A Smoky Mountain-themed roller coaster is coming to Dollywood in 2023 — here’s everything we know

Aug 5, 2022

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Dollywood has long been a mainstay of Smoky Mountain vacations, and guests will soon have one more reason to visit the Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, theme park.

There’s just one little problem: There’s a bear on the loose inside the park.

People on roller coaster
(Image courtesy of Dollywood)

Today, Dolly Parton herself was on hand to help solve the mystery and announce the park’s newest attraction — a Smoky Mountain-themed roller coaster called Big Bear Mountain.

Dollywood has been teasing its social media fans with warnings of an unusually large black bear on the loose in the forest behind the Wildwood Grove section of the park.

As the coaster’s backstory goes, this so-called “Big Bear” has never been spotted. However, Wildwood Grove’s resident wilderness explorer, Ned Oakley, will invite guests on an adventure through the Smoky Mountains to finally find the elusive bear, according to a press release from the park.

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Aerial view of roller coaster
(Photo courtesy of Dollywood)

The new coaster will reach speeds of up to 48 miles per hour as riders “race through the wilderness” in coaster cars designed to look like four-wheel-drive, off-roading vehicles. The park also shared that the coaster will have a minimum height requirement of 39 inches to ride, meaning it’s family-friendly, too.

The $25 million coaster stretches 3,990 feet along the perimeter of Wildwood Grove, making it the longest coaster ever built at Dollywood. Big Bear Mountain will incorporate another new element for the theme park: onboard audio. It’s the first Dollywood Attraction to offer this feature, which we assume will include a few hair-raising bear growls.

During each “expedition” on Big Bear Mountain, guests will experience three separate launches, wind through multiple twists, turns and airtime hills, and travel through several tunnels, including a pass behind a cascading waterfall.

Related: 11 regional theme parks that are closer to home but just as fun as the big names

“The Smokies are all about adventure and going exploring,” Parton said. “I’m excited our guests will be able to head out on their own trip into the Smokies to see if they can find that Big Bear!”

News of a new coaster shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who has followed the park’s unprecedented growth in recent years, most notably a $500,000, multiyear expansion that was announced in June 2021.

Wildwood Grove, a section of the park inspired in large part by Parton’s real-life surroundings and fantastical daydreams from her childhood in the Smoky Mountains, added six acres and 11 new attractions to Dollywood in 2019.

Deep Roots Band - Dollywood
The entrance to Wildwood Grove at Dollywood. (Photo courtesy of Dollywood)

More recently, in the summer of 2021, Dollywood announced its second on-site hotel, the HeartSong Lodge & Resort. Slated to open in the fall of 2023, the resort will have 302 rooms and suites, plus a 4,000-square-foot, four-story atrium lobby.

pink tour bus bedroom with wigs
Dolly Parton’s tour bus is now a hotel suite. (Photo courtesy of The Dollywood Company)

If you’re a die-hard Dolly fan, know that she also recently made her longtime tour bus available for overnight stays. You’ll pay about $10,000 for a two-night stay in Dolly’s glittery “home on wheels.” A portion of the profits from each stay will be donated to Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, a program that gifts books to children ages 0 to 5.

Though Big Bear Mountain sends riders out in search of the “Big Bear,” Parton would neither confirm nor deny if the bear is real.

“Whether he’s out there or not, I’m sure [guests] will find a lot of memories along the way that they’ll keep forever,” she said.

Big Bear Mountain is slated to open in the spring of 2023. Check back here for updates on an official date (and any bear sightings) as the opening gets closer.

Featured image courtesy of Dollywood.

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