Finding a fun vacation destination in the United States that includes historical value, natural beauty, and tons of fun for the kids can be tough. Still, Tennessee ticks off all the boxes! You will find some awesome amusement parks in Tennessee you will want to visit.
Many people don’t know it, but Tennessee’s rides and attractions include mountain coasters, Dolly Parton’s theme park, Dollywood and Dollywood Splash Country, the Island in Pigeon Forge in the Great Smoky Mountains, and Nashville Shores. These are all reasons enough to head to the area for vacation.
Between all of these places in West and East Tennessee, you can find theme parks and amusement parks with impressive thrill rides, mini-golf, zip lines, and water parks with wave pools, a lazy river, and water slides.
Amusement parks in Tennessee truly have something for everyone! Here we’ll let you in on everything it has to offer. And of course, we must start with one of our all-time favorite parks, Dollywood!
Table of Contents
Pigeon Forge Area
Dollywood and Dollywood Splash Country
The king, or should we say the queen of the Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge area, is undoubtedly Dollywood. The 2021 Golden Ticket Award winner for Most beautiful Amusement Park in the world is a massive theme park nestled deep in the smoky mountains.
Not many parks out there can hold a candle to the incredible beauty of Dollywood. From the moment you walk through the gate, you feel as though you’ve been transported to a different time and place. Historical Appalachia is in its full splendor at Dollywood.
But if that’s not enough, you will experience the parks’ namesake in complete immersion into the life of one of country and popular culture’s most beloved stars, Dolly Parton.
It begins with a rebuilt replica of her family’s mountain cabin, where Dolly lived with her Mother, Father, and 10 brothers and sisters. She was built by her brother Bobbie and filled with original family items, it’s a wonder to imagine the megastar Dolly Parton living in this small cabin with so many siblings.
Next would be her actual tour bus. For many years, the “Gypsy Wagon” was Dolly’s home on wheels. The look inside will give you such opportunities to see her collection of wigs and get a real taste of what it was like to tour the country performing such hits as 9 to 5, Jolene, and Islands in the Stream.
There are so many ways Dollywood effectively transports you into a different world, but when I first heard about Dollywood, I have to admit, that’s about all I thought it had to offer.
Imagine my surprise when I learned Dollywood had won the world’s best wooden coaster award for 2 consecutive years, from 2005 to 2006. One of ten coasters the park boasts, Thunderhead is a triumph of the wooden coaster, offering everything you’ve ever wanted from the old style of roller coasters.
Speed? 55 mph. Height? Yep, a 100 ft drop. After all that, it happens to be the world’s only wooden coaster with a station flyby, which can get your blood pumping as you near your turn to get on the ride.
Another aspect you might be surprised to learn about a theme park named after a country star is just how cutting edge they have been over the years.
Not content to simply compile a collection of rides to support the smoky mountains theme, Dollywood has been shooting for the moon for some time. One big example of this is when they went way out of the box and built America’s first B&M Winged Coaster, Wild Eagle. This is the type that has you sitting alongside the track as opposed to the standard experience of sitting on top of the track.
There were only a few of these mega coasters in the entire world, and we can thank Dollywood for its introduction to the USA. Wild Eagle uses the surrounding mountain landscape, masterfully traversing the peaks and valleys, weaving the passengers through the forest with numerous thrilling close calls near the trees.
If that wasn’t enough, Dollywood did it again in 2016 when it built the world’s first launching wooden/ steel hybrid coaster, Lightning Rod. This thing is unlike any roller coaster in the world. Intensity, speed, twists, and turns utilize the mountainous terrain in ways most parks can’t even attempt to replicate.
While I could go on about the different unique coasters all day at Dollywood, it would be a disservice to ignore the many other offerings this park has in store for its visitors.
The shows alone are worthy of a full day at Dollywood. This is not your traditional amusement park lineup. I’m sure you can imagine, a park named after one of the most successful country singers of all time is going to place a focus on music. And that is offered in spades at Dollywood.
From the Rocky Mountain String Band, the Wild Roots Band, and even a Christian tilt with the Kingdom Heirs, the musical aspect here is a wrinkle worth taking a portion of the day to enjoy.
The groundbreaking 3D drone light and fireworks show “Sweet Summer Nights” is also receiving rave reviews and once again keeps Dollywood at the forefront of exciting new attractions renowned the world over.
