The best roller coasters in Disneyland are those that actually qualify as roller coasters. In other words, you want to be moving fast. You want to be feeling the thrill. You want to have the wind in your face. These elements are all part of the top three coasters at Disneyland Park.

For me, Big Thunder Railroad, Matterhorn Bobsleds and Space Mountain are the absolute crème de la crème of “big kid” roller coasters in the park. While there are, arguably, other fast, thrill-type rides like Indiana Jones Adventure and Star Tours that jerk you around and have thrill elements, the three discussed here are true coasters.

These big three include steel tracks designed for speed, drops throughout the ride, awesome thematic elements and lots of fun.

Why Choose a Roller Coaster at Disneyland?

For many folks, Disneyland is “just for kids.” There are so many classic attractions geared toward children (like all of Fantasyland). Even some of the coaster-type rides throughout the Resort are oriented to little ones (like Goofy’s Sky School in DCA and Alice in Wonderland in D-land).

Nonetheless, the Imagineers at DLR know that big kids and adults need more thrill.

Enter roller coasters!

To start, the roller coaster attractions are the only ones with height restrictions. That is how you know they were designed with adults (and young adults and big kids) in mind.

These rides are made to be a little scarier than most of the other attractions. They are also made to go a whole lot faster. The safety equipment feels a little more intense, adding to the suspense of the journey.

Secondly, the brains of the park know that as much as parents of toddlers and little kids love watching the reaction of their babies on story-based rides or when they see a beloved character, they love to have fun of their own. Roller coasters provide a great escape for parents who need a break from Fantasyland, character photos and simply walking around the park.

Lastly, Disney execs want you to come back to the parks once kids have grown up enough to call those once-amazing rides “baby rides.” If parents and kids both enjoy thrill rides, there is a prime opportunity for it in the roller coaster department.

As the children grow older, so must the park and its attractions. Big Thunder, Matterhorn Bobsleds and Space Mountain, along with other (less impressive) thrill rides, fill in this gap. Add in a few water rides, and you have a dream day for pre-teens to college kids!

No matter what age you are, Disneyland should be a magical place that transports you to other eras, places, realms and storylines. As such, breaking into the more mature imagination requires the addition of a thrill element. Roller coasters provide just that.

For a complete list of DLR’s thrill ride-labeled attractions, visit their website.

Big Thunder Mountain Railroad

Yeeeee haaww! Journey into the Old West through desert caverns, mining tunnels and harsh wilderness on the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. This Disneyland classic will whip around the mountainous region of the cowboy days, showing you beautiful and scary sights alike.

Key Features

  • Height requirement of 40”
  • Indoor/outdoor components for ride
  • Water elements near start and end of ride (chance of splashing)
  • Quick, sharp turns
  • Small drops and long uphill pulls
  • Dark settings in caverns and mining tunnels
  • Explosive elements (sudden bright lights and loud sounds)

Thematic Aspects

  • Journey through a desertscape (watch out for local wilderness!) of the American Old West from the entrance to the train, complete with Western music
  • Cars feel like wagon carts being pulled by a big engine
  • Majestic mineral caverns with sparkling pools and waterfalls and a dynamite-filled mining tunnel that gets a bit explosive
  • T-rex! But it’s just a big fossil in the red hills

Top Reason to Ride

Along with the fact that there is a FASTPASS option to hop on board, Big Thunder is a more classic attraction in Disneyland that has drawn crowds for several decades. As such, it’s design elements have been changed slightly over the years. So, if you think you’ve seen it because you rode it as a kid, you’re probably wrong!

The best thing about this coaster is that it feels like a wooden roller coaster. It’s a little bumpy and has a lot of kick around the different bends in the track. Plus, the cart design of the cars makes it feel like it’s made for kids (but it’s really not). Talk about being a kid at heart! 

Although I wouldn’t necessarily recommend Big Thunder for everyone, particularly those who don’t like to be jerked around or who are sensitive to light changes or booming sounds, it does make a good first coaster. Compared to the smaller thrill rides throughout DLR like Gadget’s Go Coaster, which is truly “toddler’s first roller coaster,” this mountain attraction has scary elements. It is designed to mimic the Old West, and so elements like rattlers and dynamite explosions make it more intense than something like Space Mountain.

Matterhorn Bobsleds

Thinking about climbing mountains? How about taking a big bobsled instead?

Carve around and into the heart of Matterhorn Mountain for an icy adventure! The Matterhorn Bobsleds slide, zip and zag down a snowy hillside and through the mountain’s chilly caverns. Watch where you’re going, though. You never know where the Abominable Snowman is hiding!

