10 Tallest Observation Wheels in the USA
From the Pleasure wheel to the Ferris wheel to the Observation wheel… Who introduced Ferris wheels?
What are the differences between Pleasure wheels, Ferris wheels, and observation wheels? Where are the tallest Ferris wheels … and exactly how tall are they? Finally,
where do we go from here? Exactly how much taller can these Ferris wheels actually get?
These were some of the questions I had when I decided to research the 10 Tallest Observation Wheels in the USA … and it actually wasn’t as easy as you would think as I found a lot of incorrect and outdated information on the Google!
At the end of this post there is a BONUS Observation wheel which has been under development! 😉
- What is the difference between Observation Wheels & Ferris Wheels?
- A Brief History of Ferris Wheels
- Why was it called the Ferris wheel?
- Top 10 Observation wheels in the USA – MAP
- Top 10 Observation Wheels in the USA – Reviews
- How to save money on tickets?
A. What is the difference between Observation wheels & Ferris Wheels?
While some Ferris wheels are marketed as observation wheels, any distinction between the two names is usually at the discretion of the operator.
The wheels that are most commonly referred to as observation wheels are the ones that have passenger cars mounted to the rim.
These are usually independently rotated by electric motors, as opposed to wheels with cars suspended from the rim and kept upright by gravity.
B. A History of Ferris-type Wheels
As far back as the 17th century (and possibly even the 13th century based on fictional accounts) passengers have enjoyed rides in suspended chairs on a large wheel.
The first “Pleasure wheels” may have originated in Bulgaria where passengers rode in chairs suspended from large wooden rings and turned by strong men.
Since the early 1600’s there have been accounts of “Great wheels” in the rest of the world.
However, it wasn’t until 1848 that a Ferris-type wheel was introduced to America, when Frenchman Antonio Manguino constructed a wooden pleasure wheel to attract visitors to his start-up fair in Walton Spring, Georgia.
In 1892, William Somers installed three 50 foot wooden wheels at Asbury Park, NJ, Atlantic City, NJ, and Coney Island, NY.
He was granted the first U.S. patent for a “Roundabout” the following year.
George Washington Gale Ferris Jr., who went on to introduce the original Ferris wheel at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, actually rode on Somers’ wheel in Atlantic City prior to designing his wheel.
Somers filed a lawsuit against Ferris for patent infringement; however, Ferris and his lawyers successfully argued that the Ferris Wheel and its technology differed greatly from Somers’ wheel, and the case was dismissed.
C. Why was it called the Ferris Wheel?
Where did the name Ferris Wheel come from?
But, before I get to the list, I wanted to talk a little about the original Ferris wheel (pictured), which was designed and constructed by George Washington Gale Ferris Jr.
The original Ferris Wheel, Mr. Ferris actually called an “observation wheel!
It was a 264-foot revolving steel wheel that was illuminated by 2,500 Edison incandescent lamps.
It was a landmark for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago.
The generic term Ferris wheel, named after George Ferris, is now used for all such structures.
They have become the most common type of amusement ride at state fairs in the United States.
Fun Fact: If this Ferris wheel were still around today, it would take the #3 position on this list!
Related Reading: The Life and Explosive Death of the World’s First Ferris Wheel
With that said, while nearly every amusement park and fair has a Ferris wheel, those aren’t usually considered “tourist attractions”.
However, the huge stand-alone attractions that are popping up at destinations throughout the USA are definitely drawing large crowds… and they just keep getting taller.
“With the famous (450-foot) London Eye, a change has been initiated for the giant wheel business,” says the website of Dutch Wheels.
The Netherlands-based company that built the new wheel for the Navy Pier in Chicago. “And a giant wheel is now more and more considered a stand-alone attraction.”
D. 10 Tallest Observation Wheels Map:
Dive into our interactive map below!
User guide: Use the +/- buttons to zoom in and out of the attractions.
Top Tip: Many visitors choose to share the post on Facebook to inspire friends and help plan their road trip.
Hit the link below to share!
E. 10 Tallest Observation Wheels in the USA
Here are the 10 Tallest Observation Wheels in the USA, ranked from “smallest to tallest”. We will update this list as more are built… and as the bar to entry into the top 10 becomes higher (literally!).
