A Dollywood fanatic remembers rides and attractions that have been removed over the years
Dollywood’s master plan is a thing of wonder. The 36-year journey from niche theme park to being named the No. 11 theme park in the world, according to TripAdvisor, is a remarkable testament to strategic planning and execution. But with remarkable progress, there is some element of trial and error. If you don’t follow theme park news, it can be shocking to discover that in the course of an off-season, a favorite ride has been shuttered in the pursuit of bigger and better things. Sometimes the changes are quite evident. Other times, they sneak up on us and we only realize something is gone when we’re staring its replacement in the face. But that doesn’t mean that dearly departed rides are gone from our memories. So let’s take some time and remember our top gone, but not forgotten rides and attractions at Dollywood that no longer exist.
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1. Mountain Slidewinder
The Mountain Slidewinder was a water-based thrill ride that served its purpose until Dollywood developed more (and better) thrill rides. The Slidewinder was essentially a long water slide with multi-seat toboggans. It was retired in 2019 after 32 years of service. Rumors are that the upkeep costs outweighed the ride’s value, but I think it was the long hike up the queue. The debut of Wildwood Grove proved that Dollywood’s planners are giving more thought to comfort, accessibility and practical movements. The trek up to the Slidewinder was significant.
2. Timber Tower
The Timber Tower opened to much fanfare in 2006. A gigantic tower with a massive 40-person gondola that lifted to the top 60 feet in the air, the Timber Tower looked much like its eventual replacement, Drop Line. But instead of a slow ride up and a quick drop-down, the Tower spun its gondola and rocked back and forth, giving the riders the sensation of falling to the ground like a tree felled by a lumberjack’s ax. The problem? These lumberjacks were not OK. The Timber Tower had an incident roughly a year after opening that resulted in some guests being stuck up in the air for as much as six hours. The ride lasted another 4 seasons, but you have to think it was doomed by a failed safety sensor.
3. River Battle
Another ride that didn’t have a long life was the River Battle – an interactive watercraft ride that allowed riders to shoot targets and each other with streams of water. It was fun – unless you ran across some young jerks in another boat determined to blast your 3-year-old and make them cry even after you asked them nicely to stop. Then, you’d be forced to follow the young jerks around the park, hypothetically, of course, plotting a chance to take sweet, sweet revenge. Still, it was a fun way to cool off on a hot day. River Battle’s sister ride, Tom & Huck’s RiverBlast at Silver Dollar City, also closed in 2017.
4. Country Fair Falls
This oldie was a holdover from the pre-Dollywood days, but it was showing its age by its 2004 removal. The ride was born for the 1964 World’s Fair in New York. Later, it found its way to Pigeon Forge when the park was still Gold Rush Junction in the late 60s. It was pretty basic, bang around in a water-filled half-pipe until being carried up the incline by a chain. It was a lot of suspense for one quick thrill, the drop and a cooling splash of water. Reportedly, when the log flume ride came down, it made way for six other kiddie rides in the Country Fair section. With Daredevil Falls and Mountain Slidewinder, the Country Fair Falls outlived its usefulness.
5. Thunder Express
This runaway mine train’s story is an interesting insight into theme park operations. In addition to being Dollywood’s first outdoor coaster, the ride was also the first roller coaster at Six Flags over St. Louis. The Thunder Express began as half of the twin-tracked River King Mine Train in the early 70s. The secondary track was sold to Dollywood and rebranded in 1988. Interestingly, anyone who wishes can still ride both halves of the original 1971 ride, albeit with several modifications having been made over the years. The primary Mine Train track is still in operation at Six Flags. Its sister, the former Thunder Express, is in operation at Magic Springs Theme and Water Park in Hot Springs, Ark. Today it operates under the name Big Bad John, as it has since it opened there in 2002 (POV video below).
6. Thunder Road
Thunder Road was a motion ride that came onto the scene in 1996. And it taught us everything we ever needed to know about the history of moonshine. The ride was inspired by the classic 1957 film “Thunder Road” and took its riders on an adventure-filled car chase with an explosive ending. At the time, the ride cost about $5 million to create according to the Dolly Parton website. The attraction was also the largest Turbo-Ride Action Adventure ride of its time.
It was replaced in 2002 with the Smoky Mountain Wilderness Adventure, a ride where Dolly Parton’s cousin took Dolly herself, along with its riders, on a sight-seeing adventure of the Smoky Mountains. The Smoky Mountain Wilderness Adventure had about a 6-year run before becoming the Dreamsong Theater. Editor’s Note: We’d love an old photo of Thunder Road. If you happen to have one you’d like to submit for publication, please email firstname.lastname@example.org)
7. Flooded Mine
The Flooded Mine was a float-through ride that depicted prisoners working in – and escaping from – a mine that was flooding. Truthfully it was slightly morbid. Even as a kid, I remember thinking, “Are these guys drowning? That’s what’s happening here?” It was shut down in the mid-90s to make room for Daredevil Falls. However, the Flooded Mine at Dollywood’s sister park, Silver Dollar City in Branson, Mo., is still up and running. To make things more interesting, they’ve recently added “pistols” (laser guns) that you can use to shoot at targets as you ride.
Ya know those prisoners need to be taught a lesson for trying to escape. (Okay, you got me, you’re not shooting at prisoners, you’re shooting at bullseyes that trigger bell and whistle sound effects).
Pro-tip: Next time you ride Blazing Fury, be on the lookout for a few Flooded Mine Easter eggs. One is a boarded-up sign that reads “Flooded Mine / Danger Keep Out”. The other is a tombstone of Charlie Turner, who was “killed by flooded mine.
Do you remember any of these rides? Are there any that we missed? Let us know in the comments!