A First Timer’s Guide to Disneyland’s Frontierland

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mark twain disneyland

Credit: Disney

Howdy, partner! It’s time to head into the wildest land in the wilderness! Disneyland Resort is home to a variety of themed lands that immerse Guests in other worlds, fairy tales, and past eras. Frontierland — home to the iconic attraction Big Thunder Mountain Railroad — is no exception.

frontierland shootin exposition disneyland
Credit: Disney

In this guide, we are sharing everything you need to know about Frontierland, including some tips for your first visit to this land at The Happiest Place on Earth. Like the other lands at Disneyland, Frontierland has its own charm and adventure to offer Guests of all ages.

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About Frontierland, a journey into the wild, wild west

Thunder Mountain
Credit: Disney

Frontierland is best described in the book Disneyland — Memories of a Lifetime:

The breathtaking sight of the gleaming Mark Twain Riverboat and the imposing gallantry of the Columbia Sailing Ship approaching the dock beckon guests into Frontierland, a robust panorama of America’s pioneer past. As you past through the stockade entrance you are surrounded by an amalgam of sights and sounds that authentically conjures up images of America’s western expansion, from the bustling river fronts of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers of the late 1700s to the raucous and dusty desert southwest of the 1880s. 

“Here we experience the story of our country’s past…the colorful drama of Frontier America in the exciting days of the covered wagon and the stagecoach…the advent of the railroad…and the romantic riverboat,” Walt Disney once commented. “Frontierland is a tribute to the faith, courage, and ingenuity of the pioneers who blazed the trails across America. 

mark twain on rivers of america at disneyland
Credit: Inside the Magic

In recent years, Disneyland Resort has incorporated more cultural influences into Frontierland at Disneyland. Mexican culture is incorporated through Rancho del Zocalo restaurant and the presence of Miguel from the Pixar Animation Studios film Coco (2017). During the fall season, Dia de los Muertos is commemorated with a special tribute in Frontierland.

Dia de los Muertos Disneyland
Credit: Disney

Top attractions in Frontierland at Disneyland

So, what rides are in Frontierland at Dsineyland? Frontierland is home to one major attraction — Big Thunder Mountain Railroad — as well as a few other attractions may know, incluidng Mark Twain Riverboat, Sailing Ship Columbia, Davy Crockett’s Explorer Canoes, and Tom Sawyer Island.

Big Thunder Mountain Railroad

“This here’s the wildest ride in the wilderness!” Big Thunder Mountain Railroad is a Disneyland classic. It takes Guests (those who are 40” or taller) on a wild journey aboard a runaway train through caverns, mines, and even a ghost town. But don’t worry, this ride isn’t considered very scary! It’s often a great first roller coaster.

Kids riding Big Thunder Mountain
Credit: Disney

As mentioned, there is a height requirement of 40” for Guests riding this attraction.

Below is the official description of Big Thunder Mountain Railroad:

Hang Onto Yer Hats!
Legend has it that after gold was discovered in the 1850s, eerie incidents took place in the mine. Trains would take off and race through tunnels… by themselves.

As you enter the cursed cavern, your train speeds up along the rickety track. Shoot under a booming waterfall and dodge a falling boulder from an unexpected landslide as you swoop around sharp turns and drop into desolate canyons.

On this rip-roaring adventure, you may learn that some legends turn out to be true…

How Scary Is it?
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad is a fast rollercoaster-type attraction designed for kids and adults. However, some sections of this attraction are bumpy and take place in the dark.

A Bit of Disneyland Lore
The miniature ghost town of Big Thunder that you roll past at the end of the attraction predates Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. Originally named Rainbow Ridge, the town is one of several elements from the Rainbow Caverns Mine Train (later called Mine Train through Nature’s Wonderland) that transported Guests around Frontierland from 1956 to 1977.

Big Thunder Railroad returns
Credit: Disney

Mark Twain Riverboat

The Mark Twain Riverboat is a historic attraction at Disneyland Park. The loading dock is in Frontierland and very easy to find, whether you are coming from New Orleans Square or Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. For decades, it has taken Guests on a journey around the Rivers of America, offering stunning views of Frontierland, New Orleans Square, and Critter Country.

Mark Twain Riverboat
Credit: ITM Reporter Kristin Yep

There is no height requirement for this attraction.

Below is the official description of the Mark Twain Riverboat:

Steam into the Past
Board an old-fashioned steam-powered vessel for a half-mile journey into the heart of the American frontier.

