A few weeks ago, I went to Dollywood with my wife and daughters (ages 12 and 9). It was our first time at Dollywood since our trip in 2015. On that trip, Lightning Rod had just began construction. Since then, the ride had opened to much praise from enthusiasts. Jon gave it a 10 out of 10 and it currently sits tied at 2nd in our combined overall list. So I was looking forward to finally riding it myself. I was also looking forward to checking out the all new Wildwood Grove section with my family.
Thunderhead: Former Golden Ticket Award Winner Still a World-Class Woodie
After attempting to ride Lightning Rod and finding it temporarily down, we decided to head over to the Timber Canyon area for Thunderhead. I assumed (correctly) that it’s still a world-class wooden coaster, but I did miss-remember just how fast it was. It was a bit too intense for my 9 year-old, but the rest of family seemed to enjoy it. Its twister layout is deceiving as there are no large drops to speak of. So when it powers its way through twists and turns at such a high speed it’s a bit surprising. I was happy to see Thunderhead has aged well and is still thrilling riders, as that’s not always the case with woodies. Read my full Thunderhead review.
Right next to Thunderhead, there’s a newer small kiddie coaster called Whistle Punk Chaser. It looks like a great first roller coaster for kids, but we skipped it.
Wildwood Grove: A Well Thought-Out Family Area
Next, we headed into the new Wildwood Grove section. The area has a whimsical, nature theme and is aimed at kids for the most part. It’s a good addition as the other area focused on kiddie rides is on the opposite side of the park in the County Fair section. There’s a new restaurant called Till and Harvest, several rides for younger guests and indoor play area called Hidden Hollow that’s great for preoccupying toddlers and younger kids. As a parent, it’s a great idea as I know sometimes they need to burn off some energy and run around while the older people in your group are nearby riding rides. It was also smart to make Hidden Hollow an indoor playground in case guests want to get out of the hot or rainy weather.
Dragonflier: Great Family Coaster
Dragonflier is the suspended family roller coaster that serves as the signature ride for Wildwood Grove. The ride was a great choice as it sits perfectly between the bigger thrill rides and small kiddie rides, providing a step up for the kids ready for the challenge. Dragonflier is also just forceful and fun enough to entertain adults too. For more, read my full Dragonflier review including a rating and a break down of its experience factors.
Wildwood Grove’s Other Rides & Attractions
A few other noteworthy rides in this section include Black Bear Trail where guests climb on the back of bear-themed cars and glide along a slow flat track, Mad Mockingbird a flying skooter ride where guests can pilot swinging cars, and Great Tree Swing a swinging boat ride. My 9 year-old enjoyed Mad Mockingbird and so did my wife as I spotted her doing some pretty wild flying maneuvers. Learn all about this new area on Dollywood’s Wildwood Grove page.
Mystery Mine, Firechaser Express, & Wild Eagle
For the larger roller coasters, in the xxx area, we opted to skip Mystery Mine. It’s a solid coaster, but I didn’t think the kids were up for the spooky, ultra-steep steel roller coaster. I also found it a bit rougher than I’d like the last time I rode it. Overall, I’d recommend it though. Read my Mystery Mine review.
Firechaser Express is a good mine train coaster that’s great for families. It has a rare forward and backward section layout thanks to a nifty switch track. Read my review of Firechaser Express.
Wild Eagle is a wing coaster providing an unusual riding experience where guests are seated to the left and right of the track rather that on top of or below it. Flying on the wings of eagles not only looks cools, but makes you feel more exposed as the coaster traverses drops, turns, and four inversions. The odd position and long climb up the mountain had my oldest feeling a little nervous, but she enjoyed it and wanted to ride it again. For more check out my review of Wild Eagle.
The Dollywood Express Train Ride: A Blast from the Past and a View of What’s Next
Dollywood Express is the park’s steam engine that takes guests on a twenty minute trip through the mountainous terrain around the park. On a previous trip, the Dollywood Express was not running, so we were looking forward to riding it this time. We rode “Cinderella” and true to her name, the coal-fired steam engine did produce some tiny pieces of cinder falling from sky behind it. So guests were warned they may get some on their clothes. It wasn’t a big deal, but I appreciate the warning.
Dollywood Express is not a transportation ride with stops along the way, it’s a self-contained ride providing beautiful views while the conductor shares history of the train and the Smoky Mountains. Not only was it nice to get a break from all of the walking, but it really did feel like a trip back in time. The train is one of the things that really adds to the charm of Dollywood and I recommend you ride it at least one to experience an authentic blast from the past. Try to make it to the loading station well before the train leaves as it’s a very popular attraction and they may run out of seats.
On the trip to the edges of the park, we passed by Wildwood Grove and could see a large clearing beyond it. It certainly looked like the land was cleared and graded in preparation for a new area in the future. I would say let the speculation begin, but I’m sure it already has. Stay tuned for more on Dollywood’s future plans.