Note: There is a tie for #8, in case you thought we missed #7, making the total list 10 Ferris wheels.
10. Pixar Pal-A-Round
Anaheim, CA – 160 feet tall
Starting with #10 on our list of the 10 Tallest Observation Wheels in the USA is Pixar Pal-A-Round formally called Mickey’s Fun Wheel in Anaheim, CA.
This 160-foot tall eccentric wheel at Disney California Adventure, at the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, California.
It was inspired by the Wonder Wheel at Deno’s Wonder Wheel Amusement Park in Coney Island, NY.
Fun Fact: Pixar Pal-A-Round/Mickey’s Fun Wheel has a large Mickey Mouse face in the center of the wheel.
It has 24 fully enclosed passenger cars, each able to carry 6 passengers and 16 of the cars slide inward and outward as the wheel rotates while the remainder are fixed to the rim.
There are separate boarding lines so that passengers can choose whether they want to ride on a fixed or sliding car. (Which line do you bet is longer?)
What is the difference between a Ferris Wheel and a Eccentric wheel?
The Technical part:
An eccentric wheel differs from a conventional Ferris wheel in that some or all of its passenger cars are not fixed directly to the rim of the wheel.
Instead slide on rails between the rim and the hub as the wheel rotates. Sometimes called a sliding wheel or a coaster wheel.
Why did Mickeys Fun Wheel Change its name?
On April 25, 2018, Disney announced that Mickey’s Fun Wheel would be renamed “Pixar Pal-A-Round“, to be consistent with the attraction’s new theme
In case you were wondering, Mickey’s Fun Wheel used to be called the Sun Wheel and it had a large sun in the center where Mickey Mouse is now!
9. Seattle Great Wheel
Seattle, WA – 175 feet tall
The Seattle Great Wheel is #9 on our list of the 10 Tallest Observation Wheels in the USA.
Located on Pier 57 on Elliott Bay in Seattle, Washington.
The giant wheel has an overall height of 175 feet and was the tallest Ferris wheel on the West Coast when it opened on June 29, 2012.
(Now you are starting to understand how quickly these giant wheels are going up to push it all the way back to #9 in just 4 years!)
The wheel is bolted so close to the end of the pier that it extends 40 feet over the bay.
To hold the 170,000 lb wheel, the pilings that supported the pier had to be retrofitted, a process that took three years.
8. (Tie) Capital Wheel
National Harbor, MD – 180 feet tall
The Capital Wheel in National Harbor, Maryland, has an overall height of 180 feet, making it #8 on our list of the 10 Tallest Observation Wheels in the USA.
Sitting on a 770-foot long pier, the wheel extends into the Potomac River.
Four 50-horsepower variable drive units rotate the wheel at a speed of 1.5 rotations per minute, with each passenger ride lasting between 12-15 minutes.
The Capital Wheel has 1.6 million LED lights with a spectrum of 16,387,064 colors.
If you are looking for a unique wedding venue, a VIP gondola on the wheel can be rented for weddings or celebrations.
The 42 climate-controlled, glass-enclosed gondolas have an unobstructed view of the Washington Monument, the U.S. Capitol, the City of Alexandria in Virginia, and a view of Prince George’s County.
8. (Tie) Colossus
Eureka, MO – 180 feet tall
Tied for #8 on our list of the 10 Tallest Observation Wheels in the USA is the Colossus Wheel, which is located at the Six Flags St. Louis Theme Park in Eureka, Missouri.
The Colossus wheel is also 180 feet tall (tied with the Capital Wheel) and originally debuted at the 1984 New Orleans World’s Fair.
As of 1992 Colossus was lit by 2200 lights which displayed a 24-pattern performance with a starburst finale.
During the months that the park was closed, they displayed a giant clock face which was visible to those passing on nearby Interstate 44.
(Note, if anyone has any updated info on this wheel, please leave a comment below.)
6. Myrtle Beach SkyWheel
Myrtle Beach, SC – 187 feet tall
Up next is #6 on our list of the 10 Tallest Observation Wheels in the USA (No, I didn’t miss #7… there was a tie for #8, remember?) is the SkyWheel in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
Located along the Myrtle Beach Boardwalk, the 187-foot tall SkyWheel offers incredible views of the “Grand Strand”.
