Summertime Thrills, Part 1

Roller Coasters. What began as a simple car that rolled down a hill has evolved into an engineering marvel. Roller coasters are bigger, faster, and more thrilling than ever. Thanks to amusement parks and theme parks that kick off their summer seasons beginning Memorial Day weekend, I can sneak away for a day for this quintessential summertime thrill even if I can’t get away for a full-blown vacation.

View of the wooden Colossus roller coaster rising up into the sky.

The stately Colossus at Six Flags Magic Mountain.

Whether you like wooden or steel coasters, an out-and-back, dueling, mad mouse, or twister track, there’s a coaster for you. Today we’ve got a list of the oldie and still goodie, wooden roller coasters. Check back tomorrow for the steel coasters.


The Comet Coaster at The Great Escape

Queensbury, New York, near Lake George

This roller coaster started out in 1927 as the Cyclone at Crystal Beach amusement park near Niagara Falls, Ontario. When the Crystal Beach park closed down, the coaster was saved from the bulldozer, disassembled and rebuilt at The Great Escape & Splashwater Kingdom amusement park near Lake George, New York where its known as The Comet. The classic roller coaster era ride remains surprisingly potent–even among modern-day wooden behemoths.

Height: 95 feet
Top Speed: 55 mph
Drop: 87 feet
Track: Out-and-Back
Height Restriction: 48”
Ride Time: 2 minutes

Colossus at Six Flags Magic Mountain

Valencia, California, just outside Hollywood

You’re likely to experience déjà vu while waiting in line for the Colossus. It was featured as the Screamy Meemy coaster at Wally World in National Lampoon’s Vacation, and has made numerous appearances on film and television over the years.

Height: 125 feet
Top Speed: 62 mph
Drop: 115 feet
Track: Twin, Double Out-and-Back
Height Restriction: 48”
Ride Time: 2 minutes 30 seconds

GhostRider Coaster at Knott’s Berry Farm

Buena Park, California, in Orange County

One of the first things the folks at Cedar Fair (the coaster-crazy crew at Ohio’s Cedar Point) did when they bought Knott’s Berry Farm in the late 1990s was to build the GhostRider coaster; combining the charm of a woodie with the smooth ride and air-time of a modern-day thrill coaster. GhostRider is the longest wooden roller coaster on the West Coast.

Height: 118 feet
Top Speed: 56 mph
Drop: 108 feet
Track: Double Out-and-Back
Height Restriction: 48”
Ride Time: 2 minutes

Texas Giant at Six Flags Over Texas

Arlington, Texas

You’ve probably heard that everything is bigger in Texas, well that saying holds true for their roller coasters, too. Originally debuting in 1990, the Texas Giant has recently awakened from a year-long renovation and now boasts beyond vertical banked turns and at 79 degrees, the steepest drop of any wooden coaster in the world. Though in truth, the renovation converted this coaster from a true woodie into a steel-and-wood hybrid.

Height: 153 feet
Top Speed: 65 mph
Drop: 147 feet
Track: Twister
Height Restriction: 48”
Ride Time: 2 minutes

Swamp Fox at Family Kingdom

Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

Containing several old-school rides, Family Kingdom’s beachfront amusement park has one of the most under-appreciated woodies on the eastern seaboard—the white-latticed Swamp Fox. This coaster delivers just enough thrills without scaring away more timid riders. Though, if you’re an airtime addict, wait for the seats in the last car.

Height: 75 feet
Top Speed: 50 mph
Drop: 65 feet
Track: Double Out-and-Back
Height Restriction: 48”
Ride Time: 2 minutes and 36 seconds

Cyclone at Coney Island

Brooklyn, New York

When the Coney Island Cyclone debuted in the summer of 1927, it cost only $0.25 to ride. It is one of the oldest wooden roller coasters still in operation in the U.S. today. The Cyclone was declared a New York City landmark in 1988 and was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1991.

Height: 85 feet
Top Speed: 60 mph
Drop: 85 feet
Track: Compact Twister
Height Restriction: 54”
Ride Time: 1 minute 50 seconds

Giant Dipper at Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

Santa Cruz, California

Another historic wooden roller coaster, the Giant Dipper was built by Arthur Looff (1888–1970) who wanted it to be a “combination earthquake, balloon ascension, and aeroplane drop” experience. The Giant Dipper and the nearby Looff carousel (built by Arthur Looff’s father) were recognized as a National Historic Landmark in 1987.

Height: 70 feet
Top Speed: 55 mph
Drop: 65 feet
Track: Double Out-and-Back
Height Restriction: 50”
Ride Time: 1 minute 52 seconds

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