Big Bear Mountain Initial Reactions to Dollywood’s 2023 Coaster

Big Bear Mountain, Dollywood’s new-for-2023 multi-launch coaster, is now open! Coaster101 writers John and Kyle attended the media preview event last week and returned with thoughts about Dollywood’s 10th and longest coaster (as well as a few bear puns).

Kyle (left) and John (right)

Keep reading to learn what they thought!

At 3,990 feet, Big Bear Mountain is the longest coaster at Dollywood. The coaster is a product of Vekoma, the company behind Dragonflier, the family-friendly suspended coaster that opened with the Wildwood Grove area in 2019.

Photo courtesy of Dollywood

Situated in the back of the Wildwood Grove area of the park, the coaster — a product of Vekoma (like Dragonflier) — stands 66 feet tall and features a top speed of 48 mph.

Big Bear Mountain’s sprawling layout wraps around one side of Wildwood Grove.

It features two linear induction motor (LIM) launches and one LIM boost. The entire ride lasts about 100 seconds.

Photo courtesy of Dollywood

Guests are seated two abreast in 10 rows for a total of 20 riders per train. It’s also the first coaster at Dollywood to feature ride vehicles with onboard audio.

Photo courtesy of Dollywood

The coaster also features a fly-through waterfall element near the layout’s midpoint.

Big Bear Mountain’s backstory is centered around Big Bear and Ned Oakley, the explorer who’s looking for the bear:

Ned Oakley, Wildwood Grove’s resident wilderness explorer, knows a thing or two about this hidden land and is setting up the Adventure Outpost Base Camp, located just a stone’s throw away from the Grove’s Hidden Hollow. Here, you’ll join Ned in his specially-outfitted, four-wheel drive SUVs for the ride of your life in search of the Grove’s most storied and elusive inhabitant, Big Bear.

Now that we know the “bear” necessities of Big Bear Mountain, let’s dive into our initial Big Bear Mountain reactions.

What were your initial reactions after your first ride on Big Bear Mountain?

John: Big Bear Mountain is a fantastic addition to Dollywood’s coaster roster. With a 39″ minimum height requirement, many members of the family will be able to ride. And while it’s billed as a family-friendly coaster, it’s a thrill coaster — thrilling enough to appease fans of the park’s bigger offerings like Lightning Rod and Wild Eagle. The coaster’s transitions are snappy, and it zips along with a blazing momentum that lasts all the way to the brake run.

Kyle: I was shocked by how long the ride feels. One of my biggest disappointments with a lot of coasters are how short they feel, almost like they are missing one or two extra maneuvers. Big Bear Mountain totally delivers with ride time. The pacing is incredible and the overall experience is slightly more intense than Firechaser Express, making it another great stepping-stone ride at the park.

Which element or section was your favorite?

John: This isn’t a ride with a lot of standout “elements,” per se. There are a lot of quick transitions, banked turns and small airtime hills. The entire second half of the coaster (following the third launch) is laugh-out-loud fun. The coaster feels like it’s going much faster than 48 mph. Aside from its 66-foot peak over the Wildwood Grove midway, it stays largely close to the ground, which makes the ride feel even faster.

Kyle: Like John said, the entirety of the ride almost feels like one long twisting element (which is not a bad thing). If I had to pick though, it would be the dive through the waterfall and cave. Not only is it an awesome on-ride moment of a near miss, but it’s a fantastic spot for the guests viewing the coaster to watch their friends and family take a spin!

What’s the best seat on Big Bear Mountain?

John: Although I’m typically a front-row guy, I really enjoyed the more intense forces that the back of the train provides. I rode in the front, middle and back of the train. Each provides a different type of ride, but everyone should ride in the front at least once for the unobstructed view.

Kyle: I believe I have to give the edge to the front on this ride; the amount of time you spend close to the ground is much more enjoyed close up! That being said there is not a bad seat on the train, plus the actual seats themselves are super roomy. I have long legs and often have issues sitting comfortably in “family-style” coasters, but Big Bear Mountain’s cars were very accommodating.

What was most surprising about the ride?

John: From the videos I saw, I knew Big Bear Mountain was going to be fast, but I was blown away by the coaster’s pacing, especially in the second half after the third launch. Big Bear Mountain is family-friendly, but it definitely pushes the envelope of that category. I can’t stress how fun the transitions are — they were like a much tamer version of I305 at Kings Dominion (which is still very forceful!).

