How Dollywood’s unique Wildwood Grove expansion sets itself apart

Among certain circles, the success story that is Dollywood is well known. The transformation over the last 20 years from fun, but kitschy, theme park, to full-blown amusement park has been remarkable. The park is continually recognized in the industry for being forward-thinking, growing and improving. 

The park’s latest expansion, Wildwood Grove, however pushes boundaries in ways that challenge industry standards in thinking about the way guests experience the park. 

On one level, Wildwood Grove is simply the largest single expansion in Dollywood history. With several new rides – mostly aimed at younger park goers – the Grove represents another step in an ongoing evolution that began when Dolly Parton took over Silver Dollar City and rechristened it in her image. 

But Wildwood Grove is so much more than a collection of rides. It is designed with the knowledge that Dollywood, unlike Disney World or King’s Island or Cedar Point, is located in the hills of East Tennessee.

Navigating the park on the best of days can be stressful for parents with young children or grandparents bringing the family. In the humid Smoky Mountain summer, a day at Dollywood can be downright punishing. 

ALSO READ: An Insider’s Guide to Dollywood; 7 pro tips from a local who grew up with the theme park in his backyard

Enter Wildwood Grove, built around a theme of Parton’s own childhood playing in the mountains of Sevier County; the grove is blissful – as peaceful as an amusement park can be. 

There are wide spaces with lots of shade and lots of seating. There’s a splash pad, Wildwood Creek, where the little ones can cool off while grandma or grandpa (or mom or dad) rest.  There’s an indoor play area, Hidden Hollow, dark and cool where families can escape the heat and still enjoy – still have fun. 

At the heart of the Grove is the Wildwood Tree, covered in butterflies that illuminate and dance at night, giving the tree a feeling of life. It’s a beautiful centerpiece that adds, just a touch to the remarkable feeling of tranquility among the theme-park chaos. 

It’s not all Zen, however as the Grove also offers several new rides – mostly catering to the smaller park goers but with enough big rides to keep the older kids entertained as well.   

The new rides include:

Dragonflier, Wildwood Grove, TheSmokies.com
Dragonflier at Wildwood Grove (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

1. Dragonflier

A thrilling suspended roller coaster that lets guests soar with a dragonfly as it dips and darts along the gushing geysers and lush landscape of Wildwood Grove. Don’t let the cute name fool you – this is a deceivingly quick little roller coaster – with speeds of up to 50 mph, steep drops and heart-pounding twists and turns.

Wildwood Grove Black Bear Trail
Wildwood Grove Black Bear Trail (Dollywood media photo by ©Curtis Hilbun)

2. Black Bear Trail

Riders hop on the back of these friendly bears for a spirited trek through their natural habitat. This one appeals to smaller riders

Dollywood Wildwood Grove's Great Tree Swing's
Dollywood Wildwood Grove’s Great Tree Swing (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

3. Great Tree Swing

Guests aboard this thrilling “leaf boat” swing back and forth just like a leaf falling from a giant sycamore tree. Other versions of this ride in other parks often look like a giant Viking ship swinging back and forth. 

Dollywood Wildwood Grove's Treetop Tower
Dollywood Wildwood Grove’s Treetop Tower (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

4. Treetop Tower

This family tower gives guests a sky-high view of Wildwood Grove as they soar nearly 40 feet in the air. Riders, seated inside giant acorns, spin around the top of a tall oak tree before gently drifting back to the grove floor. This is the less extreme version of Cedar Point’s Demon Drop. 

Dollywood, Wildwood Grove's Mad Mockingbird
Wildwood Grove’s Mad Mockingbird (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

5. The Mad Mockingbird

Tennessee’s state bird—the mockingbird—gives visitors a lift as it flies in a high speed circle around a tall tree. Riders control their ride experience by moving a sail as the birds rush above the ground. 

Wildwood Grove, Frogs and Fireflies
Wildwood Grove’s Frogs and Fireflies (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

6. Frogs & Fireflies 

Adventurous guests can hop aboard one of these friendly frogs as they chase each other in a spirited race around the lily pad.

Dollywood’s remarkable success story has been through innovation. Wildwood Grove is the next step in that journey. 

