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Five Things to Know About Big Thunder Mountain Railroad

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All aboard!! Big Thunder Mountain Railroad is a fun, favorite runaway mine train roller coaster. Riders go on a wild journey through a haunted gold mining town and the abandoned mines of – you guessed it – Big Thunder Mountain. This coaster is over 40 years old, but still ranks as one of the top 5 coasters at Disney World in every single age group Why is that? Well, hop on board, because we’re about to tell you the five things to know about Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. But if you want to skip straight to the whys, wheres, and whats of Big Thunder, here’s your shortcut.

1. Once there was gold, now only a ghost town.

Big Thunder Mountain Railroad is a roller coaster ride through the abandoned gold rush town of Tumbleweed. The Imagineers have built in an amazing amount of detail to create an environment that’s immersive and authentic. Throughout the attraction, from queue to exit, you’ll find old mining equipment that was left to rust, dilapidated buildings that were abandoned, and other touches that truly evoke the feeling of a once-thriving frontier town.

The Big Thunder Mountain track showing dinosaur bones in the rockwork and the track dipping and meandering around the mountain


You’ll board a mine train that takes you through dark tunnels, into canyons, and around rocky formations. The coaster’s track layout weaves through the mountain, with unexpected twists, turns, and dips, simulating the feeling of a runaway mine train. It’s no kiddie coaster, but there are no inversions and no large drops, which helps it appeal to such a wide age range. With a top speed of 36 mph, the fun comes from the small dips, tight turns, and a few surprises along the way. At right around 3 minutes and 30 seconds, it’s the longest coaster ride in the Magic Kingdom.

2. Don’t whistle while you wait.

The queue is designed to set the scene for your ride. From the first sign you encounter, you’ll know there’s a touch of Disney humor here. With an obvious nod to the 7 dwarfs’ habit of whistling in their mine, it reads, “No drinking, fighting, or whistling. No Kidding. Proceed with caution.”

Take a little time to notice and play with the interactive elements in the queue. You can turn a crank and push down a plunger and watch an “explosion” outside in the Blasting Area. You can check out the map of the mining tunnels. Turn various cranks to watch the silhouettes of a bat, cowboy, buffalo, horse, or bunny come to life. Further along, spin another wheel and you’ll see a window open letting you view the canary in the [coal] mine! It’s worth going through the queue just to enjoy the Imagineers’ fantastic work here. Then if you decide not to ride, you can take the chicken exit, no harm, no fowl.

3. It made a mountain out of … an empty space.

Big Thunder Mountain Railroad was created by Imagineer Tony Baxter and ride design engineer Bill Watkins. The idea came from concepts for the never-built Western River Expedition attraction for the Magic Kingdom. Building Big Thunder was put on hold twice: once due to the cost and construction of Pirates of the Caribbean; then again while Space Mountain was built. Disneyland’s version of Big Thunder Mountain Railroad opened on September 2, 1979, replacing Mine Train Through Nature’s Wonderland. Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah inspired its signature rockwork.


The Magic Kingdom’s version opened the following year on September 23, 1980. While the track is pretty much the same as in Disneyland, the overall attraction space at the Magic Kingdom is larger. Its design was inspired by Monument Valley in Arizona. And despite its realistic appearance, Big Thunder Mountain isn’t actually made of real rock. It was created with 6500 tons of steel, 90,000 gallons of water, 4,675 tons of mud to coat the structure, and 4,000 gallons of paint!

Big Thunder Mountain is so popular that since its creation other versions have opened in Tokyo Disneyland (1987) and Disneyland Paris (1992).

4. There’s treasure in them thar hills!

There might not be any gold, but if you love punny humor you’ll find the mother lode here. The Imagineers’ sense of humor shines through the attraction. Each train has a name reminding riders that it takes guts to ride on an abandoned train with no conductor present: U.B. Bold, U.R. Daring, U.R. Courageous, I.M. Brave, I.B. Hearty, and I.M. Fearless.

A metal plaque affixed to a piece of steampunk-looking equipment identifies it as an Auto Canary Air Quality Analyzer

In addition to the sign forbidding any whistling, there are signs with ads for businesses that no longer exist. There are also lists of safety reminders for the now-absent miners. It’s worth stopping to read them as you pass by because they are a literal gold mine of puns. As a practitioner of Dad humor, I love how the sign for the town’s company store lists the proprietor’s name as “Costas A. Lott.” I believe that hints at how expensive it was to build Big Thunder Mountain. And while I’m not much for hidden Mickeys like some folks, they’re here, from the queue to the exit (and there’s also a hidden Tinker Bell if you look at the rock formation as you leave the ride).

5. The Nuts and Bolts.

Big Thunder Mountain Railroad is in Frontierland, just down the path from (the future) Tiana’s Bayou Adventure (formerly Splash Mountain). Since Big Thunder Mountain Railroad is an outdoor attraction, it may close in the event of extreme weather. Also, part of the queue is outdoors and exposed to the elements.

Each train holds around 30 guests. Seats accommodate two adult-sized persons per row – possibly two adults and a child – with a single pull-down lap bar. The seats are padded benches with a back and there’s a convenient small net bag in each car for your carry-ons. To get on board, there’s a small wall to step over and into the train car. Guests must transfer from a wheelchair or ECV to ride.

Guests must be 40 inches or taller to ride. As with all rides that have a height requirement, BTMRR offers Rider Switch. And it’s no surprise that service animals are not permitted on this ride.

For safety, guests should be in good health and free from high blood pressure, heart, back, or neck problems, motion sickness, or other conditions that could be aggravated by this adventure. Expectant mothers should not ride. However, one urologist suggests that if you suffer from kidney stones, you may want to consider riding!

You’ll have shorter wait times if you ride early in the morning or nearer park closing time. Big Thunder Mountain Railroad is open for Extended Evening Theme Park hours if you’re staying in a qualifying hotel. Alternatively, you can purchase Lightning Lane entry via Genie+.

The Bottom Line.

We rate Big Thunder Mountain Railroad as not-to-be-missed. And as someone who’s not a big coaster fan, I can say it was worth putting my hesitations aside to ride. It’s more about storytelling and Disney details than it is about loops and plunges. All of which work together to make it a great ride for most members of the family.

What’s your favorite part of Big Thunder Mountain Railroad? The story? The ride? Let us know in the comments!

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Bob Jacobs

Bob Jacobs lives in Wisconsin where he retired as Editorial Director for a well-known catalog company. He and his wife Cristie have four children, seven grandchildren and a cocker spaniel named Penny the Dog. They’ve visited Walt Disney World regularly since 1992.

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