Do you love roller coasters? You have plenty of company. The popular ride has been king of the midway since the dawn of amusement parks, and it retains that status today. There are over 760 coasters located across the U.S., and parks continue to roll out sleek, new ones every year. So, which ones should be on your bucket list? We've got the answers.
We’re not necessarily talking about the best roller coasters. (Although our list does include a few of the rides we consider to be among the best.) We’ve identified the coasters that we believe, for a variety of reasons, every thrill ride fan should board at least once.
So, get your park posse together, and plan an epic road trip to ride the rails. These are the 12 coasters you owe it to yourself to experience.
Known as a hybrid wooden and steel coaster, Twisted Colossus had been known simply as Colossus before the hotshot ride designers and manufacturers at Rocky Mountain Construction retrofitted the aging wooden coaster with its patented IBox steel track. That transformed what had been an overly rough ride into a wonderfully smooth ride experience that is jam-packed with delirious free-floating airtime.
Passengers experience two lift hills and two drops during its generous ride time of nearly four minutes. Twisted Colossus really shines when its trains sync up and interact with one another. The highlight is a Top Gun Stall element in which one train hangs upside for a few moments and races above another right-side-up train.
Fun fact: The original Colossus had its 15 minutes of fame by being featured in the first "National Lampoon's Vacation" movie as one of the rides at Walley World.
Why you should ride: It's our pick for best overall coaster in the U.S.
There are faster, taller, and wilder steel coasters than Superman (although it is plenty fast, tall, and wild), but in our estimation, there are none that can match its layout and pacing or the sheer joy it delivers. Among its highlights are a potent first drop into a fog-filled tunnel that is followed by an enormous pop of delirious airtime. Superman is a superhero of a ride that offers passengers a chance to experience coaster nirvana.
Why you should ride: Our pick for best steel coaster in the U.S.
When it comes to airtime, there is probably no other U.S. coaster that doles out such intense and sustained rump-rising moments. Putting El Toro through its paces is simultaneously terrifying and exhilarating. With its zippy elevator cable lift, there is barely any time to prepare for the ensuing madness.
At 188 feet, 70 mph, and with a 76-degree angle of descent, the coaster is among the tallest, fastest, and steepest woodies in the US (and the world). Despite its extreme stats, El Toro is surprisingly smooth. It is a bit controversial to list it as the best wooden coaster, because it uses a unique "plug and play" manufacturing method with prefabricated track sections. Regardless of its classified, it is a heckuva ride.
Why you should ride: Our pick for best wooden coaster and freakiest airtime in the U.S.
For sheer roller coaster exhilaration, nothing in the U.S. probably beats Kingda Ka. That’s because no other U.S. ride can match its 128 mph speed. The hydraulic launch rocket coaster roars out of the station and hits the face-melting speed on a straightaway before climbing 90 degrees straight up a 456-foot top hat tower. The train freefalls 90 degrees down the other side of the tower, navigates one hill, and returns to the station less than one minute after it left.
When Kingda Ka debuted it was the world’s fastest roller coaster. It still retains the U.S. record, but has since lost its worldwide crown to a speedier demon in Dubai. The Six Flags ride remains the world’s tallest coaster, however.
Why you should ride: It's the fastest and tallest coaster in the U.S.
In 2018, Rocky Mountain Construction transformed the notoriously rough wooden coaster, Mean Streak, into the hybrid ride, Steel Vengeance. In the process, it created another one of its masterpieces. It climbs 205 feet, drops 200 feet, and revs up to 74 mph, all while remaining impressively smooth. It also added four inversions, including three zero-G rolls. Steel Vengeance is another airtime monster, forcing its passengers to go airborne incessantly.
If Twisted Colossus (above) didn’t include the acrobatic interactions of its two trains, Steel Vengeance might get the nod for the best hybrid coaster in the U.S. (And, it should be noted, the trains don't always sync up on Twisted Colossus.)
Another reason you should ride Steel Vengeance? Because it is at Cedar Point. The park touts itself as “The Roller Coaster Capital of the World.” No self-respecting roller coaster fan would consider his or her life complete without making at least one pilgrimage to the Point. It has a phenomenal collection of 18 thrill machines, which is second only to Six Flags Magic Mountain for sheer quantity.
Why you should ride: Close second for best hybrid coaster in the U.S.
Blasting off at 128 mph and ascending to 456 feet, which is what passengers aboard Kingda Ka (above) experience, is certainly terrifying. It can’t match Kinda Ka’s stats, but X2 may equal — if not exceed — the New Jersey behemoth in the scream-your-lungs-out, I-want-my-Mommy department. It drops a hefty 215 feet at nearly 90 degrees straight down, and it hits an attention-grabbing 76 mph. But get this: Riders face backwards on the lift hill, and their seats spin maniacally as they race through the twisted course.
X2 is the world’s first “4th dimension coaster,” which means the seats are on the “wings” of the train (on either side of the track), and they rotate independently from the movement of the train. This creates a discombobulating and panic-inducing ride the likes of which we’ve never experienced on any other thrill machine.
You should also visit Six Flags Magic Mountain, because it features the most number of coasters of any park in the world: 19 including X2 and Twisted Colossus.
