Dolly Parton on Opening a Hotel Inspired by the Nature of the Great Smoky Mountains

The Dollywood Company

Dolly Parton opened HeartSong Lodge & Resort on Friday in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., the latest glittering rhinestone in the Dollywood Parks & Resorts empire. Set in the rolling foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains, HeartSong Lodge is an homage to the region where Parton spent her childhood—a place that’s continued to inspire her throughout her 50-plus year career.

The hotel is the second Dollywood resort, joining nearby DreamMore Resort & Spa, which opened in 2015. “Some people are calling me a hotelier now,” she told a crowd gathered to watch the dedication of the hotel, adding that still more Dollywood hotels are in the works.

Parton said that there are more Dollywood hotels in the works.
Parton said that there are more Dollywood hotels in the works.
The Dollywood Company

HeartSong’s design weaves in its natural surroundings in both striking and subtle ways. In the heart of the 302-room lodge, a four-story stone fireplace (made with local stones, some still covered in moss) anchors an airy atrium, which faces sweeping floor-to-ceiling windows. Fauna and flora of the region pops up throughout the common areas, too: Colorful monarch butterfly-shaped trusses are built into the ceiling beams, and inside the elevators, backlit photos show scenes of the Smokies throughout the seasons.

Guest rooms also draw inspiration from the Great Smoky Mountains, from the fireflies that trim the lighted bathroom mirrors and murals of bears, owls, and other woodland creatures in nature are splashed on the bedroom walls, to the sound machines that play a custom mix of soothing sounds—like a campfire crackling or birds singing. Many of the rooms come with balconies that look out over the outdoor pool complex and the surrounding wooded hills.

But while HeartSong is a celebration of the Smokies, guests can find plenty of nods to Parton herself, including her larger-than-life portrait hanging in the entryway, and an array of her guitars, her handwritten songs, and other personal treasures on display inside Acoustic Lobby, a private dining room on the resort’s first floor.

Like DreamMore, the lodge is designed to facilitate families spending time together, with activities like Parton’s Imagination Library story time, and the outdoor campfire where, each evening, guests can gather around to toast marshmallows for “roasties” (think s’mores, but with a more creative and rotating array of ingredients.)

Ahead, Parton talks with Condé Nast Traveler about HeartSong, her go-to room service order, and more.

The singer and philanthropist at her new HeartSong Lodge & Resort in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee

Heartsong Lodge and Resort Tour

The singer and philanthropist at her new HeartSong Lodge & Resort in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee
Curtis Hilbun/Dollywood

Can you tell us about the concept behind HeartSong, and what was most important to you when it came to the hotel’s design?

Well, we're proud of everything we do at Dollywood. And every year we have huge dreams. And of course, we were so proud when we opened our DreamMore Resort eight years ago. And people just love that and it stays booked all the time. We thought, well, we need another hotel. So what will it be? It needs to be a lodge right here in the Smoky Mountains as deep in the hills as we can get it. And it needs to have some balconies where people can step out on the balconies and feel like they're part of nature. In the mornings, they can hear the birds and the squirrels, and just go out and have their coffee, or a little snack. But we felt like it would be good, since I grew up in a cabin in the mountains, and kind of just more deep woods than what the DreamMore resort is. And so we just thought that would be a perfect thing, it fit my personality, it fit my childhood. And so sure enough, we are open now and we're so proud of it.

What role does your own life or personal connection to the Great Smoky Mountains play in the hotel?

You can see the mountains from the hotel, of course. I grew up at the foothills of the Smokies. But we wanted people to feel like they were part of the Smokies, because we know that the national park is the most beautiful, and the most popular in the United States. So I've always been really proud of the fact that I was born and raised up here. And so of course I always try, when we do anything at Dollywood, to keep things close to home, things that I understand, things that are part of my childhood, part of my life. These things come natural to us when we start dreaming: What would be good next for us to do?

So we're going to build more hotels. I'm not sure what all the themes will be, but this one will always be really special. Because it's more of a country life, although it's bigger. It has a huge convention center, people are going to be able to come to have conventions and even family reunions.

You’ve been everywhere—how have your own travels inspired the hotel? Was there any amenity or design element you had to include?

I've been all over the country, I've been all over the world, but there are those great places—like when you go to a lot of the ski resorts, places up in the mountains where they have a lot of lodges. When I would go to those places, I always felt so at home, because it reminded me of my own home in the Great Smoky Mountains, whether it be in Aspen, or any of those great places.

I’ve seen similar places to our HeartSong lodge, with big hearths, where you really feel like you're really in a big country home. I'm influenced by everything, I'm like a sponge. I just soak up everything, every memory made. I can usually apply that to something else, when the occasion arises.

What are your favorite hotel amenities?

I think it's really important that you have a really good, comfortable bed, because I sleep so well, when I come up here, even to the DreamMore resort. And it’s real important to have a great bathroom where you have your shampoos and conditioners, and all those comforts of home. I think feeling that you have the comforts of home in a great hotel—we work real hard for that.

We cater to our families as well, our bunk beds, and things for the children. Families love that. And the kids certainly do. And we incorporated that into the HeartSong lodge as well, because it was such a big hit at our DreamMore resort. So I just think, having a place that feels like home.

And also, the lighting on the bathroom mirrors is so good here.

Yeah, well, it is important to have good lighting and good mirrors. That's a big deal, especially to women.

Do you have a go-to room service order?

I am so simple. Although they have the best foods ever at all of our restaurants—we are so proud of our chefs—but I'm still one of those burger and fries kind of people. You know, when all else fails, get a cheeseburger, some french fries and a cola, and you can't go wrong.

What's one memorable experience you hope guests will have during their stay at your hotel? What do you want guests to take away from a stay?

I hope they feel good, hope they feel happy, I hope they feel safe. And I'm pretty sure they're going to feel petted, and spoiled just a little bit, stuff they might not get when they're home. Especially a mama who's always having to do everything at home, this way, she can get to be pampered just a little bit too. So I think that it's important that they go away thinking, that was such a great vacation, and I felt special.

And I know it's so important for you to have families spend time together, and there seem to be plenty of ways you can do that here at the resort.

I'm big on family, you know, I grew up in a big one. And we've always tried at Dollywood to make it a family destination, from the rooms [at the resorts] to the foods, to the outside activities like the marshmallows and the campfire sings. All the things that you can have fun with your friends and family, where it really feels like you're in a safe environment, but you really feel like it could be way out somewhere in the wilderness. There's so much to see and do at the lodge here. You can just stay at the hotel and have a great time.

I would love to hear about the new Dolly Parton Experience coming in 2024—which aspect of the museum are you excited for your fans to see?

I am so excited about the new museum. I had my own little museum here for many, many years, and we outgrew the space. So we had to expand. Dollywood has been growing at such a fast rate of speed over the last several years, and the museum was no different.

This new day and age, there's so many wonderful things you can do from the technical end, making things bigger and more colorful, more radiant, and really just have more of an experience for people, more of an adventure so to speak. So we're really proud of that. They're gonna get to see and know everything that I've done since I started, even before I started: my childhood, my people, my faith, my dreams, and seeing them all come true. So they're gonna get to walk through my whole life.

Originally Appeared on Condé Nast Traveler