Few musicians are famous enough to have an entire theme park dedicated to them, and Dolly Parton has proven herself to be one of them. Her Dollywood theme park (and water park and resort) in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, attracts millions of visitors each year. In addition to the rides, Dollywood is also a place to come for live entertainment, Appalachian culture, and a closer look at the life of the beloved country singer behind the park. Here are some facts about Dollywood you should know.
1. Dollywood is located in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.
The town was named for an iron forge owned by Isaac Love in the 1820s. The forge, in turn, was named for the Little Pigeon River, which got its name from the flocks of passenger pigeons that used to live in the area (the birds are now extinct).
The park is located on 150 acres near Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and is themed around the history of the Smokys, life there, and preservation of the mountains. There's even a "multi-sensory musical experience" dedicated to the area, called Heartsong.
2. Dollywood is more than a theme park.
Dollywood is often listed among the greatest theme parks in the country. In 2019, it received three Golden Ticket awards, which recognize excellence in the amusement industry. But the tourist destination is so much more. In addition to Dollywood’s Splash Country water park and Dollywood proper, the 150-acre complex includes cabins, space for rodeos and dinner theater, and a resort and spa. It’s also the location of the Southern Gospel Museum and Hall of Fame.
3. The theme park had many names before Dollywood.
Parton didn’t just decide to build a theme park from scratch one day. When she bought an interest in the park that became Dollywood in 1986, it had already been around for decades. The site first opened under the name Rebel Railroad in 1961. It featured a steam train, saloon, blacksmith shop, and other attractions themed around the history of the Smoky Mountains. In 1970, it was rebranded as Goldrush Junction and kids’ rides were added, and in 1977, it became Silver Dollar City. Parton entered the story in the 1980s and became part-owner of the park along with Silver Dollar City’s existing operators. When the park reopened as Dollywood in 1986, attendance for the year spiked by 75 percent.
4. Dollywood is the most popular ticketed attraction in Tennessee.
On some of the days soon after its May 1986 opening, traffic to get into Dollywood stretched for six miles down U.S. 441. The park had its one millionth visitor after being open for just five months; during the first season, it had 1.34 million visitors. These days, nearly 3 million people visit Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, each year, making it the most-visited ticketed attraction in the state. It also consistently ranks among fan-voted lists of Tennessee’s best tourist destinations.
5. Dolly Parton wanted Dollywood to bring jobs to her community.
Parton grew up in the economically depressed area of Sevier County, Tennessee, and after she found success, she wanted to give back to her childhood home. She created Dollywood as a way to bring jobs to the community. She told the Associated Press in 2010 that she "always thought that if I made it big or got successful at what I had started out to do, that I wanted to come back to my part of the country and do something great, something that would bring a lot of jobs into this area.” Today, according to Mashable, Dollywood is the biggest employer in the region.
6. Visitors to Dollywood can learn about Dolly Parton’s life.
Not every part of Dollywood directly relates to its namesake singer, but there are plenty of attractions that celebrate her. There’s Chasing Rainbows, a museum featuring prestigious awards and elaborate costumes from Parton’s career. For a more intimate look at her life, guests can visit her tour bus or the replica of her childhood home where she grew up in the Tennessee mountains. Dolly grew up in Sevierville, Tennessee, with her parents and 10 siblings. "We had two rooms, a path, and running water, if you were willing to run to get it," she once said. The replica—which was built by Parton's brother, with the interior created by Parton’s mother—is filled with many authentic items from her old home. The original cabin still stands.
7. Dollywood is home to one of the country’s largest eagle sanctuaries.
Dollywood isn’t just a place for thrill-seekers and music buffs—it also has something for animal lovers. The park is home to the country’s largest sanctuary for non-releasable bald eagles. Guests can walk along the edges of the 30,000-square-foot aviary and catch a glimpse of its inhabitants, or wait for a show with live birds and their handlers in the exhibit’s open-air theater.
8. Dollywood has its own church.
Want to take a Sunday trip to Dollywood without missing church? There’s a chapel on the property that holds weekly mass. The Robert F. Thomas Chapel, now named for the doctor who delivered Dolly Parton, was constructed in 1973 when Dollywood was still Goldrush Junction. It’s only several decades old, but it was designed to look like a late 19th-century Appalachian church.
9. Dollywood’s grist mill operates just as one would have in the 1880s.
Though it was built in 1982, the park's grist mill was constructed—and operates—as it would have in the 1880s. According to the Dollywood website, "Great care was taken to build the mill in a manner that would honor tradition and utilize Dollywood’s craftspeople. Lumber was sawed in the park’s steam powers sawmill, logs and shingles were split by hand, blacksmiths forged the hardware, and glass blowers made the windows. Later an electric grist mill was added, and either or both mills might be working when you visit." Each season, the mill grinds 10,000 pounds of three types of corn: yellow, white, and popcorn.
10. Dollywood also has “Doggywood.”
You can't bring your pups into Dollywood (unless they're service animals), but you can leave them at Doggywood, which opens half an hour before the park does and closes 15 minutes after Dollywood. Pets will need proof of a rabies vaccination in order to stay.
11. Dollywood hosts a number of festivals.
They include festivals devoted to BBQ and bluegrass, summer and harvest celebrations, the Festival of Nations, and Smoky Mountain Christmas. During the 2013 Smoky Mountain Christmas, the park put on Dollywood's A Christmas Carol, which featured a hologram of Parton as the Ghost of Christmas Past. “When they told me they were going to make a hologram out of me, I thought they were crazy,” Parton said. “But when I saw how real it looked on stage, I couldn’t believe it. I’m not sure this world can handle two Dolly Partons, but I’m excited folks will be able to see ‘the other Dolly’ reminding families that it’s not what you have but who you have, just like ole Scrooge figures out in the end.”
12. Dolly Parton hasn’t ridden any of Dollywood’s rides.
Dollywood has a number of rollercoasters and water rides, but unfortunately, Dolly hasn’t ridden them. “I don’t ride the rides. I never have,” she told The New York Times. “I have a tendency to get motion sickness. Also, I’m a little bit chicken. With all my hair I got so much to lose, like my wig or my shoes. I don’t like to get messed up. I’m gonna have some handsome man mess it up, I don’t want some ride doing it.”