When you’re visiting the Blue Ridge Mountains, you need to take a ride on the Wilderness Run Alpine Coaster. It will be a great experience and the highlight of your visit.
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When my cousin and I were planning our trip to Western North Carolina, we kept saying we were gonna do all the things. So, when we started making actual plans, I asked if she wanted to drive a little bit out of the way to the Wilderness Run Alpine Coaster.
She said yes, of course. Because we committed to doing everything we could in the area. And because how often do you get to ride a roller coaster through a mountain?
If you get the chance, I highly recommend it. It’s one of the best things we did on our trip.
If you don’t get the chance, well, you can still live vicariously through us and this review post.
Wilderness Run Alpine Coaster: Everything you need to know
An alpine coaster, also called a mountain coaster, is similar-ish to roller coasters at amusement parks in that you’re sitting on a track with twists and turns.
The main differences are that the driver is in control during an alpine coaster ride. You use hand breaks to slow down and stop, so the main thrill (and pausing it) are in your hands. Literally. The other main difference is that an alpine coaster uses the elevation of the mountain, and gravity, to propel the coaster. That’s why you find them in mountains.
This is different than an alpine slide, which is where you sit on a sled that runs on a smooth concave track (and looks like more of a thrill ride than you bargain for).
Though it’s not the only alpine coaster in the Blue Ridge Mountains, the Wilderness Run Alpine Coaster has the distinction of being the first alpine coaster in North Carolina.
Wilderness Run Alpine Coaster Review
When I’m visiting somewhere, I want to do everything I can in case I never get back. I want all the experiences, all the food, all the everything. So when I found out there was an alpine coaster in the North Carolina Blue Ridge Mountains, within driving distance of other things I was doing, I knew I needed to go.
I thought one and done though. Right? I mean, how many times can you ride a roller coaster in a mountain?
More. Than. Once.
Let me stress this again. More than once.
When you purchase your tickets for the Wilderness Run Alpine Coaster, you have the option of a single ride (for $16) or three rides (for $35). When my cousin and I were talking about it, we both easily decided that once would be enough. We knew it was 7 minutes a ride, so we figured 20 minutes on a coaster was too much.
Hindsight is always 20/20. And hindsight happened quickly. As soon as my cousin and I finished our first ride (which was also our only ride), we both said we should have bought the three pack. So, learn from our mistake.
The Wilderness Run Alpine Coaster does take advance reservations where you book a time slot for your group. You don’t have to pay until you get to the ticket window during your registered check-in time. The reservation just guarantees you (and your group) a spot in line because it can get really crowded. However, you can just show up.
We did book a time slot in advance, but it was raining when we got there, so we didn’t even need it. If you’re visiting the attraction during the summer, during winter when the ski resorts are open, or in September during a Land Of Oz in Beech Mountain weekend, you might want to book in advance, just to be safe.
Once you’re there, the staff is incredible thorough on explaining how everything works.
You sit down, buckle in, and get a very brief lesson with important tips, like pushing the handles all the way down to move.
“Can I pull up on the handle and just cruise?” I asked. I was told yes.
You round the corner and start heading up a steep incline. You don’t do anything, the chain lift does it all, for a solid minute as you climb up to the top of the coaster, gaining enough stored energy to propel you through the rest of the coaster. While that’s happening, you get to just swivel your head back and forth and marvel at the North Carolina mountains.
It’s beautiful up there. And once you get calm and settled and serene, there’s a big sign that says, “Push handles down now.” And so you start to push. If you’re me, you just push a little bit because you wanted to cruise and because you have no concept of what 27 mph feels like when you’re not in a car.
And then, out of a shack at the top of the coaster, you hear, “Push the handles all the way down.” You do. And you fly.
Side note: I actually brought that up to my cousin and she said she did the same thing. She wanted to ease into it and the same hidden voice gave her the same push.
The ride is wild. There are lots of twists and drops. No loops, but enough thrill to really get your heart going. You will scream, I’m sure. But you’ll also smile.
Or at least, I smiled the entire time because there’s a video camera attached to each car that records you the entire ride. There’s a sticker on the back of your ticket that you can scan in the gift shop to see a video of your ride, which you can purchase.
Although not me because sometimes the stickers don’t work. And mine didn’t. So all my smiling was for nothing. My cousin’s sticker did work and it was fun to watch her video.
You can take your own video, but there are a lot of signs that suggest you should keep your phone and other belongings with the staff. There’s a chance it will fly out of your hands during the ride. And there’s a $20 fee to retrieve it.
And that $20 would be better spent buying two more rides.
Wilderness Run Alpine Coaster: Frequently Asked Questions
3265 Tynecastle Highway; Banner Elk, NC
(The sign in the parking lot does say Sugar Mountain, NC, but don’t worry; you’re in the right place)
Daily: 10 am to 8 pm
It’s open year-round, seven days a week.
As the kids would say, 10/10 would recommend. But honestly, it’s such a fun and unique experience. We had such a good time and I highly recommend that you try it if you get the chance.
It’s 3,160 feet of tract and the entire ride takes about seven minutes (three if you’re at max speed the whole time).
The Wilderness Run Alpine Coaster’s top speed is 27 mph.
An adult and a child can ride together, however, two adults cannot ride together (because there is a weight limit).
To ride solo, you must be between 54 and 84 inches (so the height restrictions are between 5-foot-4 and 7-feet) and at least 9 years old. To ride together, the youngest a rider can be is 3 years old. The second rider must be 16 and at least 54 inches tall and the maximum weight allowed is 375 pounds.
You can. The Wilderness Run Alpine Coaster is an all weather activity. If there’s severe weather (thunderstorms and/or lightning within 10 miles), it’ll close. But rain and snow won’t stop it.
There is a cover that goes over the front of the individual carts to block the rain or snow.
Everything I’ve read said there’s an observation deck at the alpine coaster, but other than the lower level deck where you can only see the first turn, I didn’t notice one. I do think we missed it.
There’s a coffee shop on the lower level deck of the alpine coaster. It was closed when we got there, which was a bummer because I am a big fan of coffee so I would have grabbed a cup. A sweet and savory pie shop, High Country Pie, will be opening soon.
There’s also the Wilderness Run Adventure Course, a multi-level elevated course. We didn’t do this because when we went, it was raining, and a ropes course in the rain just doesn’t sound like the best time.
More Alpine Coasters In North Carolina:
The Wilderness Run Alpine Coaster, which opened in 2020, is the was the first alpine coaster in North Carolina. But, it’s not the only mountain coaster in North Carolina anymore.
The Scaly Mountain Screamer opened at Highlands Outpost in Highlands, North Carolina on Thanksgiving Day 2021. And The Blue Ridge Mountain Coaster at Jellystone Park Golden Valley in Golden Valley, North Carolina opened in June 2023.
There are also other alpine coasters in the Blue Ridge Mountains in both Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, Tennessee.
Have you visited the Wilderness Run Alpine Coaster? Let us know how it went in the comments.