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The 7 Stunning “Natural” Wonders of the Theme Park World

Today we’re kicking off a new three-part series where we discover the “Seven Wonders of the Theme Park World.” We’ll take a look at the Seven Ancient Wonders and the Seven Technological Wonders, but we’ve got to start somewhere, so what about the Seven “Natural” Wonders?

Below, we’ve counted down the seven most convincing natural features in theme parks. There might even be one or two that you assumed were real! Read through the list below and tell us which of these international Wonders you’ve seen in person, and which are the most magnificent?

7. Forbidden Valley

Location: Alton Towers (Staffordshire, U.K.)
Attraction: Nemesis

Located at Alton Towers in Staffordshire, England, Forbidden Valley is perhaps the least inviting “natural” Wonder on our list. In fact, it’s meant to represent a harsh post-apocalyptic landscape where sharp rocks jut from the ground, rusted machinery is scattered about, and streams and waterfalls run blood red. Down among the carved tunnels of Forbidden Valley stands a horrifying and decaying exoskeleton of a giant creature somewhat like a scorpion. This hollowed out creature is the station for the Nemesis inverted roller coaster.

The Valley itself is necessary given the local ordinance restricting the park from having any attractions that break the tree line. Thankfully, Nemesis’ placement – deep in the rusted, bloody trenches of the “natural” valley – has made it famous the world over. Who doesn’t love blood rivers?

6. The Volcano

Location: Kings Dominion (Doswell, Virginia)
Attraction: Volcano: The Blast Coaster

Located in an area of the park themed around a lost Congo expedition, the Volcano stands at 150 feet tall. Its scraggly peak would be pronounced against the park’s skyline anyway, but this natural Wonder has been outfitted with over 2,700 feet of striking molten track with mauve supports. Volcano: The Blast Coaster accelerates riders to a dizzying 70 miles per hour through an enormous helix before the train rockets into the mountain’s core, turns vertical, and blasts vertically through the mountain’s mouth, immediately inverting 155 feet over the ground. From there, it’s a mostly-leisurely course along the mountain’s edge, rolling effortlessly through four heartline rolls before a final 80 foot plunge back into the mountain ends the experience.

Through the 1980s, Kings Dominion amusement park in Virginia watched a number of rides move into the mountain in the park’s Safari Village area. After a handful of dark rides failed to leave lasting impressions, the mountain was vacated, the top was chopped off, and Volcano was born. And yes, fire comes out, too. Hopefully just not at the same time as the riders do.

5. Big Thunder Mountain

Location: Disneyland, Magic Kingdom, Disneyland Paris, Tokyo Disneyland
Attraction: Big Thunder Mountain Railroad

While the details of the “wildest ride in the wilderness” depend on which park you’re riding it at, all four Big Thunder Mountains across the globe have a few things in common. First, all four mountains are home to a runaway mine train adventure through a earthquake-struck gold mining operation. A convoluted and twisted mine track leads over the mountain’s hills and valleys, through tunnels, and past lifelike audio animatronics of desert wildlife – a natural evolution of Disneyland’s Mine Train Thru Nature’s Wonderland that Big Thunder Mountain originally replaced!

There are a few purposeful differences between the rides, too: Disneyland’s is modeled after the striking, rounded “hoodoo” natural formations of Utah’s Bryce Canyon National Park. Designers and Imagineers did that on purpose: to built an intimate, otherworldly, “fantastic” transition for the diminutive park’s Fantasyland and the never-built Discovery Bay land, which Big Thunder Mountain would’ve been a part of. The other three borrow from the less “fantastic,” more geometric towers of Arizona’s Monument Valley, focused more on grandeur and dominance, just like their respective parks. However, in all cases the unforgettable iron-red rock towers of the mountains’ peaks are now synonymous with an Old West adventure.

4. Tree of Life

© Disney.

Location: Disney’s Animal Kingdom
Attraction: It’s Tough to be a Bug!

That’s one big tree. And it ought to be! Not only is the Tree of Life the park icon of Disney’s Animal Kingdom, it’s also supposed to be the tree from which life on Earth is born, restored, and connected. Disney’s version is nearly 50 feet wide at its base, with a sprawling root system that builds natural bridges, tunnels, and animal enclosures. The oversized Banyan tree is 145 feet tall and holds more than 100,000 leaves in five shades of green. While it may look like a regular African tree from afar, the trunk and roots are carved with 325 animals and 1 hidden Mickey. Or does that make it 326 animals?

3. Forbidden Mountain

Image via Keys to the Magic Travel. Click for link.

