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.
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:
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Location: 2700 Dollywood Parks Blvd. Pigeon Forge, TN 37863
Park Hours: Varies by season, click here for the current schedule