When will Lightning Rod reopen at Dollywood? Park signage offers clue

Best Rides at Dollywood - Lightning Rod
Dollywood's Steel/Wood coaster hybrid, Lightning Rod (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

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We’ve been receiving quite a few inquiries lately about the state of Dollywood’s popular Lightning Rod coaster after guests began reporting that the popular attraction had not been in operation for several days.

First, we want to remind you all that we are not directly affiliated with Dollywood – however – we are also fans, and understand what it’s like to worry about the fate of one of your favorite rides. And so, we looked into the story. 

But first, let’s talk a bit about Lightning Rod and what makes this unique ride such an interesting topic of conversation.

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My first Lightning Rod experience

Dollywood is known for its innovative, record breaking rides and Lightning Rod is no exception.

Lightning Rod currently boasts two incredible accolades: It’s the fastest wooden coaster in the world and it’s the only wooden launch coaster in the world. 

Let that sink in for a moment: In. The. World. 

When one rides, one wonders to themselves: “Has Dollywood discovered a way to break the laws of physics?”

Having been built in 2016, the memories of my first Lightning Rod encounter are still fresh in my mind.

I clearly remember the first time I set my sights on the new tricked-out wooden-steel hybrid and its 165-foot drop. 

My husband and I were queuing up in line behind a young girl (that looked like she was probably about 11 years old) and her mom.

The young girl, who could clearly read the apprehension on my face, turns to me and says in a comforting tone: “This is my new favorite ride in the park – you’re going to love it!”

Moments later, I was being launched from zero to 45 mph, 20 stories uphill feeling my butt lift off the seat as I wondered if I had just met the bravest 11-year-old ever to walk the face of the earth. 

Lightning Rod, as it turns out, is not for the faint of heart. Lightning Rod has all the speeds and heart-racing maneuvers of a steel coaster, with the adrenaline-charged thrills of a classic wooden beast. 

It features a launch (similar to the steel Hulk at Universal Studios), speeds of up to 73 mph and boasts nearly 20 seconds of “air time” for those brave enough to ride. 

In case you’re wondering what “air time” means – please see prior “butt off the seat” reference. 

For comparison, Universal’s Hulk launches riders from 0 to 40 mph with max speed of 67. Lightning Rod is basically like a bigger, faster Hulk on wood. In short, it’s terrifying, and I love it.

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The award-winning Lightning Rod coaster receives acclaim from coaster enthusiasts

In 2019, Coaster101.com asked their readers to nominate their favorite attractions in a variety of categories, and named Lightning Rod “Coaster of the Decade”.

“Lightning Rod was undoubtedly one of the most defining moments of the past decade for wooden roller coasters. From having the first launch on a wooden coaster to the world record-breaking speed, Lightning Rod has amassed widespread acclaim from the coaster enthusiast community,” said John Stevenson, a writer at Coaster101.com.

“Lightning Rod has become a favorite among coaster enthusiasts who have ridden it and a must-ride for those who haven’t. It redefined the limits of a wooden coaster and provided thrill seekers a ride like no other.”

A sign in front of the Lightning Rod coaster at Dollywood indicates that the attraction will be closed for the remainder of the year (photo by Daniel Munson/TheSmokies.com)
A sign in front of the Lightning Rod coaster at Dollywood indicates the attraction will be closed for the remainder of the year (photo by Daniel Munson/TheSmokies.com)

Lightning Rod’s 2021 Upgrade

Why is it important to stress the uniqueness of this attraction before getting into the details of why it’s currently undergoing maintenance you ask?

As one might imagine, a coaster as unique and innovative as Lightning Rod simply needs a little extra care every now and then.

And extra care, it shall receive.

During our latest visit to Dollywood, we were greeted with a sign near the Lightning Rod attraction that indeed confirms that the coaster will be down for the remainder of the season. and teases a potential upgrade coming for 2021.

“Lightning Rod is closed for the balance of 2020 as it receives an upgrade from (the) manufacturer, Rocky Mountain Construction. In 2021, lightning strikes twice.”

Whether that upgrade will be simply be a structural or operational change to keep the ride running with a bit more consistency or an upgrade that will change the overall effect of the ride, is unknown at this time. 

But we do know this much, the Lightning Rod coaster has not only scored Dollywood major notoriety among even the most discerning of coaster critics the world over, but has literally changed the standard against which all future coasters must now compete. 

It’s like the Michael Jordan of basketball, or the Dolly Parton of country music. It’s a star in its own right, and deserves our patience as it undergoes an upgrade that will hopefully keep it running in tip-top shape for many years to come.

Disclaimer: While we do our best to bring you the most up-to-date information, attractions or prices mentioned in this article may vary by season and are subject to change. Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any mentioned business, and have not been reviewed or endorsed these entities. Contact us at [email protected] for questions or comments.

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