Is Big Thunder Mountain Railroad Scary? Ride Speed & Drops

Big Thunder Mountain Railroad” by HarshLight licensed under CC BY 2.0

If you’re planning on visiting Disney World, and you enjoy roller coasters, then you might be interested in riding on Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. But, if there are other people in your party that are risk averse, then they might be wondering: is Big Thunder Mountain Railroad scary?  Well, that’s exactly what we’ll explore in this article, as we cover the speed of this ride, intensity, drops, and overall theming.

How Scary is Big Thunder Mountain Railroad?

The Magic Kingdom is home to three recognizable “mountains”: Thunder Mountain, Splash Mountain, and Space Mountain. In my opinion, Big Thunder Mountain is the mildest of the three. 

I’ll get right to it.  You might be wondering “Is Big Thunder Mountain a roller coaster,” and the answer is yes, it is.  It reaches a decent speed, there are drops, turns, sudden jerky movements. 

This is a (mostly) traditional wooden roller coaster, so be prepared for a wild ride. This “mountain” truly embodies Frontierland, and is a must see if you’re down for a mild thrill. 

In terms of how I’ll “grade” different aspects of this ride according to how scary it is, throughout this article, I’ll occasionally refer to a “Scary Scale”—a system where I’ll rate different aspects of the ride from 0 (a walk in the park) to 10 (please save me, mama). 

Big Thunder Mountain Theme

The theme isn’t hard to guess, and if you’re already in Frontierland when you come across this coaster, you have a good idea about what kind of attraction you’re about to experience. This is a western themed coaster that will race you through the canyons and caverns of the wild west.

The queue itself does a great job of immersing you in a western setting before you even get to the coaster. You’ll make your way down a paved desert path surrounded by rocks, boulders and old mining equipment before the line will take you through a building filled with memorabilia from the mining days and abandoned offices. 

While the queue is filled with well thought out details at the hands of creative Imagineers, your entire wait will be outdoors. Remember that if it’s a particularly hot day, and keep an eye on the posted wait time.

In regards to the theme of the ride itself, expect a wild ride as you dive into the desert of the American Southwest. This runaway train will take you through tunnels, caves, and abandoned mines. The landscape itself embodies Monument Valley, complete with sandstone buttes, desert plants and wildlife. 

Keep an eye out as you race through an abandoned archeological dig, which is complete with dinosaur bones. Mine caves are treacherously decorated, and you may find yourself ducking for cover as boulders precariously hover above your train. Keep an eye (and an ear) out for the bats as your train careens through the darker caves. 

  • Scary Meter Rating: 1

Story of Big Thunder Mountain Railroad

Now there’s a fun legend hiding behind this frontier favorite. We need to travel back to the days of the gold rush. The original planning behind this attraction was to embody the frantic energy of a runaway mine train. Some say the ride itself is supposedly haunted, while others say it’s simply a realistic interpretation of the wild west.

There’s a widely discussed theory of the story behind this ride, and it dates back to the gold rush. Rumor has it that the rail was constructed shortly after gold was discovered. But little did they know, the mountain was already haunted. 

In an effort to protect its own gold, the mountain is said to have cursed anyone who dare try to take it. Those who did fell victim to mysterious circumstances, such as mines caving in, spur of the moment earthquakes, and flash flooding. You yourself may fall victim to a cave-in, hear the earth shake around you, and if you’re not careful—you may get wet, too!

Unless you’re paying close attention, you may miss details that set this theme apart. With mysterious accidents and spooky situations rising up, the town was quickly evacuated, leaving it a ghost town. It seems the Haunted Mansion isn’t the only haunted ride at the Magic Kingdom.

Does this attraction’s story or “lore” make the ride scarier? No, not in the slightest (in my opinion). In fact, it’s unlikely children will pick up on the storyline. It’s simply a fun backstory for adults and makes the experience more interesting as you try to find the identifying details in the queue and on the ride. 

A helpful hint: pay close attention to the names on set pieces and props as these are usually deliberately placed and indicative of a larger backstory.

You may not know that there is actually a rumored founder behind the Big Thunder Mining Company. His name is Barnabas T. Bullion, and his life dreams revolved around the impending gold strike. 

