Historic Wooden Roller Coasters To Ride On National Roller Coaster Day

If you love historic wooden roller coasters, then you might know that National Roller Coaster Day is coming up soon on Monday August 16. Held annually, the event commemorates the opening of America’s first loop-the-loop coaster designed by Edwin Prescott in 1898. This year, several amusement parks across the country will mark the occasion with …

Historic Wooden Roller Coasters To Ride On National Roller Coaster Day Read More »

Giant Dipper roller coaster taking a turn at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

If you love historic wooden roller coasters, then you might know that National Roller Coaster Day is coming up soon on Monday August 16. Held annually, the event commemorates the opening of America’s first loop-the-loop coaster designed by Edwin Prescott in 1898. This year, several amusement parks across the country will mark the occasion with discounts, gifts or maybe even a free ride. For a few ideas, here are 15 of America’s oldest wooden roller coasters that are still in operation.

The historic Cyclone wooden roller coaster in Coney Island
The Cyclone (credit: Randy Yagi)

Cyclone (1927)

Luna Park
1000 Surf Ave.
Brooklyn, NY  11224
(718) 373-5862

An enduring icon of Coney Island, the Cyclone is a NYC landmark as well as national landmark. It’s also possibly the world’s most famous wooden roller coaster. In fact, it also among the world’s most photographed. Opened June 26, 1927, Cyclone was built by the Harry Baker Company and designed by Vernon Keenan. The Coaster Classic carries 24 passengers and can reach a maximum speed of 60 mph. Additionally, the wooden roller coaster covers 2,640 feet of track and its 85-foot drop was once the second steepest.

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Dragon Coaster (1929)

Playland Park
1 Playland Parkway
Rye, NY  10580
(914) 813-7010

Opened on May 1, 1929, Dragon Coaster was one of the original attractions at one of America’s first planned amusement parks. Designed by Frederick Church, it still features a dragonhead tunnel and a top speed of 55 mph. Two trains with six cars can carry 24 passengers across 3,400 feet of track and top height of 75 feet.

The Dragon In Pop Culture

The Dragon has been featured in popular films like Fatal Attraction, Muppets Take Manhattan and Big , starring Tom Hanks. It was also once the setting for Mariah Carey’s music video Fantasy and appeared in an episode of Mad Men. This is one wooden roller you have to ride at least once in your lifetime.

Giant Dipper (1925)

Belmont Park
3146 Mission Blvd.
San Diego, CA  92109
(858) 488-1549

Completed a year after its namesake wooden roller coaster in Santa Cruz, the Giant Dipper is the flagship ride at Belmont Park. Designed by Prior & Church, the twister has a maximum speed of 48 mph and a height of 70 feet. The track extends across 2,600 feet and can carry two cars with up to 24 riders. Together with the Santa Cruz Boardwalk’s version, the two represent the last operating wooden coasters on the West Coast.

Giant Dipper sign with the Giant Dipper wooden coaster ride behind it at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk
Giant Dipper (credit: Randy Yagi)

Giant Dipper, Santa Cruz (1924)

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk
400 Beach St.
Santa Cruz, CA  95060
(831) 423-5590

The National Historic Landmark at Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is the oldest roller coaster on the West Coast. Together with a design by Prior & Church and completion by Arthur Looff, it’s among the world’s most popular. In fact, since its opening on May 17, 1924 the Giant Dipper has drawn over 66 million thrill-seekers.

Additional Giant Dipper Facts

The venerable out and back track covers 2,640 and two trains with six cars can accommodate 24 riders. Additionally, the seaside attraction has a height of 70 feet, with trains reaching 55 mph after the plunge. Over the years, the Giant Dipper appeared in some notable movies, like Sudden Impact, The Lost Boys, Bumble Bee and Us.

Related: 10 Best Historic Seaside Amusement Parks In America

Jack Rabbit (1920)

15122 Kennywood Blvd.
West Mifflin, PA  15122
(412) 461-0500

Jack Rabbit is not particularly impressive when compared to today’s ultra-faster coasters. But even so, it can be thrilling, particularly as it dashes towards the end. Jack Rabbit was designed by John A. Miller and built by Harry C. Baker. The out and back ride is 2,132 feet long, a height of 70 feet and with a top speed of 45 mph. Opened in 1920, Jackrabbit is tied with its namesake in Rochester as among the world’s oldest wooden roller coasters.

Jack Rabbit (1920)

Seabreeze Amusement Park
4600 Culver Road
Rochester, NY  14622
(585) 323-1900

Although the name is identical, this Jack Rabbit has slightly different dimensions and characteristics. Similarly designed and built by Miller and Baker, this vintage wooden roller coaster is 2,130 feet long, height of 75 feet and top speed of 42 mph. However, this Jack Rabbit added a tunnel in 1928 that makes the finish a bit more spectacular. Besides that, this Jack Rabbit is said to be the oldest continuously operated roller coaster in America.

Leap-The-Dips (1902)

Lakemont Park
700 Park Ave.
Altoona, PA  16602
(814) 949-7275

The length of this ride is just 1,452 feet and its top speed is a mere 10-12 mph. However, Leap-The-Dips is world’s oldest operating roller coaster and National Historic Landmark. In fact, it might be the last of what’s called a side friction roller coaster. Opened June 2, 1902, the classic was designed by E. Joy Morris and built by Federal Construction Company. A Coaster Landmark, Leap-The-Dips will definitely draw a large crowd on August 16.

