There are a ton of steel roller coasters. They are, by far, the most popular type of thrill machine. In fact, there are over 5,000 of them worldwide compared to less than 200 wooden ones.
When the first steel coaster, Matterhorn Bobsleds, rolled out at Disneyland in 1959, it differed from wooden rides in two significant ways: Instead of the traditional track found on woodies, it featured a newfangled tubular steel track; and its trains incorporated polyurethane wheels. These are the distinguishing characteristics of steel coasters. Generally, they deliver smoother ride experiences than wooden coasters.
After Matterhorn Bobsleds opened to rave reviews, ride designers quickly began building a slew of them. The materials allowed them to push height and speed thresholds and to develop a wide variety of models. Within the broad category, there are all kinds of steel coaster sub-genres such as inverted coasters, launched coasters, and hypercoasters.
Only a few–10, to be exact—can make this list of North America’s best steel coasters. See if your favorites are among those honored.
There are taller and faster rides out there, but height and speed aren’t everything. It’s about the way that attraction designers create a layout to capitalize on the potential and kinetic energy they generate. It’s about the total ride experience–the way that everything comes together—and Superman offers a near-perfect blend of take-your-breath-away thrills, airtime, coaster elements, pacing, location in the park, and other features. It is, in our opinion, the preeminent hypercoaster and deserves its spot way up (up and away!) at the top of the list. Read our review of Superman the Ride.
Fury 325 at Carowinds in North Carolina
Like Superman the Ride, this giga coaster also presents a near-perfect symphony of ride elements that makes the whole so much greater than the sum of its parts. But Fury 325 does it with a heckuva lot more force. At 325 feet tall (hence its name), it is one of the tallest coasters in the world. And at 95 mph, it is also one of the fastest. Fury 325 makes a bold statement at Carowinds’ front gate by diving under a pedestrian bridge on which visitors enter and leave the park. With all of its pent-up energy, Fury 325 careens through an element-filled course that takes 3 minutes and 25 seconds to complete and spans 6,602 feet, making it one of the world’s longest roller coasters.
There's only one word to describe Apollo's Chariot: smooth. And exhilarating. And one of the best coasters anywhere. (Okay, that's way more than one word. So sue us.) But the operative word is smooth. Opened in 1999, Apollo's Chariot was the first hypercoaster (loosely defined as a ride that rises or exceeds 200 feet, foregoes inversions, and is designed largely for speed and airtime) from ride manufacturer Bolliger & Mabillard. It's hard to believe that a coaster with such monstrous stats—210-foot drop, 73 mph—and that has been in operation for so many years could still be so incredibly smooth. Believe it.
Built by the same company that manufactured Fury 325 (Bolliger & Mabillard of Switzerland, the designer of many of the steel coasters on this list), Leviathan is similar in its ferocious speed and wild height (if a tad shorter and slower) as well as its surprisingly smooth and electrifying ride. It soars high above Canada’s Wonderland and is the highlight of the coaster-crazy park, which is among the parks with the most coasters in the world.
Among the things to love about coasters is airtime, especially (in our humble opinion) the "floater" air that Diamondback delivers in massive doses. The sensations delivered by this airtime machine are freaky. The experience is all the more freaky because Diamondback features stripped-down cars that leave passengers feeling exposed and vulnerable. They also offer stadium-style seating that elevates the seats in the cars’ back rows to give riders a commanding view of the mayhem. Read our review of Diamondback.
With many rides towering over it at Cedar Point, Maverick is proof that bigger is not necessarily better and that great things can come in relatively small packages. And with its twin launches (the second of which revs up from 0 to 70 mph in no time flat), beyond-vertical drop, super-smooth ride, and wild layout, Maverick is a great thing. Read our review of Maverick.
Another hypercoaster from the ride wizards at Bolliger & Mabillard (also known as B&M), Nitro is silky smooth and offers a wonderful combination of extreme height, speed, and airtime.The “out-and-back” layout takes passengers way out in the New Jersey woods before turning around and heading back to the station. Nitro is among some wonderful rides at Great Adventure, including another acclaimed thrill machine (although this one is wooden), El Toro. Read our review of Nitro.
The final B&M hypercoaaster on our list is also the most recent. Set loose to prey on hapless guests at SeaWorld Orlando, the intense ride climbs and drops 200 feet (making it one of Florid’s tallest coasters), hits 73 mph, and is jam-packed with airtime. After sending passengers on a breathless journey, the train takes a final victory lap around the park’s midway before heading back to the station. Read more about Mako.
Time Traveler is perhaps one of the giddiest roller coasters ever built. The audacious ride heads out of the station and immediately drops passengers 100 feet straight down. It then launches them—twice—through a twisted layout that includes three inversions. All the while, their cars spin using a unique magnetic control that prevents them from freely turning and causing undue discomfort. The steampunk-themed ride is the world's tallest, fastest, and steepest spinning roller coaster. It's also the best spinning coaster in North America.
At 305 feet and 90 mph, this intimidating coaster is among the tallest and fastest in the world. Unlike most other hyper and giga coasters, however, the unusual ride isn’t designed for big bouts of airtime. Instead, Intimidator 305 often remains low to the ground and tears through highly over-banked turns. The NASCAR-themed coaster is very discombobulating and very intense. Read our review of Intimidator 305.