When Disney announced they would be building Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge in Disneyland park, it also came with the unfortunate news that part of the land it would take over was Big Thunder Ranch. I realize, for most people, this probably wasn’t a big deal, but Big Thunder Ranch was super unique for a place like Disneyland and holds a special place in my heart.
It’s no secret that Walt Disney World is more of a tourist resort and Disneyland Resort caters more toward locals. That’s why Big Thunder Ranch worked so well in Disneyland park. If you were someone making that once-in-a-lifetime vacation to Disneyland, you most likely skipped over Big Thunder Ranch – and I wouldn’t blame you. There weren’t any grand rides inside this area, but it did allow for a nice little breather for frequent visitors to relax and take in the scenery, festivities and animals.
Big Thunder Ranch felt to me like a homegrown festival of sorts. Throughout the year, the décor would change to reflect the current season and many special festivities took place there. It was the perfect space to meet your favorite Disney bunnies during the Easter season, enjoy a barbecue in the summer months, check out all of the carved pumpkins during the autumn and meet Santa Claus when the winter came. With the loss of Big Thunder Ranch, there hasn’t really been a good replacement area for a lot of those offerings.
Throughout the years, the space also offered live shows including one inspired by “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” and it became an eventual home for Billy Hill and the Hillbillies. Having a performance space that is easily adaptable, allowing for different offerings throughout the year, is a huge bonus for a park like Disneyland where the locals are constantly looking for something new.
The petting zoo area of Big Thunder Ranch was a huge hit for young children. You can give kids all of the high-tech attractions you want, but the interaction they have with a live animal will most often pique their interest.
Big Thunder Ranch also offered fantastic barbecue meals in the perfect setting. I had the pleasure of eating there several times, and I’m certainly glad I did. Sitting at those picnic tables on a fall day with so much barbecue to choose from was a theme park diner’s delight.
Overall, Big Thunder Ranch felt like a place designed especially for the park’s frequent visitors. There was no big E-ticket attraction, but its innocent and hometown feel kept bringing me back. There’s no denying that the epic new planet that took its place is a grand addition to Disneyland, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t often think about the joyous times I spent at Big Thunder Ranch when walking past the entrance to Batuu.
How did you feel about Big Thunder Ranch? Were you someone who visited frequently, or would you just walk on by? If you did visit, did you have a favorite time of year or festivity to attend there?
If you have any theme park topics you would like to hear my opinion on, let me know in the comments. You might just see it pop up in a future DePaoli on DeParks.
Jeff DePaoli is a producer and voiceover artist living in Los Angeles. He can be heard as the voice of Disney Trivia on Alexa as well as the host of “Dizney Coast to Coast,” the ultimate, unofficial Disney fan podcast. Get your FREE gifts of “America’s Hidden Mickeys,” “On the Rohde Again,” “Theme Park Comfort Kit” and more at DizneyCoastToCoast.com.