Dollywood has recently cleared a large area to build a brand new, stunningly beautiful children’s area called Wildwood Grove. This section of the park has also won recent awards and comes with its very own family-style roller coaster, The Dragonflyer. An inverted family coaster is just enough thrill ride for the older kids and adults but is tame enough for the little tikes to have a blast.
Placed among a well-themed environment complete with trees, rivers, and waterfalls, Wildwood Grove is a fantastic phase one of their planned expansion to the park. Rumor has it that a new groundbreaking roller coaster is on its way too!
Fun fact- Dollywood has an interesting way to name its attractions and portions of the park. They bestow this honor on their employees who have been there for years. They are known to have long-term employees due to the loving way they treat their staff, so when people stay for a certain amount of time, they get to be immortalized by having their name grace the park forever.
This goes right on the theme of how Dolly likes to take care of people too. Remember the huge Gatlinburg fire that ripped through the area? Dolly gave all residents who lost their homes $1000 a month until they could find or rebuild a home. Oh, Dolly.
The park has a seemingly endless abundance of attractions and period-specific detail that could easily warrant a multi-day trip into the park (see tips!), and this is without even mentioning the water park!
Dollywood Splash Country is a 35-acre water park, you guessed it, nestled into the stunning smoky mountain atmosphere of Pigeon Forge. Located right alongside Dollywood proper, it’s another wonderland of natural mountain landscape, which offers more shade than many of the traditional water parks out there.
Splash Country found its name in true Dolly Parton fashion by having a contest where the winner received 5 years’ worth of admission tickets and a free canoe signed by Dolly herself. What a wonderful way to inaugurate the new water park for its opening in 2001.
Packed full of waterslides like the Big Bear Plunge, a large tube ride for the whole family, or high thrill slides such as Fire Tower Falls and Mountain Scream. There are slides for all thrill levels and more than enough for everyone in your group—even the kiddies.
The Bear Mountain Fire Tower is a splash and play area complete with a huge barrel of water that dumps 1000 gallons of water on a timer. Join the crowd that gathers beneath it when you sense it getting close to full! Expecting it or not, it’ll knock your socks off… if socks were allowed, of course.
The Downbound float trip, a not-so-traditional lazy river, slowly and relaxingly takes you beneath 200′ waterfalls and through the forest.
And if you’re seeking that respite away from the sun while the kids charge through the many water slides and attractions, Dollywood Splash Country offers shaded rental cabanas which can be poolside or riverside.
With over 15 different water slides, a wave pool, and numerous other children’s areas such as Little Creek Falls, Splash Country makes Dollywood a destination that offers just about everything you could hope for in a theme park trip.
- Dollywood places tons of attention to detail with period-derived items all over the park. Do yourself a favor and ask an employee what types of sites little details most people never notice around the park. In our experience, the wonderful staff is all too excited to point you in the direction of little secrets and tips around the park.
- If buying your park tickets after 3 pm, be sure to ask the staff about receiving a free admission ticket for the following day. It doesn’t always work, but it’s been known to work enough to warrant taking the swing. Remember, this is Dollywood. Guest happiness is at the top of their priority list and has been known to surprise!
The Island at Pigeon Forge
Dollywood isn’t the only big attraction in Pigeon Forge! The Island at Pigeon can easily keep you and the kids entertained. While thrill rides might not be the thing at this one, there is still a ton of really cool family-friendly rides and attractions.
Here on the Island, we’ve got a few things that jump out at us. First is the massive Great Smoky Wheel serving as the centerpiece of the entire place. At the top of the wheel, you can get a view like no other!
If heights aren’t your gig, as it’s surely not mine, you can hop on a number of rides closer to the ground! The Island has bumper cars, a mirror maze, the spinning parrot coaster (which is worth a coaster credit if you’re counting!), as well as a number of other small rides for the family.
If you’re looking to get adventurous, there is an epic ropes course for those 42″ and up. Be aware that those that are 42-48″ have to be accompanied by someone above 48″. There is a smaller course for the littles, so everyone has a chance to be a daredevil of sorts.
There are some other really neat attractions like the bungee bouncing Thunderdome and SkyFly. I liken it to Soarin’ at Epcot. It’s a super fun way to soar through the beautiful sites seen around the US.
On top of the rides, there is an amazing fountain show every hour. The show was designed by the same team who did the fountain show at the Bellagio in Las Vegas, so you know it’s going to be impressive!