Key Features

  • Height requirement of 42”
  • Indoor/outdoor components for ride
  • Water features throughout ride (may get splashed but not drenched)
  • Quick turns around sharp corners
  • Bumpy ride that will thrash you about within your car

Thematic Aspects

  • Dark caverns that provide an astounding light show on ice-covered rocks and cavern features
  • Scary creatures that pop out from around corners or chase your bobsled from just beyond a sheet of ice (plus their growls and roars from within the depths of the mountain)

Other Perks

Top Reason to Ride

Yet another Disneyland classic, the Matterhorn Bobsleds journey to one of the greatest peaks in the world and bring back a true tale of yeti-like creatures. For thrill-seekers and monster enthusiasts, this ride is a “must.”

For me, the best part about this ride is the speed. Because you are zipping around on an “unchained” bobsled. After you climb the hill with the chain lift, you’re practically in a free-fall through the caverns and around the track until the hard-stop back into the station. It makes the whole journey feel faster than any other coaster in the park.

Space Mountain

Travel through the Milky Way and beyond on a fast-paced space exploration! Space Mountain is a (modern) classic thrill ride meant to take you into the adventures of Tomorrow. You’ll shoot into the outer realms of our galaxy to be with stars and nebulas. It will seem that you have moved into the final frontier. 

Key Features

  • Height requirement of 40”
  • Indoor ride (queue does contain large outdoor component)
  • Big uphill start with bright, spinning lights (sensation of spinning)
  • Dark setting
  • Lots of right turns to zip around the galaxy
  • Photo finish before returning to your home station

Thematic Aspects

  • Queue will take you into a spaceship, complete with video tutorials on how to properly board the ride and take safety precautions
  • Dark tunnels into the boarding station lit dimly with blue and red hues
  • Space-age music will guide you to your shuttle and then through your space exploration

Seasonal Notes

While Space Mountain is open year-round (unless otherwise noted by the park), it has seasonal transformations.

With the launch of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, it is likely the Star Wars rendition of the coaster will come back. Hyperspace Mountain incorporates the plot line of one of the world’s favorite sci-fi series into the swirling journey among the stars. Be chased by Darth Vader’s battleships. Chase after the bad guys and shoot. Best of all, do it to the booming score as your soundtrack for galactic adventure! 

Hyperspace Mountain may also return for other seasonal promotions, so be sure to keep an eye out for this in Disney news.

During the Halloween season that runs from early October through early November, Space Mountain is taken over by ghostly ghouls of the stars. Space Mountain Ghost Galaxy will leave you haunted with red and orange nightmares chasing you through the stars! Nonetheless, the thrilling chase will have your heart racing and your mouth smiling with yet another escapade behind you from DLR.

Other Perks

  • Play Disney Parks to turn any wait time into more fun time
  • FASTPASS option to beat the wait
  • Single Rider option
  • Photo finish (on-ride picture) available for purchase

Top Reason to Ride

Space Mountain has a classic feel at Disneyland. Not only is it a memorable ride, but it is the cornerstone of Disney moving from “kid rides” to “adult rides” that feature a high-speed adventure. Plus, when else do you get to travel into the galaxy?

For me, Space Mountain is a great first roller coaster for kids. Sure, it might be a little scary if they’re afraid of the dark or if they visit when ghosts have taken over, but it ultimately provides a quick thrill with a lot of fun. 

It’s also a great ride for adults because it is unlike most other roller coasters. Being indoors, it provides a sense of distance from the world. Add onto that the launch into a digital universe and you really can feel like an astronaut for a couple of minutes.

Why Do You Need a FASTPASS?

Simply put, you just need one.

Roller coasters in Disneyland are few and far between. While there are other high-speed adventures, like Star Tours and Indiana Jones Adventure, actual roller coasters with cars on tracks are limited. Therefore, the lines for these attractions are usually pretty long!

Getting a FASTPASS will save you time and make the wait worth it. Think about roller coaster-heavy parks and how long you wait for a 5-minute line. Now think about the price you paid to get on only a handful of rides. FASTPASS options allow you to beat those opportunities out by a long shot, especially if you’re going with a group with a large age range.

The FASTPASS system lets you “cut the line” for several Disneyland and California Adventure rides, especially thrill-type attractions like the roller coasters. You can get free passes at distribution machines near select rides. Be sure to look for signs that say “Ride Name FASTPASS.” You’ll need to use your ticket to get the pass, and you’ll have a return time automatically linked to it for that ride. Don’t forget to have your ticket ready for redemption to actually use the pass!

Return times for FASTPASS are usually listed at the stations, and they are typically a one-hour time frame. Sometimes, though, Cast Members may give some leniency for a few minutes before or after return times. Just be sure you’re not abusing the system.

Pro recommendation: As soon as you enter the park, head to your top-pick roller coaster for the FASTPASS option. This will guarantee you a spot in line with a shorter wait. 

Another recommendation is to download the Disneyland App to keep track of your FASTPASSes. Even though you can’t have numerous passes at one time, you can still pick up for shows and rides with set return times. You can also sync your ticket to your app account and use it instead of a paper or card version throughout the day.

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