  • Scary Meter Rating: 2

Big Thunder Mountain Railroad Ride Speed

As mentioned, this is a roller coaster. There are times when you’ll be moving quickly. However, this isn’t an extreme thrill ride in my opinion, nor do I think it’s overly intense.  With that said, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad’s maximum speed can range anywhere from 30 miles per hour to 40 miles per hour.

Pay attention to where you’re seated. The front of the train can be more exciting, but it also moves slower than the back of the train, which has more time to build momentum as you tip over the peak of hills. I find that you’ll have a smoother, slower ride if you’re seated towards the front of the train, and a faster ride when seated towards the back. 

Personally, I like to sit towards the back and zip over the hills and through the dips. But if you have little ones, I recommend waiting for a seat at the front.

Fun fact: This ride is actually faster than the other two mountains, but because it’s missing fear factors like complete darkness or a massive drop, it feels slower, making it less scary. There are a few short dips where I feel the ride can be quite fast, but nothing that makes my stomach jump in a way that Splash Mountain or Space Mountain do.

  • Scary Meter Rating: 4

Big Thunder Mountain Railroad Drops

So, does Big Thunder Mountain have drops?  Well, there are indeed sudden twists and turns, along with a few short drops, on this ride.  However, despite climbing a few larger hills, there aren’t any large drops on this ride, and this attraction is fairly tame for all ages. 

As you reach the peak of the hills, it takes quite a bit of time for the train to tip over the top and start gaining speed. While there aren’t a lot of drops, there are quite a few quick and unexpected turns.

  • Scary Meter Rating: 4

You Might Also Like: Is Seven Dwarfs Mine Train Scary?

Special Effects

This ride isn’t full of special effects, aside from the obvious theming of the wild wild west, abandoned mine and runaway train. There are several tunnels, you may run into steam, illuminated rocks, ceilings and some caves, but other than that, this attraction is very mild on the special effects scale. 

There are also no major flashes or loud sound effects, aside from the whistle of the train itself.

When you reach the part of the attraction where the boulders look like they’re caving in on you, clever digital mapping makes it seem more realistic. This is the extent of special effects.

  • Scary Meter Rating: 2

Best Age for Big Thunder Mountain Railroad?

Discover the Best Age for Big Thunder Mountain Railroad

Keep in mind for safety purposes that there is a height requirement for this ride. The Big Thunder Mountain Railroad height requirement is 40 inches, and the ride is appropriate for children, teens and adults. 

I’d say approximately 5 years of age and older are safe to ride Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. I was recently able to ride with my 5 year old nephew. There was a decent amount of squeezing my arm, and a few mildly panicked looks (he’s not the biggest thrill seeker) but he had fun and we rode it twice. My 3 year old nephew, however, was just shy of the height requirement and therefore couldn’t board the attraction.

In my opinion, this is one of the best “fun for all ages” rides in the Magic Kingdom. It’s not the fastest, it doesn’t have the biggest drops or wild special effects, so it’s fairly mild for people who aren’t big thrill seekers. However, it is still just thrilling enough for older kids, teenagers and adults alike. 


So, ultimately, is Big Thunder Mountain Railroad Scary? Well, in my opinion, this is a fun wooden coaster with a well thought out theme and a few thrilling moments—but it isn’t very scary. 

If you’re traveling with smaller children who are on the more adventurous side, but not quite ready for the more drastic drops like Splash Mountain or dark rides like Space Mountain, this ride should be a great time for them.

Overall, I’d rate this ride fairly low on the Scary Scale Meter. So long as the little kids you’re traveling with are not overly sensitive to darkness or sudden movements, they should be fine to enjoy this ride. 

Growing up, I was never afraid of this ride, but loved the witty announcements, the beautifully detailed sets, and the overall fun nature of the attraction. Big Thunder Mountain Railroad is a great family ride where it’s unlikely you’ll have someone in your party walk away from the ride with anything but a smile on their face.

Overall Scary Scale Meter Rating: 3 out of 10 (or, in other words, you can very likely handle this ride without a problem—don’t be scared).

This article was written by Jessica and edited by Michael.

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