Tweetsie Railroad: a Visit
Tweetsie Railroad, located in Blowing Rock, North Carolina, opened on July 4, 1957. The park has a long and storied history, with ties to the Land of Oz (nearby) and Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. Tweetsie Railroad, along with the Robbins brothers, ushered in modern tourism for the Appalachian Mountains. Tweetsie Railroad was so popular that the Robbins brothers opened Rebel Railroad in Pigeon Forge, which would become Dollywood.
Tweetsie Railroad sits on 200 acres, about halfway between Boone and Blowing Rock in the mountains of North Carolina. The park has 16 rides, a few restaurants, shops and shows. The real stars, of course, are the engines of Tweetsie Railroad.
Throughout the park, Tweetsie Railroad lays claim to its heritage; whether it’s through the original buildings on site or with the signage. Check out the Tweetsie Story, below, to learn a little bit more.
Tweetsie Railroad: East Tennessee and Western North Carolina Railroad
The East Tennessee and Western North Carolina (ET&WNC RR) Railroad was originally created in 1886 to serve a mine in Cranberry, NC. It traveled from Johnson City, TN to Cranberry, NC, a distance of about 30 miles. The rail line was expanded to Boone for a total distance of about 90 miles. The ET&WNC RR lasted until 1950, with various parts of the track being decommissioned over the years. During the Great Depression and World War II, the train would transport people as much as ore.
Currently. Tweetsie Railroad operates two engines. Engine #12 was one of the actual trains to run the historic route. Robbins acquired Engine #190, The Yukon Queen, in 1960.
Tweetsie Railroad: The Early Years
Originally, the train travelled on a one-mile track that led to a picnic area. There, folks enjoyed a picnic brought from home and they would take a return train at their leisure. They extended the track a year later, creating a three-mile loop around the mountain and the western town was added to Tweetsie’s Main Street. The Wild West Show of the train ride was also added in the mid-1960s. It’s changed a bit over the years (mostly due to political correctness) and always featured cowboys and Indians.
The focal point has always been the railroad. If timed right, it will be the first thing you see once you pass through the depot.
Added in 1962, the chairlift to Miner’s Mountain (originally called Magic Mountain) is a relaxing (and probably much cooler than the bus) way to reach the top of the mountain. The trip takes about four minutes.
You pass by the Country Fair section on your way up to Miner’s Mountain.
It’s hard to see in this image, but you’re never more than 20-30 feet off the ground. You can lift the bars of the restraints during the ride. Yikes!
The turret is part of the chairlift structure at the top of Miner’s Mountain. Don’t forget to head up the stairs for some great views of the area.
Tweetsie Railroad: Miner’s Mountain
Feel like striking it rich? You can still pan for gold for free at Tweetsie (it does cost extra to mine for gems, though).
Miner’s Mountain offers a handful of rides (Boats and F-80 Jet planes for the youngsters; Mouse Mine Train for everyone; and the Tweetsie Twister for the bigger kids), shows, shops, eateries and the Deer Park! You can grab a pizza or hot dog at the Miner’s Diner or some ice cream or snowballs at Mountain Ice Cream.
The Miner’s Mountain Theater is home to Minder’s Mountain Magic and Hopper and Porter’s Musical Celebration.
Tweetsie Railroad: Deer Park Habitat
Deer Park completely surprised us. It opened in the 1970s with just a few animals and has grown to over 70. Deer Park, a fenced walking area, provides habitats for goats, deer, emus, llamas, burros, miniature horses, pot bellied pigs and turtles (but no feeding the turtles).
You can purchase an ice cream cone of feed at the entrance for 50 cents. The animals were aggressively cute (and the free-roaming African Pygmy Goats knew they were adorable). But it’s a great place to pass away a half hour or 45 minutes during the warmer afternoon. There is a spot to buy addition feed about halfway through, but it is on the honor system.
Tweetsie Railroad: Country Fair
You climb a steep hill, between Tweetsie Town and Miner’s Mountain, to the Country Fair section. The rides in this area are geared towards tweens and you’ll find the majority of the attractions in the park here.
The rides are mostly flat rides that you’d find at a carnival: Carousel; Ferris wheel; Fee Fall; Planes and Helicopters; Round Up; Tilt-A-Whirl; Tornado; and Turnpike Cruisers. Additionally, you’ll find a handful of midway games and an arcade.
