Quirky alternatives to major theme parks

Rusty Wire Band, Tinkertown Museum, New Mexico (Photo: Mike Dalessio)
Editor's Note: This story was originally published on June 29, 2006. To see the most recent SmarterTravel articles on related topics, please click on any of the following links: activity, Albuquerque, destination, family travel, Hershey, Kate H. Knapp, offbeat travel, Orlando, Pigeon Forge, road trip, San Jose, Santa Claus, Spring Green, student travel, theme park, vacation package.

Summer has always been a time for vacations. The weather warms up, schools close down, and families hit the highway. Many people visit the "Mouse" for entertainment, while others travel off the beaten path and look to the roadside for inspiration. And it just so happens that the United States is overflowing with funky alternatives to the dense crowds, long lines, and high prices of major theme parks. All it takes is a bit of adventure and an open mind to discover what else is around the bend.

We've chosen seven places that will keep your vacation prices low while still amplifying the summer fun.



Located near the Great Smoky Mountain National Park in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, Dollywood is a popular destination for music fans and families. In 1986, singer, songwriter, and actress Dolly Parton joined forces with Herschend Entertainment to create one of the most visited attractions in Tennessee. The 125-acre park includes shows, rides, and many crafts. The most popular rides are the Smoky Mountain River Rampage, an outdoor rafting experience, and the Dollywood Express, a journey through the Smoky Mountains aboard a 110-ton steam locomotive.

Since Saturdays can be quite busy during the summer, visit on a Wednesday or Thursday to avoid crowds. Also, arrive early in the morning and head to the Tennessee Tornado or Thunderhead at the back of the park to beat the crowds. Dollywood Publicist Trish Mcgee notes that "Bypassing the very first lines is a great way to start the day at Dollywood."

To save a little extra cash, arrive after 3 p.m. from April through October, and the next day is free. This allows time to get acquainted with the park, and plan for the next day's events for $46, the price of a single-day adult admission. The most economical way to visit the park more than once a year is the Season Pass for $75. Visit the Dollywood's website for further information.

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