During the charming, 14-minute trip around Pirate’s Lair on Tom Sawyer Island, spot delightful sights along the river’s edge, including:

  • The north bank of the Columbia Gorge, complete with a beautiful waterfront and 5 sparkling waterfalls
  • A rustic frontier cabin
  • An idyllic Native American village
  • A busy beaver at work chewing on the train trestle
  • Mountain lions relaxing in the sun
  • The Disneyland Railroad steaming into the wilderness
  • Along the way, hear lively narration about a time gone by.

Along the Mississippi

The Mark Twain is an authentic reproduction of the historic vessels that ferried people up and down the mighty Mississippi River. A working steam engine converts the water from the Rivers of America into steam that in turn powers the large paddle that propels the boat.

Featuring meticulously detailed wood craftsmanship, the 28-foot tall, 105-foot-long riverboat is comprised of 4 pristine decks:

  • Pilothouse, also known as the top deck, features the wheelhouse and Captain’s Quarters
  • Promenade Deck includes a salon and a collection of vintage photos and maps
  • Texas (or Sun) Deck is the perfect place to enjoy the outdoors as you float down the river
  • Main Deck includes the boiler and pistons that run the paddlewheel

Limited seating is available.

A Tribute to America’s Writer

Walt Disney named the Mark Twain after the pen name of Samuel Langhorne Clemens. The famed author of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn—and Walt’s personal hero—Clemens was also a riverboat pilot as a young man.

That experience inspired his pen name: “mark twain” is a boating term that means a vessel is at a safe depth.

mark twain on rivers of america at disneyland
Credit: Inside the Magic

Sailing Ship Columbia

Did you know there are actually two boats that sail around the Rivers of America, starting in Frontierland? The Sailing Ship Columbia is another adventure you can take in Disneyland.

This 15-minute voyage has no height requirement.

sailing ship columbia
Credit: Inside the Magic

Below is the official description of the Sailing Ship Columbia:

A Legendary Vessel

Board the 110-foot-long, fully rigged Columbia and sail away into a long-forgotten time. Marvel at the towering mainmast and inspect the cannons and deck-mounted guns the crew used to repel pirate attacks.

As you cruise around Pirate’s Lair on Tom Sawyer Island, relive the pioneering adventures of the original Columbia, the first American ship to circumnavigate the globe.

It took the real Columbia 3 years to sail around the world, but your voyage will last about 15 minutes.

Along the River

During your cruise, enjoy the sights and sounds of 3 different lands—the backwoods of Frontierland, the wrought-iron railings of New Orleans Square and the peak of Chick-A-Pin Hill towering over Critter Country.

You may also glimpse:

The north bank of the Columbia Gorge, complete with a beautiful waterfront and sparkling waterfalls
The rustic cabin of a frontier settler
An idyllic Native American village
A busy beaver chewing on the train trestle
A moose enjoying a leisurely lunch
The Disneyland Railroad steaming into the wilderness

The Columbia follows the same path as Mark Twain Riverboat and Davy Crockett’s Explorer Canoes.

Pirate’s Lair Tom Sawyer Island

Finally, the fifth attraction in Frontierland is Tom Sawyer Island. Located in the middle of the river, this is an attraction that you have to take a raft to get to, but once you do, it’s so much fun. And, actually, this island is the certerpiece for Fantasmic!

tom sawyer island at disneyland
Credit: Disney

Below is the official description of Pirates Lair on Tom Sawyer Island:

Roam and Ramble Along the Riverbank
Travel by log raft across the Rivers of America and retrace the steps of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn when they ran away to live carefree lives as pirates.

Wander quiet paths shaded by sycamore and oak trees and enjoy scenic views of the riverbanks.

Cross creaky suspension bridges in Smuggler’s Cove. Dare to explore the haunted caves of Dead Man’s Grotto. Climb through a fort built by the frontier’s early settlers.

As you explore, look out for the long-lost pirate treasure rumored to be hidden on the island!

Returning to Shore
When you’re ready to return to the hustle and bustle of New Orleans Square, simply make your way to the dock and hitch a ride back on a raft.

Designed by Disney Himself
Tom Sawyer Island opened to the public at Disneyland Resort in 1956. The attraction has the distinction of being the only one designed by Walt Disney.

Walt revered Mark Twain’s novels and wanted the island to reflect the world Twain conjured in his stories. Days before construction began, he took the plans home and reimagined the design, creating the inlets, coves and atmosphere the island is known for today.

