There is something eerie and off-kilter about abandoned amusement parks. Once teeming with life, the click-clack of the roller coasters and their squealing passengers have been silenced. Rust and the patina of time have decimated the mechanical rides. The colorful midways have been muted and overrun with weeds.
And yet there is something compelling about the neglected properties. Whether or not people had visited the sites in their prime, they can experience a pang of melancholia and a hint of nostalgia for what has been lost. There is perhaps a bit of voyeurism in seeing the vibrant parks stripped of their essence and partially returned to nature.
Let's venture through the weeds and take a peek at 10 abandoned U.S. amusement parks.
Six Flags New Orleans
The Louisiana park may be the most famous abandoned park in the country. Opened in 2000 and originally known as Jazzland, the Six Flags company scooped up the independent park and rebranded it Six Flags New Orleans in 2002. Hurricane Katrina devastated the park (along with the rest of the city and the surrounding area) in 2005. The damage proved too great, and Six Flags walked away from the property.
Now owned by the city of New Orleans, there have been a number of plans floated to redevelop the site, but nothing has progressed to date. Motorists on Interstate 10 can still see remnants of the Zydeco Scream roller coaster, the Big Easy Ferris wheel, and other artifacts of the park. The forlorn property stands as a grim reminder of Katrina.
No abandoned water park is more noteworthy than River Country. Originally opened in 1976 at Walt Disney World in Florida, it is arguably the world’s first major water park. (Wet 'n Wild Orlando is often credited as the original water park, but it opened a year after River Country.)
Located next to Fort Wilderness campground and part of Bay Lake, the Imagineers designed the water park as an old-fashioned swimming hole. River Country inspired Disney World to build two larger water parks, Typhoon Lagoon (opened in 1989) and Blizzard Beach (opened in 1995). The flashier parks overshadowed River Country, and Disney eventually closed and abandoned the park in 2001.
The fenced-off property rotted away for years. In 2018, the company announced that the site would be redeveloped into the Disney Vacation Club resort, Reflections – A Disney Lakeside Lodge. It was originally scheduled to open in 2022, but the COVID-19 pandemic has stalled plans.
One of the oldest and most high-profile amusement parks to be abandoned, Ohio’s Geauga Lake first opened in 1888. Generations of visitors rode its Big Dipper wooden coaster from 1925 to 2007; in its later years, the park went through a tumultuous period and a succession of owners, including Six Flags and Cedar Fair Entertainment Company. Due to declining attendance and a focus on its more successful Ohio parks, Cedar Point and Kings Island, Cedar Fair put Geauga Lake out of its misery in 2016.
Land of Oz
Located in North Carolina (and not, as you might expect, Kansas), Land of Oz operated from 1970 to 1980. The park brought the famous “The Wizard of Oz” movie (and the book on which it is based) to life. But, its owners didn’t reinvest in the park, attendance dwindled, and it sat neglected as vandals destroyed the property. Compared to the other properties on this list, though, the Land of Oz has a happy ending (not unlike the movie). New owners began restoring parts of the park (check out the flower-lined Yellow Brick Road above) and it is now available for private tours and occasional events that are open to the public. It's not a working theme park, per se, but more of a museum.
Ghost Town in the Sky
Another North Carolina park, Ghost Town in the Sky opened in 1961 and closed in 2002 after repeated ride failures and the owner’s economic woes. Since then, a few developers have tried, unsuccessfully, to reopen the property. The only way to get to the mountaintop park was via chairlift or incline car. The Wild West-themed attraction included the Red Devil Cliffhanger roller coaster and other rides as well as period characters such as gunslingers. It has now become an actual ghost town.
Rocky Point Park
There used to be hundreds of seaside parks throughout the U.S. Due to changing times and tastes, most have closed, including Rocky Point Park. Located along Rhode Island’s coast, the park operated from the early 1900s through 1995. It was as famous for its "World’s Largest Shore Dinner Hall," which featured signature clam cakes and clam chowder, as it was for its coasters and other rides. The property is now a state-run park; faint echoes of the amusements remain.
Another New England site that has been closed and abandoned is Lincoln Park in Massachusetts. It operated from 1894 to 1987. Its stately wooden coaster, Comet, has been slowly rotting away ever since. Known as a "trolley park," the Union Street Railway Company operated Lincoln Park as a way to generate revenue on the weekends when commuters weren’t using its trains to travel to and from work or to shop. More modern amusement and theme parks, accessible by car, supplanted the trolley parks. (Among the few that remain is Quassy Amusement Park in Connecticut.)
Chippewa Lake Amusement Park
Another Ohio park that has been lost to the carousel of time, Chippewa Lake operated from 1878 to 1978. Dwindling attendance at the small park was its death knell. Among the highlights of its 100-year history was a wooden roller coaster that dates to 1885. Workers had to manually lift the cars to the top of the hill of the non-mechanical ride. Much of the property has been razed, but one of the rides that remains is the rusting Tumble Bug (pictured above).
One of the more unusual entries on the list, Dogpatch, USA was based on the fictional town depicted in the (now defunct) Li’l Abner comic strip penned by Al Capp. Located in the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas, it operated from 1968 through 1993. As with many abandoned parks, it suffered from falling attendance and lack of capital improvements.
This Kansas park was open from 1949 to 2006. Among Joyland’s signature rides were the Nightmare wooden coaster and the dark ride, Whacky Shack (pictured). Larger and more sophisticated regional parks such as Six Flags made it difficult for small parks such as Joyland to compete.