Dolly Parton helps “launch” first riders during grand opening celebration
PIGEON FORGE, Tenn. (Friday, May 12, 2023) — Dollywood’s Big Bear Mountain, the largest single attraction investment in the park’s history, opened Friday to the general public with much fanfare, a nod to the Great Smoky Mountains, and of course, a visit from Dolly Parton.
The $25 million Big Bear Mountain roller coaster launches park guests from its ride station on an exhilarating search for the elusive “Big Bear,” a mythical bear of epic proportions, which is said to live in the hills near the park’s Wildwood Grove area. At 3,990 linear ft., the ride is ¾-mile long and becomes the longest roller coaster at the Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, park. Dollywood guests are invited to assist Wildwood Grove’s resident wilderness explorer, Ned Oakley, in his quest to find Big Bear.
During Friday morning’s media event, a group of junior adventurers were on hand to put their skills to the test to see if they could find Big Bear. The ride’s 39” height requirement means even younger riders are able to come along on the search. After the first search party returned with smiles on their faces, Dolly quipped, “Well, did you find him?”
With theming elements throughout the ride reminiscent of her beloved Smoky Mountains, Dollywood’s Dreamer-in-Chief eagerly anticipated the opening of the new attraction.
“We said we’re going to expand Wildwood Grove, and we really meant it,” Dolly said prior to the event. “This ride is bigger than, well, Big Bear! Seriously though, I’m so glad we’re able to incorporate so much of the Smokies into this ride. I’m proud of where I’m from, and these Smoky Mountains truly are so much a part of me and who I am to this day.
“I remember going out on my own little nature adventures when I was a kid, so I’m happy to know our guests are going to be able to go out together looking for that Big Bear! I’ve been hearing stories about him and whether or not he really is out there, but there is one thing I know for sure. No matter if guests find him or not, they’re going to have a lot of very happy memories to take home with them when they leave.”
Big Bear Mountain marks an expansion of Wildwood Grove, the three-time and current winner of the Golden Ticket award for Best Theme Park Kids’ Area. The new ride’s massive structure hugs six acres of undulating topography which runs along the Grove, with riders racing high and low searching Wildwood Grove for the legendary bear. Featuring a top speed of 48 mph, Big Bear Mountain takes guests through three separate launches, multiple airtime hills, high-speed carousel turns, and tunnels, including a pass behind a waterfall.
In addition to becoming the longest roller coaster at Dollywood, Big Bear Mountain—built by ride manufacturer Vekoma—also marks the first attraction at the park to feature on-board audio. The sound system provides auditory thrills to match the ride’s dynamic movements as guests come daringly close to Big Bear. The highly-detailed coaster trains resemble four-wheel-drive SUVs and feature working headlights and taillights. Each coaster train seats 20 guests.
According to legend, Big Bear is a massive black bear who has been roaming through Wildwood Grove for as long as anyone can remember. While no one has ever seen him, telltale signs regularly appear in the hills surrounding the Grove.
“Wildwood Grove has won the Golden Ticket award for Best Theme Park Kids’ Area ever since it was built in 2019,” explained Eugene Naughton, President of Dollywood Parks & Resorts. “It has been well received by our guests, and we knew any attraction added when we expanded the area had to live up to that same high standard we set for ourselves. With the great work from our partners at Vekoma, I feel like we’ve really delivered a ride that is going to be something the whole family can enjoy together.
“Through the fun story elements and phenomenal theming, you really are immersed in the ride experience. Add in the audio elements guests experience along the way and you can quickly understand why I believe this is going to be another home run for Dollywood Parks & Resorts. With this expansion of Wildwood Grove, I think we’ve elevated to being one of the best themed areas of any park in the world.”
“BIG” news and big fun continues at Dollywood Parks & Resorts, named last summer as the #1 theme park in the United States by Tripadvisor reviewers. Dollywood’s Flower & Food Festival presented by Covenant Health (now-June 11) blooms bright with vivid, larger-than-life flower sculptures that feature more than a million blooms. In addition, Dollywood’s culinary team showcases their world-class abilities with a menu full of delicacies that highlight the tastes of spring in the Smokies.
Dollywood’s Sweet Summer Nights drone and fireworks show takes to the skies above Dollywood as part of Smoky Mountain Summer Celebration (June 17-Aug. 6). Another favorite—"Gazillion Bubble Show: Aurora”—returns to deliver a mesmerizing burst of excitement to guests in DP’s Celebrity Theater.
A family tradition for many, Dollywood’s Harvest Festival presented by Humana (Sept. 20- Oct. 30) celebrates the beauty of fall with thousands of carved pumpkins, spirited performances from talented singers and the fun of Great Pumpkin LumiNights presented by Covenant Health. Great Pumpkin LumiNights, which previously has been named the best theme park harvest event in the world, features elaborate displays that are fun for every member of the family. Creative culinary items, accomplished artisans, and fall fun in the Smokies make this a picture-perfect time to enjoy Dollywood.
The industry’s Best Theme Park Christmas event—Dollywood’s Smoky Mountain Christmas presented by Humana (Nov. 4- Jan. 6)—concludes the park’s 2023 season with 6 million lights, festive holiday shows, and the warm Christmas atmosphere guests have come to expect during this joyous time of year.
In addition to the opening of Big Bear Mountain, Dollywood’s HeartSong Lodge & Resort is slated to open this November. Tucked away in a beautiful cove in the rolling foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains, Dollywood’s HeartSong Lodge & Resort is a well-appointed property that features a variety of accommodations and amenities. Welcoming the outdoors in with high ceilings, exposed beams and natural layered textures, Dollywood’s newest resort offers lodging options for multi-generational families and couples. Spacious family suites and bunk rooms feature lovely touches that are inspired by the beauty of the Smokies, inviting guests of all ages to gather for meaningful connections.
For more information about Big Bear Mountain, Dollywood’s HeartSong Lodge & Resort, and the 2023 operating season, please visit dollywood.com.
About Dollywood Parks & Resorts: A highly-awarded and widely-recognized leader in the amusement industry, The Dollywood Company consists of the 165-acre Dollywood theme park; the 35-acre Dollywood’s Splash Country; and Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort and Spa. Currently under construction, the 302-room Dollywood’s HeartSong Lodge & Resort is scheduled for completion in 2023. As unique as its namesake and owner Dolly Parton, Dollywood is the 2010 Applause Award winner, the theme park industry’s highest accolade; winner of 48 Golden Ticket Awards; and recipient of 28 Brass Ring Awards for Live Entertainment. The park is located near Great Smoky Mountains National Park and was named in 2022 by Tripadvisor as the #1 theme park in the country based on actual guest reviews. It also has been recognized as a top-three U.S. theme park by USA Today on multiple occasions. Dollywood is open mid-March through early January and offers rides and attractions, shows and crafters authentic to the East Tennessee region. Dollywood’s Splash Country, recognized by the Travel Channel and Tripadvisor as one of the country’s most beautiful water parks, operates from mid-May to Labor Day. Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort and Spa, a favorite of USA Today voters and Tripadvisor reviewers, provides guests with spectacular mountain views and family-friendly amenities next door to Dollywood theme park and Dollywood’s Splash Country. For more information, visit dollywood.com. Operating days and hours vary.