Roller coasters are supposed to be scary. That’s their raison d’être. But not all coasters are created equal. Let’s run down the 11 scariest roller coasters in North America.
Unlike other ride compilations, such as the 12 longest coasters, this list is somewhat subjective. What some consider to be thrilling may make you say, “Pffft. You call that scary?” Then again, hurtling along at 90+ mph and pulling 5Gs—all while hanging upside down—is pretty much the definition of scary, isn’t it? (Don't worry, they're all safe to ride!)
Some of the coasters are exceptionally fast; others are crazy tall; a few include wacky features created by what must be slightly mad ride engineers. Many combine a number of fear factors. All of them generate screams and incite fear.
Let’s run down the scariest coasters in reverse order. We’ll start our terrifying tour at “America’s Roller Coast.”
The Most Scream-tastic Rides
Number 11: Millennium Force at Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio
At 310 feet, Millennium Force is so tall, Cedar Point and the ride’s designers came up with a new category designation: the “Giga-Coaster.” To get to the top of its extra-long lift hill, it was among the first coasters to use a zippy elevator cable instead of the more traditional (and pokier) chain lift. And capitalizing on its 310 feet of pent-up energy, it reaches a blistering 93 mph, making it one of the world’s fastest coasters. In other words, Millennium Force is plenty scary. Surprisingly, despite its extreme height and speed, the wild coaster disappoints in its ability to generate any appreciable airtime.
Other Cedar Point rides include the wonderful launch coaster, Maverick, the groundbreaking Magnum XL-200, and the superb Steel Vengeance. Formerly known as Mean Streak, the wooden coaster got a hybrid wooden-steel makeover in 2018. With a 200-foot, 90-degree drop, a top speed of 74 mph, and loads of airtime, Steel Vengeance is plenty scary in its own right.
Number 10: Fury 325 at Carowinds in Charlotte, North Carolina
Made by Bolliger & Mabillard, Fury 325 rises high (would you believe 325 feet?), goes fast (95 mph), and is steep (81 degrees). The exceptionally long ride snakes throughout Carowinds and includes a harrowing dive into a tunnel beneath the park’s entrance path.
Number 9: El Toro at Six Flags Great Adventure in Jackson, New Jersey
It's not nearly as tall or fast as the first coasters on the list (although at 70 mph, it is among the 10 fastest wooden roller coasters), but El Toro has something those rides lack: scads of airtime. In fact, it delivers more extreme out-of-your-seat airtime than any coaster we've ever ridden. And that makes it both wonderful and incredibly scary. In addition to being among the most thrilling thrill machines, the New Jersey ride is also one of the best wooden roller coasters.
Numbers 8, 7, an 6 (tie): Griffon, SheiKra, and Valravn
You want wacky elements? The three similar rides are “dive coasters.” Their floorless, extra-wide, single-car coaster trains tackle huge lift hills and come to a halt just over the edge of their precipices. It’s only a few seconds, but it feels like an eternity as passengers dangle at the top of the hill until they are mercifully released into 90-degree (as in straight down) dive drops. In case you had any doubts that these rides are scary, read our reviews of Griffon and SheiKra. In 2016, Cedar Point upped the ante for dive coasters when it opened the taller and faster Valravn.
Number 5: Intimidator 305 at Kings Dominion in Doswell, Virginia
The Giga-Coaster is in the same league as the huge steel rides at the beginning of this list, but Intimidator 305 (named after NASCAR legend, Dale “the Intimidator” Earnhardt) is, well, more intimidating than its sister coasters. At 85 degrees (just a few degrees short of a straight shot), its first drop is a doozy. The crushing positive G-forces at the bottom of the drop will probably rattle you. And wild elements such as abrupt changes in overbanking turns goose the thrills.
No. 4: Superman: Escape from Krypton at Six Flags Magic Mountain in Valencia, CA
What’s more scary than launching at 100 mph up a 415-foot tower? Launching at 100 mph up a 415-foot tower while facing backwards. One of the first coasters to hit a triple-digit speed, Superman requires nerves of steel. Read our five-star review of Twisted Colossus, another Magic Mountain ride.
Number 3: X2 at Six Flags Magic Mountain in Valencia, California
It’s shorter and slower than most of the rides on the list, but holy moly, X2 is Scary with a capital “S.” The world’s first “4th dimension” coaster, its seats independently rotate to and fro on either side of the track. The effect is unnerving to the point of nervous breakdown-causing. The most hardened ride warrior would find it difficult to refrain from screaming when X2 unloads its arsenal of thrills.
Numbers 2 and 1 (tie): Kingda Ka and Top Thrill Dragster
Kingda Ka is at Six Flags Great Adventure, and Top Thrill Dragster is at Cedar Point.
If tall and fast equates to scary, it’s no wonder these two top the list. At 456 feet and 128 mph for Kingda Ka and 420 feet and 120 mph for Top Thrill Dragster, they’ve got the stats to scare anyone silly. The similar rides use hydraulic launch systems to rocket their startled passengers up and over 90-degree tophat towers. In a word: yikes.
Not Rated: Skyscraper at Skyplex in Orlando, Florida
It’s not open yet, but Skyscraper would likely take the top spot on the scariest roller coasters hit parade. At 550 feet, the “polercoaster” would handily beat Kingda Ka as the world's tallest coaster. It would use a 90-degree lift hill in the center of its tower to quickly bring its single-car trains to the nosebleed level. It would be crazy enough to be accelerating, twisting, and turning as the cars make their way down the outside of the tower, but Skyscraper is designed to include inversions. That’s right: Intrepid riders would be flipped head over heels more than 500 feet in the air.
There have been a number of delays in the development of Skyplex, and it's unclear whether the ride and entertainment complex will open at all. According to the most recent announcement, Skyscraper and Skyplex are supposed to open sometime in 2020, but construction is on hold as of July 2020.