Ghost Train Adventure Evokes Inner Child
Tweetsie Offers Fun for All Ages During Nighttime Festival
The Ghost Train looked ominous against the darkening mountain sky as passengers waited to board.
Images by Micki Bare
The sun was setting as we drove toward Blowing Rock one recent Saturday evening. The view was breathtaking. Then again, I wasn't driving. My adventurous hubby was at the wheel donning strong sunglasses and staring at the paint on the tarmac. Otherwise, his retinas would have been seared by the globe of beauty staring back at us for much of the ride. Still, it was worth the purple spots to see the sun setting over our Blue Ridge Mountains as we made our way toward Tweetsie.
Travel Tip: Leave early enough to avoid driving into the sun and enjoy a leisurely dinner in Boone or Blowing Rock prior to a Ghost Train Festival evening visit to Tweetsie. You won't capture the amazing images of the sun setting over the mountains on your phone for Instagram, but you also won't have to deal with direct sunlight in the driver's eyes for a good portion of the trip.
When we arrived, we followed the directions of the parking attendants to a spot in the lower parking lot. It was 7:33 p.m., a mere 3 minutes after the gates had opened. The upper lot was full and the lower lot was crowded. Having never been to Tweetsie, I did not know what to expect. The first thing I did was excitedly hop out of the car. When the cool air hit me — it was cooler outside than in the car where we had been running the AC — I jumped back in and grabbed my sweater. It was 89 degrees when we left home. The sun had just set in Blowing Rock and it was no longer 89 degrees. Rather, it had settled into the cool upper 60s.
Within the first few minutes of our arrival, I was glad I not only threw my sweater into the car, but that I also thought to wear hiking boots. We had to walk up a hill to find the entrance. Then we had to walk up another hill to find the sprawling Country Fair attraction. And we had to hike a winding path to find the Bone Yard and Haunted House.
Travel Tip: Dress for the weather in Blowing Rock. Wear layers. And wear comfortable walking or hiking shoes. Think of Tweetsie as the coolest, most fun and exciting — and stroller-friendly — place to hike in the mountains.
Once inside the gates, I melted into 12-year-old Micki. I wanted to check out the cart with all the glow-in-the-dark gear. I darted over to the gift shops and concession stands to see what they had to offer. I doubled back to watch the costumed performers near the DJ. Then 40-something Micki had to use the restroom, so Hubby and I took a quick break. But soon thereafter, 12-year-old Micki spotted the Country Fair area.
"Let's go there!" she declared. But as we walked toward the fork at the end of Main Street, the Ghost Train arrived. Those waiting to board for the 8 p.m. ride were gathered near the tracks. The whistle was blowing and steam was pouring out as the train pulled up for its first run of the night. As 40-something Micki patiently waded through the onlookers taking picture after picture of the ghostly engine car, Hubby suggested we look around the park for a bit and then line up for the 8:30 departure.
After the train pulled out, we hiked over to the Bone Yard and Haunted House. Along the way, we passed more bathrooms and some photo ops. Throughout the park, you can have your picture taken with costumed characters or against Halloween-inspired backdrops. There is a photo center near the gate, so you can review and purchase souvenir pictures on your way out.
While 40-something Micki knew that we should line up next if we were going to make the 8:30 train, 12-year-old Micki was distracted by the dancing lights on the hill. Again she declared, "Let's go there!"
I have to mention here that our tickets were good for any departure on the night we visited Tweetsie. However, this year, when visitors purchase tickets for the Ghost Train, they must pre-select a train ride departure time. This system alleviates long lines and wait times at the track.
Travel Tip: Purchase tickets early so you can select the Ghost Train departure time of your choosing, as they sell out quickly — especially the earlier departure times.
It probably comes as no surprise, but 12-year-old Micki won out and we made our way to the Country Fair section of the park. The best part of the Ghost Train Festival tickets are all the other wonderful things they include, such as the rides and attractions. The only additional out-of-pocket expenses for which you need to prepare are souvenirs, food and, if you stop in the arcade, games. But as Hubby pointed out, all were reasonably priced.
The rides are geared toward the younger crowd, which is likely why 12-year-old Micki was so excited. However, the Tornado, Round Up, Free Fall and Ferris Wheel were all fair game for adults. While 12-year-old Micki would have ridden them all, 40-something Micki selected the Tornado and Ferris Wheel. Those two rides certainly appeased the child in me. The most incredible part of the Country Fair experience, however, turned out to be something other than the lit up rides amongst festive Halloween décor. When we looked up, the sky was filled with a million stars that were framed by the silhouette of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Travel Tip: Don't forget to look up while you're at Tweetsie. The park is on a mountain. The views are incredible, whether you visit during the day or at night.
You are probably interested in hearing about the main attraction. The reason Hubby and I made the trek to Blowing Rock. The chilling ride through the dark and creepy wooded mountain top. The Ghost Train. Well, we finally boarded in time for the 9:30 departure. The crowds had thinned out and the costumed dancers were readying to perform "Thriller" as soon as the train pulled away. We contemplated hopping out of line to watch the performance. The costumed dancers are pretty amazing and fun to watch. But we decided that would be something for next time.
Travel Tip: Make time to watch the costumed dancers and let the kids dance along with them. We watched a group of kids whipping some nae nae with the dancers before we left the park. If the rest of the attractions don't wear your little ones out for the ride home, the dancers will.
We finally boarded the train. The excitement was palpable. Or maybe it was all the steam pouring out of the engine car and lapping up the sides of the train. When we first sat down, we didn't realize there was a monitor on the train. We could not see it well from our seats, so we moved quickly before the car filled up. A few minutes later, the train pulled out and we were on our way into the dark woods on a scary Halloween monster adventure.
I cannot say more than that, because I don't want to ruin the spooky surprises for those who dare to ride this year's Ghost Train. However, I will offer a few more Ghost Train-specific tips.
Ghost Train Tips
- Arrive and line up early for your departure time so you will have first choice for your preferred train car and seats.
- Select a car in the middle of the train. If you do end up in the first passenger car, sit toward the back. If you are in the last passenger car, sit toward the front.
- Sit where you can see the monitor, as it will be broadcasting throughout the ride.
- It won't matter which side of the aisle you select, both sides are equally scary and exciting.
- The Ghost Train is not recommended for children under age 8 according to the Tweetsie Railroad website, however, we saw younger children on the train while we were there. They sat with their parents and did fine. However, there were a few adults behind us who did not handle the experience as well as the teens with them — I'm sure they've been having nightmares ever since.
There were so many attractions we did not see, like the Freaky Forest or Warp Tunnel. And, of course, we did not partake in the Trick-or-Treating, although 12-year-old Micki was slightly disappointed about that.
Travel Tip: Research the offerings on the Tweetsie website and decide ahead of time which attractions you don't want to miss so you can make the most of your evening at Tweetsie.
Micki Bare is the associate editor/web editor for Piedmont Parent. She is also the author of the Hubbleville Series children’s books and writes a weekly newspaper column. She lives in Asheboro with her husband and three sons.