Yesterday I posted a list of great wooden roller coasters in the U.S. Today I want to talk about steel roller coasters. Until 1959 the world only knew wooden roller coasters. And along came Walt. In 1959, Disneyland’s Matterhorn Bobsled Ride was the world’s first tubular steel-tracked roller coaster. With steel, roller coaster designers were able to build twists, turns, loops, and other thrills that just weren’t possible with wooden coasters.

The dual tracked Dragon Challenge roller coaster in action.

The dual tracks of the Harry Potter themed Dragon Challenge roller coaster in action.
Photo © Jeff courtesy of

True roller coaster aficionados mark the advent of roller coaster engineering milestones with the same passion as historians mark the Renaissance. The first corkscrew track? The Corkscrew at Knott’s Berry Farms in 1975 (the coaster is still in operation, but is now located at Silverwood Theme Park in Athol, Idaho). The first inverted roller coaster? Batman: The Ride at Six Flags Great America in 1992 (still in operation).

SheiKra at Busch Gardens Africa

Tampa Bay, Florida

North America’s first diving coaster, SheiKra takes riders to the precipice where they dangle for a few heart-stopping seconds before diving into a true 90 degree vertical drop. Retrofitted in 2007, SheiKra now has a floorless passenger chassis, adding to the thrill factor.

Height:200 feet
Top Speed:70 mph
Drop:200 feet
Track:Floorless Dive Coaster
HeightRestriction: 54”
Ride Time:2 minutes 20 seconds

Bizarro at Six Flags New England

Agawam, Massachusetts, in the Pioneer Valley

Since its debut in 2000, this critically acclaimed coaster has consistently placed first or second for Amusement Today’s Golden Ticket Award for Best Steel Roller Coaster. Previously named Superman: The Ride of Steel, this coaster was rethemed and renamed Bizarro (Superman’s evil clone) in 2009.

Height:208 feet
Top Speed:77 mph
Drop:221 feet
Track:Out-and-Back and Twister
HeightRestriction: 54”
Ride Time:2 minutes 35 seconds

Goliath at Six Flags Over Georgia

Atlanta, Georgia

In 2006, Six Flags Over Georgia unveiled the steel megacoaster, Goliath. The coaster opens with a stomach-flipping 17-story drop, and a series of drops, zero-gravity hills, and a giant spiral provide plenty of thrills for airtime lovers.

Height:200 feet
Top Speed:70 mph
Drop:175 feet
HeightRestriction: 54”
Ride Time:2 minutes 45 seconds

Primeval Whirl at Disney’s Animal Kingdom

Walt Disney World, Orlando, Florida

The Primeval Whirl at Disney’s Animal Kingdom is a family-themed, mild-but-wild coaster in the Dinoland U.S.A. section of the park. Passenger cars on this coaster are designed to spin uncontrolled throughout the circuit making each ride unique and adding thrills to the sharp switchback turns and sudden drops characteristic of standard mad mouse style tracks.

Height:43 feet
Top Speed:29 mph
Drop:30 feet
Track:Dual Mad Mouse
HeightRestriction: 48”
Ride Time:1 minutes 30 seconds

Dragon Challenge at Islands of Adventure

Universal Studios, Orlando, Florida

The Dragon Challenge coaster in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter area of Universal Studios’ Islands of Adventure is the only inverted dueling roller coaster in the world. The coaster is themed after the dragon challenge in Book 4 from the Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, with one train cast as the Chinese Fireball dragon and the other as the Hungarian Horntail. The Dragon Challenge features near misses characteristic of dueling track coasters and several inversion loops.

Height:125 feet
Top Speed:57/63 mph (Horntail/Fireball trains, respectively)
Drop:95/115 feet (Horntail/Fireball trains, respectively)
HeightRestriction: 54”
Ride Time:2 minutes 25 seconds

Green Lantern: First Flight at Six Flags Magic Mountain

Valencia, California, just outside Hollywood

2011 will be the year Magic Mountain reclaims the title of Theme Park with the Most Roller Coasters in the World thanks to the addition of its eighteenth (that’s right, 18!) coaster, the all-new Green Lantern: First Flight (scheduled to open in June 2011). A tie-in with DC Comics and the 2011 movie starring Ryan Reynolds, it will be the second 4th dimension coaster in the US; the other is the wildly popular X2, also at Magic Mountain. A 4th dimension coaster positions riders so that they spin on a horizontal axis on either side of the track, think of it as part roller coaster and part Zipper-style carnival ride. However you think of it, this coaster is sure to provide a thrilling and disorienting ride.

Height:107 feet
Top Speed:107 feet
Drop:37 mph
Track:4th Dimension
HeightRestriction: 48”
Ride Time:2 minutes