By Karen M. Alley
My husband and I recently visited Tweetsie with our 2-year-old Caroline and our family friends who also have a 2-year-old girl, Caitlin, as well as 4-year-old Conner. As North Carolina’s original theme park, I felt like I was not only taking my daughter out for a fun day, but also indoctrinating her in some of our state’s colorful history. While Tweetsie Railroad is known as the centerpiece of a theme park today, the train and its track were actually a part of the East Tennessee and Western North Carolina (ET & WNC) Railroad Company, which began running in 1882. The life of that railroad was short-lived, but thanks to a train enthusiast one of the steam locomotives, Tweetsie #12, was brought back to its home in Blowing Rock. She made her first round as a tourist attraction in the summer of 1957, and has been delighting travelers ever since.
Of course, riding Tweetsie itself is the main attraction, and the train runs continuously throughout the day. They were loading up with a new group of passengers just as we walked through the gates, so we hopped right on. A word to the wise — try to get in one of the middle cars, and sit on the right side of the train. This will give you the best view of the “show” when you stop at Fort Boone and witness a shoot-out between train robbers and cowboys, and then an ambush from Indians.
Caroline and her friends were fascinated with the show. Even for the TV generation, nothing beats a live performance right in front of your eyes. And for the adults on the trip, the ride through the Blue Ridge Mountains is absolutely beautiful.
Beyond the train adventure, there’s still plenty to do at Tweetsie. After a short stop at the Feed & Seed to give everyone a small rest and a nice lunch, we headed up to the County Fair area, where there are rides just like you would find at any local fair. A ferris wheel, tilt-a-whirl and miniature cars are just a few of the rides you have a choice from, all with short waits and helpful attendants. There are also games and plenty of places to grab some special treats like ice cream and cotton candy.
Following the County Fair, it was time to take a ride up the chairlift to Miner’s Mountain. After a trial run on the horse on the carousel, we quickly learned that Caroline is afraid of heights, something she might have unfortunately inherited from her mother. But for those with queasy stomachs, there’s also a bus that makes regular trips up to miner’s mountain. You might not get the great bird’s-eye view of the park that you will from the chair lift, but you still reach the same destination.
Miner’s Mountain has even more rides especially geared to young kids, as well as a place to pan for gold and the Deer Park, which actually contains much more than deer. We saw plenty of friendly goats, delicate European Fallow Deer and flexible emus, who can reach over the fence and into the hands of children eagerly waiting to feed them.
One of the great things about a trip to Tweetsie is it’s easy enough to make your rounds to all the rides and still end up with plenty of time to take in a show. We all made it down from Miner’s Mountain just in time to cool off in the saloon and watch Diamond Lil and her Can-Can dancers. As each dancer gets her own opportunity at a solo performance she makes her way around the crowd, innocently flirting with the kids in the audience. Afterward, you get to meet the cast outside and even get your picture taken with them, which is quite a treat for the little ones in the audience who have already become star-struck.
If I can rely on my vague childhood memories, Tweetsie hasn’t changed much since I was a kid, which is what makes it such a great family destination today. Of course there are plenty of new rides and everything has been meticulously kept up, so the park doesn’t look at all like the 50 years old it is. But the wholesome family atmosphere still remains, making a trip to Tweetsie a good day for everyone involved.
300 Tweetsie Railroad Lane
Blowing Rock, NC
Park Hours May 25-Aug. 26: Open 7 days a week, 9 a.m.-6 p.m.
Tickets: Adults $29, Ages 3-12 $21, 2 and under free
Special Events in July
July 4: Fireworks Extravaganza
Enjoy a full day at Tweetsie and top it off with a fireworks show on the mountain. Park open until 9 p.m.
July 21-22: Bob the Builder
Tweetsie presents a special show featuring Bob the Builder and his friends. Meet Bob and be part of a building adventure. Free with admission.