There is no question that Tennessee loves its music artists. Nashville of course is teaming with stars that have found their place in country music. The west part of the state boasts of being home to the King himself where visitors can tour Graceland and see where Elvis came from. But the east part of the state is home to the one and only Dolly Parton- musician, actress, businesswoman, legend.
Now please forgive me while I fan girl a little bit because I really love Dolly. She is someone who came from nothing and made something of herself while still maintaining the values that she was raised with. She is unapologetically true to herself and encourages that same vibrancy in others. She cares deeply, gives generously, and lives wholeheartedly.
Dolly Parton was the 4th of 12 children, raised in a one room cabin in Sevierville at the foot of the Smoky Mountains. Her father was a sharecropper and also worked the odd construction job to help provide for the family. Though he was illiterate, he had a mind for business and Dolly credits him for her business savvy. Dolly’s mother gave her the gift of music as she would entertain her children with folklore and ballads of their Welsh ancestors who emigrated to the Appalachian Mountains centuries earlier. Dolly took a lot of inspiration from these stories and the surrounding area of her home and they were the basis of her music. Today in Sevierville stands a statue of Dolly Parton welcoming visitors to this beautiful part of Tennessee that she calls home.
We drove through Sevierville and made our way to the amusement park Dollywood. Most of the area of Pidgeon Forge is owned by Dolly and you can see the family focus throughout. When we entered the park we were met with a colorful canopy of umbrellas in between the lovely buildings of the main street of the park.
We happened to be there during their flower festival so there were beautiful created topiaries and flower stands throughout the park. Butterflies are a signature icon of the park because Dolly felt they represented hope and new life. They also offer some festival specific food at the stands around the park. The food is classic fair food but with a great southern twist to them like barbeque coleslaw corndogs which were surprisingly tasty.
When we said to an employee that we had never been here before, he said the first thing we should do is ride the train. This train is an authentic coal-fired steam engine that takes visitors up a 5 mile path along the foothills of the Smoky Mountains. The sight of the train moving up the mountain was wonderful. But authentic as it is, the train ride also comes with cinder and soot that comes back from the engine. We got off and we all had little spots of soot on us the rest of the day.
After the train we walked up through the central part of the park where a water flume ran the length of it. There are craft stalls where you can watch glass blowers and blacksmiths at their work. Kids can pan for gold and other gems in the water. There is an old grist mill that still operates to grind grain that is then used to make delicious cinnamon bread.
We passed a small church where performers sing bluegrass and gospel music throughout the day. But the church also provides services a few times a day for any visitor who may need a spiritual lift during their visit. Dolly and her family attended the Church of God where her grandfather was the pastor. Her singing career started at the age of six as she sang at the church impressing the congregation with her talent.
The thing I really liked about the rides at Dollywood was that there was something for everyone. You know how some amusement parks either cater more to the younger crowd or to the thrill seeking adults? Dollywood has a good mix of the two with a lot of great thrill rides for those inclined but also a couple of kid areas with lots of tamer rides for the young ones. They also have a great ride swap option where the whole family can wait in line together, then one stays with the child while the others ride, then the family rides again while someone else stays with the child.
Also at the park visitors can stop by and see the replicated cabin that Dolly Parton grew up in. It is difficult to imagine such a large family living in so small a house. When Dolly was born, their father paid the doctor who delivered her with a bag of cornmeal. Dolly’s early songs came from their poverty and their simple life there in the mountains. Outside the mountain home is a memorial dedicated to Dolly’s parents Lee and Avie Lee.
I was surprised to find that even at Dollywood there are characters to meet around the park. We ran into a silly woman with her duck umbrella and flowery dress singing to everyone in line for lunch. Then over in one of the kid areas we got to meet Benjamin the Black Bear as well as we waited to ride the black bear cub ride.
Our last stop of the day was to the Old Grist Mill so we could get some of their famous cinnamon bread. The line for the bread was as long as any line for rides today which told us that it must be good. And it turned out to be every bit as good as we thought. Other options included giant butterfly shaped pretzels or fried apple pies.
Dollywood proved to be a great experience not only because of my great admiration for Miss Dolly, but also for the park itself and everything that it offers to visitors. It offered all the thrills and enjoyments of an amusement park but at a much lower cost. And it is considered one of the most beautiful parks in the country and I can see why. We are already planning another visit with some extended family members so we can introduce them to this fun park.
If you enjoyed this visit through Dollywood, I would recommend these other amusement parks to check out too:
Thanks for coming along with me and my love of Dolly Parton on this trip to Dollywood! May butterflies bring you joy and your cinnamon bread be warm.