15 Best Things To Do at Dollywood That Aren’t Rides (2024)

dolly's closet in dollywood pigeon forge tn

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

A Smoky Mountain local offers his tips on the best things to do at Dollywood that aren’t rides

When I first visited Dollywood, it was in the first year after Dolly Parton invested in the park and made the change from Silver Dollar City. At that time, there weren’t many rides in the park other than Blazing Fury. I’d been told that Dollywood wasn’t an amusement park. It was a theme park. But over the ensuing decades, the Dollywood team has orchestrated a massive and impressive sea of 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. 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’ve grown to appreciate the many things to do in Dollywood that aren’t rides. Like …

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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)

1. See Dolly Parton’s Tennessee Mountain Home

This is a great stop while visiting the Dollywood park. Of course, 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. She recognizes that people are curious about her upbringing, so she invites them to visit the replica of her home in the theme park. It was designed by members of the Parton family.

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)

2. 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.

The Dollywood Express
The Dollywood Express is operated by two trains (photo by Kim Grayson/TheSmokies.com)

3. Ride the Dollywood Express

Although this may technically be considered a ride, guests of all ages can appreciate this scenic train ride. Plus, it’s one of the iconic features of the Dollywood park. The Dollywood train is operated by two steam engines, named Cinderella and Klondike Katie. The ride once featured a show halfway through, but today, it is simply an experience where riders wave at the bystanders and enjoy a five-mile journey through the mountains.

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)

4. 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. 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)

5. Check out the playgrounds

Kids have a lot of energy, and 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 in Wildwood Grove. 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)

6. Visit Craftsman’s Valley

A feature that the teenage version of myself found boring has now earned my begrudging respect. Including the Mountain Blown Glass. The valley is filled with interesting shops and exhibits, including Old Flames Candles where you can dip your candles. This area is a fun place to explore and shop for homemade goods.

knife examples at dollywood knife making
At Dollywood, you can choose to make a railroad spike knife, a horseshoe knife or a bolt knife (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

7. Make your own knife

Speaking of Craftsman’s Valley, did you know that Dollywood has its own knife-making experience? At the Valley Forge Blacksmith, you can watch as they make knives or even make one of your own.

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)

8. 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. If you visit on a Sunday, you can attend a church service. 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. 

johnnie crawford sign at dollywood
Johnnie Crawford was a longtime Dollywood greeter (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

9. Look for Easter eggs

The Dollywood theme park is full of Easter eggs. For example, pay attention to signage throughout the park. Dollywood honors its long-term employees with signs throughout the park that are worked into the theming. You can see Johnnie Crawford’s sign in the park, who was a beloved Dollywood greeter who never missed a day of work in more than 30 years.

a giant prize at a carnival game
There are plenty of carnival-style games at Country Fair and at the top of Craftsman’s Valley (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

10. Play carnival games

Dollywood has dozens of carnival-style games to play while you visit the park. Many of them are in the Country Fair area and the Craftsman’s Valley area, located beside the Tennessee Tornado. They are fun little games, but I recommend waiting until the end of the day so you don’t end up carrying stuffed animals with you for the rest of your park day.

singers perform on stage from a brighter day
A Brighter Day is a fan-favorite show at Dollywood (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

11. 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, however, miss the Festival of Nations, which would bring a wide variety of performers from all over the world. It has yet to return since its absence in 2020.

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)

12. 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)

13. Go to the Grist Mill and eat cinnamon bread

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)

14. 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 cooking while visiting Dollywood (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

15. 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 cooked side by side are perfect for all seasons. But don’t leave without trying the Grist Mill cinnamon bread!

What is your favorite non-ride thing to do at Dollywood when you’re on a Pigeon Forge vacation? Let us know in the comments!

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2 thoughts on “15 Best Things To Do at Dollywood That Aren’t Rides (2024)”

  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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