As with all of the other tall observation wheels, the wheel features enclosed, climate-controlled cabins. The ride includes three revolutions, which takes about nine minutes.
While the wheel operates year-round and can withstand 135 mph winds, the gondolas need to be removed if high winds are predicted, which is an 8-10 hour process.
We took an epic road trip to Myrtle Beach, check out: New York to Myrtle Beach Road Trip: Weekend Itinerary
5. The Centennial Wheel
Chicago, IL – 196 feet tall
Standing 196 feet tall and coming in #5 on our list of the 10 Tallest Observation Wheel in the USA is the new Centennial Wheel (pictured below) which opened in 2016 in Chicago, IL.
The wheel was named in honor of Lake Michigan landmark’s 100th anniversary and is 48 feet taller than the structure it replaced.
The old 150 foot Navy Pier Ferris Wheel that is now renamed The Branson Ferris Wheel (pictured below) in its new home in Branson, MO.
The new wheel occupies roughly the same footprint as the old one, which accommodated nearly 17 million riders from 1995 to 2015.
The old wheel is now relocated and renamed The Branson Ferris Wheel. Standing “just” 150 feet tall, it does not make our top 10 list.
However, The Branson Ferris Wheel boasts spectacular views of the famed entertainment corridor and the picturesque Ozark Mountains in Branson, Missouri, and is sure to delight riders for many years to come.
We took a road trip to visit the Centennial Wheel, Chicago to Cooperstown Road Trip Itinerary via Niagara Falls!
4. Great Smoky Mountain Wheel
Pigeon Forge, TN – 200 feet tall
The Great Smoky Mountain Wheel in Pigeon Forge, TN, is 200 feet tall, making it #4 on our list of the 10 Tallest Observation Wheels in the USA.
Since June of 2013, the Great Smoky Mountain Wheel at the Island in Pigeon Forge has provided riders with an unparalleled view of the world famous Smoky Mountains.
Towering 200 feet tall the wheel is one of the tallest attractions in the Southeast. It sits at the foot of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, the most visited National Park in the United States.
At night, the wheel displays a spectacular 24,000 LED light show which can be seen for miles around.
3. Texas Star
Dallas, TX – 212 feet tall
They say everything is always bigger and better in Texas, and that includes the Texas Star in Dallas at 212 feet tall and taking the #3 position on our list of the 10 Tallest Observation Wheels in the USA.
While the rest of the large observation wheels in this list are open year round, the Texas Star only operates during the State Fair of Texas, an annual fall event. More than 2,402,199 people attended the 2016 Fair.
On a clear day, riders on the Texas Star can see the Downtown Fort Worth skyline, which is some 40 miles away.
Until 2007, the star was illuminated at night by 16,000 incandescent red, white, and blue turbo lights; however, In 2008, the incandescent system was replaced with a longer-lasting, more energy-efficient LED system.
The Texas Star opened in 1985 and kept its title of the nation’s tallest wheel for many years. There are currently only two that are taller in the USA.
2. The wheel at ICON Park
Orlando, FL – 400 feet tall
Taking the #2 spot on our list of the 10 Tallest Observation Wheels in the USA is the Wheel at ICON PARK Orlando!
Former called the Coca-Cola Orlando Eye it stands at an unbelievable height of 400 feet tall, nearly double the size of the Texas Star! The observation wheel first opened in 2015.
It is the largest observation wheel on the East Coast and offers 360-degree views of Central Florida, including views of Orlando’s skyline, and theme parks.
On a clear day, riders can catch views of Cape Canaveral.
The ride consists of a single-revolution, which takes about 20 minutes to complete.
The wheel spins so slowly that it doesn’t even need to stop to allow riders to exit or enter the capsules.
Why has the Coca Cola Orlando Eye changed its name again?
The Orlando eye was branded as the Coca-Cola Orlando eye on March 11th 2018. Since then in April 4th 2019 the Wheel has be rebranded to the WHEEL AT ICON PARK.
This is due to a sponsorship change with Coca COla and new development called the “Wheelshouse”.
This is a one stop destination which includes restaurants, shops, bars and great attractions such as Madame Tussauds & the Sealife Aquarium.