Tweetsie Railroad: Tweetsie Junction
The Tweetsie Palace is the main showplace of the park. Diamond Lil’s Can-Can Revue is the current show and there are special offerings throughout the year.
You can stop and enjoy a cold soda or a snack. Make sure to visit the second floor area. Especially since you can walk onto the very large balcony and enjoy a rocking chair. The details inside the Tweetsie Palace are well done.
You can always take the Tweetsie bus up to Miner’s Mountain. I liked how it resembled a camp bus.
The Fudge Factory is one of the few places to offer air conditioning. It’s also a wonderful place to pick up some treats for the ride home.
There’s a very charming craftsman’s area with a blacksmith, toy shop and wood carver. The Pavilion Theater offers clogging shows, as well!
There are a lot of handmade souvenirs to take back home with you!
Tweetsie Railroad: Final Thoughts
This was my first visit in over 30 years. All I remember from my first trip was panning for gold, the chair lift and parts of the train ride. At the time, I’m pretty sure that the Country Fair section was not there.
The reason to visit Tweetsie Railroad is the authentic coal-fired engines. They are quite the experience. Train enthusiasts will love Tweetsie, especially the ambience. The Main Street area is a 1950s idealized version of a Western town. The other areas feel more like a carnival or country fair. Most kids will have to be under 45 inches to experience specific rides or over 48 inches for the more exciting rides. For teens and most young adults, there really isn’t much to interest them.
The food was good and actually was a reasonable price for a theme park.
Thomas the Tank Engine shows up one long weekend every June. Unless you’re visiting with a Thomas fan, I’d avoid Tweetsie during that weekend. Plus, you can buy Thomas-related merchandise in every store during the entire season.
The admission of $44.00 per adult really seemed high to me, especially for the perceived value. When you compare the admission to Dollywood and Carowinds, it’s hard to justify a trip to Tweetsie Railroad unless you have an interest in the railway or the park itself. I’m not knocking it, it just seems like a park more for the under 10 set.
The park is an amazing snapshot of the smaller parks that sprang into existence after Disneyland. It still has the same bones from when it opened, and that’s very rare. I can see the influence of Tweetsie on Dollywood. I still wonder why Dollywood evolved to a world-class theme park while Tweetsie Railroad remained a much smaller park and experience. Was it more than the Blowing Rock area could support or was it that Tweetsie was simply more landlocked?
The park is in a gorgeous setting and that really helps Tweetsie Railroad feel utterly unique. It’s definitely worth a visit, but you’ll want to take advantage of the shows to feel like you’ve gotten your money’s worth.
5 thoughts on “Tweetsie Railroad: a Visit”
It’s been more than 40 years since I visited Tweetsie. The only thing I remember is the train ride and the Wild West Show on the train.
I’m pretty sure Dollywood grew into what it did for two reasons – Dolly Parton and Pigeon Forge. I have a friend who knows Dolly and testifies to the fact that she is a very smart businesswoman and driven to succeed. Pigeon Forge’s growth might be a result of Dollywood’s success. But it took full advantage of Dollywood, outlet malls, and its location to pull in conferences, conventions, and family vacationers. (My family not-so-lovingly refers to it as Myrtle Beach without the sand.) Whether that growth was planned or accidental, I can’t tell you. I can tell you that Pigeon Forge from the mid-80s to now is a testament to a city how a city becomes a tourist destination. For goodness sakes, there’s a Hard Rock Cafe (A HARD ROCK CAFE!) in Pigeon Forge that used to be in Gatlinburg (IN GATLINBURG!) in the 90s and 00s. If that doesn’t tell you something, nothing does.
But The Robbins sold Rebel Railroad in 1970 and it went through another owner before being bought by the Herschends in 1976 and Dolly Parton was brought in in 1986. The park grew tremendously under the Herschends. It was already a major park when Dolly stepped in. Granted, she has really done amazing things over the past 30 years. But I do think it’s the area, too.
Thanks for the comment!
My uncle is the sign-maker/Glass etcher who’s Whirlygigs are in that last photo! What a trip to see in a report by you!
I’ve always enjoyed Tweetsie, but I’m not gonna lie, I’m sure a lot of my love for it comes from being able to get in at a discount thanks to my Uncle. There’s some genuine charm to the place to be sure, though. I like pairing a Tweetsie visit with a walk through Mystery Hill down the road, an old school ‘Oregon Vortex’ kinda place.