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Take a Tour of Tennessee, Dolly Parton-Style

Dolly Parton has always been open about her Tennessee upbringing, and if you’re a die-hard fan visiting Tennessee, you’ll want to visit more than just the theme park named after the country singer. 

Here are seven locations in Tennessee to visit to get the full Dolly Parton experience.

Little Pigeon River, Pigeon Forge

Image by Keira Ezzo

There’s no better place to start a Dolly Parton-themed tour than the place Parton was born. While she wasn’t actually born on the river, her childhood home is closeby. As a string of streams located throughout east Tennessee and North Carolina, the Little Pigeon River is a great place to take a dip or go fishing for rainbow trout. Also take a trip to the Old Mill, one of the most iconic locations in Pigeon Forge. 

Though you can’t visit the original Tennessee mountain home where Parton grew up, there’s plenty to do along the river and in Pigeon Forge. Here’s a fun fact: Parton grew up incredibly poor, and her parents paid the doctor who delivered her with a sack of cornmeal.

Historic Downtown, Sevierville

Image by Keira Ezzo

There has been a push to revitalize downtown Sevierville. With new restaurants, shops, and hotels, it’s a great place to visit if you’re looking to get away from the hustle and bustle of Pigeon Forge.

When you’re there, visit the life-sized Dolly Parton statue sitting in front of the courthouse. The area can get a little crowded, especially during the day, but if you’re patient, you can get a picture with Parton, her guitar, and her butterflies.

Walk down to the Appalachian to get a glimpse at the Red’s Cafe Mural, depicting a young Parton sitting at the counter. Red’s Cafe was a favorite for the young singer and is now memorialized in Dollywood.

Locust Ridge and the Smoky Mountains, Sevierville

Image by Keira Ezzo

Dolly Parton is Appalachian through and through, and her connection to the Great Smoky Mountains is poignant in her music and personality. As one of 12 siblings, Parton grew up in a one-bedroom home deep in the mountains of the national park. The park is known for its diverse plant and animal life. 

Parton grew up surrounded by nature and has been working hard to continue to build her Smoky Mountain Empire. In an interview with National Geographic, Parton said that she wants people to come to her home state and see “one of the most beautiful places in the world.” Because of her upbringing, Parton has a special connection to the outdoors and the Smoky Mountains in particular. To National Geographic, she said: “We’re just mistreating Mother Nature – that’s like being ugly to your Mama.”

Old WIVK Radio Station, Knoxville

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Dolly Parton wrote her first song at the age of five, called “Little Tiny Tassel Top,” a song about the corn-cob dolls her mother used to make for her. At the age of 10, Parton got her first gig at WIVK Radio Station on The Cas Walker Farm and Home Hour, and it’s a great place to visit if you’re a fan.

You can visit the former home of the radio station at 319 North Gay Street in Knoxville, Tennessee, just 45 minutes away from Sevier County. There you’ll learn more about Parton’s career by taking a 15-minute walk from 319 to 601 South Gay Street at the East Tennessee Historical Society. For a photo op, head over to Strong Street to get a glimpse at the recently restored Dolly Parton mural in Downtown Knoxville, painted by Megan Lingerfelt.

The Ryman Auditorium, Nashville

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Dolly Parton performed at the Grand Ole Opry for the first time at just 13 years old and was inducted a decade later. Both her debut performance and induction took place at the Ryman Auditorium in downtown Nashville, located just around the corner from Broadway and the Country Music Hall of Fame. Parton recalls: “It was always my dream to be on the Opry [. . .] If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere.”

Parton became part of the Opry just two years into her stint as “the girl singer” on The Porter Wagoner Show. You can sign up for tours of the Ryman Auditorium or take in a free show at their outdoor stage at PNC Plaza

RCA Studio B, Nashville

Image by the Country Music Hall of Fame

Built in 1957, this historic hit-making studio is the location where Parton recorded Coat of Many Colors” and “Jolene.” When you take a tour of RCA, you gain entry to the Country Music Hall of Fame. RCA Studio B was the home of artists like Parton as well as Elvis Presley, Chet Atkins, and so many other  artists. 

Though the studio is no longer running as a location to record hits, it’s an iconic place to visit, especially if you’re heading to music row for an afternoon. Visit Quonset Hut, the first recording studio on Music Row, as well as Owen Bradley Park, an open-ir space dedicated to the well-known music producer.

In general, Nashville is a great urban area to explore (weather permitting). With music around every corner and plenty to do, you’ll never be bored exploring Music City.

Dollywood, Pigeon Forge

Image by Keira Ezzo

Don’t skip out on a day at Dollywood; it might be your best chance to see the star herself. There are a number of Dolly Parton-themed locations available to visit in the park, plus a number of new ones coming in 2024. Visit the replica of Parton’s-Tennessee mountain home and her home on wheels. Starting next year, you can experience her newly imagined museum and an entire exhibit dedicated to her clothes.

If you’re looking for some Parton-inspired eats at Dollywood, visit Red’s Drive-In (inspired by Red’s Cafe previously located in downtown Sevierville). Or, if you’re looking for some good ol’ fashioned home cooking, head to Aunt Granny’s, a restaurant inspired by the meals Parton cooks when her whole family is together. 

If you want to see Parton, look at the park’s calendar in advance to see when each season’s festival takes place. During these events, there’s a good chance Parton will have a parade down Show Street. 

Which of these places will you be adding to your next travel itinerary?

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