While there are so many elements that draw tourists to Dollywood each year (the train, the shows, the music, the cinnamon bread…need I say more?), the top item on every thrill-seeker’s list is the rides—specifically the roller coasters. If you are new to Dollywood and you aren’t familiar with the roller coasters that the park has to offer, buckle up! I’m going to walk you through the experience that you can expect for each attraction. But I don’t expect you to rely on my personal opinion. I’ve scoured the vast reaches of the internet to glean the opinions of die-hard Dollywood fans, and I’ve compiled their opinions into commentary on four categories:
- Thrill-factor: How heart-pumping is this ride? Is it suitable for children? Adolescents? Senior citizens?
- Uniqueness: How different is this ride from others that you’ve ridden? What aspects of this ride make it memorable or outstanding?
- Butterfly quotient: How much time do you spend in the air or looping upside-down? (In other words, how much time do you spend with butterflies in your stomach?)
- Theme-factor: Did you like the way this ride was dressed? How much did you enjoy the story that was created by the music, décor and look of the coaster?
I arranged it in order you encounter each coaster, assuming you go left when you enter the park and start in Timber Canyon. Without any further ado, here are the results:
One of the veteran coasters in the park, Thunderhead is a classic wooden coaster located in Timber Canyon.
- Thrill-factor: As you’d expect from a wooden coaster experience, fans of Thunderhead agree you’re in for “the wildest ride in the woods.” With a 100-foot drop and plenty of quick turns, this is a pleaser for thrill-seekers. It is suitable for children at least 48 inches tall.
- Uniqueness: This ride crosses over and under itself 32 times! The flythrough station isn’t something you get to experience everywhere. And the way the track is built into the topography of the foothills is really unique. This category gets high marks!
- Butterfly Quotient: You definitely get butterflies from the big drop and a handful of smaller hills. The speed combined with the wooden track will get your heart pumping, for sure!
- Theme-factor: The whole Timber Canyon area is really built around this wooden coaster. There’s always a backstory at Dollywood, so the fact that the old saw mill operation is now a wooden coaster is really fun.
Whistle Punk Chaser
Located right next to Thunderhead, Whistle Punk Chaser is a smaller wooden coaster that is intended to be a stepping stone for children.
- Thrill-factor: Sitting in the shadow of Thunderhead, this ride mimics the turns and drops of its “big brother,” while also being more child-friendly. This is ranked a junior coaster and is suitable for children at least 36 inches tall.
- Uniqueness: The intention of this ride is to ease children into some bigger attractions, but the fact that it’s well thought out with plenty of seating for parents/grandparents/spectators is a big win for me. It’s not just a kiddie ride thrown next to a big ride.
- Butterfly Quotient: As you would want from a junior coaster, Whistle Punk Chaser will give you minimal butterflies as it careens around the short track three times in quick succession.
- Theme-factor: With a real working whistle out front that you can pull and some interesting historical information about the job description of a “whistle punk” on an Appalachian logging site during the nineteenth century, the theme is on-point!
Located at the top of Timber Canyon next to the entrance of Wildwood Grove, Mystery Mine is a thrilling ride in a mine car that takes place partially indoors and partially outdoors.
- Thrill-factor: With crazy sharp turns and 90-degree inclines and drops, this coaster is not for the faint of heart! Riders must be at least 48 inches tall to ride.
- Uniqueness: This ride doesn’t look like your typical coaster. While most roller coasters operate in trains, this ride keeps individual cars operating separately, giving every single rider that “front-row” feeling.
- Butterfly Quotient: With a 95-degree, 85-foot vertical drop inside of a pitch-dark “mining tunnel”, there are plenty of butterflies to be had on this ride! This coaster is full of unpredictable twists and turns, and the front-row view only adds to the thrill.
- Theme-factor: The theming for this ride is spectacular with the details all working together to simulate a spooky abandoned historical mine shaft. Riders hear up-tempo banjo music playing in the background as they wait in line, along with an audio recording warning, "If the canary ain't tweetin'...you'll be sleepin'!" The same canary comes into play later on in the actual ride, along with thunder and lightning effects adding extra drama before the big drop.
Located in the back of Wildwood Grove, Dragonflier is an inverted roller coaster, meaning the train hangs under the track and your feet dangle below your seat. It is one of the newer additions to the park.
- Thrill-factor: Like Whistle Punk Chaser, this is another coaster that is suitable for beginner and intermediate thrill-seekers. Staying relatively low to the ground (compared to the other coasters), it’s a quick one-minute ride with a top speed of 47 miles per hour, and it never goes upside-down. Riders must be at least 39 inches tall to ride.
- Uniqueness: The only truly inverted coaster in the park, the most-memorable experience it offers for many riders is the moment it temporarily tunnels underground and emerges again on the other side.
- Butterfly Quotient: Aside from the thrills of a few “close shaves” with nearby landscaping and the descent through the tunnel, this ride offers minimal butterflies suitable for a family coaster.
- Theme-factor: Made to mimic the erratic flight of a dragonfly, this ride is smooth and fits in perfectly with the rest of the whimsical theming of Wildwood Grove.
The first “wing” coaster built in the United States, Wild Eagle offers some of the biggest loops and drops that the park has to offer.
- Thrill-factor: Riders are treated to a 135-foot drop and speeds up to 61 miles per hour. Riders in the front row get an extra thrill on that first drop, because they actually hang just over the edge of the hill for a moment before the train is released to make its speedy descent. This ride has the tallest height requirement in the park—riders must be at least 50 inches tall.
- Uniqueness: Because it was the first ride of its kind built in the United States, Wild Eagle really takes the cake for uniqueness. Because riders are positioned to the side of the track on the “wings,” there is nothing above them or below them, mimicking the feeling of flying.
