Mountain coasters have recently exploded onto the scene around the Gatlinburg / Pigeon Forge area. The editorial staff at the Historic Gatlinburg Inn created this guide to tell you everything you need to know about them.
What Is a Mountain Coaster?
A mountain coaster is similar to a traditional roller coaster. The major difference is that mountain coasters are single car rides in which the rider has the ability to control his own speed via a brake on the car. They are gravity coasters in which the car is pulled via chain to the top of a tall hillside, and then released to speed down the hill via gravity. These coasters do not go upside down.
They are great fun!
What Does It Cost?
The average price for a mountain coaster ride is $15 to $18 for an adult. Children’s tickets are usually less (although childhood ends very early apparently). A child may ride along with an adult for a slightly higher ticket. The way most mountain coasters are priced is that after the first full price ride, subsequent rides can be purchased at a discount (sometimes half price or less). So to ride a coaster just once can be fairly expensive, but if you ride multiple times, your price per ride comes down considerably. For a family of four to do two rides, you are probably looking at around $100.
Which Ones are the Best?
The writer of this article personally rode six of the seven coasters in the Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge area. We will describe each of those, give our opinions on each, and then attempt to rank them.
Rowdy Bear Mountain Alpine Coaster
388 Parkway, Gatlinburg, TN 37738
Rowdy Bear Mountain Alpine Coaster was the fastest of the coasters we reviewed, and the best overall ride. Rowdy Bear’s operation and pricing is a little different from the others. Rowdy Bear has two attractions – the mountain coaster, and an attraction called a “mountain glider” that is similar to a zipline. The most economical way to ride at Rowdy Bear is with a package that includes two rides on the coaster and one ride on the mountain glider.
The mountain glider is a very different type of experience. Unlike a zipline, which has you moving in a straight line down a long cable, the glider moves you along a stiff, curvy steel rail that swings you way out to the side. It is a strange and exciting experience.
All in all, Rowdy Bear was our favorite. We loved the coaster and we loved the mountain glider. From a money standpoint, it is much more cost effective to purchase the coaster/glider combination mentioned above.
Rail Runner at Anakeesta
576 Parkway, Gatlinburg, TN 37738
Anakeesta, which is an amusement park of sorts located at the top of a mountain near downtown Gatlinburg, has the most unusual mountain coaster in the area. It is advertised as “the only single rail mountain coaster in the United States.” If you are looking for the greatest scare factor, this is the one.
Rail Runner starts at the top of the hill, and then pulls you back to the top at the end of the ride. It is a strange experience because you feel like you are riding very low to the ground, and it is very steep. There are actually signs along the rail telling you to apply your brake at certain times. It seemed like a good idea.
This is a truly wild ride. It felt dangerous and made us nervous. Just like a good thrill ride should! It was the only coaster that required us to sign a waiver.
Strictly from a money standpoint, if you’re just looking to coaster ride, this is the most expensive option we reviewed because first you have to pay your admission to Anakeesta to get to it, and then you have to pay a separate fee to ride the coaster. In addition, on the day we were there, after our first ride, the coaster was shut down for maintenance the rest of the day. That was disappointing because we really loved the ride and wanted to do it again, and we did not get to take advantage of the lower cost of the second ride.
Smoky Mountain Alpine Coaster
867 Wear Valley Road, Pigeon Forge, TN 37863
Moving into the Pigeon Forge area, we have Smoky Mountain Alpine Coaster. It claims to be “the longest downhill ride in the United States, with over 1 mile of track.” Of the coasters we tested, this one definitely had the longest track.
This was an exciting ride and we felt like it offered the best sensory mountain experience because it pulls you WAY up a hill into a tree-covered forest at the launch point. It’s also the best nighttime experience. It has very attractive lighting along the track rails. Parts of the track are sunk deep into the woods, so the surroundings get quite dark as the evening progresses. The lights really popped when the sun went down.
For a single ride (for the coaster alone), this was slightly more expensive than the other coasters in this article, but subsequent rides are a lower price. You will want to do it more than once. The short video clip at the top of this article was taken on this coaster as the sun was going down. This is definitely your after-dark ride.
The Coaster at Goats on the Roof
1341 Wears Valley Road, Pigeon Forge, TN 37863
Goats on the Roof has a craft/souvenir store, gem mining, and a candy/ice cream shop. Oh, and they have goats. Some are on the roof and some are at ground level. They are all cute.
And, of course, it has a mountain coaster! This mountain coaster is probably the best one if you have small children who want to ride. It’s a little shorter and not quite as extreme as the other coasters, but it is still a lot of fun! It is also the most affordable of the coasters we rode. After the first full price ride, subsequent rides were only $5 (at least on the day we were there).
This Pigeon Forge mountain coaster is located very near the Smoky Mountain Alpine Coaster discussed above on Wears Valley Road. If you’re having a coaster-riding day, you should just do them both.
Gatlinburg Mountain Coaster
306 Parkway, Gatlinburg, TN 37738
This is the original mountain coaster. No coaster-riding expedition will be complete until you ride the first mountain coaster in the area, the Gatlinburg Mountain Coaster. There is an additional level of adventure associated with this one because it is the only coaster we reviewed that does NOT have any kind of automated braking system to prevent cars from touching. So it is REALLY important that you not stop on this ride! This may have been the fastest of all the coasters.
Rocky Top Mountain Coaster
2940 Veterans Boulevard, Pigeon Forge, TN 37863
Rocky Top Mountain Coaster is the longest in length of all of the mountain coasters in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge. It is also the best-staged of the coasters. You go through barns and tunnels, past bears urinating off the side of a cabin, and various other mountain-themed props.
The coaster is also more multi-leveled than the other coasters reviewed here. There are four major up-and-down sections to the ride. It takes several minutes to complete the ride from start to finish. This is a very fun and visually interesting ride.
Of the six coasters we rode for this article, we would rank them like this:
Best Overall Ride: Rowdy Bear Mountain Alpine Coaster
Scariest Ride: Rail Runner at Anakeesta
Best for Coaster Historians and Adventure Seekers: Gatlinburg Mountain Coaster
Best Nighttime Experience: Smoky Mountain Alpine Coaster
Longest ride and Most Visually Interesting: Rocky Top Mountain Coaster
Best for Kids, and Most Affordable: The Coaster at Goats on the Roof
Other Mountain Coasters
The only mountain coaster we have not yet had a chance to ride and review is the Ski Mountain Coaster at Ober Gatinburg. As soon as we have an opportunity to ride it, we will update and finish this guide.
Ski Mountain Coaster at Ober Gatlinburg
1001 Parkway, Gatlinburg, TN 37738
Mountain coasters are awesome, y’all. If you’re looking for a thrill, or something fun to do with your kids, we highly recommend you give them a try. They are easy to find. It is a unique experience that is kind-of like riding a roller coaster…but different! You will love it.
And when you come into town, we recommend you book your room at the Historic Gatlinburg Inn, Gatlinburg’s truly unique hotel, located right in the middle of downtown next to the Gatlinburg SkyLift.
Here is one more short clip, going uphill on the Rowdy Bear coaster: