When Dollywood opened their new Wildwood Grove area of the park I decided to see for myself what they had created. It was beautifully themed with a selection of appealing rides and attractions, but I was thrilled to learn that Pigeon Forge and next-door neighbor Gatlinburg was pig heaven for those of us who enjoy a quick trip down the mountainside. They have eight mountain coasters, with two more on the way by next year. I couldn’t go to Dollywood without a detour to ride all eight of these coasters. Just had to, not that I’m compulsive.
The beautiful thing about mountain coasters is that you can control your own speed. There’s a hand brake that can be applied to slow you down when things get too wild. But you’re strapped into the car, and the car is hooked to the rails, so what can go wrong? Nothing. I like to go fast, so the use of a hand brake was an unnecessary amenity. I wanted to go flat out, as fast as possible.
After a day visiting Dollywood I spent the next day riding the three mountain coasters in Pigeon Forge. The Smoky Mountain Alpine Coaster has the longest downhill track in the U.S., 3,940 feet (1,201 m). They are building a second mountain coaster to open by year’s end. Rocky Top Mountain Coaster is distinguished by featuring four lift hills and four drops, which makes for an extended riding time. And yes, there are goats on the roof of the building at the start of The Coaster at Goats on the Roof, although it’s not clear they ever ride the coaster. As an historical aside, it was mules that initially rode North America first roller coaster, the Mauch Chunk Railroad, so it’s not unreasonable to wonder about the goats. I rode all three with no brakes; it was wonderful.
In Gatlinburg the next day I began a five-coaster pilgrimage. First I visited the Rowdy Bear Mountain Coaster, which also features the Mountain Glider, a Rollglider by Walltopia. It’s the first in the U.S., a cross between an inverted coaster and a zip line. They’re planning a third coaster for 2020. Ober Gatlinburg’s Ski Mountain Coaster is the highest coaster east of the Mississippi. It is very steep, with a variety of animals that may be sighted along the way, if you happen to like animals. But no goats. The Gatlinburg Mountain Coaster sends riders through a forested area with large sweeping S-curves.
Finally, I stopped at Anakeesta Village to ride Rail Runner, their new single-rail mountain coaster. It is the first of its kind in the United States. Riders sit lower to the ground, enhancing the sense of speed. It’s an exhilarating downhill ride with steep declines and hairpin turns. But hitting hairpin turns at full speed made me think I’d die. I’m ashamed to admit, but I hit the brakes at the second hairpin and again further down. I’m so disappointed in myself; I wimped out but got one major adrenaline rush. I was going to ride them all brakeless, but met my match on Rail Runner.