There are a number of shops and restaurants you can visit, including Mellow Mushroom, the Fudgery, Margaritaville, and a whole lot more.
The best part? It’s pet-friendly, which is always good news for our family! Each store and restaurant has their own policy on whether they allow pets, but if you have your four-legged companion with you, they happily allow leashed pets to accompany you around the park.
- Check the website for coupons! There is always a number of deals you can capitalize on before heading into the Island.
- Consider the Unlimited Ride passes. This is a pay-by-attraction park, so it can get pricey if the kids want to ride the Funny Cars over and over! The Unlimited passes have a 48 hour period of use after purchase, so you can enjoy the park for two days instead of just one.
- If planning on the ropes courses, save some time and fill out the waiver online before you go!
Goats on the Roof of the Smokies
If you want a truly unique attraction with a fun-packed mountain coaster, get yourself over to Goats of the Roof of the Smokies.
The idea for having grass-eating goats on the roof of an active business originated back in Wisconsin, where owner Al Johnson had them roaming around the roof of his Swedish restaurant. It might not sound like much, but you have a change of heart the moment you arrive at Goats On The Roof of the Smokies in Pigeon Forge, TN.
There are many attractions to partake in while you’re there, but none seem to draw your attention quite like those goats. There are dozens of them up there, walking across paths from one roof to the next, chattering with one another with their famous “Baaaaah.”
Choosing to feed them some goat pellets with the very cool conveyor system they have in place is sure to be a joy for the kids, and you yourself might get quite the kick out of it.
The Goat Coaster is not to be missed! With a track length of 4,875 feet and a max speed of 27 mph, it provides the thrill that the word ‘coaster’ promises.
They allow 1-2 people per cart, and the riders themselves control the speed with a braking system built right into the cart. This ride is for all ages and skill levels.
In addition to goats and a coaster, you’ll find the Parkway Store. Here is a large collection of local artisans such as potters, sculptors, and more. There are the regular touristy knick-knacks, but you can find real artist-created signs, mugs, furniture, and other keepsakes to take home.
You can also do some gem mining here. Just like the old days of panning in the river, kids can find all sorts of gems and crystals hidden in the sand while applying the age-old technique of river mining! This is a hit every time.
And of course, we can’t skip the sweet shop. Here you’ll find local fudge, cookies, and ice cream, but it’s not your everyday fudge shop. Try the Spicy Goat Pepper fudge and see if you can handle the twist of fiery hot mixed with sweet chocolate fudge.
- Go on the coaster 2x to get the real thrill. The first time you tend to be apprehensive and find it difficult to trust the cart on the rather intense corners. By the time you get comfortable, it’s over. They offer a deal on price if you go on again right after the ride. Take it and let that cart fly over the track layout at full speed. It’s safe and goes faster than you think. It’s where the real fun awaits.
Where to Eat
Grist Mill (Located inside Dollywood)
No trip to Dollywood is complete without stopping by the Grist Mill to grab “The World’s Best Cinnamon Bread!” A claim like that usually leads to disappointment, but I’m going to stake my reputation right here and say.. It’s amazing! I can say it is the absolute best cinnamon bread I’ve ever had. There. I said it. Tasting both of the accompanying apple and frosting dipping sauces, you would not be doing Dollywood right if you bypassed this opportunity to grab a cinnamon loaf from the Grist Mill.
Aunt Granny’s Restaurant (Located inside Dollywood)
If you’re looking for a meal, Aunt Granny’s Restaurant is about the most theme-specific spot in the park. True country cookin’, which once again just doesn’t feel like you’re at a theme park.
Where to Stay
When we visited the area, we chose to rent a cabin in the Smokies. There is a lot to do in the area and plenty of beautiful hotels to stay in. Still, the comfort of a relatively remote cabin overlooking the beautiful Smoky Mountains was exactly the right way to wind down from a day at the theme park.
There is an abundance of vacation home rentals and hotel rooms in the area, so finding the right size and price for your family should not be too hard of a task.
Margaritaville is the onsite hotel at The Island at Pigeon Forge. I’ve heard nothing but good things about the resort. If you’re looking for consistent attraction availability and the best amenities, this is the option for you.
