Ask any Tennessean the name of their patron saint, and they will all give the same answer: Dolly Parton, Queen of Glitz and Goodwill.
While she’s revered the world over for her genius songwriting and musical talent, she holds a special place in locals’ hearts because of her lifelong dedication to supporting education and healthcare in the Volunteer State. Parton is more than a celebrity to us – she’s a beacon of creativity, community and hope.
A trip to Tennessee wouldn’t be complete without a few stops that pay homage to this one-of-a-kind artist who has inspired so many – here’s our list of the best places to honor Parton’s rhinestone-spangled legacy.
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A stunning sunrise view of Great Smoky Mountains National Park © iStockphoto / Getty Images
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Parton hails from Sevierville – a small town in foothills outside of the Great Smoky Mountains – and this setting strongly influenced her life and work. Experience the magic of the Appalachian ecosystem the way Parton did with a visit to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, 800 square miles of protected forests that blanket the country’s oldest mountain range. Hikers are spoiled for choice with 850 miles of hikeable trails (including 70 miles of the famed Appalachian Trail), and wildlife lovers will spot everything from black bears and bald eagles to the endangered hellbender salamander and the glowing flamed tiger snail.
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Lightning Rod, a wooden roller coaster with a mighty launch at Dollywood © Nicholas Lamontanaro / Shutterstock
Dollywood, Pigeon Forge
Located just up the road from the Smokies in Pigeon Forge, Dollywood is a must-visit spot for any fan. The Appalachian-themed park is home to adrenaline-inducing rides and its own waterpark, enough to keep even the most energetic families busy for a few days. But perhaps the most culturally significant elements of the park are the replica Dolly’s childhood home – the one-room cabin that inspired her hit “My Tennessee Mountain Home” – and the Chasing Rainbows Museum, which houses a spectacular collection of Parton’s iridescent gowns, platinum records, movie costumes and other career memorabilia.
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Make the most out of every adventure with help from our weekly newsletter delivered to your inbox. Nashville’s Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum © f11photo / Shutterstock
Country Music Hall of Fame, Nashville
The day after she graduated high school in 1964, Parton packed her bags and moved to Nashville to pursue her country music dream. To learn more about her trajectory to fame and her impact on the country and pop music genres, head to the Country Music Hall of Fame, located in downtown Music City. In addition to its exhibitions, the museum functions as a music venue, hosting regular live music performances – songwriter sessions, an Artist-in-Residence series and more.
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RCA Studio B in Nashville, where Elvis Presley, Dolly Parton and Chet Atkins recorded hits © Laura Motta / Lonely Planet
Historic RCA Studio B, Nashville
Considered one of the most important music studios to ever exist in Nashville, RCA Studio B sits on the city’s famed Music Row. Some of the country’s biggest artists recorded here: the Everly Brothers, Elvis Presley, Waylon Jennings and of course, Dolly Parton. And you could say that Queen Dolly has always known how to make an entrance – she once crashed her car into the side of the studio as she rushed to her recording session. Now a part of the Country Music Hall of Fame, you can visit the studio where she recorded “I Will Always Love You” and “Jolene,” and experience an essential piece of Nashville music history firsthand.
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Singers Norah Jones and Dolly Parton perform at the Grand Ole Opry House © Scott Gries / Getty
Grand Ole Opry, Nashville
The show that launched some of the biggest country careers in the biz – Grand Ole Opry – sits at the foundation of Nashville’s music scene, and Parton made her first appearance at the tender age of 13. She was introduced by none other than the Man in Black himself, Johnny Cash, and received a whopping three encores; by 1969 she was inducted as a member. While the Opry has changed venues throughout its long tenure, you can still attend a show at the current location in Opry Mills – snag a ticket and listen to the next big thing in Parton’s honor.
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If there’s one venue in Nashville you shouldn’t skip, it’s the Ryman Auditorium. Dubbed the “Mother Church of Country Music,” the Ryman has fielded stars of every genre since it built its first stage in 1901: Sarah Bernhart, the Fisk Jubilee Singers, Charlie Chaplin, Harry Houdini, Johnny Cash, Louis Armstrong, Patsy Cline, and more. Parton made her Grand Ole Opry debut here, and she has revisited the stage several times throughout her career. Check the performance calendar and grab a ticket to this surprisingly intimate venue and enjoy the incredible acoustics from the hall’s original oak pews.
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An architectural ode to Parton and her boisterous personal style, this rooftop bar located on the top of the Graduate Hotel is an explosion of whimsy and Parton’s personal brand of southern sass. Sip cocktails poolside beneath hot pink umbrellas that look like cake toppers, lounge on velvet furniture with touches of gilded glamor or snap a selfie with the huge sculpture of Dolly herself. For obvious reasons, this place is very popular, so a reservation is a must, and we recommend timing your visit during the week.
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Dolly Parton murals
Parton’s signature style and bubbly personality have inspired many artistic dedications, and Tennessee is home to some spectacular street art that will inspire you to embrace your inner icon.
A new Dolly Parton mural honors the singer’s Black Lives Matter support in Nashville, Tennessee © Jason Kempin / Getty
Parton has left her mark on Music City figuratively and literally – head to east Nashville to check out the technicolor mural on the side of The 5 Spot, a storied local venue known for its eclectic performance calendar. Painted by Kim Radford in the summer of 2020, the artwork features Parton framed by vivid blooms, with her own words floating overhead: “Of course Black Lives Matter. Do we think our lily-white a**es are the only ones that matter?”
Explore Nashville’s musical (and non-musical) murals
Knoxville sits a stone’s throw from Parton’s hometown, so it’s only fitting that the city has a few art tributes to her as well. Head to the Central Filling Station to check out a portrait of our favorite bedazzled bombshell made entirely out of recycled beer containers by artist Dave Bowers, or head downtown to Market Square Alley to pose with a recently refurbished mural by Megan Lingerfelt and Colton Valentine.
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