Having grown up with Pigeon Forge, Tenn. in my backyard and visiting Dollywood nearly every summer and every holiday weekend since childhood, I’ve had the distinct privilege of not only watching our beloved park evolve over the years but also the opportunity to ride basically every ride in the park probably at least a few dozen times.
I literally grew up with some of the Dollywood rides.
As a child, some of the larger coasters used to frighten me. Blazing Fury and I have had a bit of an up and down relationship over the years – pun entirely intended.
Other rides, like the River Rampage, have always held a special place in my heart.
I’ve also seen rides come and go over the years.
Remember the Flooded Mine? Or the Thunder Express? Both classics have since gone the way of the dodo and been replaced with newer, shinier counterparts.
I received my moonshine runnin’ education from Thunder Road and I grieved the day they tore down Slidewinder.
While I won’t say I am a coaster expert, my unique relationship with the park usually makes me the go-to ride guide when my first-timer friends visit from out of town.
This is why I thought I’d put together this handy-dandy ride guide for all to enjoy.
Hopefully, this will help you plan your trip and plot your route through the park to get the most of your vacation and Dollywood experience.
I’ve also ranked each ride for both “difficulty” and “overall experience”.
The difficulty rating indicates how “scary” the ride might be for those who do not tolerate motion rides well and may be afraid of big drops, inversions and overall rough rides.
One star means anyone can ride, five stars means that ride might be reserved for those bravest among us.
The overall experience rating speaks for itself. I’ve awarded higher ratings to rides that offer unique experiences and re-ride-ability.
10. Smoky Mountain River Rampage
Dollywood’s River Rampage is essentially your classic run-of-the-mill round six-seater river raft ride.
The ride kicks off with a large conveyor belt lift and a small roller-coaster style drop.
The rest of the ride involves a moderately paced journey through the “rapids” of Dollywood with small dips, spins and plenty of opportunities to get soaked.
Five-year-old me loved this ride. Sixteen-year-old me loved this ride. Thirty-six-year-old me still loves this ride today.
Don’t get me wrong, adult me has quite a lot more theme park experience under her belt than five-year-old me had when first introduced to the River Rampage. I am under no illusion that this style of ride is unique to Dollywood. Most major theme parks today will have at least one raft-style ride in the lineup.
But there’s something about the River Rampage that continues to offer a unique charm that I haven’t quite discovered at other parks.
The Rampage is like a water-themed game of roulette.
Sometimes I get soaked from head to toe, sometimes I barely get a drop of water on me. And really, that’s where the fun of this ride lies, at least in my opinion.
The River Rampage is also a bonding experience.
Dollywood is, by definition, the friendliest theme park in the world. This means if you show up with a group smaller than six, you’ll find yourself sharing a boat with other chatty park-goers ready to engage in friendly conversation or even some mild taunting about who’s going to suffer the brunt of the soaking.
I’ve had some of the best conversations on that ride. I once sat beside a second cousin to Dolly Parton. True story.
This ride is a blast for guests of all ages who don’t mind mild thrills and getting a little wet. Loose articles are allowed on this ride – at your own risk.
Guests under 48″ must be accompanied by an adult.
- River Rampage Difficulty Level: Easy
- River Rampage Overall Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)
9. Daredevil Falls
Daredevil Falls replaced the Flooded Mine ride in 1998.
The closure of the Flooded Mine was my first real memory as a child of realizing that theme-park rides were not meant to be forever.
It wasn’t like the Flooded Mine was my all-time favorite ride. In all honesty, it was pretty mundane. But I still worried about whether or not the new ride would live up to the hype.
Well, friends, I am happy to report, Daredevil Falls delivered.
Daredevil Falls is a super-sized log-flume style water ride that resembles Disney’s popular Splash Mountain – only faster and with a bigger drop.
The ride begins with a mostly easy-going ride through the “mountains” where riders will enjoy encounters with a few animatronic obstacles including hungry bears and an unfortunately placed lumber sawmill.
The ride’s grand finale is a heart-racing 60-foot, 50 mph drop down a “waterfall” with a huge splash landing.
For comparison, Disney’s Splash Mountain features a 52-foot drop at 45 mph.
Keep in mind, this is no River Rampage. All riders WILL GET WET on this one.
In my experience, the front row tends to get the brunt of the action with water often pouring into the floor soaking your tootsies through your sneakers and socks.
Guests must be at least 42″ tall to ride. Loose articles are permitted on the ride at the rider’s own risk.
- Daredevil Falls Difficulty Rating: Moderate
- Daredevil Falls Overall Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)
8. Mystery Mine
For a theme park that literally has attractions that have been around since the 1960s, Dollywood’s Mystery Mine stands out as a coaster from a modern era.
This is far cry from your average everyday steel coaster. This ride is an experience.
Mystery Mine first opened in 2007 and at the time, it was the first Gerstlauer Euro-Fighter roller coaster in the United States.
A Gerstlauer Euro-Fighter is basically a steel looping coaster with separate cars instead of connected multi-cart trains.
Mystery Mine’s carts feature only two rows, four seats per row.