In 2007, enchanting enhancements were added and the attraction was renamed Pirate’s Lair on Tom Sawyer Island.

Attractions for kids

The attractions listed above can be experiecned by most Guests; however, if you are traveling with children who aren’t tall enough to meet the height requirements on many attractions, then there are a few experiences we suggest.

Tom Sawyer Island is a great option as it offers sufficient room for kids to play and get their energy out during a long day at the theme parks.

mark twain riverboat
Credit: Inside the Magic

Guests of all ages and heights can enjoy Mark Twain Riverboat and the Sailing Ship Columbia. We highly recommend these attractions for when your kids need some downtime (and the parents want to relax for a little while!).

Dining in Frontierland at Disneyland

There are a variety of dining locations in Frontierland. Aside from the popcorn cart and chimichanga stand (breakfast chimichangas, anyone?), there are actually four restaurants to choose from. Three are quick-service, one is table-service, and all of them have their own distinctly delicious offerings for Guests to enjoy.

Rancho del Zocalo

Rancho del Zocalo Restaurante is a quick-service dining location in Frontierland. It is one of the best places to eat at Disneyland because of its location. When dining here, you can sit outside and select a table that is adjacent to the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad train tracks, offering views of the runaway trains as they rush through the old mining town.

Ranchi Del Zocalo
Credit: Disney

Rancho del Zocalo serves authentic Mexican cuisine, continually updating the menu with delicious seasonal beverage, entree, and dessert offerings.

To view the full menu, click here.

River Belle Terrace

River Belle Terrace is the only table-service restaurant in Frontierland and one of the only sit-down dining locations in Disneyland. The restaurant typically offers American cuisine with barbecue flavors. This is also a restaurant that commonly offers a Fantasmic! dining package with a prix-fixe menu and reserved seating for the show. Reservations are highly recommended.

River Belle Terrace
Credit: Disneyland

To view the full menu, click here.

The Golden Horseshoe

The Golden Horseshoe was often regarded as Walt and Lillian Disney’s date night restaurant, and it continues to be a Guest-favorite dining location to date. It has been home to several live performances and new entertainment in the past and offers Guests an air contitioned indoor location to enjoy their meals. Typically, Park favorites like chicken tenders and sundaes are served here.

disneyland the golden horseshoe
Credit: Disney

To view the full menu, click here.

Stage Door Cafe

Stage Door Cafe is the walk-up window located outside The Golden Horseshoe. This is another Guest-favorite location as it is the only location in Disneyland Park where you can get a famous corn dog, other than at the classic Little Red Wagon on Main Street, U.S.A.

Spicy Corn Dog from Stage Door Cafe in Frontierland (Disneyland)
Credit: Inside the Magic

To view the full menu, click here.

Where can you find vegan and vegetarian food options in Frontierland?

There are a variety of vegan and vegetarian food options throughout the Disney Parks and Resorts, including Frontierland in Disneyland at Disneyland Resort. Of all of the restaurants in the land, we recommend Rancho del Zocalo, the quick-service restaurant serving Mexican cuisine, or River Belle Terrace, the table-service restaurant, as both offer full plant-based meals.

Characters to meet in Frontierland at Disneyland

You can often see the following characters in Frontierland at Disneyland:

  • Miguel
  • The Three Caballeros
  • Woody and Jessie
Miguel in frontierland
Credit: Inside the Magic

The characters can typically be seen in the plaza near Rancho del Zocalo or on the outdoor balcony of The Golden Horseshoe. At the time, there is not a set schedule for when the characters will appear, adding to the spontaneity of the magic of Disneyland.

Planning your trip

Frontierland (and Disneyland as a whole) is the perfect location for some adventures with your family or a date night with your loved one.

Of course, if you’re planning a trip, we highly recommend booking with the Authorized Disney Vacation Planners at Academy Travel. Academy Travel’s Disney travel agents are Disneyland experts and can help you plan the perfect trip to The Happiest Place on Earth. They can even provide their tips for your packing list, book your air travel, and help coordinate ground transportation to your hotel. And if you have any questions about visiting Frontierland or any other ares if Disneyland Resort, in particular, they can certainly answer them. Click here to book your next Disneyland trip with our friends at Academy Travel!

Disneyland Ticket
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For more help with trip planning, check out our other Disneyland guides linked below:

What is your favorite land at the Disney Parks? Let us know in the comments!

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