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.

Grizzly River Rapids attraction poster.

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.

Grizzly Peak detail.

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.

Grizzly Peak Falls.

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.

Grizzly River Run mascot.

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.

Grizzly Peak detail.

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”.

Grizzly River Run scale model.

“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.

Grizzly River Run.
Grizzly River Run.
Grizzly River Run.
Grizzly River Run.


  • Nr 6: Jeff Keller
  • Nr 5: Matt Walker
  • Nr 3, 9: Kim Mallady
  • Nr 2, 4, 7, 8, 10: Michael Greening