While the tracks of these style coasters tend to be a little shorter than traditional steel coasters, the separate cart system allows for unique ride mechanisms – including 90- degree lifts and drops.
Mystery Mine is themed to look like an abandoned coal mine with steep drops, sharp turns, creative maneuvers, inversions and a hair-raising 95-degree, 85-foot plunge into darkness.
Do be warned, this ride is also quite a bit more jerky than it looks. In fact, I would say the jerkiness is nearly on par with a few of Dollywood’s wooden coasters, but for some reason, I can’t imagine it any other way.
After all, what else would you expect while exploring an old abandoned coal mine?
In conclusion, don’t be fooled by this short little coaster. Mystery Mine packs a punch. It’s a blast for coaster aficionados, and not for the timid of heart.
Guests must be 48″ tall to ride Mystery Mine. Loose articles and belongings are not allowed on this ride and can be stored in either lockers or cubbies.
- Mystery Mine Difficulty Rating: Moderate
- Mystery Mine Overall Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)
7. Tennessee Tornado
The Tennessee Tornado marked a new era for Dollywood as the theme park’s first-ever major coaster expansion when it replaced Thunder Express in 1999.
As a then-timid 14-year-old, I was a bit sad to see Thunder Express go – I had JUST gotten over my fear of coasters and considered the Thunder Express to be just my speed. Fun but not scary. Fast but not too fast. There were a few “drops” here and there but nothing crazy.
Imagine the look on my face when I saw the giant blazing red multi-loop steel coaster that took its place.
I will confess, it took me a couple of years to work up the guts to tackle this beast, but I was glad I did.
The Tennessee Tornado, while bearing an ironic name because tornados are few and far between in the mountains of East Tennessee due to the naturally rugged terrain, is arguably one of the best coasters in the park.
This coaster features a back-to-back triple spiral, a 128-foot drop through an actual mountain and a top speed of up to 70 mph.
While I love this coaster, vertigo is an issue for me on this particular ride – and it’s getting worse with age. The third loop causes me to see spots every single time but I don’t let it stop me. I just can’t ride it three times in a row anymore as I used to when I was a teenager.
Guests must be 48″ tall to ride, and loose articles are not permitted.
- Tennessee Tornado Difficulty Rating: Hard
- Tennessee Tornado Overall Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)
Thunderhead opened in 2004 as the pioneer attraction in what would later become a part of a larger expansion for the park – a new area now known as Timber Canyon.
It’s a hybrid of nostalgia and modern-day engineering.
True coaster aficionados will tell you there’s nothing quite like the experience of riding a real wooden coaster.
They want to smell the wood and hear the sounds of the chains and the roar of the cart as it races through the curves. They want to feel the rattle of timber beneath their feet as it expands and contracts, offering up a unique experience each time.
A good wooden coaster is akin to an original vinyl record.
Sure, modern coasters offer speed and gimmicky thrills. But the best wooden coasters are true souls of the coaster community.
And truly, Thunderhead offers all of that, and much more.
Thunderhead crosses over and under itself, 32 times during its over 3,000 foot-long ride, travels at a speed of 55 mph and features a 100-foot drop.
As far as adrenaline rushes are concerned, in my opinion, Thunderhead is the second most thrilling, and scariest ride in the park. Second only to the brand-new Lightning Rod (more on that later).
Guests must be 48″ tall to ride and loose articles are not permitted.
- Thunderhead Difficulty Rating: Very Hard
- Thunderhead Overall Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)
I’ll probably get some hate mail for ranking Dragonflier higher than Thunderhead on this “Top 10” list but put down your pitchforks and hear me out.
Dragonflier is Dollywood’s newest roller coaster and part of the brand new 2019 Wildwood Grove expansion.
When Wildwood Grove first announced details about this new coaster for some reason I imagined a child’s coaster in my mind.
I knew that Wildwood Grove, while offering plenty of entertainment options for adults, was more or less going to be an area that largely catered to the younger crowd.
“How cute!” I thought to myself. “A roller coaster for the youngin’s!”
And sure, Dragonflier has a much lower height requirement than other coasters of its kind at the park at only 39″ versus the usual 48,” and I saw plenty of kids riding the thing when I set my sights on the coaster for the first time in 2019.
But when my butt hit the seat and the coaster took off out of the gate – I knew this wasn’t going to be the “kiddie” ride I had in mind.
In fact, in some ways, Dragonflier feels a bit like a smaller, shorter, 31 mph version of Wild Eagle.
It’s one of the smoothest coasters in the park, has no MAJOR drops or inversions but packs plenty of fun twists, turns and excitement.
And that’s what makes Dragonflier one of the best rides in the park – it just offers something for everybody.
Not a fan of big scary drops and inversions? Hate the feeling of the bigger jerky coasters? Looking for re-ride-ability? Dragonflier has ya covered!
This is the kind of coaster that I would easily feel great about inviting the entire family to ride. We usually end up riding this coaster at least a couple of times with every visit to the park. That’s something that just isn’t possible with the occasionally headache-inducing Tornado, Thunderhead or Lightning Rod coasters.
- Dragonflier Difficulty Rating: Moderate
- Dragonflier Overall Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)
4. FireChaser Express
FireChaser Express made its grand debut in 2014 as the nation’s FIRST dual-launch family roller coaster.
