After tracking its construction and naming it the Best New Ride of 2016, I finally caught a ride on Lightning Rod last weekend. My expectations were high, but nothing could have fully prepared me for the sheer insanity that lay ahead.
Upon arriving at Dollywood, my focus was wholly on their new launched wooden coaster and my legs could scarcely keep from breaking into a run as I made my way to the revamped Jukebox Junction section of the park. After what seemed like barely any time at all, I rounded a bend and came face to face with the ride I had been anticipating for an entire year – Rocky Mountain Construction‘s latest masterpiece. A flawless mass of wood and steel. I stood in awe.
After watching the coaster make a few laps at astonishing speed, I entered the queue. The indoor queue wound its way up three levels to Lightning Rod’s station, and I was pleased to find that Dollywood spared no expense in its theming. Many references to a 1950’s hot-rod decorated the walls, while tools and blueprints were scattered in the center. Towering windows offered stunning views of the ride’s launch and finale. Fans at either end of the room kept the air circulating. Even though the ride ops only had one train running, the line moved steadily along and I found myself in the station within an hour.
Boarding Lightning Rod’s blazing red train, I pulled the comfortable lap-bar into place and sat back, ready for whatever lay ahead. Or so I thought. Loud revving sounds came from speakers along the track as the train hit the launch and built up speed the whole way up the hill. I was expecting the launch to be some kind of mediocre marketing gimmick, but it was surprisingly intense and really added a sense of power to the ride. If perfecting this launch was what delayed the coaster’s opening, so be it. It was worth every bit of the wait.
After slightly reducing its speed, the train crested the pre-drop, flinging riders into their restraints with the smoothest of motions. This was definitely one of my favorite parts of the ride. Next came the 165-foot drop, which, while not as electrifying as the pre-drop, offered several seconds of floater airtime. At the bottom of the drop came my only grievance about the ride: Just as I was being forced back into my seat by the powerful G-forces, a severe jolt shot through the train. It wasn’t quite painful, but it definitely took away from the drop.
Before I had time to catch my breath, the coaster flew through a 90-degree over-banked turn at an out-of-control speed. Tightly hugging the terrain, the train shot uphill, before twisting through an insane S-curve and an off-axis airtime hill. After two bunny hops, I had reached the grand finale of the ride – four downhill airtime hills, also known as a quadruple down. The ejector airtime shot me out of my seat with such rapidity that I hardly had time to think, only to send me right back in for more.
After whizzing by the station and twisting through a quirky overbank, the ride was over. I finally caught my breath. The layout was so relentless that I never had time to recover from one element before reaching the next one. The unceasing speed was like no other coaster I’ve ridden. Overall, I gave Lightning Rod a 9.5 out of 10. Other than the jolt at the bottom of the drop and the slightly short layout, the ride was flawless, and definitely the best wooden coaster I had ridden.
Update: Dollywood worked on the coaster during the off-season and riders have reported that the jolt is now gone.
If you ever make it to Dollywood, here are a few tips that will make your experience on Lightning Rod the best possible.
- Ride Lightning Rod later in the day, rather than right after the park opens, because they generally add the coaster’s second train in the afternoon. This speeds up the line considerably.
- For the wildest ride experience, sit in the back, where the airtime is extreme!
- If you ride Lightning Rod after dark, you’ll have a pitch black experience, with no lights whatsoever on the other side of the hill.
Have you ridden Lightning Rod? Feel free to share your experience in the comments section below.