Home » The Ultimate Disney Parks “Mountain” Ranking

The Ultimate Disney Parks “Mountain” Ranking

The concept of the theme park wienie is familiar to longtime readers of this site. You know that Walt Disney constructed the Happiest Place on Earth by employing a personal philosophy about architecture. He felt that an impeccably crafted architectural structure would serve as a siren song of sorts for park visitors. They’d see these compositions from afar and feel compelled to visit the area. Both Disneyland and Walt Disney World feature several of these structures. Which one is the best, though? Let’s rank the seven most famous man-made mountains at Disney theme parks.

7. Seven Dwarfs Mine Train

Image: DisneyWhat criteria should we use in deciding the best man-made mountains? The artificial structures should be impressive, right? They should also mean a great deal to Disney history. And the ride itself needs to be great. Otherwise, you’re on the dullest date you’ve ever had with the most attractive person you know. It would be frustrating.

Under these criteria, we’ll take a look at Disney’s main North American mountains, ignoring ones that don’t quite fit such as Grizzly River Run, which doesn’t really use its artificial backdrop during the ride. For this list, only three artificial mountains qualify from the 21st century. Almost everything else is a part of Disney’s glory days.

Keeping this in mind, my love of Seven Dwarfs Mine Train isn’t enough to rank it higher on the list. While each ride causes me jubilation, the 2014 introduction of this attraction means that it lacks history. It’s also the calmest of the rides up for discussion. As for the structure, it’s not even the pinnacle of construction at New Fantasyland. That honor unequivocally goes to Beast’s Castle, the home of Be Our Guest. For these reasons, the wonderfulness of Seven Dwarfs Mine Train isn’t enough to save it from last place.

6. Big Thunder Mountain Railroad

Image: DisneyIn a way, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad suffers from a syndrome that I’ll lazily call Been There, Done That-itis. This roller coaster is wonderful, a satisfying thrill ride with the perfect rickety sounds to reinforce the immersive notion that your vehicle may not survive the ride. You’ll feel out of control in a wholly satisfying way during your journey. It’s pure Imagineering magic. And it still feels like you’ve been there and done that.

One of the oldest mine train roller coasters in the world, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad first debuted in 1979/1980 at Disneyland and Magic Kingdom. By that point, we already had a pair of other roller coasters featuring companion mountains. Each of them is more revolutionary in nature, of greater historical significance and has a better man-made structure pairing. To a larger point, Magic Kingdom has four different artificial mountains. The one at Big Thunder Mountain Railroad is the least memorable of the ones from the 20th century.

5. Radiator Springs Racers

Image: DisneyI think I’ve made my adoration for Radiator Springs Racers pretty well-known over the years. I think it’s in the conversation for best themed ride at any Disney park. The Cars franchise is impeccably represented with both the breathtaking landscape and the coaster carts. The ride through Radiator Springs encapsulates Lightning McQueen’s journey in the first film, with clever participation from all your favorite characters.

For the purposes of this list, Ornament Valley is the key component, though. The Cars Land expansion was famously part of $1.1 billion in renovations at Disney California Adventure. Beyond the Paradise Pier sign and Ferris wheel, it’s the main wienie at the park. The vista is gorgeous from a distance and an artistic triumph from up close. It’s one of the greatest constructs in Disney history with a phenomenal ride attached. The fact that it can’t finish higher on the list speaks volumes about how consistently impressive Disney’s man-made mountains are.

4. Expedition Everest

Image: DisneyQuick, what’s THE tallest Disney mountain? Okay, you read the title, so you already know the answer. Still, it’s important to state this for our purposes. When Disney constructed the Forbidden Mountain, they maxed out the structure. Federal laws require all man-made structures such as this one to top out at 200 feet. Anything beyond that needs special warning lights for air traffic control purposes.

Park planners have no interest in putting warning lights on their precious mountains, and so 199 feet is the theoretical maximum for these buildings. Not coincidentally, the Forbidden Mountain is 199 feet tall. Due to the unique nature of Disney’s Animal Kingdom, this particular wienie is also visible from vast distances inside the park. It’s an architectural triumph of a sort, assuming that we ignore its critical flaw. Alas, I just can’t do that. Expedition Everest is highlighted by a breathtaking wienie and a spectacular backwards ride into darkness. But it’s also the man-made mountain with the worst flaw. As such, I can’t place it in the top three over wienies I view as nearly perfect.

3. Space Mountain

Image: DisneyOut of all the man-made mountains listed here, I struggled with Space Mountain the most. It could easily stand on top of this group. After all, everyone who loves Disney can spot Space Mountain from a vast distance. At Walt Disney World, Disney’s Contemporary Resort even charges more for guests whose rooms overlook this dazzling architectural wonder.

With regards to the ride, is any theme park attraction more iconic than Space Mountain? It has the sort of name recognition that supersedes the entire industry. Even people who have never been to a Disney theme park know what Space Mountain is. So, the building is impressive and the ride is legendary. I have nothing negative to say about Space Mountain. I really don’t. In evaluating this list, I simply felt that the next two attractions had stronger arguments as the best Disney mountains of all-time.

2. Splash Mountain

Image: DisneyYou know the old saw that a picture is worth a thousand words. Look at the photograph here to understand the genius of Splash Mountain. When you stand in front of this mountain, the clever crafting tells the story of the entire ride. The prickly branches hint at the malevolent undertones lurking inside the mountain. The jets of water remind you of your fate when you board your log flume. And the ominous structure stretches into the sky, eventually ending in a sharp point at the top. Cascading through the middle of the mountain is a waterfall, one that will provide the proverbial splash. Splash Mountain is a gorgeous construct that somehow manages to call its own shot, ably describing the pleasures that guests will discover inside this Laughing Place.

1. Matterhorn Bobsleds

Image: DisneyThere can be only one…first, that is. Matterhorn Bobsleds was the first tubular steel continuous track roller coaster in the world. More importantly, it was the first attraction to come with its own mountain. Walt Disney himself wanted to build something to prove that Disneyland didn’t reach its pinnacle on opening day. After a couple of years in operation, skeptics wondered how the park would sustain its early momentum.

The year of 1959 proved to be one of the most important of the 20th century for The Walt Disney Company. Imagineers would unveil two new attractions, one of which would take place in the depths of the ocean. The other would take to the skies. In fact, it would use a space that was already in place at Disneyland.

During the early days of the Happiest Place on Earth, theme park tourists would hang out at a place called Lookout Mountain. There, they would *ahem* get a little too happy. It was the heavy petting capital of Disneyland. Uncle Walt saw a way to kill two birds with one stone by adding a Swiss Alps overlay to the mountain. With a new ride present, it would remove hot make-out sessions as an option in this area. And the attraction would create renewed interest for park guests.

The Matterhorn Bobsleds turns 60 in June of 2019. It’s the oldest major steel roller coaster in the world, and it continues to delight guests to this day. The structure on which it’s based was the first wienie ever tied to a theme park attraction, giving it a special gravitas that differentiates it from the other man-made structures on this list. It claims a central role in park lore, and the other entrants here wouldn’t exist were it not for the sustained excellence of Matterhorn Bobsleds.