Kyle: I couldn’t agree more about the turns. Standing below the ride they look quite tight, but they were (cinnamon) butter smooth. What really stood out to me was the sheer size of the layout. Not only does it look taller in person, but the track goes clear around the backside of Wildwood Grove. Even on a busy day with a long wait, you’ll feel like you got your money’s worth after riding!

Where does Big Bear Mountain rank among Dollywood’s other coasters?

John: Out of Dollywood’s 10 coasters, I would rank Big Bear Mountain fifth behind Lightning Rod, Wild Eagle, Thunderhead and Tennessee Tornado. It’s a solid mid-tier, can’t-miss coaster that I hope to ride every time I go to the park.

Kyle: One thing I love most about Dollywood is the fact that they have so many different levels of coasters. There are intro coasters for the smallest thrill seekers, slightly larger ones in Dragonflier and Firechaser Express, and then the big thrills like John mentioned. Big Bear Mountain fills in the gap between these ever so perfectly. It is absolutely enjoyable for adults as well as the young ones.

How is the coaster’s theming?

John: Big Bear Mountain’s backstory is established in the heavily themed queue, much of which is covered. You’ll see a slew of bear-centric posters and gear.

It’s definitely one of the best-themed queues at Dollywood. And thanks to the onboard audio, Big Bear Mountain’s backstory is omnipresent. You’ll feel like you know wilderness explorer Ned Oakley before the ride is over. I do wish the park had done something with the side-by-side launch tracks. Enclosing them would have been so cool, but I know that would have been a costly add-on.

Kyle: You can’t really go wrong with theming! And Dollywood always does something well when they do it, so you know it was done with high attention to detail. The decor and equipment in the queue makes you feel like you are getting ready to go on a long camping trip in a place where you are definitely going to be in danger! As an artist, I really appreciated the time and effort put into all of the signage and bear drawings along the path.

What did you think of the onboard audio?

John: I didn’t realize how much I would enjoy the onboard audio. While several of Dollywood’s coasters have sound effects/voiceovers during the ride (Blazing Fury, FireChaser Express and Mystery Mine), never has the park had start-to-finish music and narration. The audio track is jam-packed with bear puns, and I’m a sucker for a good pun.

Kyle: It was the right amount of onboard audio. It wasn’t too loud or distracting, but really added to the ride experience. The subtle intense music playing throughout made you feel like you were really on the hunt, and then all of a sudden the one being hunted! I really enjoyed how the remarks during the ride timed up perfectly with elements, like “bear right, no bear left” as you made a sudden right-to-left dive over the hill.

Is Big Bear Mountain a good ride for families?

John: Big Bear Mountain is definitely more intense than FireChaser Express and much more intense than nearby Dragonflier. For those unsure about whether or not they’re ready for Big Bear Mountain, I recommend starting with Dragonflier then moving up to FireChaser before determining if Big Bear Mountain is the right next ride.

Kyle: It truly depends on your children and how old they are. If they are younger, in the 3-5 range, I would make sure to start somewhere else first. This isn’t a crazy intense ride, but the sudden turns and launches are a bit more involved than the more gentle curves of the other family rides. If you have older kids, in the 5-10 range, they are going to love this ride. I know my thrill-seeking six-year-old will love it when we visit the park again!

Is Big Bear Mountain missing anything?

John: Trees! Most of the first half of Big Bear Mountain is situated on the hillside overlooking Wildwood Grove. One of my favorite things about Dollywood (and the Great Smoky Mountains in general) is the abundance of trees. I won’t pretend to know the intricacies of tree planting on sloped terrain. And maybe more will be planted in the future. But for a coaster themed around finding a bear, I have to think that a barren hillside wouldn’t be the bear’s first choice of a hiding spot.

Kyle: I remember saying to John after our second ride that the only thing missing on Big Bear Mountain was the bear! During the ride, Ned Oakley narrates multiple times about seeing or almost seeing the big bear, but the riders never get to. I would love if the park would put in an animatronic bear somewhere along the layout (maybe toward the end) and it would be the cherry on top!

If you had to summarize Big Bear Mountain in one sentence, what would it be?

John: Big Bear Mountain is a long, fast and fun bear-pun-stuffed coaster.

Kyle: The perfect coaster for thrill-seeking families to enjoy together!

Watch an on-ride POV video of Big Bear Mountain below:

To learn more about Big Bear Mountain, visit the Dollywood website.

Have you ridden Big Bear Mountain at Dollywood yet? Let us know what you thought about Dollywood’s newest coaster in the comments section below.