Lonely Planet Writer

Dollywood's new expansion is inspired by Dolly Parton's Tennessee childhood

As a child, Dolly Parton let her imagination run wild, and now, visitors to her theme park in the hills of the Smokies are reaping the benefits.

Dollywood has just opened a massive expansion. Image by Dollywood

Officially opened on May 10 and inspired by the iconic country singer’s youthful flights of fancy, Wildwood Grove is Dollywood’s first expansion since 2008—the largest and, with a price tag of $37 million, most expensive in the park’s history. Now, there’s plenty of new attractions in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, from rides and attractions to characters, restaurants, and more.

The Treetop Tower gives guests a sky-high view of Wildwood Grove as they soar in the air, seated inside giant acorns. Image by Dollywood

The Grove’s anchor is the Wildwood Tree, a massive spectacle with 600-plus colorful lighted butterflies, thousands of leaves, and a babbling brook that pools under its canopy. Beginning in June, the tree will play host to a series of night-time events that change with the seasons. The park’s attractions span the spectrum from kid-friendly to thrill-a-minute: On the less intense side, the Treetop Tower invites riders to take a seat in a giant acorn for a spin to the top of a sky-high oak tree, while animal lovers can mount friendly frogs and black bears for a lively jaunt through their respective habitats.

Guest Kari Willis enjoys Black Bear Trail, one of the newest attractions at Dollywood’s Wildwood Grove. Image by Dollywood

Adrenaline junkies should head straight for the Dragonflier, a 1486-foot-long (453m) suspended roller coaster, or the Mad Mockingbird, a flying scooter that zooms through the air at your command, thanks to a sail that allows riders to maneuver as they see fit. There’s also a 4000 sq ft (372 sq m) climate-controlled play area where the little ones can blow off steam, and a water-filled oasis with pop jets and splashing pools that provides some relief from the hot East Tennessee sun.

Guests aboard the Great Tree Swing rock back and forth just like a leaf falling from a giant sycamore tree. Image by Dollywood

Adding to Dollywood’s cast of familiar faces are three new costumed characters: Flit and Flutter, a pair of graceful butterflies, and Benjamin Bear, an ursine ambassador with a big grin. Keep an eye out for them wandering the grounds, or pop by during a scheduled meet-and-greet to say hi. When it’s time to break for lunch, Till & Harvest serves up “Smoky Mountain Mexican flavors” across an array of entrees—think: burritos, salads, and the like, fully customizable with a variety of grilled meats and fresh veg. (Sit outside on the patio if you don’t want to step away from the action.) Looking for a souvenir to remember the day? New retailer Mountain Grove Merchants is on the premises with plenty of Wildwood-themed goods to offer.

For tickets and information, visit dollywood.com.