaster at Dollywood, and it can often close due to weather because it is a wooden coaster. If that popular attraction is the most important thing on your list, I would start there and then worry about other points of interest.
Personally, I would also consider the rides in the Wildwood Grove area of the park. This includes the kid-friendly ride Whistle Punk Chaser which sits right outside the entrance of Wildwood Grove. It is a newer area that is popular for families, and long lines can occur at the singular roller coaster in that area. Other popular areas of the park are Jukebox Junction, Wilderness Pass, and Craftsman Valley (especially during the holiday season).
Believe it or not, water rides are almost as popular at Dollywood Theme Park as the regular rides. This is especially true in the late spring and early summer season when the weather warms up. My family’s favorite ride at Dollywood that involves water is the Smoky Mountain River Rampage. Daredevil Falls, a log ride located in Craftsman Valley, is the other popular water ride in the park.
Depending on the season and time of day, these rides can both have long waits. If you want to get soaked, Smoky Mountain River Rampage is the best ride for that. Daredevil Falls will only get you moderately wet.
Use the interactive map in the Dollywood app to determine the best route around the park so you have plenty of time to dry out before you head home!
How To Avoid Long Lines
Now that you know which rides might require you to wait, let’s talk about the best ways to avoid those potential long lines. Busy days are not always avoidable, especially if you have to take a vacation during a certain time of year or around a holiday for work or school reasons. The good news is that, unlike Disney theme parks, the longest lines at Dollywood are usually no longer than an hour's wait
One of the most popular, and simplest, ways to avoid long ride wait times is to purchase the TimeSaver Pass. Depending on the date of your visit, this add-on to your regular Dollywood tickets can be anywhere from $60-$70 per ticket. A one-day pass allows you to skip the line up to eight times in one day. The eight “line skips” can be for different rides, the same ride eight times, or a combination.
TimeSaver 1 Day Unlimited pass allows unlimited skips plus unlimited daily show reservations at participating theaters. This pass price ranges from $80-$85 per ticket to add on.
Season Pass Holder Options and Their Benefits
Like other theme parks, Dollywood offers season passes that are good for the operational year. These range from Silver ($159+ tax), Gold ($214+tax), and two-park Gold which includes entrance to Dollywood Splash Country ($269+ tax).
Gold Passholders have the added benefit of “Early Saturday Ride Time” and “First Hour TimeSaver Line Access.” Early Ride Time allows access to a select attraction for one hour before the park opens to the public on Saturdays from March to October. First Hour Access is achieved by presenting your Gold Season Pass at the TimeSaver line during the first hour of park operation each day.
Skip the Line by Staying at Dreammore
Another consideration for the entire family might be staying at Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort. There are many benefits of exclusive offers reserved for resort guests. For example, every resort guest with a valid park ticket gets one complimentary Dollywood TimeSaver pass per person per day.
In addition to the TimeSaver at Dollywood, guests of the resort can participate in the Early Ride Time on Saturday mornings at either Dollywood or Dollywood’s Splash Country one hour prior to park opening. While the hotel prices are not inexpensive, the perks can add up an
Dollywood also has special events throughout the year that correspond to the season. While the beginnings of each festival season can be busy, the festivals often extend long enough to make visiting during a slower time a possibility.
A great way to take advantage of a slower time is by visiting the park on a weekday. School is in session, many folks are at work, and the park is still decorated for the seasonal festivals.
Dollywood’s Smoky Mountain Christmas is one of the busiest festival seasons, followed by the Harvest Festival, and Flower and Food Festival. Each of these festivals has unique features, and if you want to make them part of your park visit, early planning is key to avoiding a huge crowd.
What Else Has Wait Times?
Besides rides, certain shows and even restaurants may have a wait time you’ll want to know about. As previously stated, Dollywood’s Smoky Mountain Christmas is an incredibly popular festival. The live music and incredible experience of seeing the stage shows are worth a break from the intense rides! Check the daily show schedule for performance times so you can leave yourself enough time to enjoy these performances as part of your full Dollywood experience.
Dollywood guests will queue up early for fresh Cinnamon Bread from the Grist Mill in Craftsman Valley. Unfortunately, there is no way to avoid the wait time for the famous cinnamon bread. However, I can tell you that if you’re ok with it not being right out of the oven, it is also sold at the Spotlight Bakery on Showstreet.
Two popular restaurants, Front Porch Café and Aunt Granny’s Restaurant can often have long waits. Put your name on the list, go ride some rides, and they’ll text you when it’s your turn to be seated. However you choose to experience Dollywood, I hope these tips help you avoid spending your entire day in lines!
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Sarah is an expert travel writer and founder of On The Road With Sarah, a travel website with a focus on family experiences in the travel sector. She created her website as a resource for families looking to make the most of their vacations together. In addition to managing her own site, Sarah is a freelance writer for outlets such as Insider, Conde Nast Traveler, YahooLife, MSN, and Wealth of Geeks.