A trip to Dollywood doesn’t always have to mean giving up an entire weekend, or a few days. In fact, if you are within at least three hours of Dollywood, a day trip is very feasible for you! No, you definitely won’t get to do all the amazing things that Dollywood offers, but you can certainly hit the highlights! Here is how our family has mastered the art of the Dollywood day trip!
When to Hit the Road
A little bit about us: We are a family of five, with twin 11-year-old boys and a 1-year-old boy. Our older boys like some bigger rides but still really enjoy a lot of the things available for kids at Dollywood. We live about three hours from Dollywood, so our preparation starts early that day. I wake up just before 5 a.m., and the goal is to get everyone up and out the door by 6:15 a.m. Since we don’t have to pack for an overnight stay, it’s really just a matter of making sure we have what we need for the car and what we might want in the park.
We pull out by 6:15 a.m. and stop at a fast food place to grab breakfast on the way out of town. From there, we are on the road, and most of the time we can make it to Dollywood without stopping. We generally find ourselves at the entrance to Dollywood between 9:15 – 9:30 a.m., which is perfect! I highly recommend getting there before opening so that you can get settled and make your way into the park. We generally opt for Preferred parking, but even if you are in general parking, this gives you lots of time to catch a tram up to the park entrance, go through security and enter the park.
Start Your Park Day
If you have smaller children, your first stop should always be the Centralized Measuring station! Getting your child measured early will help you know exactly which rides to hit and save you time getting on rides later in the day. Also, if we are planning to get wet later in the day, this is the time we will rent a locker so we can stash a change of clothes.
Next, we head down Showstreet to see the new décor if there is a festival happening, and we move toward Jukebox Junction to start our day on Rockin’ Roadway. We have found this is a ride we like to do early and avoid some lines later in the day.
After Rockin’ Roadway, it is on to Country Fair for my family. By getting to Country Fair early in the morning, we avoid a lot of lines for rides and games. This is one of the areas of the park where we spend the most time, and in about an hour, we can do most of what we want to do in this area of the park. Our favorites include Demolition Derby, The Scrambler, The Amazing Flying Elephants, the games and The Skyrider for my older boys, and of course, Lucky Ducky, Busy Bees and Piggy Parade for my youngest son.
Plan an Early Lunch
Our next goal is to try to be ready for lunch around 11:30 a.m. By eating a little earlier, we usually have little to no wait at our lunch choice, and later we are back in the park while others are eating. For us, lunch is usually going to be at Aunt Granny’s Restaurant or at Dogs N Taters, both of which are very close to Country Fair, in Rivertown Junction. There are lots of great dining choices in the park though, and I know you will find one that best fits your family!
Once our tummies are full, we make our way over to the Dollywood Express. We have found that after lunch is a good time for us to ride, as lots of other people are eating, and it’s a gentle ride around the park. If we don’t time it close to a boarding time, we are able to browse in nearby shops, ride the carousel, or finish up anything we missed in Country Fair before boarding.
After our train ride, it’s over to Craftsman’s Valley. We walk up through that area of the park and are able to grab a loaf of cinnamon bread, visit our favorite Craftsman shops, stop in the chapel, check out the bald eagles and anything else that catches our attention on our way up to Wilderness Pass. If the line isn’t too long, we will stop and ride FireChaser Express or Wild Eagle, and then we make our way down to Wildwood Grove.
While in Wildwood Grove, there are several must-dos and several other great rides that we will do if we are making good time. Our must-dos include The Mad Mockingbird, Dragonflier and Hidden Hollow. If we have time, we will also visit Wildwood Creek, Frogs and Fireflies, Treetop Tower and Black Bear Trail!
After Wildwood Grove, we make our way back down into Timber Canyon, because we just can’t miss Whistle Punk Chaser. It was my boys’ first coaster, and they still love it today!
Then to finish out our day, we consider a couple different options. If we are going to get wet, it’s time to head to Smoky Mountain River Rampage! If not, we will probably grab ice cream or cinnamon bread (if we didn’t earlier), and take in a show! The Kingdom Heirs are a family favorite, so if we have the opportunity to hear them, we try to do it.
We aim to leave the park between 4 – 4:30 p.m. on a day trip because of our longer ride home, but you may want to stay later if you are closer! Before we leave, if we are wet, we will grab our change of clothes and change in a restroom before leaving the park, so that we are not riding home in wet clothes. Also, by keeping the water ride to the end of the day, we do not walk around the park in wet clothes and shoes either! If we are dry, we will probably swing into the Emporium to grab a souvenir and then head for the exit! Having different ways to end the day is helpful to us because it means that we are able to experience Dollywood in a different way with every trip, while still getting to do things we love on every trip.
The drive home is usually pretty quiet because we are all very tired after a day of fun at Dollywood! We stop for dinner about an hour from home, and then get home between 8 – 9 p.m. that night. It does make for a long day, but it is always so much fun for our family to have a day to get away to our favorite place. A Dollywood day trip always gives us memories worth repeating!