Photo: Wilderness Run Alpine Coaster

You Can Zoom Through the Forest on an Open-Air Alpine Coaster

North Carolina Adventure Travel
by Matador Creators Jan 20, 2023

If you’ve ridden a roller coaster at a theme park, make time this summer to try a different type of coaster: an alpine coaster. And if you’re anywhere near North Carolina, you might as well try the Wilderness Run Alpine Coaster, which twists and turns for more than half a mile through the Blue Ridge Mountains.

@matadornetwork The #WildernessRunAlpineCoaster is a thrilling outdoor ride in #BannerElk! This is one major adrenaline-rush of a coaster ⛰🎢 📍Banner Elk, North Carolina @visitnc #travel #hiddengems #visitnc #sponsored ♬ All I Want Is You – Disco Lines

Wilderness Run Alpine Coaster tickets and details

The Wilderness Run Alpine Coaster is in Banner Elk, near the border with Tennessee. It’s about an hour east of Johnson City, TN, or 90 minutes north of Asheville, NC.

Pricing is fairly reasonable, at $16 for an adult ride or $35 for a three-ride package. Kids are even more affordable at $13 for kids aged 6-13 and $5 for kids five and under.

You can’t buy tickets in advance, but you do need to reserve your time slot, which is kind of the same thing. On the Wilderness Run Alpine Coaster website, you’ll need to select a day and time you plan to arrive. Think of it as a virtual line. When you arrive, you’ll need to check in during your assigned time, at which point you’ll pay for your tickets. Ideally, you’d do this a day or two in advance of when you want to visit, but they do take walk-ins when they’re not sold out.

The Wilderness Run Alpine Coaster is open every day of the year, though it closes if there’s any lightening nearby. Just remember that it can get a bit cold when you’re moving fast during the winter (and the coaster goes up to 27 miles per hour) so bring a windbreaker or warmer jacket for the way down. The carts have rain guards to keep you dry in poor weather.

What is an alpine coaster?

couple on an alpine coaster

Photo: Dotshock/Shutterstock

An alpine coaster is a type of roller coaster usually built in mountainous or hilly regions; many ski resorts have them available for guest use in the summer. They’re toboggan-style coaster that runs on a track, and riders control their speed using a hand brake. Alpine coasters like the Wilderness Run Alpine Coaster usually have twists and turns in the track, and riders often experience a feeling of weightlessness as they navigate the course — especially since they’re not at all enclosed. You’ll ride them in a seated position like sitting on a sled, and most accommodate one or two people at a time.

It’s difficult to know the exact date when the first alpine coaster was built, as the concept of a “toboggan-style” roller coaster has likely been around for many years. However, the modern version of the alpine coaster, which features a steel track and a braking system that allows riders to control their speed, was developed in the late 1970s by a Swiss company called Franz Schilter. The first alpine coaster built by Schilter was called the “Sommerrodelbahn,” and it was installed at the Toggenburg ski resort in Switzerland in 1979. Since then, alpine coasters have been built in many other locations around the world.

Other alpine coasters in the US


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Never fear if you’re not going to be anywhere near North Carolina — there are plenty of alpine coasters popping up across the US.

  • The Great Alpine Coaster in Whitefish, Montana: 7,000 feet long
  • Cliffside Coaster, Lake Placid, New York: 7,600 feet long
  • The Runaway Mountain Coaster in Branson, Missouri: 4,000 feet long
  • The Ridge Rider Mountain Coaster, South Lake Tahoe, California: 3,400 feet long
  • The Cowboy Coaster at Snow King Mountain, Wyoming: 3,300 feet long
  • The Magic Mountain Alpine Coaster in Mars Hill, North Carolina: 1,400 feet long

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