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Robert Niles

More debate about the best roller coasters in America

Published: February 1, 2010 at 12:41 AM

The LA Times has been polling publishers of theme park news websites (including me), to compile a list of the 10 best steel and 10 best wooden roller coasters in the United States.

I decided to give the Times my personal favorites, rather than the top ranked coasters on Theme Park Insider. (They gave me the option of either one.) Since we're about to have our own tournament for Best Roller Coaster, I didn't want to pre-empt that. FWIW, I ranked The Voyage at Holiday World as the top wooden coaster and Manta at SeaWorld Orlando as the best steel.

Here are the lists from the LAT panel:

Best Steel:
1. Bizarro at Six Flags New England [Intamin Mega]
2. Millennium Force at Cedar Point [Intamin Giga]
3. Apollo's Chariot at Busch Gardens Williamsburg [Bolliger & Mabillard Mega]
4. Montu at Busch Gardens Tampa [Bolliger & Mabillard Inverted]
5. Goliath at Six Flags Over Georgia [Bolliger & Mabillard Mega]
6. Incredible Hulk at Universal's Islands of Adventure [Bolliger & Mabillard Sitting]
7. Diamondback at Kings Island [Bolliger & Mabillard Mega]
8. Griffon at Busch Gardens Williamsburg [Bolliger & Mabillard Dive]
9. Nitro at Six Flags Great Adventure [Bolliger & Mabillard Mega]
10. Tatsu at Six Flags Magic Mountain [Bolliger & Mabillard Flying]

Best wooden:
1. The Voyage at Holiday World [Gravity Group]
2. El Toro at Six Flags Great Adventure [Intamin]
3. The Phoenix at Knoebels [Philadelphia Toboggan]
4. Boulder Dash at Lake Compounce [CCI]
5. Ravine Flyer II at Waldemeer [Gravity Group]
6. The Beast at Kings Island [Charlie Dinn]
7. The Raven at Holiday World [CCI]
8. GhostRider at Knott's Berry Farm [CCI]
9. Thunderhead at Dollywood [GCI]
10. Lightning Racer at Hersheypark [GCI]

Here's what stands out to me in reading these lists: Bolliger & Mabillard and Intamin are the best steel roller coaster builders in the world. And people love the Mega/Giga models, from either manufacturer. As for wooden coasters, The Gravity Group and GCI (which includes the remnants of the old CCI), are kings.

Can't say that I'd argue with any of those conclusions.... :-)

Replies (14)

Nigel Smith

Published: February 1, 2010 at 2:57 AM

How could anyone consider Ghostrider #8 woody???? It's one of the roughest & unpleasant rides in California.
James Rao

Published: February 1, 2010 at 4:09 AM

Let's just say that there are a lot of excellent coasters on those lists and we should not quibble over which one should be placed where!

FWIW, on those two lists, I would take Apollo's Chariot & the Voyage as the best of the best. (That's not quibbling, is it?).

Nick Markham

Published: February 1, 2010 at 5:41 AM

I just wonder what is so big about Bizarro. I mean it now has awesome effects, theming, and audio, but people loved so much even before that. I don't understand how a coaster that is not the biggest, not the fastest, no inversions, etc. makes it at the tops of everyones list.
Joshua Counsil

Published: February 1, 2010 at 8:57 AM

I don't understand how a coaster that is not the biggest, not the fastest, no inversions, etc. makes it at the tops of everyones list.

Nick -

I've seen you on this site many times before, so I'm hoping that comment was sarcastic. If there's one thing I can conclude from all the articles, discussion boards, contests, polls, tournaments, reviews, and attendance figures (and, just for kicks, professional athletes), it's that bigger, faster, and stronger does not mean better.

Robert Niles

Published: February 1, 2010 at 11:27 AM

For me, a Mega coaster needs to be set in a superb environment to be a top-notch attraction. That's why I preferred Apollo's Chariot to Diamondback, for example. On Apollo's Chariot, you enjoy some great visuals of the James River, as well as a flight through woods and over water.

On Diamondback, you just don't get the same visuals. I wish that Kings Island had found a way to turn the coaster the opposite direction, so that we could see the park at the top of the lift hill at least.

Setting helps explain Millennium Force's enduring popularity, as well.

Published: February 1, 2010 at 3:34 PM

To not include Shivering Timbers at Michigan Adventure is a Bunch of BS
Larry Zimmerman

Published: February 1, 2010 at 4:43 PM

I'm lucky to have been on seven of the top ten steelies. I'd ride a B&M coaster anywhere, any time.

Intamin, not so much...

luis gonzalez

Published: February 1, 2010 at 5:18 PM

its all about B&M, Hulk is FIRE!!!! its gotten rougher over the years, but what coaster doesn't. I loves me some GOLIATH to. I would also vote for shiekra because it has the best ride element of any coaster, that first drop ruined me for all other coasters. MONTU is super overated, both dueling dragons are better!!


Published: February 1, 2010 at 7:09 PM

Have we considerd the cyclone coneyisland being in the top five wood coasters of all time. Eltoro is a great ride I have to agree. THe cyclone is the coaster that all coasters are desighned after. Also for the Metal rides Have we considerd Farenhight, and stormrunner. those are two very great smooth rides.
Anthony Murphy

Published: February 1, 2010 at 9:17 PM

No Great America? Come on folks! There are many great roller coasters outside of FL, CA, and Ohio!
Timothy Nguyen

Published: February 2, 2010 at 8:23 PM

I fail.. I am 14, so all of these rollar coasters are vague to my brain. Picking Hulk

Published: February 3, 2010 at 4:07 PM

Hulk isn't even close to the best coaster at the Complex. Fire Dragon and Mummy are far superior!

Published: February 3, 2010 at 5:04 PM

I can agree with the ones out of the list I have ridden. Personally, I'd put Griffon higher up on the list, and the same with The Beast. I'm actually quite surprised not to see Kennywood's Thunderbolt on the list, since it's pretty much on every single one out there.
Steph Ramos

Published: February 4, 2010 at 1:39 AM

What?! No X2 at Six Flags Magic Mountain?! I'm pretty shocked at that one. I'm sure the other coasters listed are pretty cool (I've personally never been out of Cali to visit any of the other parks mentioned...maybe someday!) but where's the X2 love? We all have to admit...while the original X ride was a piece of crap, Arrow Dynamics went out with a bang on the revamp!!
And as for GhostRider at Knotts.....WTF? Who MAKES these lists?! That has got to be the ROUGHEST ride in wooden coaster history!!!

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