Best Roller Coasters

The Top Thrill Machines in North America

Whenever you think of amusement parks, chances are you're thinking about roller coasters.

They are the kings of the midways and have been since the earliest days of the amusement industry. Parks love them and prominently feature them. Fans love them and can't stop riding them. But which ones are the best?

I've had the good fortune of riding a ton of thrill machines and have been reviewing them for years. People often ask me to run down my picks for my favorite coasters. It's a fluid list. Parks keep introducing new ones, and the latest rides sometimes turn out to be among the greatest. I'm always tinkering with my best coasters countdown.

Beginning in the early 1990s, the rides began their second Golden Age (the first was during the Jazz Age 1920s when the wooden lattices dotted the U.S. landscape), and their numbers and variety show no signs of letting up. While the basic concept -- trains racing around a track -- has remained more or less intact, ride manufacturers...MORE have been incorporating all kinds of innovative designs and features. Today, you can find magnetically launched coasters, hydraulically launched coasters, inverted coasters, and hybrid wooden and steel models, to name a few varieties.

Just as book reviewers tend to distinguish between fiction and non-fiction titles, and film reviewers maintain categories such as documentaries, animated films, and narrative features, I've developed three lists of best coasters. All of them are based at parks in North America. Are you ready to ride the best?

  • 01 of 04
    Kings-Island-Diamondback.jpg
    ••• © Arthur Levine.

    Most roller coasters today are steel. They trace their history back to 1959 when Disneyland opened the Matterhorn Bobsleds. It was the first thrill machine to use a tubular steel track and polyurethane wheels. The top rides can be found at a number of parks, including Busch Gardens Tampa, Cedar Point, and Six Flags New England. Let's count down the 10 best steel coasters.

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    Roller coasters go all the way back to the 1600s when Russian ice slides were introduced (and to this day, coasters are known in Spanish as montañas rusas, or "Russian mountains"). But mechanical roller coasters that featured a wooden structure and a wooden track started the modern-day love affair with the thrill machines.

    Even though they've been around since the late 1800s and have been eclipsed in popularity by steel coasters, wooden ones still abound and have die-hard fans (myself included). The top contenders are at many parks, such as Holiday World, Coney Island, and Six Flags Great Adventure. Here are the the 10 best wooden coasters.

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    New Texas Giant coaster at Six Flags Over Texas
    ••• The sprawling New Texas Giant is the world's first hybrid wooden and steel coaster. © Arthur Levine.

    There have been many coasters which have combined elements of steel and wooden coasters (including the Cyclone, the famed, classic ride at Coney Island. Its tracks are made of wood, but its structure is steel). But in 2011, an innovative ride designer developed a type of coaster that features a wooden base and a newfangled steel track. You can read more about it my feature, "What is a Hybrid Wooden and Steel Roller Coaster?"

    The rides are wonderful and distinct. In my estimation, the unique coasters deserve their own category. The top hybrids are located at a few parks, including Six Flags Magic Mountain, Six Flags Over Texas, and Six Flags Fiesta Texas. Let's run down the greatest wooden and steel hybrid coasters.

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    Titan-Dusk-2.jpg
    ••• Six Flags. Used with permission.