May 1956 – January 1977
Though Frontierland had no major rides or attractions in the first year of Disneyland’s operation, this area of the park needed its own adventure to draw guests in. So in 1956, Frontierland welcomed the “Rainbow Caverns Mine Train”: a leisurely train ride through the “living desert” section of Frontierland. The ride took guests on a tour of an unusual desert, with balancing rock piles and cartoonish cacti. But the new train ride failed to draw in large crowds, so in 1960, the Mine Train underwent a large renovation and expansion, reopening as the “Mine Train Through Nature’s Wonderland”, a faster version of the train with added scenery and caves to explore.
Riders boarded the Mine Train in the tiny mining town of Rainbow Ridge. An unseen old miner provided narration for the duration of the trip, describing the sights and sounds of Nature’s Wonderland. The train began its journey by passing over Big Thunder falls, which then opened up to Bear Country, where guests could see a family of black bears scratching up against a tree close to the train. Other sights along the ride included the cactus forest, the “devil’s paint pots” geysers, and the glowing waterfalls inside Rainbow Caverns. Finally, the train completed the circuit around Nature’s Wonderland and returning guests offloaded back in Rainbow Ridge.
Although there were no inherent problems with the Mine Train, the ride closed in January 1977 in favor of a new headliner coaster. For two years, the majority of Frontierland remained under construction, before Big Thunder Mountain Railroad finally opened in 1979.
You can find several tributes to the Mine Train within Big Thunder Mountain Railroad: its name (reference to Big Thunder falls), the line area (which is the exact town of Rainbow Ridge), the train’s first hill (which begins inside Rainbow Caverns), and a few balancing rocks scattered around Thunder Mountain.
The only remaining structural piece of the Mine Train can be found on the trail from Frontierland to Fantasyland. You’ll see the cave across the pond, surrounded by brush and trees.
One of the waterfalls from the original Mine Train, Cascade Peak, remained open for years after the Mine Train closed, and poured into the Rivers of America. However, structural damage from years of water flow forced Imagineers to demolish the waterfall in 1998.