If you are a fan of roller coasters, Pennsylvania is a great state to live in.
First of all, Altoona’s Lakemont Park features Leap-The-Dips, the world’s oldest operating coaster, which dates back to 1902.
Today, Pennsylvania has four major theme parks with a wide variety of wooden and steel roller coasters that will please novice riders as well as true coaster daredevils.
Also, Centre County’s location in the, well, center of the state is good for park visitors, because all of Pennsylvania’s major amusement parks are less than a three-hour drive from State College.
Here is one person’s opinion of the top 10 roller coasters that the Keystone State has to offer.
1. Phoenix, Knoebels
The Phoenix may not be the tallest or fastest coaster on this list, but it delivers something that can’t be measured using numbers: A great ride experience. After the initial 78-foot drop, the coaster then goes out and back several times over hills of different sizes. As the ride goes on, it seems to get increasingly fast and out of control. What truly makes this ride legendary is the frequent negative gravity, or sensation of floating in your seat. Coaster fans call this airtime. Although the Phoenix is very forceful, it is never too rough, due to good maintenance. The Knoebels crew spends many hours during the offseason replacing track and rehabilitating the coaster as needed. This coaster dates back to 1947, when it was built in San Antonio. The ride was later dismantled and put back together at Knoebels in 1985, giving the coaster its mythical moniker.
2. Skyrush, Hersheypark
Hersheypark’s first coaster to top the 200-foot mark didn’t open until 2012, but it was worth the wait. The fast cable lift takes riders to the 212-foot summit in just 10 seconds. Then comes the crazy first drop, which occurs at a nearly vertical 85 degrees, and accelerates the coaster to 75 mph. This is followed by an intense series of tight turns and five airtime hills that constantly give you the sensation that you will be thrown out of your seat. Needless to say, this ride, the most intense coaster on this list, is not for the faint of heart.
3. Phantom’s Revenge, Kennywood
At 85 mph, this is the Keystone State’s fastest coaster and also has the longest drop. What is unusual about this coaster is that the longest drop doesn’t happen at the beginning of the ride. After a seemingly endless chain lift, the coaster starts out with a curved 160-foot drop. The coaster ascends again and hits the big drop, a staggering 228-foot plunge. As you drop, you pass through the structure of the Thunderbolt, another of the park’s coasters, which provides riders with a "headchopper" effect. What sets this coaster apart is the way it uses the terrain to its advantage, as it sits on the edge of a ravine with the Monongahela River below.
4. Fahrenheit, Hersheypark
This coaster’s claim to fame is the 97-degree first drop. The 121-foot, beyond vertical drop is definitely memorable. The coaster then goes through a tightly packed layout featuring six inversions, and a couple of good airtime moments. This coaster is well-designed, packing a lot of entertaining, well-paced elements into a small space.
5. Storm Runner, Hersheypark
Here is another coaster that is not for the faint of heart. After leaving the station, the train stops, and an announcement says, "Now get ready, here we go!" The moment you hear the word "go," the coaster is launched to 72 mph in two seconds. Before your body is able to process what just happened, you are going up, straight up, then straight down 180 feet. The coaster then goes into a series of wicked inversions, including including the so-called "flying snake dive," which is difficult to describe in words — it must be experienced. The only drawback to this coaster is that it’s a short ride, lasting only about 45 seconds from the launch to the brake run at the end of the ride.
6. Great Bear, Hersheypark
This is one of two inverted coasters in Pennsylvania, meaning that the track is above the cars, and riders’ feet dangle from the seat. After the drop, riders go through a vertical loop and several other elements in quick succession. Like other great coasters on this list, the ride is forceful but very smooth. Because of its close proximity to other rides, Great Bear provides some good "headchopper" and "arm chopper" moments as it weaves its way through and between the SooperDooperLooper coaster and Coal Cracker log flume.
7. Lightning Racer, Hersheypark
This is an ingeniously designed ride that puts a new twist on the racing coaster (in which two trains race on separate tracks to reach the finish line), by adding an element where the two coasters appear to be spiraling toward each other head-on. This is a fun, relatively smooth wooden coaster with lots of twists, turns and airtime. And, like any racing coaster, it is always fun to heckle the riders in the opposing train.
8. Thunderbolt, Kennywood
This classic wooden coaster, which dates back to 1924, has a very unconventional layout, which makes for an interesting ride. First of all, as you leave the station, instead of going up a lift hill, you hit a drop, which takes many riders by surprise. The lift hill occurs in the middle of the ride, followed by a helix, which will pin you against the person sitting next to you (you are required to have a partner for this ride). The ride concludes with some dramatic drops into a ravine, and then saves the best for last — a 95-foot drop, the largest drop on the coaster, which gives you so much airtime you will almost be standing up.
9. Steel Force, Dorney Park
This is another 200-foot-tall coaster that offers a great ride. The initial drops provide some good airtime, and these are followed by a downward helix that will have you pushed against the side of the seat. However, Steel Force doesn’t measure up to the other 200-foot coasters on the list, Phantom’s Revenge and Skyrush. The main reason is the coaster hits the brakes before the smaller bunny hills on the return trip to the station, slowing the coaster down too much and taking a lot of the fun out of the second half of the ride as opposed to Phantom’s Revenge and Skyrush, which never let up from beginning to end.
10. Twister, Knoebels
Rounding out this list is the second wooden coaster at Knoebels. The staff knew they had a hard act to follow to create a ride that was even comparable to the legendary Phoenix. They succeeded, because this is a great coaster. Although Phoenix and Twister are both wooden coasters with a long history (Twister is based on the design of Mister Twister, a coaster at a closed park in Colorado), Twister provides a completely different ride experience. While the Phoenix is an airtime machine, the Twister lives up to its name, taking the rider through all sorts of turns and helixes. The Twister is faster and more forceful than the Phoenix but is still a relatively smooth ride.