Dollywood is a favorite topic of ours here at Appalachian Wanderers. Dolly’s theme park at the base of the Great Smoky Mountains is probably one of our favorite places to visit. We’ve been pass holders for years and have excitedly watched as it has doubled in size over the last decade. Now a national destination, Dollywood sprawls over 150 acres and features eight fantastic rollercoasters, award-winning shows, and almost monthly festivals that draw millions each year. We just can’t help but love this place!
Of course, before Dolly showed up in 1986 with shovel in hand, the park went by another name: Silver Dollar City Tennessee. Herschend Family Entertainment bought the park ten years earlier and had worked on expanding the meager offerings Goldrush Junction provided, setting it on the path towards its massive success today. Did you know this was not their first foray into the theme park business? Dollywood actually has a sister park halfway across the country in Branson, Missouri. This was the original Silver Dollar City.
Unlike many of today’s modern theme parks which cost millions or even billions of dollars to construct over a short time period, Silver Dollar City started off quite small. It experienced growth slowly and naturally over the decades. There was no master plan that transformed hundreds of wild acres into fantastical lands, carefully designed streets, or immersive attractions. This was no Disneyland, and yet, that special touch of magic can be found throughout this wonderful park nestled within the Ozark Mountains.
Much like its sister park Dollywood, Silver Dollar City began with a singular attraction. This one, however, was much more impressive then a steam train. Marvel Cave was first discovered by Native Americans hundreds of years ago and then rediscovered by settlers in the 1860’s. Exploration of the cave didn’t take place until 1880 or so, as prospective miners looked for marble to extract. While they didn’t find the coveted stone, this led to the cave’s name as Marble was corrupted into Marvel at some point. Adventurers were soon attracted to the monstrous caverns and a booming tour business quickly followed.
Not much changed on the surface for many decades until 1946. That’s the year that Hugo and Mary Herschend made their first trip from Chicago to visit Marvel Cave. The natural beauty so inspired them that they quickly moved to Branson and purchased the cave tour business. Joined by their sons Jack and Pete, they worked to improve access to the cave, installing walkways, lighting, and a stairway to replace the rickety ladder that had previously been the only access from the entrance. As visitors grew by the thousands, they realized they needed a way to entertain those who were waiting on top for their turn to venture into the magical world below. Silver Dollar City opened in 1960 and originally featured an 1880’s village with a working blacksmith shop, original log buildings, and even actors who would perform daily shows.
Today the park covers over one hundred beautiful acres perched atop the Ozarks. Seven rollercoasters, dozens of family and thrill rides, award-winning restaurants, and a wide variety of shows make it a favorite destination for all ages. Like Dollywood, the park is focused on growth and regularly opens new and innovative attractions. Despite the constant additions, Silver Dollar City has retained all of it’s charm. A thick canopy of trees blanket the pathways, helping to cool even the hottest summer day. This is by far one of the most beautiful parks we’ve visited in our travels with amazing landscaping, 1880’s architecture, and views that go on for miles.
The best place to catch those views are from the park’s fantastic lineup of rollercoasters. Wildfire is an ultra smooth B&M multi looping coaster perched on the mountainside and offers probably the best panorama we’ve ever seen from a coaster. Nearby you’ll find Powder Keg: Blast in the Wilderness. This family ride is a launch coaster that is surprisingly forceful and provides amazing airtime—that butterfly feeling when you fly out of your seat! Outlaw Run is a rollicking wood coaster themed to a stagecoach chase. The first wooden coaster by RMC (creators of Lightning Rod), it features three inversions along the wild layout. Thunderation is a runaway mine train that careens down the mountainside at a surprisingly fast pace. Families can enjoy Fire in the Hole (sister ride to our own Blazing Fury), as well as the Grand Exposition Coaster.
There’s so much to cover for this amazing park that we couldn’t fit it all in one article! Be sure to come back next week to discover more rides, shows, and the new-for-2019 festival lineup!