America’s 12 Oldest Roller Coasters Still in Operation
Nothing screams “roller coaster” more than a classic wooden coaster. Over the past century, hundreds of amazing roller coasters have been erected throughout the country. Many of those amazing coasters are still operating today! Let’s run down a dozen of the nation’s oldest coasters still in operation.
Leap The Dips – 1902
Lakemont Park, Altoona, Pa.Leap the Dips is listed in the National Register of Historic Places as a Historical Landmark. Dropping a whoipping 9 feet and reaching speeds up to a zooming 10 mph, there aren’t a of a lot of screams emanating from Leap the Dips. Nonetheless, It’s still great to experience a ride dating back to nearly the 19th century.
Wild One/Giant Coaster – 1917
Six Flags America, Upper Marlboro, Md.Wild One is a as true as it gets when it comes to wood coasters. it’s one of the most underrated rides in the states. Although it’s only 15 years ahead of Leap the Dips, it is light years ahead in thrills. Standing 98 feet, with a first drop of 88 feet, and hitting speeds up to 53 mph, passengers are in for a wild ride that holds up remarkably well. Known originally as Giant Coaster, it was the featured attraction at Paragon Park in Massachusetts until the seaside park closed. It was moved in 1986 to it’s current Maryland home at Six Flags.
Jack Rabbit – 1920
Kennywood, West Mifflin, Pa.
Kennywood, located just outside of Pittsburgh PA hits the list with three classic woodies! Whereas older parks (the Pittsburgh-area park dates back to 1899) generally remove most of their early rides, Kennywood has kept it’s trio of wooden classics runing. The oldest of the three is the Jack Rabbit built by coaster legend John Miller. Although it only rises 45 feet, it features a 70ft high first drop with a double-dip heading into the the natural ravine. Passengers usually experience some major airtime on the dip. The coaster uses natural topography of the park’s ravine to create a one of a kind unique experience. Recently Vic, a long time member of the ACE group (American Coaster Enthusiast) celebrated the rides 95th anniversary by riding 95 consecutive times in a row. Click here for a video and details about his amazing record.
Jack Rabbit – 1920
Seabreeze, Rochester, N.Y. It has the same name as the Kennywood’s coaster and opened the same year, but the Jack Rabbit at Seabreeze is completely different. It rises and falls 75 feet and sends passengers careening through an enclosed tunnel for a lights-out finale.
Roller Coaster – 1921
Lagoon, Farmington, UtahMost of the parks that are home of the oldest coasters are located in the Northeast, but the circa-1886 Lagoon is located in Utah. It may not have a particularly original name, but the park’s Roller Coaster offers a nice out-and-back layout and delivers 45-mph top speed. The coaster is part white and part natural. Why? well, when built in 1921 the coaster was painted to preserve the wood. Over the years, Lagoon continued the tradition of painting any replacement pieces of the track white. Now, by using treated lumber, painting is not necessary. So before too long, the coaster will be entirely natural in color.
Thunderbolt/The Pippin – 1924
Kennywood, West Mifflin, Pa.Another natural terrain coaster at Kennywood, The Thunderbolt offers a big drop right out of the station. It’s lift hill is in the middle of the ride, and it’s big 90-foot drop doesn’t come until the end of the ride. It crosses under and over Phantom’s Revenge making for some amazing “close call thrills”, although it’s completely safe. The coaster was originally known as The Pippin, before Kennywood redesigned some of it and renamed it to thunderbolt in 1968.
Giant Dipper – 1924
Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, Santa Cruz, CA.Also designated a National Historic Landmark, Giant Dipper is lovingly preserved. With a 65-foot drop and a 55-mph top speed, it provides plenty of G’s and offers great out-of-your-seat airtime. To help build suspense, the train travels through a dark tunnel before it hits the lift hill. It took 47 days to build at a cost of $50,000… chump change compared to the prices of today’s modern coasters.
ThunderHawk – 1924
Dorney Park, Allentown, Pa.Pennsylvania is well represented on the classic coasters list. ThunderHawk built by Philadelphia Toboggan Company, is located at Dorney Park, one of the country’s few remaining trolley parks. When Thunderhawk opened in 1924 and for many years after the ride was known simply as the Coaster. The Coaster was renamed Thunderhawk when the park added the Hercules roller coaster to the park in 1989. Originally, the Coaster was built as an out-and-back coaster, meaning it went straight out from the first drop, turned around and came straight back. The ride was reconfigured in 1930 to its present design with a figure-eight twister section in the middle of the ride. Thunderhawk still features the figure-eight layout and reaches a top speed of 45 mph.
Giant Dipper – 1925
Belmont Park, San Diego, Calif.The Giant Dipper, also known as the “Mission Beach Roller Coaster,” is a historical wooden roller coaster located in Belmont Park, a small amusement park on Mission Beach in San Diego, CA. Designed by the same team responsible for the Giant Dipper in Santa Cruz, the identical-named coaster in San Diego is a similar ride. It also zooms along at a top speed of 55 mph while offering stunning views of the Pacific Ocean. In 1997, the Giant Dipper held a coaster riding marathon sponsored by a local radio station. The marathon consisted of 11 consecutive days riding the coaster for more than 12 hours per day. The radio station arranged a second marathon in 1998, which was eventually won by contestants who split a check for $50,000 in cash prize after riding the coaster for an astonishing 70 days!
Racer – 1927
Kennywood, West Mifflin, Pa.Two trains leave Racer’s station at the same time and compete against one another in a race to the finish. This coaster is unlike other racing coasters as it actually has one continuous track instead of twin tracks. Using a “Mobius” layout that includes a reverse curve, passengers start on one side of the loading station and end their ride on the other side after completing one half of the course. It’s also the only coaster we are using two photos to show it off since it has one of the most unique features of any coaster!
While going around turns, you can actually slap hands with the opposite train as it passes by. This is one of the rides trademark feature that we have to do each time we ride!
Wildcat – 1927
Lake Compounce, Bristol, Conn.Opened in 1846, Lake Compounce has the distinction of being the country’s oldest continuously operating amusement park. Its Wildcat coaster sits pretty at the park’s main entrance. It’s another classic landmark coaster built by the Philadelphia Toboggan Company. Climbing 85ft high and accelerating to speeds of 48 mph, it’s not too intense making it popular with younger guests.
Cyclone – 1927
Luna Park at Coney Island, Brooklyn, N.Y.One of, if not the most famous coasters in the country, Cyclone is registered as a National Historical Landmark. Standing at 85 feet and dropping at a steep 59-degree angle, it reaches an intense 60 mph for just under a two minute ride. Sticking with the original design, the cars do not have seat dividers. They navigate the Cyclone’s many twists and turns, seatmates invariably slam into one another similar to Kennywood’s Thunderbolt. In 2012 Luna Park started a major refurbishment of The Cyclone, which is planned to take five years and take place during the off season, allowing for regular season operation. The refurbishment is under control by GCI (Great Coasters International).
Hopefully everyone will get the chance to ride at least a few of these icon coasters before any of them go down. Let us know which ones you have been on in the comments below or on our socials. We would love to see some photos of our fans riding these historic machines!
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