The website for the Wilderness Run Alpine Coaster carries language making it clear that a registered check-in time is required for all guests, and that those arriving without one may not be accommodated. I was in the car park less than fifteen seconds when a staff member came over to me with a clipboard to check that I'd booked ahead. This is rather different business model to most of the alpine coasters out there, and a bizarre approach for a ride visible from the road in an area that gets plenty of tourists. That said, if today’s experience was anything to go by the ride operates at capacity even still.
My booking was for the right to purchase a ticket – either for one lap ($16) or three ($35). Customers are allowed to use all the laps that they’ve bought without leaving a sled, and as a result the queue moves quite slowly when there are people who’ve bought three laps ahead of you. The switchback area is not large, yet I waited just shy of an hour to get to the front of the line. (Apropos of nothing, I’m not sold on the merits of this system; if you get stuck behind a slow rider and both of you have the more expensive ticket then you’re going to be really annoyed by the end of lap three.)
As of this writing there is no requirement to sign a legal waiver before riding. This represents a very nice change over just about every other ride of this type in North America. The owner's laissez-faire attitude is also visible in the published camera policy; signage makes it clear that riders can use cameras and phones at their own risk, while also warning that a $20 charge applies for the recovery of lost items. (Whether you need to book a recovery time slot up front wasn't made clear.)
The experience itself is fine, if undistinguished; a single lift prefixes a standard enough downhill track with no particularly memorable moments apart from a light ring at the end, which was switched off for my visit. I’m not sorry to have gotten a lap in, but the wait was longer than the ride really deserved; I doubt I’ll bother with a return visit even if I do find myself in the area again.
6th July 2023
When I built out my travel itinerary this year I added Tweetsie Railroad primarily as a way of breaking up what would otherwise have been almost a full day of driving. I assumed that I’d be in and out fairly quickly, but I was careful to leave myself enough flexibility to spend longer if I wanted to. I’m glad that I did; enthusiasts retracing my steps are advised to budget half a day to appreciate a true gem of a park. My visit spanned a thoroughly enjoyable three hours and I’d probably have stayed even longer were it not for the five hour drive to my hotel.
The first thing guests see on walking through the gate is the park’s train, a 3-mile loop with two western-themed shows en route. The trains, a pair of narrow-gauge stem locomotives, are historical and it’s great to see them maintained, even if they’re not exactly environmentally friendly or efficient by today’s standards. I was surprised to learn that they consume roughly four tonnes of coal each day as well as five thousand gallons of water.
Today’s services were being operated by Engine No. 190 “Yukon Queen”, manufactured in 1943 by Baldwin Locomotive Works in Philadelphia. It was originally used to link the port of Skagway, Alaska with Whitehorse, the capital of Yukon. As luck would have it my timing was perfect; “all aboard” was called just as I approached, allowing me to appreciate the ride with no wait. (Dispatches typically happen every 30-45 minutes depending on crowds.)
One fun piece of trivia is that the park is owned by the Robbins family. In 1961, four years after Tweetsie Railroad opened, Grover and Harry Robbins built a similar attraction called Rebel Railroad (later Goldrush Junction) in the Smoky Mountains, close to Tennessee. That business was sold in the late 1960s, and following several changes of ownership it morphed into Dollywood, where the railroad operates today as the Dollywood Express.
When the train journey came to an end I headed directly for Barrels of Fun (#3077), my first encounter with a “Model B” figure eight spinner (but definitely not the last). The ride feels exactly the same as its predecessors, though It looks rather different thanks to a new design of track, which features thicker rails in place of the spine found on older versions. I also enjoyed the Buckaroo Drop, a twelve-seat SBF Drop’n’Twist with a branded centre column. The ride experience felt similar to that of the Zierer towers found at the Plopsa Indoor parks, though from the ground it looked quite different as the entire tower rotated while the car was moving up and down.
There are a handful of other family rides in the same area, but none of them caught my eye, so I decided to take the Chair Lift up the mountain. A bus is also available for those with buggies, as is a footpath, though today people were only using it to walk downhill rather than up. The seats had old-style restraint bars coming from each side, with no seatbelt or backup restraint – perhaps explaining why children are not allowed to ride without accompanying adults.
A second smaller train ride can be found at the mountain peak, albeit one powered by a diesel engine rather than steam. Mouse Mine is a quarter mile loop with a pleasant indoor dark ride section. The driver stops inside for a minute or so while a song is played and various portions of the scene move. It’d be a stretch to describe the experience as life-changing, but it’s definitely cool.
I spent perhaps twenty minutes exploring the upper section of the park, with the highlight being a brief detour into the Deer Park Petting Zoo where I met a number of African Pygmy Goats. With that done I took the Chair Lift back to the exit, capturing a few overhead photos along the way.
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