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What's the best roller coaster park in America?

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Published: September 22, 2013 at 4:01 PM

We've shown you the best roller coasters in America, as well as the worst. But few people plan a vacation or even a day trip around a single roller coaster. Fans are looking for value from a theme park admission than that. Thrill ride fans want to find the parks that deliver the best collection of roller coasters — the most thrills for their money.

So what are the best roller coaster parks in the United States? Once again, we're turning to you — Theme Park Insider readers — to make that call. We've collected the reader ratings you've submitted on roller coasters at top parks around the country over the past year. From them, we've calculated our collective picks for the country's best roller coaster parks.

Here's how we did it: First we looked for excellence. To be considered for the top five, a park had to have had at least two coasters rated a "9" or above by Theme Park Insider readers. From there, we looked for high-quality quantity, too, giving parks points for roller coasters rated "8" or above. We wanted to weigh the excellent coasters even more, so we gave parks an extra point for each coaster rated "9" or above. (Rankings were determined on the basis of ratings submitted by last Friday afternoon. Coasters had to have had a minimum number of votes to be considered.)

With this system, parks aren't penalized for having mediocre coasters or other types of rides, since we're ignoring them in the rankings. So long as a park offers plenty of high-quality coasters, they're good by us. No sense marking a park down for offering other rides, too. Hey, if those rides draw a few people out of the queues for the top coasters, all the better. ;^)

So, here they are:

ThemeParkInsider.com's Top Roller Coaster Parks in America, 2013

1. Six Flags Magic Mountain, Valencia, California

X2
X2

2. Cedar Point, Sandusky, Ohio

Maverick
Maverick

3. Six Flags Great America, Gurnee, Illinois

Raging Bull
Raging Bull

4. Six Flags Great Adventure, Jackson, New Jersey

El Toro
El Toro, which also was our pick for the best roller coaster in America.

5 (tie). Busch Gardens Tampa, Tampa, Florida and Busch Gardens Williamsburg, Williamsburg, Virginia

Montu
Montu at Busch Gardens Tampa

Apollo's Chariot
Apollo's Chariot at Busch Gardens Williamsburg

Again, if you're a coaster fan, you'll do well at any of these five six parks, as well as several others that lurk just below in our rankings. Here's to looking back at a great summer at the country's regional amusement parks, and looking forward to another great season of riding coasters, starting next spring.

Readers' Opinions

From Michael Holloway on September 22, 2013 at 4:17 PM
Once again Busch Gardens Williamsburg inexplicably shows up high in ratings in which it does not belong anywhere near the top. It rightly deserves a top-five rating for cleanliness and landscaping, but it has too few roller coasters to even be considered for a top 20 in "Best roller coaster park." It isn't even close to being the best in Virginia alone, where Kings Dominion is a far better park for roller coasters.
From Annette Forrest on September 22, 2013 at 5:09 PM
I want to make a comment about Magic Mountain. I have never felt unsafe in a theme park...until I went to Magic Mountain. I was scared to death all day in that park and thought I was going to be shot by gang members. All day long, I observed groups of rival gangs having issues with one another, at times pushing and yelling. It felt like being in the middle of a gang war all day. It was the worst feeling ever.

For whatever reason, Magic Mountain has allowed the gangs to take over. Knotts Berry Farm has some of this problem too, but nowhere near Magic Mountain.

I think the only thing that keeps Disneyland from having these issues is that Disney's prices are too high for the gangs to afford.

From Mike Gallagher on September 22, 2013 at 5:25 PM
I agree with the other Michael above about BGW, and I'll take it one step further. I have not been on Verbolten, and I have a whole lotta love for the Loch Ness Monster. But not only does the park have relatively few coasters, the remaining three, in my opinion, are inferior examples of their respective genres. I can easily think of five inverts I like better than Alpengeist, and at least five B&M hypers I'd rate higher than Apollo's Chariot. I also much prefer Sheikra to Griffon..although, granted, I only rode the latter once. Of course, this is subjective, but it's my takeaway.

And, I've never been to Magic Mountain, so my rankings would be:

Cedar Point
Great Adventure
Kings Dominion
HersheyPark
Kings Island

(at this moment while I'm thinking about it...may change in five minutes when my now-49-y.o. brain remembers something else that should be there...)