It blasts riders both forward and backward – similar to the new Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike ride at Universal Studios.
This ride is similar in difficulty to Wildwood Grove’s Dragonflier, with the same height requirement of 39″ and speeds of up to 35 mph.
Truthfully, I find when traveling backward, 35 mph actually seems much faster when traveling forward.
This unique ride is fairly smooth overall with a few mildly jerky parts and much like Dragonflier, offers great re-rideability.
And like many of Dollywood’s larger coasters, it also offers incredible views of the mountains.
Like Dragonflier, FireChaser Express is considered to be a family coaster. And there’s plenty to love here for both kids and adults – but do remember that this coaster is far from a “kiddie” ride.
Loose articles are not permitted and may be stored in lockers or cubbies before boarding.
- FireChaser Express Difficulty Rating: Moderate
- FireChaser Express Overall Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)
3. Lightning Rod
And then there was Lightning Rod – the fastest wooden coaster in the world (even faster than Goliath at Six Flags Great America, the previous record-holder).
Lightning Rod, located in Dollywood’s Jukebox Junction, is a fairly new addition to the park. It was built in 2016, so the memories of my first Lightning Rod encounter are still fresh in my mind.
I was looking up at the tricked-out wooden-steel hybrid and its 165-foot drop while in line behind a young girl that looked like she was probably about 11 years old and her mom. The 11-year-old, who could clearly read the apprehension on my face, turns to me and says in a comforting tone: “This is my 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 is not for the faint of heart.
The hot rod themed coaster has all the speeds and heart-racing maneuvers of a steel coaster, with the adrenaline-charged thrills of a classic wooden beast.
Lightning Rod features a launch (similar to the Hulk at Universal Studios, only faster), speeds of up to 73 mph and boasts nearly 20 seconds of “air time” for those brave enough to ride.
For comparison, the Hulk launches riders from 0 to 40 mph with a max speed of 67. Lightning Rod is basically like a bigger, faster Hulk on wood. In short, it’s terrifying, and I love it.
Guests must be 48″ tall to ride and loose articles are not permitted. Guests with casts above the elbow or hard casts on legs are asked to skip this one for safety reasons.
- Lightning Rod Difficulty Rating: Very Hard
- Lightning Rod Overall Rating: 5 Stars (Out of 5)
2. Wild Eagle
I once sat at a bar at The Island and tried to explain the Wild Eagle to a visiting tourist.
“So you sit on top of the track?” asks the tourist.
“No,” I reply.
“So you’re seated underneath the track?” presses the tourist.
“Wrong again!” I reply, feeling saucy. “You sit BESIDE it!”
That’s right, the Wild Eagle is a wing coaster – the first of its kind in the United States.
This coaster is hands-down my favorite modern-day coaster in the park. Despite its intimidating look, it offers an incredibly smooth ride. And the unique side-seat feature truly makes you feel like you’re flying with nothing but air above and below.
Okay, maybe air and the all-important over-the-shoulder safety restraints.
This ride has a minimum height requirement of 50″ and a max height of 78″. Loose articles are not permitted.
- Wild Eagle Difficulty Rating: Moderate/Hard
- Wild Eagle Overall Rating: 5 Stars (Out of 5)
1. Blazing Fury
You’d be hard-pressed to find a local in this town that doesn’t have a special place in their heart for Blazing Fury.
In case you’re wondering, in full disclosure, I am that annoying person that rides behind you repeating all the classic lines I’ve learned by heart from my hundreds of times riding this piece of Dollywood history.
“Now Molly, I’ve got a weak back!” “Weak back or not … here I come!”
Out-of-town guests and first-time riders should note that your kids will be bewildered and possibly even disappointed by the painfully evident age of this attraction. But we locals would like for you to keep in mind, if you dis the Blazing Fury, them’s fightin’ words.
The Blazing Fury is part of our heritage.
The Blazing Fury is over 40 years old. It was built in 1978 and literally pre-dates the park itself. And for a long time, until the Thunder Express opened in 1989, it was the only coaster in the park.
The scenes are campy, the lines are cheesy, homemade props are abundant, “easter eggs” and nods to the park’s history are plentiful – and we LOVE IT!
This indoor coaster mostly features a slow-moving ride through a “burning town” that lulls you into a sense of “hey this is a super easy ride” before its big multi-drop steel coaster finish.
The coaster also used to feature a bit of a “splash down” landing with water effects, but over the years the water caused wear and tear on the ride and the park had to remove the feature or risk shutting the coaster down altogether.
The day the Blazing Fury shuts down, will be a day of mourning. Let’s hope it never happens.
FIRE IN THE HOLE!
It has a height requirement of 42″, loose articles are permitted but must be secured.
- Blazing Fury Difficulty Rating: Moderate
- Blazing Fury Overall Rating: A very biased 5 stars (Out of 5)
And don’t forget to download the Dollywood app to help with wait times.
If you’re planning your trip to Dollywood, remember to check Tripster for discounts.
View the web story version of this article here.
Do you agree with our ranking? What’s your favorite ride? Let us know in the comments below.