15 Dollywood Things To Do That Aren’t Rides

dolly's closet exyterior at the dollywood theme park

Dollywood offers more than just great rides. It also has shopping, dining and live entertainment (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

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When I first visited Dollywood, the park hadn’t been Dollywood for very long. At that point, it was in the first year after Dolly Parton invested in the park and made the change from Silver Dollar City. 

I was young and impatient. I’d grown up going to Cedar Point, King’s Island and Six Flags.

I wanted thrills and excitement. In other words, I wanted to ride some dang rides. There are only so many times you can ride the Blazing Fury, after all. 

I did not want to watch weavers in action. I wasn’t big on the glass-blowing. Even the blacksmith quickly lost his charm. 

And I was told countless times that Dollywood wasn’t an amusement park. It was a theme park.


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Well, to paraphrase the poet Laurette of my generation, Kurt Donald Cobain: Here I am now, entertain me. 

Over the ensuing decades, the Dollywood team has orchestrated a massive and impressive sea change. Somehow, while maintaining the charms of the old Dollywood theme park, they’ve built one of the more impressive amusement parks in the country.

Dollywood is now full of fantastic thrill rides like the Wild Eagle, the Tennessee Tornado and the Mystery Mine. 

The park is a paradise for kids. 

But even as Dolly’s dream team has transformed the park into something the teenage version of me would have found acceptably entertaining, I’ve mellowed as I’ve aged. 

I don’t mind quietly strolling through Craftsman’s Valley quite so much as I did. I don’t mind sitting and spending time at the Eagle Mountain Sanctuary or enjoying the same entertainment I found lacking 30 years ago. 

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Is Dollywood worth it if you don’t ride rides?

Sure. I mean, Dollywood existed for quite some time in its various forms without a lot of top quality rides.

Dolly Parton and her team have really worked hard over the years to upgrade the attractions, but you could still have a fun day without setting foot on a roller coaster or anything. 

grist mill at night during christmas with lights at dollywood
Dollywood has seasonal festivals throughout the year. At the time of this writing, Dollywood is glowing with millions of lights (photo by Daniel Munson/TheSmokies.com)

How long does it take to walk through Dollywood?

It depends on the person and what you mean by “through” Dollywood. Do you mean methodically working your way through each section of the park? If so, then it will probably be a good couple of hours depending on how many times you stop for cinnamon bread. 

Also, it’s important to note Dollywood is set in the high hills of Pigeon Forge. There are some pretty steep grades to get to all sections of the park. If you’re not great with steep grades, you will need to build some time to rest into your itinerary. 

Read Also: The ultimate guide to Dollywood: Rides, shows, food and more [2022]

a closeup of butterfly jumbo ornament at dollywood
Dollywood’s Smoky Mountain Christmas is one of the most popular festivals at the park (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

What can you do at Dollywood in Tennessee?

Your Dollywood tickets buy you a lot. You get the rides, of course, zooming all around and over the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains. But you also get experiences.

For instance, you get the shows and you get the festivals. You get the various little trips through time to the 40s, 50s or 60s. And you get museums and restaurants (you’ve got to pay more for the restaurants) and shopping, too. 

There’s still a lot you can do at Dollywood without ever getting on a ride and you won’t have to shell out extra for a Timesaver pass or worry at all about wait times. 

So what are the best things to do at Dollywood that aren’t rides? Let’s rank them. 

The Dollywood Calico Falls Schoolhouse Interior
Step back in time at the Calico Falls Schoolhouse and reflect on life in the late 1800s (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

15. Visit the Calico Falls Schoolhouse

You can step back in time in this one-room log cabin schoolhouse reflective of life in East Tennessee in the 1890s. It can be illuminating and interesting if you didn’t spend your life growing up around the mountains.

I’ve been in every one-room schoolhouse, log cabin and outhouse within a 100-mile radius at this point. Been there, done that. 

