Big Bear Mountain to open this May at Dollywood

Editor’s note: This is a recurring post, regularly updated with new information and offers.

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. The park’s largest-ever expansion, Wildwood Grove, is about to get even bigger with the addition of the park’s longest coaster.

There’s just one big, furry problem: A bear is on the loose inside the park.

Today, Dolly Parton herself was on hand to announce the opening month of Big Bear Mountain. The Smoky Mountain-themed roller coaster is set to open in May 2023, with an exact opening date to follow.

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.


The new coaster will reach speeds of up to 48 mph as riders “race through the wilderness” in coaster cars designed to look like four-wheel-drive, off-road 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.

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The $25 million coaster stretches 3,990 feet along the perimeter of Wildwood Grove, making it the largest single attraction investment for the park and 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

News of a new coaster shouldn’t surprise anyone who has followed the park’s unprecedented growth in recent years. Most notably, a $500,000, multiyear expansion announced in June 2021 indicated Parton’s dedication to Dollywood as a world-class vacation destination.

“I think everyone knows that I try to dream big dreams no matter what I’m doing,” Parton explained at a media event announcing details of everything new coming to Dollywood this year. “And with everything happening at my Dollywood this year, this may be some of my biggest dreaming yet! We’re going to open a big ride and a big resort,” she added.

The “big” resort Parton is referring to is Dollywood’s second on-site hotel, Dollywood’s HeartSong Lodge & Resort. The resort is slated to open in November 2023, and bookings will be available starting in June. HeartSong Lodge & Resort will have 302 rooms and suites, plus a 4,000-square-foot, four-story atrium lobby.

Dolly Parton’s tour bus is now a hotel suite. THE DOLLYWOOD COMPANY

If you’re a die-hard Dolly fan, you already know 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 5 and younger.

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

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