“Some men see things as they are and ask, ‘Why?’ I dream things that never were and ask, ‘Why not?’” – Robert F. Kennedy.
“Daddy, why do they have goats on the roof of that store?” – JP Gullion.
“Ask Robert Kennedy,” – me.
Any conversation about Sevier County’s Goats on the Roof attractions – one located on Wears Valley Road (Goats on the Roof of the Smoky Mountains) and another, more shopping-focused venue on the Parkway (Goats on the Roof Gift Shop) – invariably starts with a simple question: “Why?”
Why are there goats on a roof?
The simple answer is there are a lot of places selling ice cream and fudge and kitschy tourist trinkets in Sevier County. So you’ve got to do something to stand out.
But that answer still begs the question yeah, but why goats?
That answer is a little more convoluted.
In fact, it involves a Chicago-born Swede who moved to Door County, Wisconsin to sell square pancakes, whitefish, Swedish meatballs and other staples of Swedish cuisine.
To fit with the Swedish theme, Al Johnson and his wife, Ingert, renovated their eatery to be more – well – Swedish. This included a sod roof.
I think you can see where this is going.
Down here, a Swedish restaurant would stand out from the crowd. However, in Sister Bay, Wisconsin you need a little oomph.
A goat turned out to be that for Al and Ingert when a man named Wink sneaked the animal up on the roof as a gag.
And that brings us very close to Brothers Grimm level fairytale making. I’m tempted to tell you Wink had cursed the goat and demanded Al and Ingert name their third-born child Wink in exchange for lifting the curse, but alas.
Wink’s gag proved to be a godsend for a natural marketer like Al. More rooftop goats followed and for decades, people came to see the restaurant, check out the goats and try the whitefish.
In fact, the legendary Al Johnson’s Swedish Restaurant & Butik still remains a destination of fascination – live goats, Swedish pancakes, goat cameras and all – in Sister Bay today.
How did Goats on the Roof make its way to the Smokies?
So how did a goat-themed, Swedish eatery in Wisconsin begat a pair of tourist stores in Sevier County?
It’s vague but apparently, it’s an idea that coalesced about a decade ago, there’s a licensing agreement and everything.
It appears old Al trademarked Goats on the Roof even if that isn’t the name of his restaurant and gift shop.
And here’s a fun fact … an attempt to strip Al of that trademark by a man named Robert Doyle was recently denied by both the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s Trademark Trial and Appeals Board as well as the U.S. Federal Circuit Court of Appeals.
So, as you might imagine, the licensing portion of this venture was key.
What can you do at Goats on The Roof of the Smoky Mountains?
Well, you can feed the goats using a bicycle-powered conveyor system called the “goat-cycle” that carries the goat food and cans of goat chow to the top of the building.
You can watch the goats dine from a second-floor observatory.
You can eat fudge or ice cream and shop for Sevier County-themed souvenirs.
There’s also a gem mining operation where you can pan for treasures like “rare gems, emeralds, sapphires and rubies” as well. Although, the rarity and authenticity of those gems have not been confirmed.
But the premier attraction at Goats on the Roof of the Smoky Mountains – aside from the goats – is the Goat Coaster.
Located on Wears Valley Road, the Goat Coaster is a nearly mile-long alpine coaster. It carries you up into the mountains above the goats and the roof and then sprints you back down through a series of curves. You do not go upside down at any point.
The coaster – which is as of this writing $10 per ride in a “limited time offer” – reaches top speeds near 30 miles an hour but with a handbrake, you can control your speed.
How long does the Coaster at Goats on the Roof last?
The ride time is listed as seven minutes, but I think that depends on the rider. I think it’s more like six minutes and a significant portion of the ride is being carried up the mountain via a system of in-track pulleys. The cart can hold one or two passengers.
And there are restrictions, including a height limit and an age limit. Younger kids can ride, but only when accompanied by an adult. Currently, limitations are as follows:
- Drivers must be at least 16 years old and at least 54 inches (4.5 feet) tall.
- Passengers have to be at least three years old and 38 inches (3.1 feet) tall.
- Maximum rider height is 84 inches (7 feet).
- Rider weight limit is 375 pounds per sled (or 330 pounds in wet weather).
You can purchase tickets for the coaster on-site.
Goats on the Roof has two locations in the Smokies
One location features goats located on the roof, the other does not. Both locations are just minutes outside of Gatlinburg.
Goats on the Roof Gift Shop is located on the main strip of the Parkway in Pigeon Forge. And while there are no roof goats, there are baby goats on the premises for photo ops. But petting and feeding are not allowed.
Goats on the Roof of the Smoky Mountains is located on Wears Valley Road on the Parkway. This location features the famous (or infamous) roof-dwelling goats as well as the aforementioned mountain coaster.
According to their website, the Goat Coaster opens at 9 am daily. Crowd sizes tend to be larger on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.
Have you visited either of the Goats on the Roof locations? What did you think? Tell us about your experience in the comments below.
And just for fun, don’t forget to check out the Johnson Family’s famous Goat Cam.