September 1979 – present
Frontierland – When entering from Main Street USA, you will see the entrance to Big Thunder Mountain Railroad on the right, adjacent to the dock for the Mark Twain Riverboat & the Sailing Ship Columbia. If you enter from the Fantasyland path, you’ll see the entrance on your right, after you’ve passed the ride’s exit and most of it’s scenery.
When Disneyland first opened in 1955, Frontierland was a much more laid-back area in the park, without any major roller coaster or ride. After a few years, Frontierland changed along with the rest of Disneyland, and welcomed a number of smaller rides and entertainment. But the lack of a headliner in Frontierland meant low attendance compared to other lands, and Imagineers saw an opportunity to revamp this area of the park. By the 1970’s, Imagineers wanted to put a coaster in Frontierland, but the idea was shelved a number of times in favor of other costly builds, including Pirates of the Caribbean and Space Mountain. Imagineers finally broke ground on the new coaster in the late 1970s, taking inspiration from the “Western River Expedition” entertainment Pavilion in Florida’s Magic Kingdom. And in 1979, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad finally opened to the public.
- Single Rider Line – no
- Fast Pass – yes
- Height Requirement – 40″ (102 cm)
- Duration – 3:00
Visitors begin their trip through Big Thunder Mountain by exploring its mining town. The waiting area weaves through the town center, over the pond and into the mining tunnels, before opening up to the loading building. Once on the train, guests finally venture into the mines and head to the top of the first drop. As the train continues its hill climbs, turns, and dips, guests narrowly avoid encounters with waterfalls, bats, rattlesnakes, and coyotes, and observant passengers will notice signs warning riders of explosions up ahead. So as they reach the final tunnel, guests watch as sparks shoot up the walls and dynamite explodes overhead! With a final crash, the train flies down its last drop and returns guests safely to the mining town.
MY RATING – ★★★★★
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad is one of my favorite rides in the park. It’s the perfect ride for anyone that wants the excitement of a roller coaster without too much motion sickness or any scary drops. Although Big Thunder twists, turns, and dips through the mines, there are no inversions and no major drops, so don’t be intimidated by the giant mountain. In my opinion, this coaster has the most charm of any in the park, and the waiting area is full of cool details, from dinosaur fossils to the mining materials abandoned on the roadside.
Wait times for Big Thunder are fairly unpredictable. I’ve been on crowded park days and hopped on in 20 minutes, and visited on rather tame off-season days and had to get a fast pass. If the line is longer than 30 minutes, grab a fast pass, but otherwise, I’d bite the bullet and wait. Since the lines are somewhat unpredictable, visit Big Thunder whenever it works with your touring plan, and enjoy your time in Frontierland!
The miniature town and homes at the end of the coaster’s track, visible from the waiting area, are all that remains of a long forgotten mine train ride that once served as Frontierland’s headliner. The train was similar to the Circus Train in Fantasyland, leading guests on a tour of the wild west.
Supposedly, if you stare at the goat at the top of the second drop as you descend, you will experience brief disorientation. (I have tried this dozens of times and felt absolutely nothing, but maybe you’ll have better luck than me!)