I spent my formative roller coaster years as a child of the Midwest.
King’s Island. Six Flags. Cedar Point. These amusement parks were the roller coaster meccas of my youth. In fact, they were the best roller coasters in the world.
When I came to Pigeon Forge TN for the first time, I was a tourist, following the well-worn path from Indiana to the Smokies.
The newly-christened Dollywood wasn’t even on my thrill-seeking radar.
“Dollywood is a theme park, John. Not an amusement park,” I was told.
Sure there is a good ride or two, but it’s more about the theme. Dollywood tickets meant bluegrass music, eating at Aunt Granny’s and scoring some kettle corn to take home. Not the kinds of roller coasters that draw visitors from three states over.
Friends, for us adrenaline-rush junkies, the theme is the periphery. It is a side item. The theme is the corn giblets at Thanksgiving. Nobody looks forward to Thanksgiving dreaming of corn giblets.
In other words, here we are now, amuse us.
Does Dollywood have good roller coasters?
But the Dollywood theme park – which in my opinion is the best-run park in America – has cast its eyes forward since the moment they took down the Silver Dollar City signage.
Despite the limitations created by the park’s location – mountains are great for the theme, suboptimal for park expansion – Dollywood has turned itself into a credible roller coaster destination while maintaining all the charms of its theme.
By my count, the Pigeon Forge theme park currently offers nine coasters with one on the way.
Some are more successfully executed than others – looking at you Lightning Rod.
And some are less daring than others – looking at you Blazing Fury.
But some are on par with some of the best coasters in the country. Which ones? Read further to find out.
10. Blazing Fury
This is the least roller-coast-y ride on the list, but Blazing Fury is great for many things.
It’s a classic ride. It’s a historic link to the park’s past as well as a link to Dollywood’s cousin-park Silver Dollar City in Branson, Mo. It’s a dark ride taking you leisurely through a town set ablaze.
Reminiscent of the Pirates of the Caribbean, there are a number of amusing scenes, quirky historical references and one good drop.
But strictly as a roller coaster? Blazing Fury is pretty tame.
So should you ride Blazing Fury? For sure. It’s a unique ride experience for the entire family, and it’s the park’s only indoor roller coaster.
Located in Craftsman’s Valley, Blazing Fury has a 42-inch height requirement which I find confounding, but I assume it has to do with the drop.
Read Also: I got to walk along the tracks of Blazing Fury at Dollywood; 8 things I learned
9. Whistle Punk Chaser
I struggled with where to rank the Whistle Punk Chaser, a kids’ coaster located in the literal shadow of larger coasters in Timber Canyon.
In fact, it seems unfair to rank a zippy little kids’ ride among the bigger coasters in the park. But compared to other kids’ coasters I’ve tried – like the Goofy Barnstormer in Disney – the Whistle Punk Chaser is decidedly tame and a little lame.
It’s good for small children to be exposed to the idea of roller coaster riding but it feels like something that could be replicated at a good state fair.
The Whistle Punk Chaser has a 36-inch height requirement and guests under 42 inches must be accompanied by those 16 or older.
Here we get a proper family-friendly roller coaster.
As one of the newest additions to the park, I’m very fond of this family suspended coaster that mimics the flight of a dragonfly. It’s well-designed, fun and fresh.
Located in the Wildwood Grove area of the park, it gives families a chance to feel the exhilaration of riding a “big” coaster that won’t terrify the timid.
The Dragonflier has a minimum height requirement of 39 inches and a maximum height requirement of 81 inches. Riders under 48 inches must be accompanied by someone 16 or older.
7. FireChaser Express
Another family coaster that offers an amusing ride for all. The FireChaser is the nation’s first dual-launch family coaster, launching riders forward and backward.
The FireChaser isn’t going to blow anyone away, but the theming – which revolves around battling forest fires – is fun. At 34.5 mph, the ride, located in Wilderness Pass, is quick enough to be exhilarating but it’s not overpowering.
The FireChaser has a minimum height requirement of 39 inches and guests under 48 inches must be accompanied by someone 16 or older.
6. Tennessee Tornado
Dollywood’s first foray into real g-force roller coastering, the Tornado opened in 1999 to rave reviews. The swirling loops of the Tornado include a 128-foot drop through a mountain at speeds approaching 70 mph.
It has been surpassed over the years by newer editions, but it serves as a significant milestone in Dollywood history. Specifically, the turning point where Dollywood officials planted their flag in the sand signifying Dollywood was going to be more than a theme park. And it still packs a heckuva punch.
The minimum height for the Tennessee Tornado, located in Craftsman’s Valley, is 48 inches.
I love the old-timey wooden roller coasters like the Blue Streak at Cedar Point or The Racer at King’s Island. These aren’t necessarily technological wonders; they just go fast up and down some hills and give the sensation of free-falling.
I like the idea of riding a coaster my grandparents could have taken my parents on. Thunderhead, located in Timber Canyon, is a modern take on that tradition. There are more twists and turns than on the classic coasters, but I think some of that is simply the demands of the terrain.
With a 100-foot vertical drop and a top speed of 55 mph, Thunderhead doesn’t need a lot of loops or inversions to give thrills.
The minimum height for Thunderhead is 48 inches.
4. Wild Eagle
Located in Wilderness Pass, the Wild Eagle is a majestic ride, befitting its namesake. A steel wing coaster, the Eagle was the first of its kind in the United States when it opened in 2012.
The coaster reaches a height of 210 feet and a top speed of 61 mph. With seats beside the track, the Wild Eagle’s riders have nothing above or below them as they soar through a series of loops and inversions 21 stories above the park below.
The ride is relatively smooth and offers some of the best views in the park when you can take the time to look. However, the unique restraints can be uncomfortable at times.
The minimum height for Wild Eagle is 50 inches and the maximum height is 78 inches – or 6-foot-5.
3. Mystery Mine
Located in Timber Canyon, Mystery Mine is set inside a haunted mining operation from the 19th century. The combination of ride and theming is the best in the park.
The ride itself isn’t especially tall or fast, but it is thrilling. Top speeds reach 43 mph and height is 85.3 feet. The 1,811-foot track takes riders through the abandoned, haunted coal mine.
The ride changed significantly before the 2021 season when a vertical U-turn was removed. The ride features a pair of vertical lifts, a 95-degree drop and a turnover loop.
The minimum height for Mystery Mine is 48 inches.
2. Big Bear Mountain
We’re speculating that this ride will be No. 2 worthy. It’s set to debut in the spring of 2023.
The coaster will riders on a journey to find Big Bear with Ned Oakley, who has suspected that Big Bear has been hiding around Wildwood Grove.
It’s a record-breaking coaster for the park, and it’s expected to be the park’s longest coaster and the first with on-board audio. The ride will have a top speed of 48 mph and will pass behind a waterfall and have three separate launches.
The minimum height requirement for Big Bear Mountain will be 39 inches tall, making it perfect for the whole family.
Read Also: Dollywood announces new ride, Big Bear Mountain
1. Lightning Rod
I was there the day the Lightning Rod was supposed to open. Dolly Parton was there on a make-shift stage ready to announce the park’s massive new attraction, the first coaster on the Jukebox Junction Country Fair side of the park.
Of the three of us there, Dolly, the ride and I, only two were working. The Lightning Rod’s opening was delayed due to problems with the launch system.
Initially marketed as a wooden roller coaster themed to the hot rod cars from the 1950s, the Lightning Rod was modified for the 2021 season with much of its wooden track replaced by steel. In addition to being the first wooden roller coaster to feature that type of launch mechanism, it was the fastest wooden coaster in the world, reaching 73 mph.
However, the ride has been plagued over the years by frequent issues that have resulted in periodic closures since that 2016 opening.
Why then, you might be asking, is this the top-ranked coaster at Dollywood? Because when it’s working, it’s a fantastic ride, rated the fifth-best coaster in the United State by USA Today in August of 2021 and the second-best wooden coaster in the United States by TripSavvy in November of 2020.
Honestly, it is amazing to think how far Dollywood has come in the nearly 40 years since Dolly put her name on it.
Today, the former Rebel Railroad, the former Goldrush Junction – both built on the back of a steam train that is still in operation – is a thriving theme park with great thrill rides, incredible roller coasters and fun for the entire family.
Maybe in a park full of the best rides in the country, the wildest ride has been the one from the 1960s to today.
What is your favorite roller coaster at Dollywood? Let us know in the comments!
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