Butterfield Stagecoach Ride at Knotts Berry Farm
What's a Stagecoach?
Back in the 1800's and early 1900's, if you wanted to travel a long distance, you would probably climb into an enclosed wooden wagon pulled by a team of four horses. This transportation vehicle was called a stagecoach because it traveled from one staging station to another so the horses could be changed between each leg of the trip. The stagecoach driver sat on top of the coach and he was at times accompanied by a man with a gun whose job was to protect the passengers and cargo as the coach made its way through often isolated and dangerous territory.
Passengers sat inside the coach which was often over-stuffed with up to nine people who could be inside the coach all day for days or weeks. But alas, as steam powered trains began to become more common in the late 1800's, travel by stagecoach began to fade away into the past.
At Knotts Berry Farm in Buena Park, California, you can get a feel for what it was like to travel in a stagecoach back in the day. The Butterfield Stagecoaches at Knotts are authentic stagecoaches representing those that were used by the Butterfield Overland Mail Company. During the days of stagecoach travel, the Butterfield Overland Mail Company transported people and mail from St. Louis, MO and Memphis, TN to San Francisco, CA.
Riding the Stagecoach Ride
Just like riding a rollercoaster, you can experience the stagecoach ride in different ways depending on where you sit. OK, a rollercoaster and a stagecoach ride are two entirely different things, but the seating choice is important for both. You can sit inside the carriage, on top of the carriage in the front or on top of the carriage in the rear. Talk to the attendant when you reach the loading area for the ride and he or she will direct you to the right queue for where you'd like to sit.
I think the best place to ride the stagecoach is on top behind the driver. That's where I rode when I recorded the video that's located at the end of this article. That seat is higher up so you'll get an unobstructed view of the park and everything around you. You'll also get an amazing view of the four horses and the driver(s) working the reigns to speed them up, slow them down or turn them. I suppose in the days of horse drawn carriages, seeing a team of four horses was common place, but for most people today, seeing the horses walk, trot, gallop and almost run at times is exciting to watch!
You can also get a great view of the park if you sit in the top rear seat facing backwards, but you won't be able to see the horses. The downside to the seats on top of the coach is that you are out in the elements, so if it's raining, it's a cold day or you're looking to get out of the sun, you might want to sit inside the coach.
If you sit on the inside of the coach, keep in mind that the horses pull the carriage in a counter clockwise direction mostly around the perimeter of the park. Sitting on the left side of the coach will give you a view of some things like the Calico Train should it chug by, but sitting on the right side of the coach will give you a view of much more.
Another thing to consider is the seating arrangements inside the carriage. The front row faces towards the rear and the middle row faces forward so the people in these rows face each other. With up to three people in a row, this would be good for larger parties. The rear row faces forward and you won't be facing anyone. The next time I head out to Knotts, I think I'll experience the stagecoach ride from inside the coach on the right side of the rear row.
Wherever you sit, be sure to follow the rules below for proper stagecoach travel etiquette as posted in the ride boarding area!
You might think that the old-style metal springs suspension and wooden wheels on the Butterfield era stagecoach would produce a jarring ride, but it was surprisingly smooth. I suppose that's at least partly because the stagecoach only travels on a smooth and regularly maintained path. I imagine that taking a stagecoach ride in the 1800's on the Overland Trail through the rough terrain of the western territories would be a noticeably different experience!
When to Ride
While I was at the park in March, the line to get on the stagecoach ride at Knotts Berry Farm wasn't long in the morning. I don't think that the ride is operating when the park first opens, but it seemed to be running shortly thereafter. It takes the horses about ten minutes to pull their passengers around the park and there's often more than one stagecoach on the path at the same time.
Later in the day after people have been on the big and exciting rides, the line for the stagecoach can get longer, so I recommend that you ride in the morning to avoid the lines and the hot sun in the summer months. For most people going to Knotts, that probably means riding all the headliner rides the first few days visiting the park and then riding the Butterfield Stagecoach ride in the morning on a subsequent day.
On my next visit to Knotts Berry Farm, I'd like to ride the stagecoach at night. I've seen pictures of the stagecoach running at night from a while back, but I'm not sure if it still runs at night or what the night time schedule is.
By the way, there aren't any scary villains to "hold up" the carriage like on the Calico Train ride, so the little ones can ride the stagecoach. Now that I think of it, there's also no narration over a loudspeaker or multi-media show to keep kids' attention, so I suppose they could get bored. I don't think that many young kids will get caught up like I did imagining what it was like to ride a stagecoach back in the days before cars :) Although that said, the little boy riding in the back of the coach at the end of the video below seemed to like the ride!
Final ThoughtsAs an adult, I really enjoyed the Butterfield Stagecoach ride at Knotts Berry Farm. It was amazing to see a team of four horses and experience a mode of travel from days gone by. It was a nice break from the excitement of roller coasters, standing in line and walking around the park. The stagecoach ride is a unique experience and can be a nice way to spend some relaxing time with your significant other. Plus, if you time it right, where else can you pass by a steam train while you're on a stagecoach being pulled by horses? Sadly, I didn't see the train on my ride as it was out of service that day (play the sad trombone sound).
You might be taken "out of the moment" and pulled back into the twenty-first century at times by the screams from the roller coasters and the traffic on La Palma Ave and Beach Boulevard which are just on the other side of the fence that runs along part of the stagecoach's path, but these are brief distractions for an otherwise enjoyable experience. And sitting in the coach on the right-hand side would help to minimize the sounds from outside the park.
There's a similar ride at Disneyland, just a few minutes down the road from Knotts. To me, the horse pulled streetcar on Main Street at Disneyland and the stagecoach ride at Knotts are different experiences. The Disneyland streetcar has a single horse that slowly walks along the route. It seems to me that the Disneyland streetcar is as much a means of transportation between the park entrance and the Castle as it is a ride.
The team of horses pulling the stagecoach at Knotts Berry Farm can get moving fairly fast which - at least from the seat at the top front of the carriage - is a more exciting to experience. I like both rides, but if I could only ride one of them for the rest of my life then I'd pick the stagecoach. Don't tell my Disney friends that I said that!
Watch the Video
Here's a video of the Knotts Berry Farm Butterfield Stagecoach ride taken from the front seat on top of the carriage. You'll get a great view of the team of four horses pulling the coach along. When the ride first starts, the horses trot and gallop to pull away from the station. And they get moving again towards the end of the video to ascend the elevated pathway. For most of us modern urbanites, it really is something to see. The reaction of the little boy at the end of the ride summarizes my thoughts on the ride nicely :)
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