I visited Dollywood's sister theme park in the Ozark mountains. The hidden gem's attractions and food were just as good as Disney's.

  • I visited Dollywood's sister theme park, Silver Dollar City, in the Ozark Mountains in Missouri.

  • I was blown away by its high-quality entertainment and coasters, amazing food, and friendly staff.

  • I've been to theme parks all around the world, and this is one of my favorites.

One of my favorite hidden-gem theme parks is Silver Dollar City, nestled in the Ozark Mountains in Branson, Missouri.

It's a sister park to one of my other favorites, Dollywood. Both are owned by Herschend Family Entertainment, though Silver Dollar City opened first in 1960.

The park is a true hidden gem. First of all, it's an incredible value. Its highest-tier season pass currently costs under $300, and a one-day park ticket is under $100. For context, daily access to only one Disney park usually starts at $150 — and the most basic seasonal pass to Disney World is typically over $1,400.

The park itself is just great, too. I've visited theme parks all over the world and this now ranks as one of my favorites. Here's why I fell in love during my recent visit.

The park leans heavily into its old-school mountain-town theme

People making sweets at Browns Candy Factory
I was able to watch people make candy in the park. Carly Caramanna

Themed to resemble an 1880s mountain village, Silver Dollar City had an authentic feel thanks to the local, multigenerational craftsmen who work in the park throughout its shops and streets.

The atmosphere felt both immersive and transportive as I discovered unique shopping opportunities, like hand-carved furniture, glass-blown home décor, and homemade candy.

Photo of Silver Dollar City
Local craftsmen can be found throughout the park. Carly Caramanna

Demonstrations were a big part of my experience, and I got to watch people altering leather, carving wood, and blowing glass — all things I'd never seen done in a theme park before.

Even the park's main guide, The Pathfinder, was themed.

Entrance to Silver Dollar City
I loved how detailed The Pathfinder was and grabbed a few on the way out as a free souvenir.Carly Caramanna

It's designed to look like an old-school newspaper and contains a map, showtimes, and information on current events.

It's also built on top of a cave, which visitors can tour

Cave at Silver Dollar City
Visitors can explore the cave below Silver Dollar City.Carly Caramanna

The park is built on top of one of the oldest attractions in the area, Marvel Cave. Theme-park admission includes a tour of the caves, which was incredible.

We traveled 300 feet down into the limestone cave for a stunning view of the Cathedral Room, one of the largest cave rooms in the country.

The park is also home to some of my favorite roller coasters and a lot of unique attractions

Silver Dollar City roller coast
Silver Dollar City has some great coasters. Carly Caramanna

The park blends its history with the future in the form of precedent-setting roller coasters.

My favorites include Outlaw Run, one of the steepest wooden coasters in the world, and Time Traveler, one of the steepest, tallest, and fastest spinning coasters in the world.

There are also unique attractions at Silver Dollar City that I haven't experienced anywhere else — Grandfather's Mansion was one of my favorites.

Grandfathers Mansion at Silver Dollar City
Grandfather's Mansion is a walkthrough attraction. Carly Caramanna

Grandfather's Mansion is a classic fun-house-style walkthrough attraction that's been at the park for decades. It was pure fun playing with my senses through different rooms in the mansion, including an upside-down room and an off-balance room.

But above all, my favorite attraction is Fire in the Hole. The current reiteration pays homage to the original over-50-year-old indoor dark coaster. In its newer version, the $30 million attraction combines the nostalgia of the original with the technology of today.

The ride is of a high quality I don't see often outside of Disney or Universal parks.

The food is fantastic and unique

Succatash at Rivertown Smokehouse at Silver Dollar City
I had some of the best barbecue at Rivertown Smokehouse. Carly Caramanna

I'm a big foodie — especially at theme parks — and I was happy this park's eats lived up to the hype.

Silver Dollar City has the usual theme-park offerings, like hamburgers and hot dogs, but also offers many unique bites like its famous cinnamon bread and hand-twisted pretzels.

One of my favorite eateries on the property was Rivertown Smokehouse, which served some of the best barbecue I've ever had.

Visitors could watch staff smoke and carve food right in front of them in the open-air kitchen. I really enjoyed the smoked turkey and succotash and their accompanying sauces.

I also liked stopping at Eva & Delilah's, the bakery located by the park's exit, to pick up homemade treats on the way home.

The entertainment was outstanding

Tons of shows and events were happening at Silver Dollar City during my visit. The park brings in national acts throughout the year for different musical festivals — and access to these performances is included with regular park tickets.

I really enjoyed the park's iconic Silver Dollar City Saloon comedy show, which has been entertaining guests for over 50 years.

Women sitting on stage at saloon Silver Dollar City
The Silver Dollar City Saloon show has been going on for decades. Carly Caramanna

During my visit, the park was also offering a Broadway-style musical production of A Dickens' Christmas Carol. Housed in a full-scale theater, the show blew me away and was comparable to national productions I've seen.

A Dickens Christmas Carol performance at Silver Dollar City
The productions I saw at Silver Dollar City really impressed me. Carly Caramanna

I was also impressed by An Old Time Christmas, the theme park's seasonal event. It was unlike any Christmas event I've experienced at a theme park.

In addition to having seasonal foods and shows, the park had millions of lights and hundreds of decorated trees. It felt incredibly festive, and I loved walking around.

Every staff member I interacted with in the park was incredibly friendly and kind

I've visited theme parks all over the world, but I've yet to meet staff members as friendly as the ones at Silver Dollar City.

Many of the longtime employees were almost like characters in themselves, with throngs of guests waiting to meet and chat with them.

A highlight of my visit was meeting June Ward, who heads up the park's candy store, Brown's Candy Factory. She's worked at the park for over 50 years.

My visit was comparable on all levels to Disney, and I can't wait to return

Silver Dollar City checks all the boxes for me: high levels of theming, great attractions, fantastic food, and friendly staff.

I loved all the rides, especially the roller coasters, but I especially enjoyed exploring the shops and eating unique bites. This is a really special place that's different from any other park, and I plan to return year after year.

With its location in the touristy area of Branson there's so much to do locally — including seeing Dolly Parton's Stampede dinner show — that it makes for a great theme-park vacation far more unique than the typical visit to Disney.

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