Review: Lightning Rod at Dollywood

Roller Coaster Reviews

Lightning Rod is located in Dollywood’s 1950’s-themed Jukebox Junction area. Both the station and the coaster’s trains reflect that era. One of Dollywood’s strengths is the park’s use of its mountainous terrain. Several of the roller coasters are terrain rides which not only make them unique, but also hides much of the layout from a spectator’s view. Like wing coaster Wild Eagle, Lightning Rod disappears over a hill and then returns with satisfied, wind-swept riders.
Lightning Rod Trains - Restraints - Dollywood
Lightning Rod’s hot rod-themed trains look great, but some riders may have trouble fitting. This is always the case, but I’d have to think that this could be even more so due to the restraints that include a lap bar and also another bar across your shins. I’m sure that there’s good reason for this restraint system and I’ve encountered it on other Rocky Mountain Coasters like Outlaw Run, but it is worth noting.

The World’s First Launched Wooden Coaster

After boarding, the train creeps out of the station, taking a right hand turn as a hot rod engine roars. While still on flat track, the train begins to accelerate and it powers its way up the 200-foot+ lift hill situated on the mountain. This comes as quite a surprise for anyone not paying attention while in line. Lightning Rod boasts the title of the World’s First Launched Wooden Coaster, so needless to say a launch on a woodie will be quite a surprise, especially when the ride looks at first glance like it has a traditional lift hill. Removing the context of surprised riders and novelty of it, it’s really just a different way to start the ride off. It’s rather gentle (45 mph) as far as launches go.

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The False Drop

As the train looses speed and crests the top, riders prepare for that textbook big first drop we’re all used to seeing. Again, Lightning Rod surprises with a rather short dip, which is barely a drop that sets up a much larger drop down the other side of the mountain. The smooth 165-foot dive takes riders down the mountain all the way to the ground, while swooping under track at the bottom. The acceleration is great! Here, you get the first taste of Lightning Rod’s record-setting 73 mph speed.

The 90-Degree Banked Hill

Next, the train charges back up, high above the ground where the train turns completely on its side. The 90-degree banking is fun and a bit unnerving at the same time as you get the sensation that you’re about to be turned upside down or maybe just dumped out of your seat. It’s a very memorable moment and not something that I remember ever encountering in my travels.

More Wild Banking & Misdirection

The next few hills are smaller, but equally surprising and more forceful. Similar to Outlaw Run at Silver Dollar City, my mind had a feel for what I thought the train was going to do next, but it unexpectedly whipped me in a direction that through me off. The second of the two was especially disorienting; especially at night when it was pitch black at some points. Thankfully, Lightning Rod’s incredible speed and dynamic maneuvers are handled gracefully. I wasn’t beat up or hurt at all, just blown away by the power unexpected turns.

Then, the train traverses a short hill as we travel back up the mountain, with more than enough speed to crest it and head back down the other side toward the station. And you do it in style!

The Quadruple Down Delivers!

Back when Lightning Rod was announced, I freaked out after watching the animated preview videos of Lightning Rod mostly because of the quadruple down. And I’m happy to report, this element really delivered.
Lightning Rod - Dollywood - Quadruple Down
The train rockets down the mountain, as it navigates through four consecutive airtime hills, all while hugging the terrain. These aren’t your textbook parabola-shaped camel hump hills, they’re a little twisted and banked.

The quadruple down is super forceful, more like ejector airtime than floater airtime, so expect to leave your seat. Again this element is never two rough or painful, just like riding a speeding, bucking, bronco speeding down a mountain.

At the bottom, there’s a hard turn to the right, which was maybe the roughest spot for me. Next, the train rides into the finale, a large banked u-turn they call a Non-Inverting Half Loop. And finally, the train hits the brakes before entering the station.

Final Thoughts: Easily a Top 10 Roller Coaster, When It’s Running

Lightning Rod definitely lived up to the praise it had received from many in the enthusiast community including Jon. You can read his review here.

It balances speed, power, and a number of surprising elements while still bringing riders back to the station, no worse for the wear. That’s not an easy task. It impressed the heck out of me and was catching average park-goers by surprise delivering a different kind of wooden coaster experience than they expect.

For me, it’s a top ten roller coaster with very few negatives. There’s nothing about the actual ride that I consider a negative. Lightning Rod is one of the best roller coasters I’ve ridden among the 280+ I’ve ridden.

I will say that the amount of time it’s down is probably the biggest negative. Twice during my day at the park, the ride was down. I was lucky. On more than one occasion (see Jon’s review) I’ve heard of people missing the ride completely because it was down the entire day when they visited.

What’s Your Take?
Have you ridden Lightning Rod? What’d you think? Leave a comment below.

While I received complimentary admission, the thoughts and opinions expressed in this article are my own.

Lightning Rod - Roller Coaster - Station - Dollywood
Experience Factors & Final Rating
Rideability8
Theming6.5
Uniqueness8
Intensity9
Positives
Thrilling speed
Great use of its mountainous terrain
Several great moments of airtime
Many surprising elements
Negatives
Reliability can be an issue as it has a history of being down
10
Superior
My Take
Lightning Rod is a world-class roller coaster that boasts a remarkably fast and powerful ride without beating up riders. It's also packed with a lot of unique or rare elements including unconventional banking and the ride's beautiful mountainous setting.
Founder of CoasterCritic.com. My favorite coasters are B&M hypers and gigas. I'm also a huge fan of terrain roller coasters.

2 Comments

  1. Lightning Rod spent a few years sitting in my #1 spot out of 350+ coasters. I have a Dollywood season pass, visiting the park several times each year, and have noticed that Lightning Rod is open much more consistently now that they are running only one train. Before my first ride, I had studied the layout (thanks to YouTube videos), but no video could prepare me for the sheer power and force that I felt on this ride, especially being hurled down the mountainside on the quadruple down. I remember years earlier being “wowed” in the same way by The Voyage at Holiday World, feeling a “good sort of exhausted” by the end of the ride. I agree that there are plenty of surprise elements! Given all of the directional shifts, one would expect to be tossed around like a ragdoll, but that is not the case at all. I am able to ride with my hands in the air, although I admit to grabbing the handholds just before hitting the final brake run, which can be a bit jarring.

    Lightning Rod currently sits in my #2/383 spot, just behind Steel Curtain at my beloved home park, Kennywood.

    Reply
    • I can see why it topped your list. It’s a very impressive ride. I had no doubt I had just ridden a top 10 coaster. It’s not easy to place since it’s been so long since I’ve ridden my very top coasters, but it’ll probably land around #5 out of my 280+. We’ll see.

      And I agree completely about videos not doing it any justice. The power and force (like you said) are just something to behold.

      Reply

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