Until the introduction of the Matterhorn at Disneyland in 1959, the world's first tubular steel roller coaster, thrill machines typically had wooden tracks. With the advent of modern steel coasters, ride engineers were able to design much faster rides. Today, the fastest roller coasters are all steel (with the fastest topping out at a face-melting 149.1 mph). However, ride designers have made progress in building ever-faster wooden coasters as well and have recently nudged past the 70-mph mark—which is really fast for a coaster made of wood.
Most of the speed demons are located in the U.S. Some of the rides at the top of the list are a bit controversial in that they are not traditional wooden coasters. Let's start the top-10 countdown with one of the non-conventional rides.
The innovative Rocky Mountain Construction (see number 6 below) owns the top spots on the speedy wooden coasters list, including the world's fastest, Lightning Rod. It is the world's first launched wooden coaster. In addition to being incredibly fast, the Dollywood ride garners enthusiastic praise from coaster fans. Read our (enthusiastic) review of Lightning Rod.
Lightning Rod update: In late 2020, Dollywood announced that it would be replacing some of the ride’s wooden track with steel IBox track, the kind that is used on hybrid wooden-steel coasters. The modification is being done to address problems that have plagued Lightning Rod since its debut and have caused the park to frequently close the coaster for repairs. The layout will remain the same and all indications are that the ride’s stats, including its 73-mph top speed, will remain intact. However, when it reopens in 2021, Lightning Rod would no longer be considered a wooden coaster; rather it would be a combination wooden and hybrid wooden-steel coaster (the only ride in the world with that designation). Technically that would seem to disqualify it from this list and make Goliath (below) the fastest wooden coaster.
- Dollywood, Tennessee
Another Rocky Mountain Construction coaster that uses its patented Topper Track (see number 6 below), Goliath hits a top speed of 72 mph. Unlike traditional woodies, such as the other Six Flags Great America coaster on this list (see number 9 below), the newer ride may not be considered a wooden coaster by ride purists. It is also the tallest and steepest (a near-vertical 85 degrees) wooden coaster in the world. Read more in our review of Goliath.
- Six Flags Great America near Chicago, Illinois
Wildfire - 71.5 mph
Opened in spring 2016, Wildfire clocks in as the world's third-fastest wooden roller coaster, lagging Goliath by a fraction of a mile-per-hour. It also boasts a long (161 feet) and steep (83 degrees) drop. Another Rocky Mountain Construction ride, it features the company’s Topper Track. It also includes three inversions.
- Kolmarden, Ostergotland, Sweden
The stellar El Toro, which is among the best roller coasters, also uses an innovative track design that makes its leap to the top of the fastest coaster list somewhat questionable. Unlike a traditional woodie (or the wood-steel hybrid design championed by Rocky Mountain Construction), the Six Flags Great Adventure ride features prefabricated "plug-and-play" track sections that enable El Toro to be remarkably smooth as well as incredibly fast.
You can read about the intriguing track and the wonderful ride in our review of El Toro.
- Six Flags Great Adventure, New Jersey
Colossos - 68.4 mph
With a stomach-dropping drop of 159 feet, the aptly named Colossos revs up to a hearty 68.4 mph. The coaster opened in 2001, but closed in 2016. It was refurbished and reopened in 2019.
- Heide Park, Lower Saxony, Germany
This is where the fastest wooden roller coaster rankings first ran into a bit of a speed bump. Opened in 2013, Outlaw Run incorporates the innovative "Topper Track" developed by ride manufacturer Rocky Mountain Construction. Unlike a traditional wooden coaster, a steel runner covers the entire length of track in the newfangled rides. That allows the trains to use polyurethane wheels (similar to the ones that are used on steel coasters) and to perform elements such as inversions that most wooden coasters are incapable of delivering. It also allows the modified coasters to go faster than traditional wooden coasters—hence the problem with the rankings.
You can also read about another Rocky Mountain wooden coaster innovation, the "Iron Horse" track, in our review of Iron Rattler.
- Silver Dollar City, Missouri
One of three world-class wooden coasters at the family-owned Holiday World park in the small town of Santa Claus, Indiana, Voyage stands tall above the rest and ranks among the highest, longest, and steepest woodies in the world as well as one of the fastest. It is a sensational ride (if a tad rough) and gets a nod here as one of the best roller coasters in the world. Read a review of Voyage.
- Holiday World, Indiana
The Boss - 66.3 mph
With a mere 3/10 of a mile-per-hour separating American Eagle from The Boss (which has nothing to do with Bruce Springsteen, by the way) they might trade positions in the fastest roller coaster rankings on any given day depending on weather conditions, the weight of passengers, and other variables.
Instead of the traditional white-painted lattice found on older wooden coasters, the Six Flags St. Louis speedster uses the unpainted pressure-treated lumber used for most modern-day woodies. The enormous ride spans over 5000 feet (making it one of the longest in the world) and drops an impressive 150 feet (which also ranks highly among the world's thrill machines.)
- Six Flags St. Louis, Missouri
It might be more accurate to say that American Eagle is tied for the Number 9 position with…itself. As a twin coaster, the wooden coaster features two tracks with two trains that run simultaneously. Both tracks offer the same stats with both trains topping out at 66 mph. At one time, American Eagle was a beloved ride. It has not aged particularly well and does not make this list of the best rides at Six Flags Great America.
- Six Flags Great America, Illinois
According to stats provided by the park and the coaster manufacturer, The Beast clocks in at 64.8 mph. Perhaps it hits that speed now, but more likely it was originally designed to go that fast and no longer reaches its potential.
The Beast is loaded with what are known as trim brakes, devices that slow the speed of coaster trains to make the ride less jarring and/or to help prevent wear and tear on the train and the track. For that and other reasons, some afficianados downgrade the popular and highly regarded ride and consider it to be one of the most overrated roller coasters. You can also read our review of The Beast.
- Kings Island, Ohio