A Comprehensive Guide to the Alpine Coasters of the Smoky Mountains
If you are like me, the thought of tackling all of the alpine coasters in the Smoky Mountains is overwhelming. Where do you start? Which one is the best? Over the last seven years, we have seen the number of alpine coasters go from one to seven. In 2014 I took my first ride on one of these coasters, the Smoky Mountain Alpine Coaster. Fast forward to last week (and several trips later), I finally managed to get on all seven. The following is a guide to help you decide which one to ride first, where to find the best deals and most thrills.
We are going compare the coasters all side-by-side and then dive into each individual ride for a quick review. I am a visual learner so I have created some graphs and charts to help you get a good grasp on what each coaster has to offer and understand the differences between each.
Here you can see a quick breakdown of all the alpine coasters, with stats, locations, logos, and the key color we will use throughout the rest of the guide.
If this trend continues, I think we will keep seeing more of these rides pop up. I think the market definitely has room for a few more of these. Hopefully we will see some more unique rides in the future; personally, I’d like to see one that is super long. Imagine one with maybe a 20 minute ride time that went way back into the forest! Or maybe a dueling/racing one?
Wiegand seems to still be the prominent alpine coaster manufacturer, but I will say I was very impressed with the quality of the Aquatic Development Group model (Ski Mountain Coaster). It was very smooth and they definitely have the most comfortable carts. The Brandauer model (Rail Runner) is interesting too in the sense that the track has the ability to make steeper drops and smaller turns.
As you can see here, most of the alpine coasters are in the $15-16 range. When you think that you can get into a lot of theme parks for the price of four alpine rides, it seems pretty steep, but remember a lot of these places rely solely on ride ticket sales, not food or souvenirs, for profit. And couple that with the fact that you can’t just ride these anywhere, it isn’t too bad if you do a couple every time you visit the area.
When you take a look at this stat and the next two to come, notice that there is one coaster in each category that stands out. In track length, the Smoky Mountain Alpine Coaster blows everyone out of the water. It is almost twice as long as the rest!
In ride time, Rocky Top is twice as long as most of the others! Even though it is the third shortest of the two-rail alpine coasters, its four lift hills help pace this ride out to 10 minutes.
For top speed, the Rowdy Bear Coaster is significantly higher, at 35 mph, than the next closest ride at 30 mph.
Smoky Mountain Alpine Coaster | Pigeon Forge
The original, the longest, one of the fastest. The Smoky Mountain Alpine Coaster may easily be the king of the bunch. Its layout has about everything you like to see in an alpine ride—long swooping s-curve sections, double downs, and large helixes. The ride has two main sections, a low-to-the-ground first half that snakes along the top of the mountain and a second half that consists of all of the helixes (some that are quite high off of the ground). If you are only going to ride one, this is the one. It is the perfect blend of thrill, fun, ride length, and price per minute value.
The Coaster at Goats on the Roof | Pigeon Forge
Located just down the road from the Smoky Mountain Alpine Coaster, The Coaster at Goats on the Roof can be simply seen as its neighbor’s little brother. At just over 1,000 feet shorter, The Coaster’s layout is almost a mirrored version of the Smoky Mountian Alpine Coaster and that makes it a very good ride as well. Wave to the goats as you fly by!
Rocky Top Mountain Coaster | Pigeon Forge
The Rocky Top Mountain Coaster is the newest alpine coaster in the region and possibly the most unique. The ride has four lifts, four tunnels, and a bit of theming throughout the ride. This is more of an experience than a ride. You definitely feel like you are getting your money’s worth with this one; the ride just keeps going! I love that from the road you can only see about a fifth of the layout and when you crest the first hill you can just see the spiderweb of track that is hiding in the hills. Rocky Top is also the closest alpine coaster to Dollywood, located about a mile away on Veterans Boulevard.
Gatlinburg Mountain Coaster & Rowdy Bear Coaster| Gatlinburg
These two coasters we are going to take a look at together because they are so similar. They are the shortest (in length) of the region’s two-rail alpine rides, but don’t let that fool you, they are also the fastest! The Gatlinburg Mountain Coaster can hit speeds of up to 30 mph and the Rowdy Bear Coaster can get up to 35 mph! If you are looking to get a thrill, these are the two alpine rides to try! Come into Gatlinburg at night for the best experience; the parts of the layouts that are in the trees are not well-lit so you will have an almost pitch black ride!
Ski Mountain Coaster| Gatlinburg (Ober Gatlinburg)
If you have young kids and are wanting to introduce them to alpine coasters, the Ski Mountain Coaster at Ober Gatlinburg may be the way to go. Not only does it have the shortest height requirement of all the alpine rides, at 36 inches (Wiegand models have a 39-inch height requirement), but kids ages 3 and 4 are free with a paying adult! This ride has a top speed of 25 mph, one of the slower coasters in the area, making it best for families (even though my 3-year-old was yelling “faster, faster!” the whole time). I remember getting off of this ride and thinking how great the pacing was too. From start to finish this ride held its own, with smooth transitions and the perfect amount of speed for the layout.
