Let's Head for the Hills on our Virtual Roller Coaster Roadtrip

March 30, 2020, 5:04 PM · One of the prettiest drives in the country highlights the next leg of our Virtual Roadtrip, as we visit some of the world's top theme park attractions even while the parks are closed.

We are starting today on the border of North Carolina and South Carolina, at Carowinds.

I have to admit that I haven't visited this park since I was a teenager, so a return trip has been near the top of my to-do list ever since I started publishing Theme Park Insider. The big attraction these days? One of our readers' favorite roller coasters in the world, the Bolliger & Mabillard masterpiece, Fury 325.

The park's newest coaster, Copperhead Strike from Mack Rides, looks like a fun time, too, especially with that slow-speed heartline roll at the start.

Heck, just enjoy all of Carowinds' rides in video form, starting with the invert Afterburn, with the park's POV playlist.

Once we're done, it's off to Dollywood. But don't just head over or up to I-40 for the fast route. Instead, let's take a little extra time and enjoy one of the prettiest (okay, and often crowded) drives in America, through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Yes, that park is closed right now, too. But if you imagine driving over to I-26 then off at US 23 to US 19 to Cherokee, you can follow US441 through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to Gatlinburg via Google Maps. (Navigate via Street View if you really wanna kill some time.)

Once into Gatlinburg, it's just a bit up US 321 to Pigeon Forge and Dollywood.

Why not put on some Dolly Parton hits while click? According to our reader ratings, your top ride is here the RMC launch coaster, Lightning Rod.

The park also won fans with it first-in-America Bolliger & Mabillard wing coaster, Wild Eagle.

And also Thunderhead, from GCI.

But for old-school coaster love, you'll want to experience Dollywood's classic Arrow looper, Tennessee Tornado.

If you want a taste of Dollywood at home, we've been cooking some of its Big Skillet meals on our "Social Distancing Kitchen" show, with recipes from Dollywood's sister park, Silver Dollar City.

So fuel up and get ready for our next leg. It's almost time to drive to Florida!

Theme Park Insider's Virtual Roadtrip:

Replies (6)

March 31, 2020 at 8:35 AM

This is a road trip we were tentatively planning for later this summer. It's been over a decade since we were last at Dollywood, and I haven't been to Carowinds since Fury 325 debuted. Making this loop (along with a dive down to Atlanta and SFoG) has been on our racket for a number of years, and this summer was about as advantageous as any to allow us to make this trip, and I'm still holding out hope that it might still happen.

I actually think Carowinds is one of the most underrated iron parks in the world. Look at their lineup, and you'll see a variety of high quality roller coasters that is unmatched even by presumed leaders SFMM and CP. Fury 325 is better than pretty much any coaster at SFMM or CP, and the supporting coasters at Carowinds are top class with a solid hyper in Intimidator, one of the best inverts in the world, Afterburn, the world's first flying roller coaster, Nighthawk (though Tatsu is far superior), and plenty of other variety that can go toe to toe with the best in the business. While the theming at Carowinds has pretty much fallen by the wayside over the past 5-10 years, it's still better than CP and arguably on par with SFMM. If you're a theme park fan and have never visited Carowinds, you've been missing out.

Dollywood is probably the most idyllic theme park I've ever visited. The setting is unmatched, and the variety of things to do from high end thrill rides to family attractions to kiddie rides to world class entertainment is on par with Busch Gardens/Sea World, and only topped by Disney and Universal. The only drawback to Dollywood is that it's a tough park to travel to being pretty far from the biggest airports. You can fly into Knoxville or Asheville, but those cities can be really expensive to fly to, while Nashville and Charlotte are a 3+ hour drive away (Holiday World and Silver Dollar City have similar issues being distant from major airports).

March 31, 2020 at 8:56 AM

Fury is just pure plain "fun." It's long and fast. Aside from the first huge/high (325) hill, it's actually very simple and I think that's the key to its popularity.

I do give Carowinds credit for bringing back "some" theme in the past few years. I can't stand the nondescript/sterile entrance way. Yes, I understand the lack of care and maintenance during previous ownership made the plantation house non-repairable. But wish the new entrance provided a welcoming escape from the real world rather than a generic shopping mall entryway.

March 31, 2020 at 9:22 AM

Carowinds is a really fun park. We have family who live in South Carolina so we go every few years. I haven't been to Dollywood for a very long time.

March 31, 2020 at 10:10 AM

With the new Springfield suites now open, the area/park has its much needed decent hotel, and it's just across the parking lot, so an easy walk to the front gate.

I love Carowinds, and it's a nice easy drive from Orlando. Fury's blistering speed throughout most of the 6000ft+ track layout makes the trip worthwhile on it's own, but now with Copperhead Strike, the park has 2 world class and amazing coasters. CS has flew under the radar somewhat, but it hits the mark in every aspect ... especially if you like hangtime !! :)

With my 2020 plans pretty much in the dumpster, if I can get to the park late August for a few days, it will help make 2020 a good coaster year after all.

March 31, 2020 at 11:09 AM

Just want to give a shout out to Dollywood. It really is one of the world's great theme parks. Many hear the name and scoff at the very thought, but I've taken friends who went in laughing and came out in love with the place and its team. It may not have the scope of the Disney or Universal parks, but for what it is, there is nothing better.

March 31, 2020 at 11:25 AM

I've never done this as a road trip but usually go to Carowinds once a year. Flying from Philly to Charlotte is relatively inexpensive and the hotel at which I stay offers free shuttle service to and from the airport, so the only ground transportation I have to pay for is an Uber or Lyft to and from the park. Copperhead Strike was the highlight of my last visit; Mack Rides has done some amazing stuff of late. I didn't bother with Nighthawk this time, as it was painfully rough when I rode it the previous year. Maybe some of the parts from the defunct Firehawk can be used to make it more user friendly.

I've been to Dollywood only twice because, as Russell noted, it's not in close proximity to a major airport and flying to Knoxville is expensive. The 1st time I went there, I got into a traffic accident with a rental car on the way from Pigeon Forge to Knoxville and received a number of threatening phone calls from the owner of the other vehicle so for my 2nd trip I decided to travel by Uber. This was after Lightning Rod opened and considering its erratic track record I was fortunate to be able to ride it. Dollywood not only has some world class coasters but is the 2nd prettiest park I've ever visited in the USA. (Busch Gardens Tampa is the 1st.)

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