Dolly's Tennessee Mountain Home in Dollywood
Visit a replica of Dolly’s homeplace at the Tennessee Mountain home at Dollywood (photo by Kim Grayson/TheSmokies.com)

14. See Dolly Parton’s Tennessee Mountain Home

I’d be more interested if I could tour the real thing located a few miles away, but they keep that one safely guarded from the general public.

Dolly’s story of growing from dirt poor in a tiny mountain home to one of the world’s foremost singer-songwriters, businesswomen and philanthropists is nothing less than amazing.

Dolly recognized that people are curious about her upbringing, so she invites them to visit the replica of her home in the theme park.

a bald eagle with a handler at Dollywood
Learn about eagles and other birds at the Wings of America bird show (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

13. Watch the Wings of America bird show

I don’t mind a good bird show. But this show, which is entertaining, comes in second in avian Dollywood attractions for me.

See the Eagle Sanctuary further down the list.

Chasing Rainbows at Dollywood
Chasing Rainbows is currently closed while its future is being determined (photo by Kim Grayson/TheSmokies.com)

12. Visit the Chasing Rainbows Museum (currently being ‘reimagined’)

We’re including this one, but with a caveat. The museum, which chronicled Dolly’s history, was closed for the 2022 season while park officials considered the future of the attraction.

With Dolly’s recent discussion of opening a museum in Nashville, we wonder how many of the Chasing Rainbows exhibits may be making their way out west. 

Read Also: Is a Dolly Parton Center coming to Nashville? Here’s what we know

One of the bedrooms inside Dolly Parton's tour bus
Above: one of the bedrooms inside Dolly Parton’s tour bus, which is on display at Dollywood (photo by Kim Grayson/TheSmokies.com)

11. See Dolly’s home on wheels

At Dollywood, you can visit one of Dolly’s old tour buses. Parked in front of the Chasing Rainbows museum in Adventures in Imagination, you can get a glimpse of what life was like on the road for one of country music’s true queens. 

The bus was designed by Dolly’s longtime road manager, bus driver and friend Don Warden and his wife Ann. The 1994 Prevost features hand-tooled leather from Germany on the sofa and chairs, cherry cabinets and brass fixtures.

In addition to three bunks, the bus has two bathrooms and a shower. Dolly’s bedroom features three clocks. One is set on Los Angeles time, one on Nashville time and the other on Dollywood time. 

For another view of Dolly’s road life, you can book an overnight stay in Suite 1986 at Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort.

Guests can stay in Dolly’s most recent personal sanctuary, a place during the last 15 years where she wrote dozens of songs and worked on a number of hit projects that have continued to confirm her status as an international superstar.

Designed by Dolly and her sisters, the motorcoach offers a unique glimpse into Dolly’s life on the road.

Read Also: Look inside Suite 1986, Dolly Parton’s former tour bus

Eagle Sanctuary Dollywood
Guests may spot an eagle in the sanctuary where they are protected from harm with netting (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

10. Visit the Eagle Mountain Sanctuary

This 30,000-square-foot aviary houses the country’s largest presentation of non-releasable bald eagles.

Here, you can get a rare glimpse of some of nature’s most impressive birds of prey in this beautiful mountain setting as members from the American Eagle Foundation interact with these spectacular animals.

And also, it’s another cool, shady spot to take a nice respite during a busy day. I’ve been lucky to get a good look at some eagles in the wild, but it’s nice to be able to observe the majestic raptors up close and personal. 

Firehouse Fun Yard Dollywood
Let the kids burn some energy at one of the many play areas while you some rest (photo by Dr. Candi Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

9. Check out the playgrounds

Kids have a lot of energy. Sometimes parents or grandparents need a break.

Dollywood has several play areas including the Firehouse Fun Yard, the Lil’ Pilots Playground, Granny’s Garden or Hidden Hollow.

Let them burn off some energy on the slides and swings and whatnot while you catch your breath. 