Ober Gatlinburg also has other family-friendly activities, including the 2-mile long scenic aerial tramway up to and from Gatlinburg, an ice skating rink, ice bumper cars, snow tubing, and skiing in the winter. They also had the friendliest staff we ran into! If you take the tram up from Gatlinburg, the cost will be $15 per person. You can also drive up to Ober Gatlinburg, but I recommend taking the tram for the views alone!
Rail Runner| Gatlinburg (Anakeesta)
Rail Runner is the only single-rail alpine coaster in North America. Watching this ride can be so bizarre—it seems as if the car would just flip around the track! This ride is one of the wildest and most intense alpine coasters I’ve been on. Unlike the other alpine rides in the area, this one has you board at the top and immediately plummet down the side of the mountain. It has a 400-foot elevation change over only a 1,600 foot downhill layout, which makes for some quick sudden drops and super-tight turns. If it hadn’t been for my belt I was easily headed down the side of the mountain, this coaster is nuts!
The only downside to getting to Rail Runner is that it is located at Anakeesta, a new attraction above downtown Gatlinburg. If you are only interested in riding the roller coaster, you will have to pay the $22 lift ticket admission to get up the mountain, plus a $12.99 to ride once. Luckily they do allow kids to ride tandem for $14.99. Anakeesta does seem to be picking up speed into becoming one of the premier attractions in the area. Right now they have several stores and eateries, a treehouse play area, 800 feet of sky bridges, ziplines (upcharge), and they are currently building new experiences for summer 2020.
At Coaster101 we like to rank the coasters at specific parks we go to, so we can give you the best idea of where to spend your time and prioritize your day. Below I’ve ranked all of the alpine coasters, both for their individual thrill factor and an overall experience.
*disclaimer: this is just one person’s point of view, your thoughts may be different, but this should give you a good start!
If you’ve ever been to the Pigeon Forge-Gatlinburg area, you know the tourist trap the parkway can be. And with an abundance of attractions comes many (so many) coupon books. Grab them all. There are coupons for almost all of the alpine coasters, usually for a couple of bucks off the normal rate. The best one we found was for Rocky Top, at $3 off for up to 6 adult admissions, which saved us $6. If you are looking at getting some several rides during your visit, take the time to find the deals, it’ll help offset the quite pricey tickets for these coasters. A lot of places will allow you to do rerides for half-off as well.
Other Non-Dollywood Coasters in the Area
Laser Gun Coaster & Unnamed powered coaster (under construction) | Rowdy Bear Ridge, Pigeon Forge
The sister location to Rowdy Bear Mountain in Gatlinburg is relatively new, opening in just of August 2019. The location has year-round tubing (on turf), a suspended coaster, and a new style of alpine coaster being built for this summer. The suspended coaster is dubbed the Laser Gun Coaster because all riders get a chance to shoot targets along the layout of the ride. I was very impressed with the accuracy of the guns! They also had a chance to get a free ride on the Rowdy Bear Coaster in Gatlinburg if you scored over 50 points. The ride itself is fairly slow, but enjoyable, especially when you are trying to get those coveted 50 points!
We talked to one of the employees at Rowdy Bear Ridge and they said the other coaster is to be completed over the next couple months and will utilize magnets to propel the carts through the layout. There is no lift hill, but the ride will go up a slight hill and then weave its way back down and through a tunnel.
Spinning Parrots Coaster | The Island, Pigeon Forge
The Island in Pigeon Forge is a perfect oasis away from the hectic parkway. It still has the attractions and stores but in a more manageable (and walkable) area. The Island has several small rides, a ropes course, motion theatre, a giant ferris wheel, and a SBF Spinner roller coaster. Unfortunately during our visit, the Spinning Parrots Coaster wasn’t operating yet for the season; the cars were off of the track still. I have been on several of these SBF coasters and really enjoy them. I’m hoping I can get on this one on my next visit!
Bonus tip: Check out Paula Deen’s Family Kitchen! It’s located at the heart of The Island and overlooks the water fountain and main plaza. We unashamedly ate there both nights of our most recent trip and it was the best restaurant I’ve been to in Pigeon Forge. Everything was super fresh, hot and delicious (and dessert is included!).
Speedway Draft Coaster | NASCAR Speed Park, Sevierville
The NASCAR Speed Park is a great place to spend a day riding go-karts and if you have little ones, they have a number of kiddie rides, including the Speedway Draft Coaster. This is a Zierer Force One model kiddie coaster. The downside for coaster enthusiasts is that you can’t simply buy a ride ticket for this coaster, they only do all-day ride wristbands. Best to plan this one in on a day you want to do some go-kart riding as well!
Whether you are a thrill-seeker or a family looking to have a good time, you will find an alpine coaster for you! The best part of these rides is that you can control your experience. I like to go all-out and get as many g-forces as possible, but any one of these coasters can become tame enough for anyone with some applied braking. Go out and give some of these coasters a try, we hope this guide has helped you understand these rides a little better! Let us know what your thoughts are or which coaster is your favorite!