It improves the park experience for those with mobility issues, parents and grandparents with small children, those who may struggle with heat, humidity and crowds. Wildwood Grove clears an exceedingly high hurdle in theme park evolution and it leaves the mind boggling at what’s next. 

ALSO READ: An Insider’s Guide to Dollywood; 7 pro tips from a local who grew up with the theme park in his backyard

Visit website

Location: 2700 Dollywood Parks Blvd. Pigeon Forge, TN 37863

Park Hours: Varies by season, click here  for the current schedule

Why you should catch a game at Smokies Stadium while you still can

With rumors of an impending return to Knoxville swirling, the days of the Tennessee Smokies in Kodak appear to be numbered. 

Looking simply at the likely end result, it’s tempting to look at the Smokies two decades at Exit 407, the main entrance to Sevier County and Pigeon Forge, as something less than a complete success. 

But don’t be fooled. Smokies baseball in Sevier County has been a huge success and it’s not too late to experience a unique ballpark with a rich, if short, baseball legacy.

A lot of the success of the Smokies in Sevierville comes from the affiliation with the Chicago Cubs.

Not only do the Cubs bring a national following – thanks to the ’80s heyday of WGN broadcasting the gospel of Harry Carey to the unwashed masses – but it also allows the Smokies to appropriate some of that Chicago baseball culture to East Tennessee.

The Smokies fly the W-flag after wins, the fans sing ‘Go Cubs Go’ and there’s one concession stand devoted to Chicago specialties like Italian Beefs and Chicago Dogs. 

The Smokies, Smokies Baseball Stadium
The Smokies baseball stadium is located in Kodak (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

The benefit of being a Cubs affiliate doesn’t stop at the atmosphere. The Cubs have – in recent years – had one of the strongest farm systems in baseball.

There are many big leaguers playing now who came through Smokies Stadium on their way to the show, including heroes of the Cubs World Series win like Kyle Schwarber and Kris Bryant. 

Though the Smokies are languishing in the Southern League standings this year, they traditionally put a strong product on the field.

And even when the Smokies are down, their Southern League brethren bring a bevy of future major leaguers to town. Possible future hall of famers like Giancarlo Stanton, Joey Votto and Evan Longoria have all played in Smokies Stadium.

Like most minor league teams, the Smokies go the extra mile to keep things loose at the park. There are Stars Wars days and Jimmy Buffet nights.

They have kids chase a guy in a chicken costume across the field at the seventh inning stretch and hold any number of on-field promotions. Many Saturday night games end in fireworks and there are dollar beer and hot dog promotions through the week. 

Smokies officials have worked hard to upgrade the concession options in park.

In addition to the traditional concession stands, one of which features traditional northern Indiana breaded tenderloin sandwiches, there are a large number of specialty vendors selling everything from mixed drinks and moonshine to brats or street tacos. 

The Smokies Baseball Field
Smokies baseball games are great for families (photo by John Gullion/TheSmokies.com)

Located on the first base side of the Luxury Level, The Garza Law Terrace at Smokies Stadium offers high end entertainment.

With spectacular views of the game in a private, climate controlled indoor setting, in addition to outdoor seating. The Garza Law Terrace at Smokies Stadium offers a unique and extensive beverage assortment, hardwood flooring, flat screen TV’s, and multiple seating options throughout the area.

A relatively new addition is Calhoun’s At The Yard, located in left field at Smokies Stadium just beyond the outfield fence.

Calhoun’s is a well-known Knoxville-area group of restaurants specializing in the art of barbecue.

Guests at Calhoun’s At The Yard have access to the buffet of Calhoun’s dishes such as hickory smoked pork barbeque, smoked barbeque chicken, baked beans, coleslaw, spinach artichoke dip with tortilla chips, a hot dog bar and more. 

The opportunity to enjoy minor league baseball in Sevier County may be going away eventually. But until it does, the folks at Smokies Stadium strive to provide a major-league experience at minor league prices. 

Visit website

Location: 3540 Line Dr, Kodak, TN 37764 (Exit 407)

Office Hours: Monday-Friday 10 am to 5 pm, Game Date/Times Vary