There is no way around it: Dollywood (McCarter Hollow Rd., 800/365-5996, www.dollywood.com , adults $50, seniors 60 and older $47, children 4–11 $40) is just good clean fun. The theme park owned and operated by Sevier County native Dolly Parton, Dollywood combines excellent rides with family-friendly entertainment. Mountain craft demonstrations keep Dolly’s childhood alive.
The park’s wooden roller coaster, the Thunderhead, is thrilling and fun; at River Battle you get to aim and shoot water cannons at fellow riders; and the Blazing Fury takes you through an 1880s frontier town engulfed in flames.
Dollywood also has plenty of less thrilling attractions. The county fair has Ferris wheels and other classic amusements. Calico Falls Schoolhouse is a replica of a one-room mountain school, and the Dollywood Express takes you on a five-mile railroad journey through the foothills of the Smokies. There is also a bald eagle sanctuary and the Southern Gospel Music Hall of Fame.
Dollywood also offers live music. Performers on various stages play bluegrass, country, gospel, and oldies. All shows are free with your admission to Dollywood.
Arts-and-crafts demonstrations are also a big part of Dollywood. You can watch glassblowers at work, see lye soap being made, and observe candles being dipped. A blacksmith shop produces metalwork, and a woodcarver makes one-of-a-kind pieces of artwork.
As if this weren’t enough, Dollywood puts on several major events each year, when special entertainment is offered. The Festival of Nations, from March to May, includes singers, dancers, and performers from around the world. Barbeque and Bluegrass during September offers special concerts by bluegrass favorites, and Smoky Mountain Christmas in December is a remarkable display of lights. Other events are KidsFest during June, July, and August, and Harvest Celebration in October and November.
For less than the price of two general admission tickets, you can buy a season pass to Dollywood. Many area residents choose this option so they can come back again and again, and so they won’t feel compelled to cram everything into a single visit.
Dollywood’s doors open at 9 a.m. or 10 a.m. and close between 6 and 9 p.m., depending on the season. Call ahead or check the website to find out what time the gates open on any particular day. Dollywood is closed in January, February, and March.
Dollywood’s Splash Country (traffic light No. 8, 865/428-9488, daily 10 a.m.–6 p.m., adults $42, seniors 60 and older $39, children 4–11 $36), is a super-duper water park open from mid-May to mid-September. During late June and all of July, the park stays open until 7 p.m.
Splash Country has 23 different rides and slides; some are thrilling white-water adventures and others are placid kid-friendly games. Swiftwater Run takes you round and round a tightening corkscrew until you’re sent down the chute. The Cascades is an 8,000-square-foot lagoon-style pool with interactive elements ideal for younger children.
Plan to stay all day to get your money’s worth. On top of the admission fee, you’ll pay $6 for parking unless you have a gold season pass, or gold super season pass. Guests are not permitted to bring coolers, food, or other picnic goods inside the park, although you can leave the park and return later in the day. Food is available for purchase.
Children under 13 are not allowed in Splash Country without an adult.