Of all the most legendary, impactful people Tennessee can claim as their own, Dolly Parton is right at the top of that list. I had the pleasure of interviewing the spunky songbird back in NYC many years ago, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a person on this planet who doesn’t know at least one of her hits. She also founded this lil, ol’ park in the heart of the Smoky Mountains: Dollywood. You may have heard of it, yes?
Funny enough, I didn’t first visit Dollywood until I was 27 years
old young and married. Growing up in Middle Tennessee, we were season pass holders to Opryland (R.I.P.) and reserved our annual trip to the Smokies to stay with my Uncle Tom in his cabin (also R.I.P.—my beloved great uncle passed away a couple months ago). We water-skied the lake in his backyard, we biked Cades Cove, we explored the forested area he called home, but we rarely ventured into Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg, Sevierville or their surrounds.
I guess I always just assumed Dollywood was for kids or families. But when SVV and I first visited as a newly married couple some four-and-a-half years ago because we had time to kill while staying with my sis in Knoxville, we were both blown away by how tastefully done the park was and how much fun it was even for us adults without tots in tow.
We revisited last month when my sister-in-law, who is a huge Dolly fan and always had wanted to visit her eponymous park, was visiting. Going on a Friday afternoon in late fall was clutch, as there were no lines and the crowds were minimal. I definitely recommend hitting up Dollywood during the week in the off-season!
Looking to make a similar trip and maybe even leave the kids behind? Here are some of the things us adults loved.
1. The bald eagles. From my first visit to my second, I totally forgot about the not-for-profit American Eagle Foundation, which is headquartered at Dollywood. There’s a 30,000-square-foot aviary and an outdoor rehab and breeding facility. How cool is that?
2. The old-fashioned, wooden rollercoaster. YOU GUYS. This is no wimpy ride—and not for the faint of heart. I happen to LOVE coasters but took my rollercoaster-averse SIL on this coaster, and I think I nearly gave her a heart attack. It was/is SO FUN. All the thumbs up for one of the best rides in the South (if not the country). And there were plenty of other fast-paced coasters where that one came from.
3. The hologram Dolly. In her Southern Gospel Museum and Hall of Fame, chock full of memorabilia spanning the singer’s lifetime, Dolly welcomes visitors to her humble abode, Tupac style.
4. The vintage cars. Sitting pretty around the Rockin’ Roadway, you’ll find a half dozen vintage rides just waiting for that photo opp.
5. The scenic surrounds. Whereas many theme parks are plopped in the middle of busy cities or urban sprawls, Dollywood is so seamlessly integrated into the gorgeous Smoky Mountain terrain, foliage visible from every corridor, it just adds to the charm.
6. The live music. Any fan of folk or Americana or even classic country will dig the shows going on around the clock at this music mecca.
7. The adorable signage. I mean “Beaver Crossing?” I die. Pay attention to the details, as there are plenty of gems hidden throughout the park.
8. The food, particularly the funnel cakes. I was not-so-silently cursing SVV for ordering the standard fried plates of deliciousness when there were options like S’mores or Oreo funnel cakes on the menu. All the more reason to go back, I suppose?
9. The seasonal offerings. While we were there, the park was decked out in fall festiveness. Oh my gourd, I can’t get enough of autumn! If you go right now through Dec. 3, you’ll find that pumpkins and cornucopias have made way for all kinds of Christmas fun.
Like I said, plenty to explore, plenty to enjoy, plenty to photograph.
This trio of big kids was loving every moment of our time at Dollywood.