- Butterfly Quotient: From the moment the train makes the steady ascent up the 210-foot hill, riders will start feeling butterflies in anticipation. Between the back-to-back drops, rolls, loops and corkscrews, riders get a significant amount of air time on this coaster!
- Theme-factor: The aptly-named ride emulates the movements of a bird in flight, soaring high into the air and swooping low, allowing their feet to dangle as you ride the “wings” and ascend to new heights. It is one of the smoothest rides in the park, making the experience really match the intended theme.
Located in Wilderness Pass, this coaster looks like a miniature red train and travels both forward and backward along the track.
- Thrill-factor: This is another one of Dollywood’s coasters that would be considered just thrilling enough for beginner or intermediate thrill-seekers. The track gets quite a bit of height, and the ride has a few small drops, but it only travels up to 35 miles per hour. Guests need to be at least 39 inches tall to ride.
- Uniqueness: When it was built, the FireChaser Express was the first dual-launch family coaster in the nation, which once again put Dollywood on the map.
- Butterfly Quotient: FireChaser Express has many moments that will give riders butterflies—namely, its fast exit from the terminal right at the start of the ride, its use of pyrotechnics, and the grand finale when it shoots backward along the track back to the ride’s starting point.
- Theme-factor: Guests are immersed into the theme as they wait in line for the ride, going back in time to the 1940s to be a part of the volunteer fire department for the fictional Station 7. After briefly being recruited by Chief Pete Embers, guests hop on board the train to track down “Crazy Charlie” and find his Gas Station and Fireworks Emporium where he plans to shoot off his Big Bertha firecracker (a definite highlight of the ride).
Nestled in Craftsman's Valley, this is a looping roller coaster on a steel track that creates an iron butterfly. It was Dollywood’s first true “coaster enthusiast” coaster.
- Thrill-factor: With a 128-foot drop and speeds up to 63 miles per hour, this ride definitely has some thrills. Riders must be at least 48 inches tall to ride.
- Uniqueness: When it was originally built in 1999, this coaster’s featured “Spiro loop” was the largest inversion on any coaster built by Arrow Dynamics, giving it a unique draw for coaster fans all over the nation.
- Butterfly Quotient: This ride is less than two minutes long, but it packs a powerful punch. If the 128-foot drop doesn’t give you butterflies, the 110-foot-tall loop will! This coaster takes riders upside-down three different times and even sends them barreling through a tunnel built right into the mountain.
- Theme-factor: Riders will appreciate the concept of being tossed about by the cyclonic winds of a tornado. Living up to its theme and its name, Tennessee Tornado takes its riders right into the thick of a storm, haphazardly dropping them and taking them through loops and corkscrews. Getting whipped around by this tornado is a thrill that many riders seek again and again for nostalgia just as much as the ride experience itself.
Dollywood’s oldest coaster features an entirely indoor ride with handmade set design and animatronics dating back to the 1970s.
- Thrill-factor: Visited more for its nostalgia than its thrill, this ride is suitable for both adults and children. Experienced entirely in semi-darkness, this ride has a height requirement of 42 inches.
- Uniqueness: The animatronics and the theming of this ride make it unlike anything you’ve ever experienced before! Everyone who visits Dollywood for the first time needs to ride Blazing Fury, if for no other reason, for the experience of a piece of living history.
- Butterfly Quotient: There are three short stomach-dropping plummets near the end of the ride experience, but most of the ride moves relatively slowly, reaching maximum speeds of 22 miles per hour.
- Theme-factor: The ride immediately immerses the riders into the story, taking them slowly through what seems like a typical rural town in the 1800s; however, things quickly heat up. As the train car moves from scene to scene, buildings become engulfed in flames and the citizens in the town start behaving more and more recklessly. Riders who are “frequent flyers” know the characters by name and may even have some of the dialogue memorized. Blazing Fury is a cult classic, and the theme is really its strongest attribute.
Located near the front of the park in Jukebox Junction, Lightning Rod is an unexpected combination of a wooden coaster with cutting-edge aerodynamics. It is one of the most recent additions to the park.
- Thrill-factor: With a 165-foot drop and top speeds of 73 miles per hour, this coaster is widely considered one of the most thrilling rides in the park. Riders will experience nearly 20 seconds of airtime on this ride. The minimum height requirement is 48 inches.
- Uniqueness: When it was first built, Lightning Rod was the fastest wooden coaster in the world. With an I-Box Topper Track, it’s now classified as a hybrid coaster; however, that hasn’t stopped coaster enthusiasts all over the world from coming to experience the ride for themselves. USA Today has named it one of the top-ten best roller coasters in the country!
- Butterfly Quotient: Noted by many thrill-seekers for its unexpected tricks and its unmatchable speed, riders often feel like the car is about to fly right off the track. The most notable moment on the ride might be the initial ascent up the hill. While most wooden coasters take a stereotypical slow crawl up the hill to heighten the anticipation of the first drop, Lightning Rod shoots up the hill like a rocket, reaching what feels like dangerous speed throughout the duration of the ride.
- Theme-factor: Lightning Rod was created to remind guests of a ride down an old dirt road in a 1950s-style hot rod car. As riders wait in line, they walk through an old-fashioned garage equipped with tires, spare parts, racing trophies, and a full-scale model of a hot rod. As the story unfolds, riders realize that they are about to experience a ride in a custom-built racecar engineered to reach dangerous speeds that no racer has ever before attempted. Their ride on Lightning Rod sure doesn’t fail to deliver that experience!
There you have it—Dollywood has nine incredible roller coasters to suit the needs of every kind of thrill-seeker. Which one will you try first?