Why you should ride: Perhaps the craziest, if not the most terrifying coaster in the country.
The world‘s first launched wooden coaster, Lightning Rod revs up to 73 mph, which made it the fastest woodie when it opened in 2016. Although it is a wooden coaster, it is remarkably smooth. That’s because it was designed and built by Rocky Mountain Construction and includes the company’s patented, innovative “topper track.”
The airtime is glorious on the thrill machine. And its quadruple down element sends coaster boys and girls into fits of ecstasy. Set in the Smoky Mountain foothills at Dollywood, Lightning Rod is a sight to behold. The wonderful park has a bunch of other wonderful coasters to check out as well.
Update: In late 2020, Dollywood announced that it would be replacing some of the wooden track on Lightning Rod with IBox track to help prevent problems that had been frequently taking the ride out of commission. That means it will no longer be considered solely a wooden coaster.
Why you should ride: It’s one of the best launched coasters. We also used to say that it was one of the best wooden coasters. We can now say that as a combination wooden coaster and hybrid wooden-steel coaster, it is one of the most unique thrill machines out there.
It dates back to 1927 and is located at the amusement shrine, Coney Island. For those reasons alone, you need to make your way to Brooklyn and hop aboard the Cyclone. But the coaster isn’t merely a ride down memory lane. With a first drop at nearly 59 degrees and a top speed of 60 mph, it delivers a surprisingly potent ride. And because its vintage cars don’t include seat dividers, passengers slam into one another as they navigate the course (which, depending on your thrill tolerance, can be a great thing).
Fun fact: Although the Cyclone might be considered the world’s most famous wooden coaster, its structure is actually made of steel. It incorporates traditional wooden tracks, however.
While you are at Coney Island, be sure to give its other classic rides a whirl, including the Wonder Wheel.
Why you should ride: To pay respects to one of the most beloved, classic coasters.
Whenever parks and ride designers develop themed roller coasters, something generally gives. Either the coaster experience or the storytelling elements suffer because the attraction is trying to do justice to both. Typically, both the thrills and the dark ride features are muted. Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure, however, is the rare attraction that is both a great themed experience and a kick-ass thrill machine.
Boasting inspired sets and compelling animatronics (especially the namesake Hagrid), the attraction is a storytelling triumph. But, the coaster side of the equation is equally compelling. It includes seven exhilarating launches (a world record when it opened), a section where the train proceeds backwards, and (spoiler alert) a vertical drop that leaves riders breathless. Universal calls it a "family coaster.” It’s so intense, however, we’ve prepared a guide to help you determine whether you’d be able to handle Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike coaster.
Why you should ride: The best themed roller coaster in the U.S.
Time Traveler at Silver Dollar City in Missouri
One of the giddiest coasters ever built, Time Traveler leaves the station and immediately drops 100 feet into a 90-degree drop. That's followed by two magnetic launches coupled with three inversions all while remaining rock-solid smooth. But, here's the thing that truly distinguishes Time Traveler: It's a spinning coaster.
But not just any spinning coaster. The cars don't rotate freely like other rides that can sometimes cause rider discomfort. Instead, Time Traveler employs a unique magnetic spin control that tempers the rotations, but still turns riders around as they travel along the ride’s course. Silver Dollar City has other great coasters, including Outlaw Run, the first wooden coaster from Rocky Mountain Construction to feature its Topper Track.
Why you should ride: It's the world's fastest, tallest, and steepest spinning coaster. It's also the best spinning coaster in the U.S.
There are many rides at smaller, regional parks that are largely unheralded beyond the area in which it is located. And that’s a shame. Among the most underrated roller coasters in the U.S., we believe that the Comet tops them all.
Like the Coney Island Cyclone, it also dates back to 1927, but it first operated at a park in Canada. The Great Escape transplanted the Comet in 1994 to its park near Lake George and lovingly maintains the woodie. The coaster is loaded with airtime and is a joy to ride from beginning to end.
Also consider making a visit to Six Flags America in Maryland to ride The Wild One, another transplanted wooden coaster that is wonderful and underrated.
Why you should ride: It is among the most underrated and under-the-radar coasters in America.
The Jack Rabbit is a wonderful woodie that dates back to 1920, which makes it the oldest still-operating coaster in the nation (along with another ride known as the Jack Rabbit at Seabreeze in New York). It is built into a ravine at Kennywood and uses the park’s hilly terrain to deliver a wonderful ride.
Kennywood’s other wooden coasters are also quite old. Thunderbolt opened in 1924, and the Mobius coaster, Racer, was built in 1927. If you want to check out additional vintage coasters, the ride simply named "Roller Coaster” at Lagoon in Utah first began thrilling riders in 1921, and California’s two Giant Dipper coasters, one at Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, the other at Belmont Park, both opened in 1924.
Up until recently, you could take a ride on Leap the Dips at Lakemont Park in Pennsylvania. Opened in 1902, it held the distinction of being the country’s oldest continually operating coaster. But the park closed in 2016, and the ride is currently standing but not open.
Why you should ride: It is a great coaster that is among the oldest in the nation.