For most of Disney Parks history, some of the greatest thrills, most breathtaking attractions, and most memorable E-Ticket anchors have had one thing in common: they've been built around a literal mountain range of Disney-designed peaks. From the snowcapped cols of the Himalayas to the sun-baked, sunset-hued cathetrals of the Southwest, these "peaks" of Imagineering are often rides that carry between generations, delighting young and old and – for many – serving as the first major "thrills" of a lifetime.
In this special countdown, we'll conquer the 12 headlining Disney Parks attractions built around "mountains" to see which peaks truly come out on top. Along the way, count how many of these spectacular summits from around the globe you've encountered. Then, be sure to use the comments to share your thoughts on Disney's decades-long connection to "mountains," and how these thrills shape the parks we know and love, and are shaped by the ebb and flow of the industry, technology, and storytelling.
12. Matterhorn Bobsleds
Location: Disneyland Park (1959)
It’s only fitting – for a number of reasons – that any definitive countdown of Disney Mountain E-Tickets begins with the first. Matterhorn Bobsleds opened at Disneyland in 1959 as part of a sweeping expansion of Tomorrowland overseen by Walt himself. The “E-Ticket” was literally invented for Matterhorn Bobsleds (plus the Monorail and Submarine Voyage, which opened the same day), meaning it required the most expensive and elite ride ticket to summit the snow-capped peak.
Groundbreaking in its day, Matterhorn wasn’t just the first roller coaster at a Disney Park, it was also the first modern steel roller coaster ever by today's standards, and with a cutting edge computer system that allowed more than one train to be safely traveling the course at once.
In the 1970s, the ride was “moved” (on the map, at least) from Tomorrowland to Fantasyland, and a 1978 renovation took the formerly hollow mountain and filled it with icy caverns, crystal grottos, and a few hair-raising encounters with the Abominable Snowman. In 2015, a renovation of the 55-year-old mountain saw its effects updated for the 21st century (to mixed reviews) and introduced a new generation of bobsled train that, many fans argue, left the ride worse for the wear, especially being so primitive by most riders' modern standards anyway. Still, Matterhorn is a beloved piece of Disney history, a Disneyland exclusive, and the only Disney "mountain" Walt himself ever saw completed.
11. Seven Dwarfs Mine Train
Location: Magic Kingdom (2014) and Shanghai Disneyland (2016)
It may be more fair to call the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train a grassy hill rather than a full-fledged mountain, but the ride is perfectly positioned as a family-friendly practice run en route to Disney's more looming peaks.
When Disney announced plans for a New Fantasyland focused almost entirely on princess meet-and-greets, fans fought back, insisting that if this were Disney’s answer to the still-new Wizarding World of Harry Potter up the road, they’d need to try harder.
Say what you will, but designers did, returning to the drawing board and countering with Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, a swinging, compact family coaster with a charming dark ride scene in the middle.
Was the ride's opening worth the closure of Magic Kingdom's opening day Lost Legend: Snow White's Scary Adventures? We'll leave that to you to decide. Perhaps no ride could live up to the multi-hour waits the Mine Train has earned in its first years, but in and of itself, it’s a clever C-Ticket for all members of the family to enjoy together – a perfect step between the Barnstormer and Big Thunder Mountain, and a clever example of modern Imagineering.
10. Grizzly River Run
Location: Disney California Adventure (2001)
Mountain: Grizzly Peak
There’s nothing particularly bad about California Adventure’s Grizzly River Run – one of the few rides to open with the park in 2001. In fact, we even argued in our in depth Disaster File: Disney’s California Adventure that the ride (and particularly the land it was positioned in) were standouts in the otherwise forgettable park.
As part of the park’s grand re-opening in 2012, the ride’s “extreme sports” styling was masked with a more reverent, historical National Parks theme that suits it well. On-board, riders raft through dense evergreen forests, splash through caverns eroded through the towering Grizzly Peak, teeter along the edge of truly breathtaking, thundering waterfalls, and sail through misty, lantern-lit geyser fields.
The long and short of it is that Grizzly River Run is a nicely-paced, thrilling, scenic trip through some beautifully-designed natural environments.
What it's missing? The "Disney" touch. Along its winding course, what you won't see is any type of storyline, any noteworthy scenes, or any wildlife (either authentic or animatronic). Grizzly River Run seems the perfect place for a few Audio-Animatronic creatures, even if they're as simple as the kind that inhabit Big Thunder Mountain. Given that insiders say Grizzly Peak almost housed a Country Bear Theatre, it would at least make sense to place a few of Disney's fabled Country Bears along the course.
9. Roaring Rapids
Location: Shanghai Disneyland (2015)
Mountain: Mount Apu Taku
When we took our In-Depth: Shanghai Disneyland walkthrough, we saw first-hand how Imagineers responsible for the Chinese park tossed out the "Disneyland" rule book and started from scratch. This is the perfect example. Gone is Adventureland (with its mish-mashed Southest Asian, Polynesian, and African settings and styles) replaced with a land as deeply detailed and habitable as Cars Land, but populated by an elaborate original story.
Adventure Isle is set in the 1930s on a lost tropical island – home to the native Arbori people. The newly-arrived League of Adventurers has set up base camp, learning from and working alongside the Arbori to uncover the mystical wonders of this unusual place.
One puzzle that the Adventurers League is eager to solve is the unknown source of the deep, otherworldly roaring eminated from behind Mount Apu Taku's waterfall. The Arbori speak of a great river guardian whose nest is deep inside, and as new recruits to the League, we're set off to find out more. Of course, the legends are true, and the ride's headlining moment is a fleeting face-to-maw encounter with the dreaded Q'araq, a creature who earned high praise (and a point-of-view video) in our Countdown of the Best Animatronics on Earth, if only for sheer size alone.
Though it's hard to imagine, Roaring Rapids is actually an almost-identical twin of Disney California Adventure's Grizzly River Run, and while its signature animatronic encounter is breathtaking, it suffers from the same issue as Grizzly Peak's ride... Aside from Q'araq, Roaring Rapids feels like a mostly-vacant ride through red-rock river channels. Why Disney couldn't have populated the entire course with gigantic Adventure Isle creatures (both friendly and fearsome), we may never know. The result is that a ride many expected to be among the park's signature experiences is really more of an aside, proving Disney still hasn't quite mastered how a spinning, fast-paced raft ride can coexist with their storytelling and scenic design speciality.