Designing California Adventure - Grizzly Peak

Created as the setting for the world’s longest, tallest and fastest man-made white-water river rafting ride “Grizzly River Run”, “Grizzly Peak” has become one of the main symbols of Disney California Adventure Park.

For guests entering “Grizzly Peak Recreation Area”, the mountain appears like a high Sierra Nevada peak in the distance - like Half Dome or El Capitan in Yosemite National Park, which were its inspirations.

Tall pines nestle around the base and up on the mountainside, amid patches of melting snow. “Bear Claw Falls” tumbles down the east side of the ridge. Another waterfall, “Frog Jump Falls” is located on the west side of the mountain.

As visitors move farther along, however, they realize that the overhanging peak looks like the face of an animal. Chris Runco, senior concept designer for the “Grizzly Peak” wanted the mountain to clearly represent the beauty of California's natural wilderness. Along with that, he wanted to develop an icon out of granite. The California Grizzly Bear, designated official animal of the State of California in 1953, seemed to fit the bill perfectly.

For weeks, Walt Disney Imagineers struggled to find a way to integrate the bear into the design of the mountain. “But suddenly, we remembered how much fun it is to hike in the mountains and suddenly spy a cliff, a rock or a peak that, with a little imagination, looks like a man or an animal”, Runco recalls. Consequently, it was decided to sculpt the mountain peak like it has been wind-shaped into the muzzle of a giant Grizzly Bear.

The 150-foot-tall “Grizzly Peak” goes with a little background story (based on several ancient Native American legends) that explains why the mountain peak looks like a Grizzly Bear.

The Legend of Grizzly Peak

“Long ago, Ah-ha-le, the Coyote met Oo-soo-ma-te, the Grizzly Bear on top of the mountain. Seeing that the Grizzly was a powerful being, Coyote asked him to always watch over and protect the land. Then one day, people cam and tried to chase Oo-soo ma-te from the mountain. But Grizzly was strong and held his ground. When Coyote saw the brave bear standing alone against so many, he turned Oo-soo-ma-te into stone so he could never be driven away. To this day, people claim they can hear the great bear spirit in the wind that roars through the caverns and trees of Grizzly Peak.”

The complete mountain came to life through a series of models intricately sculpted to scale. For construction of the actual site, computer technology was used in conjunction with the models. "We used computers and laser scanners to get all the profiles," says Senior Show Producer Chris Tietz. "A mechanism attached to the computer actually shaped the underlying metal rebar to replicate the rock formations”.

“Those were then overlayed with lathe (wire mesh) upon which plaster was sprayed. A second layer of plaster was applied and hand-molded exactly to specification by a talented group of sculptures and artists, many of whom worked on the Tree of Life at Walt Disney World's Animal Kingdom." The results is an exact duplication of the models but built to full size.

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Jeff Keller (6)
Matt Walker (5)
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Michael Greening (2, 4, 7, 8, 10)

Shared Knowledge

Submitted by Maxime on October 14, 2011 - 20:35 #

Thank you JThaddeusToad for your great / interesting feedback! Learn more about the "Works Progress Administration Federal Art Project" here: video & site.

Submitted by JThaddeusToad on October 14, 2011 - 20:33 #

The poster for Grizzly River Run particularly caught my attention. It is extremely reminiscent of the work done by the Works Progress Administration Federal Art Project that created posters for the National Parks during the 30's and 40's. The posters are rare but there's a guy named Ranger Doug who found many of them and sells prints. Check them out at if you're interested. It's really remarkable that Disney is detailed enough to replicate this style so exactly on their poster art.


Submitted by Cerise on November 26, 2013 - 05:30 #

One of my favorite attractions, thank you! I Love the, what to call it... change of pace... in California Adventure... the nature park is a lovely place to walk and a nice change for kids to romp after standing in line ;-) It is also a good place to dry off after the rapids. I enjoyed the history.

Submitted by Manda on October 14, 2011 - 20:32 #

Fantastic post! SO interesting! I have a lot to learn about the American Parks!

Submitted by Cory on October 14, 2011 - 20:30 #

Like most of California Adventure, it was a good idea stymied by constraints and a lack of vision by someone somewhere along the line. At least it was one of the least hard-hit areas, because the replication of Californian wild-spaces is fairly on. It was just the theming around that which was lacking... Going with a modern look and theming the Redwood Creek trail to Brother Bear. At least it is going to be getting the appropriately vintage National Parks motifs soon. Now all it needs is its own mine train, the Country Bears, and Ranger Woodlore and Humphrey the Bear as mascots!

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