Need a Family Fall Adventure with a Short Drive? Head to Dollywood.

by Lacey Eibert Keigley

Travelers Rest received its name for its location – a resting spot before crossing the mountain to the next wide open space.

(Or, a resting spot after crossing said mountain.)

It’s a wonderful town for a myriad of reasons.  And we spend most of our days sharing those reasons with y’all.

One of the great features of Travelers Rest is its location. Within a short drive, you can head into the mountains, to the coast or to a couple nearby neighboring states.

A few weeks ago, my daughter and I crossed through the mountains and enjoyed a weekend in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, the homeland of Dolly Parton and her Dollywood theme parks.

 

 

It was her birthday – my daughter’s, not Dolly’s.  (Although I’d happily celebrate her birthday too.  She’s an icon and who isn’t a fan?  For a fascinating listen into the world of Dolly Parton legend and lure, check out the podcast Dolly Parton’s America.)

We had a great time celebrating together and I wanted to tell you guys about our trip, in case it’s on your agenda soon too.

 

 

Let’s start with getting to the park.

It really IS an easy drive.

We made it there in well under three hours and the views were lovely every mile of the journey.  (Kids love passing through those tunnels on 40 as you enter Tennessee.)

You can park easily at Dollywood and it’s a simple loop to get in and out.  Parking is $15.  You can save that money if you’re willing to spend a little longer to get to the park.  There’s a spot right in Pigeon Forge called Patriot Park that offers free parking and a $3 trolley ride over to Dollywood.  They make the jaunt many times during the day so you can still have the freedom to come and go as you please. And the $3 wristband is good for unlimited rides.  (And – they drop you right at the entrance gate so no walking through the parking lot. Although, if you decide to park directly at Dollywood, they offer trolleys too so the walking time is minimal regardless. Plus, it really depends on how many folks you’re taking in to the park as to which is the better deal.)

It’s a smart idea to download the Dollywood app before you go.  You can quickly see the show times for your day and have a map at your convenience.

 

 

One tip we used when we went was to head left.  As in, as soon as we entered the park, instead of heading right with all the other folks, we veered left.  Yes, it meant we sort of traveled through the park backwards, but the lines were immediately shorter as not many other people headed left first.  (It’s a trick we’ve used over the years at many theme parks and events and activities where large groups gather.  People tend to always walk right first.)

 

 

Oh – and another tiny word of advice. Take the extra few minutes to walk through the Dollywood exhibits and to step into her tour bus.  (Those were closed at the last visit for Covid cautions, but when it’s reopened – don’t miss it.) If you weren’t a Dolly fan before, you will be.

 

 

Here’s what Dollywood does that makes it feel distinctly different than other amusement parks we’ve visited:

Shade. Shade. Shade. The landscaping is actually beautiful. There are shady trees strategically placed throughout the park.  On many rides you’re overlooking a deep woods.  It’s just pretty and it helps the park feel less hot and full of asphalt.

Misting stations.  On a hot day, you can’t walk very far at all without coming across a refreshing misting station.  In long lines while waiting on rides – misting stations.  It’s a really thoughtful touch.  It’s entertaining for the kids too.  And the grown ups.

Free water.  Yes. FREE water.  At every food stand, restaurant, food truck you can wait in line, ask for water and get a free cup of the life going H20.  This makes a big difference and it’s a small gesture that helps a lot.

Just the feel good vibe.  It’s true.  Disney may be the happiest place on earth but Dollywood is just so pleasant. There are a lot of retired folks manning the rides and the staff is remarkably kind and courteous across the board.  It’s a positive spot and you can actually just feel that.

Family friendly. Sure, every amusement park should be this, but Dollywood really is.  There are hardcore roller coasters – I’m looking at you Wild Eagle – but there are many kid favorites and an entire park area dedicated to younger children.  There’s even the classic train, perfect for a little break from all the walking and all the waiting.  (Watch out for those messy cinders flying in your eyes – it’s a real coal train after all.)

 

 

It’s not too late to enjoy this gorgeous fall weather at Dollywood too.  They have an annual Harvest Festival beginning this week and lasting through the end of October.  (Plus, there’s always Christmas at Dollywood – it’s a Smoky Mountain Christmas. Talk about a light display!)  The eagles who live at the park (and are featured in a Wild Birds of Prey show) might be worth the cost of admission by themselves.

The tickets for individuals are a fair price and well worth the cost.  But the real deal is to purchase the season pass.  The difference in a one day pass and a season pass is only about $60.  You guys can figure out those details for yourselves, of course, but I was so surprised when I saw the difference. If your family loves Dollywood, it definitely seems like the way to go.  (In our family, I love to give gifts like season passes as Christmas gifts.)  Currently there’s a special on season passes that last in to a few months of next summer’s season too.  Buying the season passes comes with other benefits too – bring a friend passes and discounts on food and lodging and more.

My daughter and I also spent a day at Dollywood’s Splash Country.  We visited on the last day it was open for this season, so save these details for next summer.

 

 

The water park was definitely more her choice than mine, but it turned out to be a fabulous day.  All of the same highlights we loved and appreciated about Dollywood were true here.  The rides were also so much fun.  Of course, my personal favorite was the lazy river because it required nothing of me.

Float around in a comfy tube with no scary heights or water spraying in your face?
On it!

 

 

We had a great time challenging ourselves to the bear plunge (I think that’s the correct ride) and to some very very speedy water slides, face first mind you!

One thing I loved at Dollywood Splash Country that I immediately mentally filed away to include in this article was something I had never noticed before – Family Retreats.  Dotted here and there throughout the waterpark were these semi-hidden cozy covered porch and cabana rooms.  They’re available to rent for your day and they would have been the dreamiest sort of option for our family about ten years ago when I was taking a small army of easily exhausted children on every trip.  One parent or swell aunt or cousin could stick around the shaded retreat with the little ones napping and relax in a cool and comfy spot. You could meet up for lunch there.  It’s really a remarkably clever idea for families visiting Splash Country.

 

 

 

If you’ve been on the fence about visiting Dollywood, if you’re a grandparent thinking of purchasing passes for next year for your grandkids, if you’ve never tasted the delicious cinnamon bread at their grist mill, we’re just here to give you the slightest nudge in that direction. 

 

 

(Side note and insider tip: One of the employees at Dollywood saw us carrying our leftover cinnamon bread with us as we were leaving the park. He told us, “If you have any left when you get home, slice it up and make the best french toast.” Being a semi-rule follower, the next day I took his advice.  He was right – delicious!)

We gave our entire adventure and Dollywood experience a total thumbs up.  Good clean fun that’s just over the mountain.

Enjoy yourselves – and then come on back to Travelers Rest.

 

 

 

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