One of my favorite places in the world is Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. Mainly known for their tourist attractions, the entire town combines modern day family attractions with the beautiful surrounding Smoky Mountain scenery, making for a great place to vacation with the family! There really is something for everyone — but those looking for a real thrill come to Pigeon Forge for one reason...Dollywood.
Meet Lightning Rod; the worlds fastest wooden roller coaster, and the only one in the world to feature a launch! Yes...you heard that right. A launch on a wooden roller coaster! When this ride opened last year (2016), it did what had never been done before. Rocky Mountain Construction (RMC) partnered with Dollywood to create the first of its kind, which up until now, could only be found on steel coasters.
As thrilling as a launch is, launch coasters are notorious for experiencing large amounts of issues, resulting in downtime. With so many sensors along the launch track, there’s a higher chance that one could trip, meaning the ride would close down for a short period of time until everything was solved. So take that same technology and put it on a wooden coaster, and there’s sure to be a few problems. Right out of the starting gate, Dollywood was unable to open the ride until several months after its intended opening. As a prototype ride, it took a lot of work to make sure everything was safe and working properly before it could open to the public.
Even after that, it would close down for days on end due to various problems. Because of this, most people who went out to the park were unable to ride it. Luckily, since the park opened back in March, the ride has been operating as planned, meaning there is no better time to go ride than now!
After the multiple attempts I made to ride Lightning Rod last year (all of which were unsuccessful), I was finally able to get on it around mid March of 2017. And let me just say — this is a MUST ride! Don’t believe me? This is my reaction leading up to it and right after I got off:
Just to give you an idea of what kind of ride we’re dealing with, let me list off a few stats: 200+ foot height, 45 mph launch, 165 foot drop, 73 degree drop, 73 mph top speed, and 3,800 feet of track.
In short, not only is it a worlds first, but it’s tall, fast, and intense! The first time I experienced it, it all went by so fast, I didn’t realize fully what was going on until I rode it a few more times. I left Dollywood with a total of 10 rides on Lightning Rod, and place it as one of my top 3 roller coasters (and I’ve ridden almost 300!).
Now I have to preface, this is not a ride for everyone. The ride does not take you upside down, but by nature Lightning Rod is aggressive. If you’re not a fan of rides that give you that feeling like you’re going to fly up out of your seat...you won’t like this. The coaster features numerous hills in which you are forcefully ejected out of your seat, in what coaster enthusiasts call airtime.The only reason why you aren’t dead by now is because of the lap bar placed before you, keeping you secure in the train. As with all roller coasters, you’re totally safe— that being said, this is not exactly your calm little Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. Lightning Rod perfectly combines a mix of high positive g-forces with high negative g-forces; meaning when the ride comes to a close, you’re gonna need to take a deep breath and might want to walk around a bit. If you stayed seated and kept riding, the forces on your body can take a bit of a toll on you. I started to feel this after my 5th back to back ride.
Now let me clarify that this is not meant to scare away any potential riders. I only say this because if you’re wanting to ride it, you need to know what you’re getting into. I absolutely recommend it, as it’s personally my favorite wooden coaster I’ve ridden. It uses the latest and greatest technology, resulting in a ride experience that’s as smooth as can be. Smoother than many steel coasters, if I might add!
That being said, it’s definitely a ride for the thrill seekers. If you want an adrenaline rush, look no further. There’s a reason it won the best new attraction of 2016!
If you don’t think Lightning Rod is quite your type, fear not. Dollywood has a world class line up of roller coasters, ranging from all different heights and speeds. There’s sure to be something in there you’d enjoy. But if you’re still not sure if Lightning Rod is for you, I posted a full in depth review to YouTube that may help.
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