There motto is “PLAY, PARTY and OWN THE SKY”
My Personal Experience:
I actually rode the Orlando Eye in September 2015, soon after it opened.
We decided to wait until sunset thinking it would be spectacular, but we got there a little late and it was dark by the time we got on the wheel.
We really could not see much of anything at all. Based on my experience, I would recommend riding it on a clear day, rather than at night.
F. Want to save money on your trip??
If you plan on visiting a few attractions, I recommended purchasing the 3 attraction ticket for the ICON park facility, this ticket includes access to:
- The observation wheel at ICON park,
- Madam Tussauds
- Sealife aquarium!
This kept our whole family happy for a very cheap price!
To check availability, follow the link HERE
Recommended Tours in Orlando?
Do you wish to make memories which will last a lifetime?
From Adventurous Air boat tours past Alligators in the Everglades! to Cape Canaveral space centre,
Hot Air Balloon Rides and even a bucket list Helicopter ride over the theme parks!
Orlando is an exciting destination, perfect for a making memories which will last a lifetime!
For a full list of our recommended Tours in Orlando, follow the link HERE
We took an epic road trip to visit this observation wheel, check out: Ultimate Orlando to Key West Road Trip
1. High Roller
Las Vegas, NV – 550 feet tall
Taking the #1 spot on our list of the 10 Tallest Observation Wheels in the USA is the High Roller in Las Vegas, NV.
At an astonishing height of 550 feet tall, this wheel is currently the tallest wheel in the world!
The High Roller has cabins that are so large, they can each hold 40 riders. The ride is one revolution, which takes about 30 minutes.
A 2,000-LED system illuminates the wheel at night and can display a single solid color, differently colored sections, multiple colors moving around the rim, and custom displays for special events and holidays.
Fun Fact: This experience is even better if you smoke “tha herb” first! And, since weed is legal in Las Vegas, you are in luck!
Check ticket availability for the High Roller HERE
Insider Tip: Purchase a GO LAS VEGAS CARD!
Plan on visiting many attractions while in Las Vegas? Do you hate worrying about ticket costs? Do you want to save money?
If you answered yes to these questions, then you should purchase a GO LAS VEGAS CARD!
My family got one of these when we were there it saved us buckets!
Its basically an all inclusive pass which helps you to save on many popular Las Vegas attractions, shows, tours & experiences!
They come in 3,4 or 5 day passes and each includes a premium bucket list experience such as:
- A Grand Canyon Full Day tour with transport & lunch!
- Cirque du Soleil show tickets
- Las Vegas Helicopter Tour
and many more!
To check availability, follow the link HERE
Check out our: Top 5 Phenomenal Road Trips to Las Vegas!
Bonus, potential development.
1. New York Wheel
Staten Island, NY – 630 feet tall
With a planned opening of 2018, AT AN INCREDIBLE HEIGHT OF 630 FEET TALL, the New York Wheel promises to become one of New York’s and indeed one of the world’s great landmark attractions.
The New York Wheel will offer spectacular panoramic vistas of the Manhattan skyline as well as the rest of the city’s boroughs, New Jersey, and beyond.
It will be located in St. George on the New York Harbor and is equipped with $7 million of LED lighting, creating the most vibrant visual canvas on the NY skyline.
Developers are estimating that the slow-moving ride would take 38 minutes to complete one cycle and that as many as 1,400 passengers could enjoy the attraction at a time.
Update 06/28/2018 – The project to build the observation wheel on the St. George waterfront has been stalled for more than one year. Problems began when Mammoet-Starneth walked off the job on May 26, 2017, and filed for bankruptcy in December.
In May of this year, the Wheel was given 120 days to get the project to build a 630-foot-high observation wheel on the St. George waterfront back on track. Will it happen? We will keep tabs on this project and report back once we know more!
So, it seems that the sky’s the limit when it comes to how tall these Ferris wheels can get … or is it?
Only time will tell .. and if the New York Wheel ever gets off the ground, that will be the new bar to break!
Internationally, a new observation wheel has recently being crowed the tallest observation wheel in the world!!
To find out which follow the link; 20 Biggest Observation wheels in the world!
For our great road trips to New York check out: 8 Epic Road Trips from New York? Public Transport Options!