Dollywood's Glass Blowing Sign in Craftsman's Va
You can see how glass is crafted in Craftsman’s Valley at Dollywood (photo by Morgan Overholt/HeyOrlando.com)

8. Visit Craftsman’s Valley

My old nemesis has earned my begrudging respect, yes, even Mountain Blown Glass.

The valley is filled with interesting shops and exhibits from Old Flames Candles where you can dip your own candles to the Valley Forge Blacksmith where you can watch knives being made.

hall sisters perform at chapel at dollywood theme park
The chapel at Dollywood is a place for peace and reflection (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

7. Visit the Robert F. Thomas Chapel

Years ago, my friend Charlie was a jack of all trades at Dollywood. A musician, Charlie worked soundboards for some of the many shows at Dollywood and would occasionally sit in with the musicians.

But he was also a handy craftsman and was called upon to string lights for the Smoky Mountain Christmas festival and do basically whatever else needed to be done.

One Christmas, Charlie worked the soundboard for a performance in the church. I’m not overly religious but I did find sitting in the back of the little mountain chapel exceptionally peaceful.

That peaceful easy feeling has lingered and now when I need a moment of quiet reflection away from the craziness of the rest of the park, I can find it in the little church by the creek. 

Pines Theater Dollywood
Dollywood offers indoor and outdoor entertainment (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

6. See a show

Not all of the music at Dollywood is for me. Not that it isn’t excellent but I prefer my music – especially my country and Bluegrass music – to be of the less produced variety.

I understand why the Dollywood folks keep pretty tight reigns on a lot of the shows, but I prefer less of the dancing and production and more focus on the music.

Still, Dollywood has dozens of great shows from the Smoky Mountain String Band to the Kingdom Heirs and beyond.

I do miss the Festival of Nations, which would bring a wide variety of performers from all over the world. 

Coat of Many Colors Topiary at Dollywood
The Coat of Many Colors topiary is displayed during the Flower and Food Festival at Dollywood in the spring (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

5. Enjoy the seasonal festivals

The Dollywood year is essentially split into four major festivals: Smoky Mountain Christmas at the end of the year, the Flower and Food Festival in the spring, the Smoky Mountain Summer Celebration and the Harvest Festival in the autumn.

No matter when you go, there’s most likely a festival going on. Seek ye out the festival-specific stuff. 

Grist mill at Dollywood
The Dollywood Grist Mill is also where you will find the cinnamon bread (photo by Dr. Candi Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

4. Go to the Grist Mill

Look, I’m not here to tell you the Grist Mill is the most exciting thing you’re going to see at Dollywood but I find them soothing, like watching an aquarium.

And this is where they make the world-famous Dollywood cinnamon bread right on the spot. In other words, this is a holy space. 

dolly parton's songbook and run rose run book for sale at dolly's closet in dollywood
A guest could spend a day just shopping at Dollywood (photo by Kim Grayson/TheSmokies.com)

2. Go shopping

Dollywood is full of diverting shops selling everything from mountain treasures to various knickknacks, food items and souvenirs.

Where else can you get authentic rock candy, an official Dolly Parton hoodie and various mountain jams and jellies? 

Miss Lillian's BBQ at Dollywood
Try some Southern-style cooling while visiting Dollywood (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

1. Get something to eat

Dollywood is full of restaurants offering a wide variety of options from ham ‘n’ beans to barbecue and more.

I, however, am drawn to the Market Square Big Skillet in Rivertown Junction like a moth to a flame. 

Smoked sausage, potatoes, peppers and onions and marinated beef cooking side by side are perfect for all seasons.

What is your favorite non-ride thing to do at Dollywood? Let us know in the comments!

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John Gullion

John Gullion, Managing Editor at the Citizen Tribune, is a freelance contributor for TheSmokies.com LLC – the parent company of TheSmokies.com and HeyOrlando.com.

2 thoughts on “15 Dollywood Things To Do That Aren’t Rides”

  1. It might sound silly but one of things my grandkids have to do while at Dollywood is check on the ducks that often can be seen in one of the ponds.

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