Location: Disney’s Animal Kingdom
Attraction: Expedition Everest – Legend of the Forbidden Mountain

There’s nothing unimpressive about the Himalayan mountain range at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. At 199 feet tall, the snow-capped peak of the Forbidden Mountain makes it the second tallest mountain in Florida. The “natural” peak has the assistance of 38 miles of rebar, 5,000 pounds of structural steel, and 10,000 tons of concrete. Inside is a runaway train of a different type – a sightseeing train up into the Himalayas goes very wrong when the mysterious Yeti uproots the track and sends the coaster forwards and backwards. From most all angles, Forbidden Mountain is a daunting and impressive Wonder of the theme park world.

2. Ornament Valley & the Cadillac Range

Image: Disney

Location: Disney California Adventure
Attraction: Radiator Springs Racers

Ornament Valley will take your breath away, pure and simple. The expansive mountain range – a near perfect recreation of the sunset-hued rockwork from the film Cars – is only 125 feet tall, but you’d guess it was twice that. The scale and scope of the Ornament Valley is unreal, and simply can’t be captured in photographs. Like seeing a real natural Wonder like the Grand Canyon, you simply can’t describe how the Ornament Valley expands infinitely in both directions, filling any panoramic photo you try to take.

Image: Disney

300,000 square feet of rocks recreate the Pixar-designed desert landscape. It pays off. That first all-encompassing view of the mountains up close is almost as stunning and jaw-dropping as seeing any real natural formation of the American Southwest. Not to mention, one of Disney’s brightest and most vibrant attractions – Radiator Springs Racers – darts along neatly paved roads around and against the range.

Perhaps the most distinguishing feature, the Cadillac Range is the signature element of the incredible desert backdrop. The six cartoon mountain peaks somehow look entirely, plausibly natural here. Not coincidentally, they represent the iconic tailfins from Cadillac cars from 1957 – 1962 in order, with the 1959 nodel earning the highest peak.

Click and expand for larger. Image: Disney

Cars Land might’ve saved the disastrous, old Disney California Adventure from certain doom, but we can’t help thinking that this starring land wouldn’t be worth much without the backdrop of the Cadillac Range. 

Our tip for seeing this Wonder? Take the long way ‘round. While it’s tempting to enter the park’s famed Cars Land via the traditional route looking down Route 66, only by entering through Pacific Wharf will you be granted the breathtaking view above. And what a view it is.

1. Mount Prometheus

Image: Disney 

Location: Tokyo DisneySea
Attraction: Journey to the Center of the Earth

Named for the ancient Greek titan who defied the gods by bestowing fire and knowledge on the humans, Mount Prometheus is absolutely stunning from all angles. The active volcano is made up of 750,000 square feet of rock and rises 189 feet above the Tokyo Disney Resort (the same exact height as Cinderella Castle, the icon of Tokyo Disneyland next door). Not only is the mountain the park icon for the much hailed and beloved Tokyo DisneySea… it also contains the park’s headlining land and two stellar E-ticket attractions.

The huge, circular, collapsed caldera bowl formed by the mountain (to its right in the photo above) contains the park’s Mysterious Island port, themed to Jules Verne’s sci-fi fantasy novels. The entire land is contained within the caldera under the peak of Prometheus, with visitors suspended on metallic catwalks above bubbling geysers, boiling waterfalls, and steaming volcanic vents below. Captain Nemo’s Nautilus is even docked inside, with steep staircases descending down to it. The land’s two attractions – both themed to Verne novels – are the indisputable highlights of the already-E-ticket-packed park.

Via tdrfan.com.

First, there’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, a stunning modern take on the classic novel. Entirely different from Magic Kingdom’s abandoned 20,000 Leagues attraction, this version of the ride is equally mindblowing using an entirely different medium. Of course, set among the massive, starring E-tickets of DisneySea, it feels almost like a family-sized aside, but at any other park on Earth, Tokyo’s 20,000 Leagues would be considered a headliner. 

If you’re looking to explore Mount Prometheus, then your best bet is Journey to the Center of the Earth, an off-roading adventure into the depths of the planet via a carved lava tube beneath the volcano. Just beware – deep at the molten core is the terrifying Lava Creature, who also happens to be among the most advanced animatronic creations on Earth. It glares, rears back, gnashes its hideous fangs, and lunges at the vehicle just as you accelerate full speed up through Prometheus and out of a collapsed lava tube on the mountain’s side. For the sheer impossible size of the peak and the stellar rides within, Mount Prometheus earns a spot at number two.


Were you fooled by Alton Towers’ valleys of blood? Did you assume Mount Prometheus was a legitimate volcano with a theme park built around it? Figure that the Old West peaks of Big Thunder Mountain had mysteriously migrated to Florida naturally?

Alright, maybe not. But consider the painstaking lengths that designers and engineers went to to create these “natural” Wonders that transport us to unique places that we might not otherwise get to visit. Which do you think is the most magnificent? Tell us in the comments below! And don’t forget to check out our list of the Seven Ancient Wonders and the Seven Modern Wonders!