A Dollywood pro shares her ranked list of the scariest rides in the park
I’m always amused watching first-time Dollywood-goers explore Dolly Parton’s namesake theme park in Pigeon Forge, Tenn. It always reminds me how, as someone who grew up with the park practically in her backyard, I often take things for granted. I think people expect Dollywood to be a rinky dink carnival-like attraction. When really, Dollywood, at least in my opinion, rivals the likes of Disney World, with its incredible selection of quality entertainment from shows to food to attractions.
But where Dollywood really shines is in the thrill-ride department. In fact, did you know that Dollywood has more roller coasters than Universal Studios’ two Florida parks combined? This usually means good news for coaster lovers (like myself) and bad news for others (like my scardey cat mom). And so, as a Dollywood pro, I thought it might be helpful to create a ranked list of what I believe, are the scariest rides at Dollywood – for both thrill seekers and scardey cats alike. Do with this information what you wish.
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1. Lightning Rod
In first place, we have the most intense and arguably, the scariest ride at Dollywood. Themed after a tricked-out 1950s-era hot rod, this I-box track wooden coaster launches riders from zero to 45 mph, more than 20 stories up. It features a launch (similar to the steel Hulk at Universal Studios) speed of up to 73 mph. And it also boasts nearly 20 seconds of “air time”. In case you’re wondering what “air time” means – it means your butt is off the seat. Lightning Rod is the fastest wooden coaster in the world and it’s the only wooden launch coaster in the world. One of the scariest things of all? It’s frequently down for maintenance. It takes a lot to keep a ride like this running in tip-top shape. So if you’re in the park and see this ride up and running, don’t wait for later in the day to enter the queue. Lightning Rod is located in Dollywood’s Jukebox Junction area. It has a minimum height requirement of 48 inches. Pro-tip: Ride Lightning Rod again at night (if it’s running) for an even bigger thrill!
Next up we have Thunderhead. Wooden coasters can often feel a bit more bumpy, and headache-inducing (at least for me), than more modern steel coasters. And Thunderhead is no exception. It features a 100-foot drop and is one of the longest coasters in the park. And while Thunderhead doesn’t go upside down, it offers all the thrills and then some for classic wooden coaster lovers. It has a minimum height requirement of 48 inches. It’s located in the Timber Canyon area of the park near Wildwood Grove.
3. Tennessee Tornado
Coming in at number three, we have the Tennessee Tornado. This steel coaster is known for its three back-to-back loops. That’s right, this one goes upside down not once but three times! The intense coaster features a 128-foot drop with a top speed of 70 mph. Candidly, this is the only ride in the park that makes me a bit dizzy. In my younger days, I could ride this ride several times in a row on days when there was no line in the park. Today? Once is enough. I still quite enjoy it, but it’s not for riders who are timid about coasters. It has a minimum height requirement of 48 inches. This coaster is located near the end of Craftsman’s Valley.
4. Wild Eagle
Speaking of coasters that go upside down, next up, we have Wild Eagle. This is genuinely one of my favorite roller coasters in the park. The Wild Eagle is America’s first-ever wing coaster. This means the coaster cars are actually located beside the track rather than directly on top of the track. So as you ride your legs hang in the air, simulating the flight of an eagle. It’s perched 21 stories above Dollywood and gives you the feeling of soaring above the mountains. It has a 135-foot drop and a top speed of 61 mph. It’s a little over 3,000 feet long. It has a minimum height requirement of 50 inches and a maximum height of 78 inches. Note: Despite the thrilling features of this ride it somehow manages to be one of the smoothest coasters I’ve ever experienced. The Wild Eagle is located in the Wilderness Pass section of the park.
5. Mystery Mine
I’m ranking this in the fifth spot due to its theming and ride intensity. On Mystery Mine, riders travel through an abandoned coal mine. The ride starts out with a slight drop into a dark coal mine where you’ll see some “bats” and eventually come out at a very steep incline. But it’s famous for its 95-degree, 85-foot vertical drop into darkness and full 1,811-foot track with speeds up to 43 mph. It also goes upside down, but won’t make you dizzy like the Tennessee Tornado. The ride has a minimum height requirement of 48 inches. Mystery Mine is located in Timber Canyon.
6. Firechaser Express
Firechaser is a dual-launch family coaster. It has some bigger lifts than the previously mentioned coasters with moderate drops. It does not go upside down. However, it’s fast and features a unique backward launch (similar to that of Hagrid’s Motorbike in Orlando). It has a minimum height requirement of 39 inches. This coaster is located in Wilderness Pass.
7. Daredevil Falls
This ride is basically a hillbilly Splash Mountain (or Tiana’s Bayou Adventure). It’s a glorified log flume with a massive 60-foot drop at 50 mph. But if drops are your thing, you won’t want to miss this ride. The minimum height requirement is 42 inches. Daredevil Falls is located in the middle of Craftsman’s Valley.
8. Blazing Fury
Blazing Fury is Dollywood’s oldest roller coaster. The majority of the ride is a slow-moving track through a burning town before a couple of fun 20-30′ drops at the end. While the majority of this ride is fairly mild, I remember being scared of this one when I was little. It’s a dark ride with creepy props. Some of the ride’s mannequins were actually purchased from an old haunted house in Gatlinburg and repurposed. It’s literally part haunted house, part dark ride. The minimum height requirement is 42 inches. Blazing Fury is located in Craftsman’s Valley.
9. Drop Line
Again, we have a drop. I’m personally not the biggest fan of rides that take you up and then drop you down, but obviously, some people like them because just about every theme park has a ride like this. Drop Line lifts riders 20 stories up, slowly spins and then plummets you back to the ground. It has a minimum height requirement of 55 inches. Drop Line is located in Timber Canyon.
Next to last on our list, we have Dragonflier – a family coaster. This ultra-smooth ride mimics the flight of a dragonfly as it speeds through twists and unpredictable turns. Just don’t mistake this one for a kiddie coaster. While the lifts and drops are all fairly tame and it does not fully go upside down, it does go a little “sideways” at times. All in all, it’s a surprisingly speedy, exciting little coaster. There’s a minimum height of 39 inches and a maximum height of 81 inches. Riders under 48 inches need to be accompanied by someone 14 years of age or older. Dragonflier is located in Wildwood Grove.
11. Big Bear Mountain
Finally, we have Dollywood’s newest addition to the park – Big Bear Mountain. This family-friendly coaster has a top speed of 48 mph and does not go upside down. And while it’s not exactly the most thrilling ride on my list, I do think it deserves this honorable mention as a great introductory coaster for young thrill-seekers in training. The minimum height requirement of 39 inches tall. Bear Bear Mountain is located in Wildwood Grove.
Do you agree with the ranking? Which rides do you think are the scariest rides in the Great Smoky Mountains? Let us know in the comments below.