7 Most Thrilling Roller Coasters at Dollywood (2024)

wild eagle roller coaster at dollywood

Below, we've put together a complete list of Dollywood coasters, ranked. Pictured: The Wild Eagle (media photo courtesy of Dollywood)

Local ranks best roller coasters at Dolly Parton’s theme park

I spent my formative roller coaster years as a child of the Midwest visiting King’s Island, Six Flags and Cedar Point. These amusement parks were the roller coaster meccas of my youth. When I came to Pigeon Forge TN for the first time, I was a tourist. Back then, the newly-christened Dollywood wasn’t even on my thrill-seeking radar. Dollywood tickets meant bluegrass music, eating at Aunt Granny’s and scoring some kettle corn to take home. But now, today, I am a local. My opinions have grown and so has the theme park. And now, Dollywood truly hosts some of the country’s best coasters.

The Dollywood theme park wasn’t always known for its roller coasters. But today, it has some of the country’s best and most thrilling rides. Lighting Rod is known as Dollywood’s best roller coaster. The Wild Eagle and the Mystery Mine are the second and third most thrilling, respectively.

lightning rod
The infamous wooden/steel hybrid Lightning Rod experiences a lot of downtime and technical issues. But those thrill-seekers who have been fortunate enough to ride usually agree that it’s one of the best coasters in the park (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

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 has been modified 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.

The ride is still plagued 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 States by USA Today in August of 2021 and the second-best wooden coaster in the United States by TripSavvy in November of 2020.

mystery mine
Mystery Mine is a Gerstlauer Euro-Fighter which basically means it’s a steel looping coaster with separate cars instead of connected multi-cart trains (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

2. 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 exciting. 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.

wild eagle
The Wild Eagle has a unique side-seat design that makes riders feel like they are “flying” alongside the track (media photo courtesy of Dollywood)

3. 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.

Big Bear Mountain Ride
Big Bear Mountain is Dollywood’s largest and newest coaster (photo by Daniel Munson/TheSmokies.com)

4. Big Bear Mountain

This is Dollywood’s newest and largest ride, debuting in 2023. The coaster takes 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. For instance, it’s the park’s longest coaster and the first with on-board audio. The ride has a top speed of 48 mph and also passes behind a waterfall. It has three separate launches, and while it’s thrilling, it is still family-friendly.

Thunderhead is a traditional wooden coaster with a 100-foot drop and a top speed of 55 mph (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

5. Thunderhead

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.

Tennessee Tornado
Tennessee Tornado was Dollywood’s first G-force roller coaster. It features multiple inversions and high speeds (media photo courtesy of Dollywood)

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.

Fire Chaser Express
The FireChaser Express is a dual-launch family coaster that transports riders both forward and backward (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

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.

RELATED VIDEO: Dollywood Roller Coasters Ranked

What is your favorite roller coaster at Dollywood? Let us know in the comments! If you’re planning a trip to the Smoky Mountains, be sure to check out our coupons page.


Disclosure: We have used and experienced all the products and activities recommended on The Smokies. We may receive compensation when you click on links to some products and experiences featured.

2 thoughts on “7 Most Thrilling Roller Coasters at Dollywood (2024)”

  1. #1 Wild Eagle
    #2 Tennessee Tornado
    #3 Thunderhead
    #4 Mystery Mine
    #5 Fire Chaser
    #6 Dragon Flyer
    #7 Whistle Punk Chaser
    #8 Blazing Fury
    #9 Lightning Rod – This POS is always closed. They open it, it runs two cars and closes with 1000 people in line but they don’t tell anyone. You just stand there and go deaf listening to awful blaring sound effects and horrible music. You can’t even talk over the noise. How are you going to give top ranking to a coaster no one ever gets to ride? They should junk this piece of garbage and start over.

    Obviously, I like high speed and high G-force coasters


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