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Racer (1927)

15122 Kennywood Blvd.
West Mifflin, PA  15122
(412) 461-0500

With its Jack Rabbit, Seabreeze Park may claim to have the oldest continuously operating roller coaster. Although Seabreeze is also older, Kennywood has a larger collection of rides, including three wooden coasters from the 1920s. Among these is Racer, built by Charlie Mach and designed by the previously mentioned John A. Miller. The Racer stands out for its Möbius loop, which allows two trains to travel along the same track yet arrive on opposite sides.

Roller Coaster (1930)

Lagoon Park
375 N. Lagoon Drive
Farmington, UT  84025
(801) 451-8000

With a simple name, Roller Coaster is yet another iconic ride designed by John A. Miller. Called the Lagoon Dipper when it opened on May 27, 1921, it was the first of its kind in the Western U.S. Moreover, it was advertised as the only dipper west of Chicago. Featuring two trains and 12 cars, it extends across 2,500 feet of track and with speeds up to 45 mph.

The Legend (1930)

Arnolds Park
37 Lake St.
Arnolds Park, IA  51331
(712) 332-2183

Another creation from John A. Miller, the Legend gave summer activity a boost when it opened on June 8, 1930. Indeed, it is the last surviving coaster designed by Miller, who was known as the “father of the modern high-speed roller coaster”. Originally called Giant Dips, Legend runs 2,000 feet, has a height of 63 and speeds up to 50 mph. At the top, riders will see a sign that reads “the point of no return” before its thrilling descent.

Thunderbolt (1924)

15122 Kennywood Blvd.
West Mifflin, PA  15122
(412) 461-0500

Unveiled in 1968 yet built in 1924, Thunderbolt is one of the three historic coasters at Kennywood. Originally known as Pippin and designed by John A. Miller, it operated for over 40 years before shutting down in 1967. Thunderbolt opened the following year with some slight modifications. With a length of 3,250 feet, it’s one of the longest wooden roller coasters and has an impressive top speed of 55 mph. That’s due to a series of drops before a 90 foot drop about halfway through.

Thunderhawk (1924)

Dorney Park
4000 Dorney Park Road
Allentown, PA  18104
(610) 395-3724

Designed by Herbert Paul Schmeck, this wooden roller coaster is the oldest operated by Cedar Fair Entertainment Company. Opened as the Coaster on March 30, 1924, Thunderhawk underwent a reconfiguration and now features a figure eight twister section. Today, the track extends 2,767 feet, with a height of 80 feet and 65-foot drop. Alongside this landmark ride is Steel Force, one of the world’s longest steel hypercoasters, with speeds up to 75 mph.

Related: America’s Best Seaside Boardwalks 

Wild One (1917)

Six Flags America
13710 Central Ave.
Upper Marlboro, MD  20721
(301) 249-1500

When it first opened as the Giant Coaster, Wild One stood as the world’s tallest, soaring 98 feet. At the same time, the Miller-Schmeck design called Paragon Park near Boston as its home. However, by 1984 the park closed while placing the thrill ride on auction. Since 1986, Wild One has been a part of Six Flags America, outside Washington D.C.

Wild One Today

After an extension renovation process, Wild One retains its classic appears despite now surrounded by modern rides. On the other hand, it’s fairly long at 4,000 feet, reportedly has an elevation of 108 feet and has speeds approaching 53 mph. The Wild One clearly is among America’s best wooden roller coasters.

Wildcat (1927)

Lake Compounce Family Theme Park
185 Enterprise Drive
Bristol, CT  06010
(860) 583-3300

Not much can be better than a vintage wooden roller coaster at America’s oldest continuously operating amusement park! Opened in 1927 as a double out and back, Wildcat isn’t exceptionally old in comparison to others like the Jack Rabbits. However, it’s one of the oldest at the same location even after extensive renovations. Additionally, its landmark status is supported by a original design by Herbert Paul Schmeck and construction from Philadelphia Toboggan.

Wildcat Today

The Wildcat has a length of 2,746 feet, height of 85 feet and a drop of 78 feet. It features two trains with seven cars for up to 14 riders. Upon its descent the trains can reach up to 48 mph. Like the other featured rides, the Wildcat has landmark status. Visitors can also enjoy Boulder Dash (2000), named the world’s best five times. Equally as impressive is the park itself, having opened in 1846.

Yankee Cannonball (1930) or 1936

Canobie Lake Park
85 N. Policy St.
Salem, NH  03079
(603) 893-3506

This majestic out and back first appeared in Connecticuts’s Lakewood Parkin 1930. Not long after, the park closed, like many others of its time. Fortunately, the Yankee Cannonball found a new home at its current location in 1936. Since then it has operated continuously, despite a weather-related temporary closure.

Yankee Cannonball Today

With a top speed of just 35 mph, Yankee Cannonball is remarkably slow by today’s standards. Nevertheless, it’s a landmark-certified and easily capable of causing riders to hang on a bit harder. Overall length is 2,000 feet while top height is 65 feet, with the steepest drop at 64 feet. Once called Greyhound, the ride can accommodate 18 riders across its six cars and two trains.

About The Author:

Randy Yagi is an award-winning freelance writer who served as the National Travel Writer for CBS Local from 2012-2019. More than 900 of his stories still appear in syndication across 23 CBS websites, including CBS New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and San Francisco. During his peak years with CBS, Randy had a reported digital audience reach of 489 million and 5.5 million monthly visitors. Additionally, his stories have appeared in the Daily Meal, CBS Radio, Engadget and Radio.com. He is a Media Fellow of Stanford University.