The trees are changing; the leaves are turning red, amber, orange, brown, and lighter shades of green. Silver Dollar City sits in the middle of these changes as fall takes over, making it the perfect theme park to visit in the fall and early winter seasons. This means small crowds and plenty of thrills.
By Justin S. Landers
There are very few theme parks that remained opened past Labor Day. There are even fewer parks that are still open on weekdays, my favorite time to go – less crowds, shorter lines, and so much more room to distance.
So, who’s left? Well, Disney, and Universal, of course; California parks are facing new reopening guidelines; Texas parks are mostly running weekends. Cedar Point, most of the Six Flags, and many other parks will be closed after Halloween. So, where should you go? How can one possibly get those thrills with many of the parks shutting down for the season?
Enter: Silver Dollar City. I visited this park early in the season, at the start of this long trip – my third park after COVID-19 shutdowns. After Silver Dollar City, I traveled to more than 10 parks and adventure centers, examining how they responded to the pandemic.
Today’s adventure brings us almost full-circle, back to where things started heating up in the trip. Silver Dollar City has some of my favorite rides, and of my first four parks, it was easily my favorite. The location is beautiful. It sits in the mountains, so what is there not to love? I knew I wanted to get back there in the fall, and this was worth every moment of it. I recommending you consider a trip yourself, because this visit was better than my first.
My first visit fell right in the end of June, and while Silver Dollar City was limiting capacity, people were tired of being inside and the park was getting a decent crowd. Lines were long, but I still had a great time. This visit? All my expectations were destroyed.
I chose a nice fall day to make my visit. This park is still open on most weekdays, with the exception of Mondays and Tuesdays. The park will also be closed from Nov. 1-6 as they finalize the transition from their Harvest Festival to their Christmas celebration, An Old Time Christmas – so let’s take a moment to look at these two events.
The Harvest Festival is going on now and runs through Oct. 31. The decorations are absolutely stunning, especially at night. Oh yeah, did we mention the park is open until 9 p.m.? You know what that means… night rides! Very few parks have been open this late into the evening this year, so that alone makes it worth a visit.
Now, back to the Harvest Festival: There are pumpkins everywhere and at night, they glow beautifully. These pumpkins have some of the most gorgeous designs I have ever seen. They’re all themed to match the area they’re in – in front of Time Traveler, I found pumpkins carved with gears and steampunk imagery. There are special fall-themed food items around, like pumpkin ice cream, hot apple cider, pumpkin whoopie pies, pumpkin cinnamon rolls and more. There are also visiting artists creating different art pieces. And did I mention the giant pumpkin man? He’s huge, you can’t miss him.
After Nov. 7, the park will reopen with their operations continuing Wednesday-Sunday, with the Harvest Festival being replaced with An Old Time Christmas. Decorations have already started to appear in the park for this next event, and it’s looking wonderful. There are lights wrapped around poles, and signs hanging above walkways that, when illuminated, will look so festive. This event will run from Nov. 7 – Dec. 30. Silver Dollar City will be putting up a total of 6.5 million lights to put on a bright spectacle. There will be family entertainment shows, Christmas feasts, and more to enjoy.
The best part of my entire experience was that I was still able to attend on a weekday. There were no lines; I walked onto every single ride all day. The new Mystic River Falls ride was running during my visit, however, that may not always be the case as it is a water ride and temperatures are dropping.
I also got the chance to eat at their new Rivertown Smokehouse restaurant, which has amazing views of the new ride and wonderful barbecue. For lunch, I tried the Ultimate Grilled Cheese, which has multiple cheeses and bacon. I also took a loaf of Cinnamon bread to-go, and couldn’t forget the apple butter and icing dipping sauces. I passed on the pumpkin ice cream in favor of Dole Whip (though it’s just called pineapple ice cream here) and it was worth every penny.
Seasonal parks don’t usually stay open this late, and if they do, it’s on weekends only. Silver Dollar City goes above and beyond. Its sister park Dollywood runs on a similar schedule, though with Lightning Rod getting an upgrade, I would wait for next year to visit. They both sit in absolutely beautiful locations with stunning views. Seeing these fall colors rush by as you fly through the mountains of what is easily one of the most beautiful—if not the most beautiful—parks in the world is an unforgettable experience. Everyone brags about night rides on The Beast at Kings Island, but nobody talks about the wonders that are the mountainside coasters of Silver Dollar City, and I think that is a missed point when talking about rides through the woods. I’ll take walk-on rides of Outlaw Run, Powder Keg, Time Traveler, and WildFire any day!
Silver Dollar City’s season ends on Dec. 30. Next year’s opening day has not yet been announced, but is usually in March, with this year being an exception. The park still has some of the best COVID-19 safety measures in place, with temperature screenings at the entrance, social distancing in lines, and they are now running full trains on a few of their coasters. This allows for them to get more throughput of the crowds by bringing those rides back to a normal capacity. These include rides like Time Traveler, where riders sit back to back, and WildFire, where the B&M trains are well-spaced. The park also has hand sanitizer stations throughout, and they are sanitizing trains frequently.
While I was visiting the park, I wanted to get a special bird’s-eye view; I wanted to really see these fall colors and examine just how beautiful and lush this park was. Fortunately, I am a certified Part 107 Drone Pilot, and with the coordination and cooperation of Silver Dollar City, I was able to come by the park early in the morning before opening and do some fly overs.
Editor’s Note: Even if you fly a drone as a hobbyist or licensed, do not fly over any theme park property without permission – it could result in you being trespassed and fined by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). This was done as a joint effort with Silver Dollar City.
30-year-old Justin Landers owns Just Shoot Light Multimedia Productions. He has been involved in the amusement and theme park industry since 2013 as a freelance photographer and videographer. You can follow him on Instagram @Inverted_Therapy and Just Shoot Light on YouTube.