Sometimes, you just have to do the best you can with what you’ve got.
Dollywood – the best-managed theme park in the country IMO – is a great place to take the entire family. For instance, from the littlest of littles to the young at heart, Dollywood, like all of the best amusement parks, truly has something for everyone.
But there are limitations to how much Dollywood’s planners can manipulate the park for maximum effectiveness.
There are, in fact, topographical limitations created by the mountains in Pigeon Forge TN near where Dolly Parton calls home. And there are also logistical limitations created by a park evolving over a 60-year history from Rebel Railroad to Goldrush Junction to Silver Dollar City to Dollywood.
Dollywood, for instance, created the family-friendly Wildwood Grove in 2019. Specifically, it is a place designed with more shade and more resting places where grandparents could bring their young children. And it offers plenty of rides for everyone. It was a massive success.
The two best sections in the park for young kids
Which brings us to the big question: What are the areas in Dollywood for young kids?
Wildwood Grove is the best place to take your toddler-age children.
Specifically, they can romp in the splash pad, interact with characters like Benjamin Bear and ride age-appropriate rides. And in addition, the area offers enough to entertain older siblings as well. It’s a place where the whole family could spend a large portion of their entire day.
The only problem? The Grove is located about as far away from the second-best place for a family with young kids – The Country Fair – as possible. Thus, it is a trek to get from one place to the other.
It is also a pretty decent climb to get up into the Grove if you’ve got toddlers in your traveling party. As a result, for a family with toddlers and hauling all their gear, it can be a challenge.
So what do you do?
If you can, do both.
For example, I’d start with the fun attractions in the Grove so you can make that climb while you’re fresh. And as you caravan across the park, I suggest using the pathway that runs behind the River Rampage into the back of the Country Fair to avoid that big dang hill until you’re ready to ride the Dollywood Express or the carousel.
If you’re going to do one or the other, it might be best to pick the rides you want to focus on and then make your choice.
By the way, I’m not ranking the Dollywood Express here. Small children love a steam engine. It’s the Thomas the Tank Engine effect. However, they generally do not have a love of loud dang train whistles. Again, you know your kids. You use your discretion.
With all of that out of the way, let’s get into ranking some toddler rides.
13. Busy Bees
The Country Fair has a series of small carnival rides perfect for little ones. But I wouldn’t say it’s a great variety of rides. These are fun rides for the littlest toddlers.
But they have no height requirement. In my experience, three-year-olds can ride comfortably around and around, again and again with no problem.
Certainly, I would think a one-year-old who is pretty close to his/her second birthday could handle these three rides. But you’re the best judge of all that.
So, you might ask, if these rides are all interchangeable, why did you rank the bees last? Retribution. Clear and simple. I will curse bees for the rest of my days for what they did to Thomas J. in “My Girl.”
12. Lucky Ducky
Second verse. Same as the first. Country Fair. Round and Round. Cookie-cutter kiddie rides.
Why did we rank the ducks behind the pigs? Have you ever met a duck? They’re real butt heads.
11. Piggy Parade
Why did the pigs get our top spot in our ranking of rides that are exactly the same? Karma. Pigs give us so much and ask for so little in return.
10. The Amazing Flying Elephants
All right. Now we’re starting to mix things up.
A rip-off of the Dumbo ride in Disney, the Amazing Flying Elephants also go endlessly round and round. But they also go up in the air.
Listen, if you’ve spent an hour and a half watching your three-year-old ride the others, you’ll also be thrilled for the change of pace.
It should be noted that little ones must be accompanied by someone 16 years old or older. So if you planned accordingly – as we did – and had your kids sufficiently far enough apart, you can make the oldest take the youngest on this thing. If not, there is a good chance you’re riding an elephant.
This one is also located at the Country Fair.
9. Granny’s Garden
Located in Owens Farm, Granny’s Garden is an interactive playground experience themed around a garden.
On its website, Dollywood promises it will keep the kids laughing for hours. However, if your kids are laughing for hours, seek medical attention. They may be maniacs.
8. Lil’ Pilots Playground
Located in Owens Farm near the Barnstormer, the Lil’ Pilots Playground allows little ones 48 inches and under to explore a 22- foot by 16-foot wooden bi-plane and play with a one-of-a-kind drum set. In addition to the plane, the kids can climb and slide amid a variety of structures.
7. Village Carousel
Located in the Village overlooking the County Fair, the Carousel is a time-honored family ride going back generations.
If you’re the parent of a toddler you know the routine. The kid gets on the horse and you stand beside it, holding on and making sure nobody tally ho’s off the thing.
Anyone 42 inches or smaller – so every toddler ever except for maybe Shaq – needs someone 16 or older to ride along.
Bonus points for nostalgia, which makes it a popular attraction.
6. Rockin’ Roadway
Not necessarily a ride for toddlers, the Rockin’ Roadway is a favorite among little ones with a love of cars.
Located in Jukebox Junction – not far from the County Fair – the hot rods of yesteryear require someone 16 or older for any children shorter than 42 inches tall. But it is still a great attraction for little ones.
5. Frogs & Fireflies
We get our first entry from the Wildwood Grove.
Frogs & Fireflies is a ride for little kids but the frogs do a considerable amount of hopping. Any kid under 36” inches must be accompanied by a 16-year-old or better. That makes the area around Frogs & Fireflies a perfect spot to rest.
In fact, there is no better entertainment in the Dollywood theme park than watching some poor parent stuck in the back seat of a hopping frog going round and round.
Dollywood should set up a live stream, so much fun.
4. Firehouse Fun Yard
Located in Wilderness pass near the Firechaser Express, Firehouse Fun Yard is exclusively for toddlers to get out and have fun in an interactive children’s play area.
The Fun Yard includes pop-jet water features, a soft play structure where children can slide and play, a block table and a chalkboard coloring wall.
While the area is for kids less than 39 inches tall, children under the age of 12 must be accompanied by a 16-year-old or better.
3. Black Bear Trail
In the Grove, the Black Bear Trail is the slightly less bouncy cousin to Frogs & Fireflies.
Kids must be at least 36 inches tall to ride and anyone under 42 inches must be accompanied by an adult who will sit on the back of a bouncy bear as it wanders around the grove. It’s an acceptable ride for the adults but a great time for the kids.
2. Wildwood Creek
Wildwood Creek offers a splash pad in the Grove. It is a great place for your toddler to cool off and have a little bit of freedom to explore, under your watchful eye, of course.
You do have to watch out for exuberant older kids who might plow straight over your kid but still, on a hot summer day this is a great place to bring the kids. Make sure to bring a change of clothes and, if the kid isn’t potty trained, a swimming diaper.
1. Hidden Hollow
Indoors. Air-conditioned. Dark. Whoever put this thing in the Grove was a dang genius.
Surrounded by a forest scene, kids of all ages get in touch with nature, climbing up tree trunk net towers, exploring tree crawls, traversing a series of blocks and sliding down hollow logs.
A separate toddler area provides the smallest adventurers with their own space to safely explore.
In particular, it’s an oasis on hot days, cold days or rainy days. It’s a great way for older children to burn off some steam, toddlers to have their own areas to play and for mom and dad or grandma and grandpa to get a little rest.
What do the toddlers in your life love about Dollywood? Let us know in the comments.