PIGEON FORGE, Tenn. — It was sometime around the second dramatic dip of the new Giant Tree Swing over at Wildwood Grove that I realized I'm not as tough as I think I am.
Moments after Dolly Parton herself set loose dozens of butterflies to roam free along the scenic wildflower thickets and rambling attractions at Dollywood's newest land, I raced off to see which of the new attractions I could ride first. As a roller-coaster junkie, I hadn't been on the "kiddie stuff'"in years. This would be an experience.
I soon learned that just because Wildwood Grove is Dollywood's 'family-friendly' oasis, that doesn't mean the rides are boring.
Here they are ranked by how much they scared me.
DIDN'T SCARE ME, I'M A GROWN WOMAN
1. Frogs & Fireflies - This ride takes you mere feet off the ground in a hip-hoppitying adventure that certainly didn't seem scary from the ground. Smiles abounded when people hopped off the ride and it seemed, from the ground at least, like a fun and tame ride for even the littlest parkgoers.
Full disclosure: I didn't actually ride this one so categorically it did not scare me. But boy, 10News anchor and reporter Sean Franklin did.
Height requirement: Under 36" must be accompanied by someone at least 16-years-old
2. Black Bear Trail - I never thought saddling up to a mechanical black bear would make me feel empowered. I walked into the ride a sunburnt and world-weary journalist. I left an empowered cowgirl ready to wrangle any critter that may dare cross my path.
I'm serious. This ride did not scare me and it's a definite step up from those "you drive yourself" car rides they had when I was a kid. It makes also a wonderful ride for families. I saw multiple parents who weren't burdened with a 5'7", 130-pound adult saddle up alongside their young ones.
Height Requirement: Under 42" must be accompanied by an adult
SCARED ME, BUT IN A COOL WAY
3. The Dragonflier - I underestimated Wildwood Grove's only coaster. With the guffaws of people daring to ride the wooden The Thunderhead that looms in the background, the steely green 'Dragonflier' certainly seemed tame enough.
I rode in the front and the drop is steeper than expected. This is such a fun ride, and is so smooth that you really do get the sense that you're flying. It would be a perfect first coaster for a child who is ready to move onto something bigger!
Height requirement: 81" maximum height, 48" must be accompanied by someone at least 16-years-old, 39" minimum height.
4. Treetop Tower - There was something delightfully Kardashian about stepping aboard my own private little acorn and ascending over treeline. Treetop Tower spun a little faster than expected, but there's a steady silver pole in the middle you can hang onto. It also has a fantastic view of the Mystery Mine Coaster and Drop Line.
Height requirement: Under 42" must be accompanied by a person at least 16-years-old.
5. The Mad Mockingbird - This one is my favorite ride in all of Wildwood Grove. I rode it just after getting off The Dragonflier and wasn't prepared for how much genuine fun I would have.
What makes this ride such a blast is that you get to control each Mockingbird with a little lever. That means you can choose to swivel back and forth like you're dodging a hungry eagle (or whatever predator eats mockingbirds) or you can let it go and float along with the wind.
I swiveled it back and forth as much as possible and genuinely felt like Katniss Everdeen for some reason. Probably because of the Mockingjay association, but yeah, this ride is amazing.
Height requirement: Under 48" accompanied by someone at least 16-years-old
I WAS LOW-KEY PANICKED, BUT IT MIGHT NOT SCARE YOUR FIRST-GRADER...
6. Giant Tree Swing - I do have to confess that I saw two honest-to-Dolly preschoolers exit this ride before me with their dad and they were all smiles. I took their lead and nestled into the topmost seat. A guy with a camera began filming me and I genuinely felt bad that I wouldn't offer good reaction footage.
How wrong I was, as my hair flipped chaotically around my head with each vertical drop of the leaf. This ride is similar to those Viking ships rides you see over at other parks and even if I was afraid, other people who rode it seemed fine.
This will *likely* not scare your children. I'm just weak.
Height requirement: Under 48" must be accompanied by a person who is at least 16-years-old
In short, the memories Dolly has of frolicking with fireflies among the hollers of East Tennessee gave way to some pretty amazing rides. With playgrounds scattered throughout, it's the perfect way for everyone to spend some time away from the hustle and bustle of the rest of the park. And if you enter Wildwood Grove thinking you're too hardcore for these kiddo rides like I did, just wait until you feel your stomach drop on The Dragonflier.