Bear Pool Cabin
This cabin lives up to it’s name! Tastefully decorated in smokey mountain decor and with it’s own indoor pool, this cabin will impress. It is a 3 bedroom cabin that will sleep 6, and includes all of the amenities you could ask for. Location wise, it’s a gem also being only 1 mile from the alpine coaster – it’s close to all things Pigeon Forge!
Once Upon A Time Cabin
Less than a mile from Dollywood, this cabin sits off the main road, but still close to everything. With 2 bed and 2 bath, and lots of extra space, this cabin will be a place your family can unwind and relax after a thrilling day at Dollywood.
The Resort at Governor’s Crossing
You will love this resort, where they offer an indoor waterpark and even an outdoor waterpark, including a lazy river. The rooms are spacious and include a kitchen, and the location couldn’t be better – only 3 miles to Dollywood and if you’re looking for a nearby zoo, it is close to the Rainforest Adventures Discovery Park Zoo.
Bearskin Lodge on the River
Location and fun awaits you at the Bearskin Lodge on the River. Only 5 miles to Dollywood, Bearskin Lodge offers a free breakfast for guests, free wifi, and views of the Gatlinburg river.
Sun Outdoors Pigeon Forge
This campground offers all you could ask for, and more! They have RV spots and cabin rentals, and fun activities for all. Multiple pools are on the property and even a lazy river. Get ready to have some fun!
Cove Creek RV Resorts
Enjoy the views of Cove Mountain from your RV spot or cabin rental. This luxury RV resort offers a pool, a general store and breathtaking views
I have focused quite a bit on the east side of Tennessee, but what about a bit more west? That’s where you can find Nashville Shores, an awesome one-stop shop for a wet and wild vacation near the historic city of Nashville.
Here you’ve got three areas to adventure – the water park, Treetop Adventure Park, and lastly, the lake, where you can rent jet skis, pontoon boats, and more.
The water park is the biggest pull- and for a good reason! This park has 8 water slides, a wave pool, and a water treehouse to climb and splash in. You can relax down the lazy river and lounge in a cabana. This is the perfect reprieve from the hot Nashville summers.
You can easily spend an entire day here. Between the number of water features and attractions for all ages and the opportunities to relax poolside, you will not run out of things to do.
Here at Nashville Shores, you can swing from the trees at Treetop Adventure Park. There are adult, junior, and kid courses, so everyone has the option to play here.
We just recently did one of these Treetop parks at a different location, and we all loved it! I don’t think any of us were expecting to enjoy it quite as much as we did!
Lastly, you can spend the day at Percy Priest Lake, boating, jet skiing, and living the lake life.
- Go mid-week if possible! The weekend crowds get pretty nuts with lines down to the ground from the tops of the slides.
- Look for coupons online. You can save at least $5-10 on each ticket but doing just a little research.
- Try to get to the water park at the opening. The slide lines tend to get longer in the afternoon, so by getting those in early, you can take the rest of the day to enjoy features like the lazy river and wave pool, where no line is present!
Where to Eat
Hattie B’s Nashville Hot Chicken
We can’t mention Nashville without telling you to get some Hattie B’s Nashville Hot Chicken! One of our favorite spots to get the local dish!
Where to Stay
This is not just a place to take day visits. It is actually a resort with RV spaces and cabins for rent. It’s located only 10 min from downtown Nashville with complimentary shuttles back and forth.
This is a great option for those who would like to get a bit of everything on their trip to Nashville!
Nashville 3bd Condo
You will enjoy this 3 bd/3.5 ba condo located less than 2 miles from Nashville Shores. It is located in a quiet neighborhood, and close to gas stations, grocery stores and more.
Nashville House Rental
Perfect location house rental, this house will be your perfect stay while enjoying the town of Nashville. It’s 2 bd/2 ba, and close to all things Nashville.
Comfort Suites Mt. Juliet-Nashville Area
You will enjoy the amenities at the Comfort Suites in the Mt. Juliet area. It is only 5 miles from Nashville Shores, and close to all Nashville has to offer.
Courtyard by Marriott Nashville Mount Juliet
The Marriotthas an indoor pool to entertain the kids, and the location is perfect when driving to explore Nashville area. Courtyard by Marriott is also only 5 miles from Nashville Shores, and close to restaurants and shopping.
Piney River RV Resort
Although a little out of Nashville, it’s only a 20 minute drive back to town. You will enjoy the beauty of this campground with several spots located right next to the flowing river.
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