From Tony Duda on September 22, 2013 at 5:37 PM
Disclaimer- I don't consider myself a coaster enthusiast even though I have been on a lot. I haven't been to 1 or 2 or 3 but have been to 4 and 5a and 5b. I never thought of BGT or BGW as coaster parks even though the coasters there are top notch. As others said, not enough coasters. Mike, Shiekra is much better than Griffon even if some coaster sites rank Griffon high and barely mention Shiekra. However, I think that as a group, the BGT and BGW coasters would be equal to the top coasters at any park. Montu at BGT is great, Verbolten at BGW is unlike any coaster I've been on, also great.
From 75.187.110.177 on September 22, 2013 at 6:05 PM
Putting BGW on this list is a joke. While it is a fine park, it is certainly not one of the top roller coaster parks out there. I also really question SFGAm as none of their current coaster line up is any where close to best of breed in any category. Hopefully Goliath will be on par or better than El Toro.

I would rank SFoT higher than SFGAm.

My list would be

Six Flags Great Adventure (El Toro, Nitro, Kingda Ka)
Cedar Point (Millenium Force, Maverick, Top Thrill Dragster)
Six Flags Magic Mountain (X2, Tatsu, Riddlers Revenge)
Six Flags over Texas (Texas Giant which is my #1 coaster)
Six Flags over Georgia (Goliath, Mindbender)
Hershey and Busch Gardens Tampa get Honorable Mentions

From Clayton Lott on September 22, 2013 at 7:03 PM
Well, I've only been to the first two parks (grew up an hour from Magic Mountain, & made my first pilgrimage to Cedar Point this summer!), and I must say, I agree with the ratings! I hope to visit the next two Six Flags parks on the list next summer. But, I'm a bit confused by the Six Flags Gurnee, IL position on the list. I live in Minneapolis, and the overwhelming majority of people say the park isn't worth the price of admission, let alone the 6 hour drive! I guess I'll just have to be the judge of that myself next summer.
From Anthony Murphy on September 22, 2013 at 7:59 PM
Thank you for giving props to Six Flags Great America.

It is always easy to criticize Six Flags parks, but Great America truly stands above the rest with their selection and variety of Roller Coasters. They have an excellent representation of every type of Roller Coaster Technology and most of the examples are some of the best in the industry.

Thanks!

From Jacob Sundstrom on September 22, 2013 at 9:21 PM
@Annette: "I want to make a comment about Magic Mountain. I have never felt unsafe in a theme park...until I went to Magic Mountain. I was scared to death all day in that park and thought I was going to be shot by gang members. All day long, I observed groups of rival gangs having issues with one another, at times pushing and yelling. It felt like being in the middle of a gang war all day. It was the worst feeling ever."

I'm not sure how long ago this experience took place -- but this has not been true for at least the past three-five years. I can never recall a time I felt unsafe at this amusement park, or really ANY major amusement park.

You can criticize Magic Mountain for a /lot/ of things, but "gang activity" is not one of them.

From Bobbie Butterfield on September 23, 2013 at 11:20 AM
There is no question whatsoever in my mind that Six Flags Great Adventure is the best roller coaster park. One reason is that it's only one of two parks I've visited - the other is Kings Island - that has both a wooden coaster and steel coaster exceptional enough to consistently be in the top ten. (As for KI, I don't think that either The Beast or Diamondback can rival El Toro or Nitro.) To me this is an important consideration. And of course it's the only park with a great woodie, a great hypercoaster and a launched strata coaster.

Cedar Point is probably my favorite park overall but one thing it definitely doesn't have is a topnotch wooden coaster so in that respect it is lacking. In fact its wooden coasters range from meh (Blue Streak) to egregiously inferior (Mean Streak).

I think that one of the best coaster parks - again, lacking a state of the art woodie - conspicuously missing from this list is Kings Dominion.

I am in agreement with those who think that BG parks don't belong on this list. Sure, they're both gorgeous parks but as has been pointed out, they don't have much of a coaster selection. BTW, I'm not in agreement that SheiKra is better than Griffon but then my opinions often go against the general consensus; I prefer Kingda Ka to Top Thrill Dragster. And I think that Apollo's Chariot is a great coaster, similar to Nitro but not quite as good.

From Charles Reichley on September 23, 2013 at 2:51 PM
Not sure how to rate a park as the "best" for coasters.

i agree about BGW not seeming to fit. But when I go there, I will look forward to riding all 5 of the coasters, even if none of them are the "best" of their kind (Verbolten -- does it have a kind? -- but I don't really like the drop even though I like the rest of it).

I do happen to like Apollo's Chariot as just about the smoothest fun pure air time coaster.

When I go to King's Island, I look forward to three coasters, although it clearly has more good coasters than BGW. At Cedar Point, I also look forward to 3 coasters, although I'll sometimes ride up to 7 of them.

Kings Dominion is my home park, and it sure has a lot of coasters, and I'll work to ride about 6 of them. Dominator, Intimidator, Volcano are three really great coasters. Throw in Grizzly, Rebel Yell. Then I don't know, but I'll enjoy anaconda if I'm not already sore, or hurler if I can get to the front, and I like the italian job, the avalanche is great but I don't count it as a coaster, I'm not a fan of stand-ups though.

I remember liking a lot of roller coasters as six flags Great America.

But I was just thinking that when I go to Hershey park in a week, I've got a list of 8 coasters I'm looking to get on. The new one, The great bear, stormrunner and fahrenheit, wild cat, wild mouse, lightning racers, and then the comet. Does that make it "the best"? Or is it just that I have to PAY for that park, and therefore feel I need to get my money's worth? (I'd also ride the super duper looper on occasion).

From Charles Reichley on September 23, 2013 at 2:52 PM
BTW, until the past couple of years, I would have rated Mean STreak as an excellent wooden coaster. But it has just gotten so rough that even in the front, it is hardly fun. And Gemini was a pretty good coaster, but I just never want to take the time anymore.

Of course, I loved Son of Beast at KI, up until the day they closed it for good. I never understood the hate. I did always ride the front though.

From AJ Hummel on September 23, 2013 at 4:29 PM
The way I see it, there are three ways to look at coaster parks: quantity, quality, or variety. Very few parks have all three of these traits in their lineup. Parks that have a large number of good coasters often have little variety, parks with a good variety of top tier coasters generally don't have very many rides, and at parks with lots of coasters of various types there are often few good rides (for the purposes of this discussion, we'll define a good ride as one you'd ride multiple times per visit). I have not been to Six Flags Great America or Busch Gardens Tampa, but for the other parks listed:

-SFGAdv has a large quantity of coasters and a wide variety, but only has a couple headliners
-Cedar Point has a large number of coasters and most of them are good, but several of their rides are relatively similar
-BGW only has a few coasters, but all are great and they are very different from each other
-SFMM comes the closest to having all three categories, but they still have a couple duds in their lineup

Based on only parks I've visited (and excluding Canada's Wonderland), I'd list the following as top five for each of the three categories above:

Quantity:
1. Six Flags Magic Mountain
2. Cedar Point
3. Kings Dominion
4. Six Flags Great Adventure
5. Carowinds

Quality:
1. Dollywood
2. Busch Gardens Williamsburg
3. Six Flags Magic Mountain
4. Kings Dominion
5. Carowinds

Variety:
1. Six Flags Magic Mountain
2. Carowinds
3. Six Flags Great Adventure
4. Kings Dominion
5. Cedar Point

From Eric G on September 24, 2013 at 9:50 AM
An experienced roller coaster enthusiast would never rank Six Flags Magic Mountain as one of the best. The park is all quantity and very little quality.

The park offers too many repetitive looping coasters, mediocre versions of various types of coasters and lacks any that are really outstanding with one exception- X2.

Revolution would be exceptional, but it's been destroyed with modifications over the years. Colossus is a victim of mods as well. Ninja is a good (not great) suspended coaster, but is most notable because its type is so uncommon.

When someone says "Six Flags Magic Mountain is great or #1" it just tells me that you have very limited exposure to roller coasters and the various parks outside of California. Once you travel the major parks throughout the US the words "Six Flags Magic Mountain" will rarely come up in a sentence offering praise.

However, the other parks you mention Six Flags Great Adventure, Cedar Point, Busch Gardens Tampa and Six Flags Great America are good choices for the title. Six Flags Great Adventure has an outstanding line up with amazing coasters like Nitro, El Toro, Kingda Ka and Bizarro. Cedar Point offers more exceptional roller coasters than any other park- Gemini, Millennium Force, Magnum XL-200, Raptor, Maverick, Top Thrill Dragster and GateKeeper. Even Blue Streak, Corkscrew and Wicked Twister are worth a mention.

Busch Gardens is a great example of quality over quantity, but if you include Tampa then you may as well include Busch Gardens Williamsburg.

Notably missing from the list are Hersheypark, Kings Island, Kings Dominion and even to some degree, Canada's Wonderland, all of which I'd choose to visit first before Six Flags Magic Mountain.

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