A Tale of Two Indie Parks - Part 1

July 2, 2017, 4:25 PM

My original intention was to post this a couple weeks ago, but competing in Theme Park Apprentice and being busy in normal life forced a delay. Here is Part 1 of a two part trip report I took to a couple of America's more remote theme parks. Enjoy!

In the United States, there are approximately 550 operating places that could be considered amusement parks. Of those, roughly 120 are full amusement parks, with the rest comprising of family entertainment centers and tourist locations that happen to have a few amusement rides. Roughly 1/3 of those full amusement parks are what would be considered major parks...massive full-day experiences that attract visitors from several hours away. While independent major parks do exist, a large percentage of them are part of big corporate chains that operate multiple parks across the country. These major parks are the places most enthusiasts plan trips to, and they are the ones that get regularly discussed on theme park websites. But what happens when you venture beyond the major parks, and head to some of the smaller, little known places in more remote parts of the country? That is what this (overdue) trip report is about.

Back at the beginning of April, I visited Knott's Berry Farm with a couple of my enthusiast friends, and while enjoying the delicious offerings of the Boysenberry Festival we discussed some possible summer trips. One of my friends said he was interested in doing a Florida trip, and I'm currently working with him to plan my first trip to the state for this fall. My other friend, who is on a much tighter budget due to saving for a Japan trip next year, thought my idea of doing a road trip to Lagoon in Utah sounded much more appealing. However, both of us had been to Lagoon before, so we did some research to find a way to extend the trip. Eventually, we settled on a trip to one of the most remote theme parks in the entire country: Silverwood Theme Park.


Side Note: Kevin Bujold, the friend who accompanied me on this trip, has written his own trip report as well. If you'd like to read it, check it out here.


June 1st, 2017: 3:00 P.M. An hour later than planned, I met Kevin at Bob Hope Airport, where my car was to rest for the next few days. Once everything was ready, we set out on one of the craziest things I've done: A 20 hour drive to the small town of Athol, Idaho (about 20 miles north of Coeur d'Alene). Despite initial apprehensions, the drive went very smoothly, and with only stops for gas and food we made excellent time. Around 11:30 A.M. the next morning, we arrived at Silverwood, the northernmost theme park in the United States.


As far as theme parks go, Silverwood is definitely on the younger side. The park opened in 1988 on the side of an airstrip with just a small assortment of carnival rides and a 30 minute steam train. Since then, the park has grown significantly, becoming the largest theme park in the Northwestern United States. Boasting over 60 attractions between the ride park and waterpark, it has cemented itself as a weekend getaway destination for residents of the inland Northwest.


For the traveling enthusiast, the largest draw of Silverwood is Coaster Alley, home to the park's two famous wood coasters. Both built by Custom Coasters International in the latter part of the 90s, Timber Terror and Tremors represent two very different approaches to wood coaster design.


Timber Terror, an out-and-back wood coaster, wound up as the first coaster of the trip. With a height of only 85 ft. and a somewhat short length of 2,700 ft. this ride is relatively modest in size. To be honest, I wasn't expecting much from this ride, and thought it would be a family wood coaster. However, this ride blew me away! Not only was the coaster full of airtime, but it was also very smooth (except for some shuffling in the helix at the end) and had just the right number of hills to remain fun without getting too repetitive. The ride felt very much like a mini-GhostRider to me, and is probably the best single out-and-back coaster I've ridden. I've been on over 70 wood coasters, and Timber Terror is good enough to earn a spot in the top 20.


Next to Timber Terror is its younger, larger, and more extreme brother, Tremors. When it opened in 1999, this is the ride that put Silverwood on the map. 3,000 ft. long, 100 ft. tall, and with four underground tunnels (including one that passes through a gift shop), Tremors is a major coaster by anyone's definition.


So, how was the ride? To be honest, I was slightly disappointed by it. The ride does have a fair amount of airtime and a lot of laterals, but the layout wasn't quite as good as I expected and the ride was a bit rough. Don't get me wrong, Tremors is still a top tier wood coaster (and probably still makes my top 20 wood list), but given how much people rave about the ride I expected a little better. While Timber Terror reminded me of GhostRider, Tremors reminded me more of Legend...a solid wood coaster that is well worth riding, but not the best of its type out there.


Beyond the two wood coasters, Coaster Alley does feature a third high-adrenaline thrill ride, this one with a soul of steel. Dubbed Aftershock, this is the former Deja Vu coaster from Six Flags Great America reborn at a park better suited to the ride. A Vekoma Giant Inverted Boomerang, Aftershock is a huge inverted coaster that towers over everything else at the park. Upon arrival, it was also not operating. I'll be honest here...while Vekoma is not one of my favorite manufacturers, the Giant Inverted Boomerang is a rare ride by them that I love. I have fond memories of riding Deja Vu when it operated at Six Flags Magic Mountain (that particular installation now operates at Six Flags New England as Goliath), and I was really looking forward to riding one again. Seeing the closure sign out front was a bit of a disappointment.


However, the disappointment was short-lived. About an hour after first encountering the closed Aftershock, we saw it testing from across the park. Naturally, we made a beeline to the attraction, and arrived probably 10 minutes after it had opened for the day. With no wait for the ride, we were on the next train. The experience was just like I remembered...forceful, disorienting, a little rough, but overall extremely thrilling and a whole lot of fun. As a general rule, I do not ride shuttle coasters more than once per visit because going backward does tend to make me slightly sick, but I ended up riding this three times during the day because it is just that good. As of this writing, I have been on 371 total coasters, and Aftershock is in the top 50 of those. Among Silverwood's rides, I'd rank it above Tremors but below Timber Terror.


Outside of Coaster Alley, however, lies the coaster I was most excited about at Silverwood. Tucked away in the Country Carnival section of the park lies Corkscrew, an old Arrow Corkscrew. Installed as Silverwood's first coaster in 1990, Corkscrew might not look like much: 1,250 ft. long, 70 ft. tall, and with an extremely simple layout, this is a ride most modern audiences might consider dull and boring. However, this one ride is among the most historically significant coasters of all time, and without it much of what is now taken for granted would not exist. For this is not just a standard Arrow Corkscrew, it is THE original Corkscrew from Knott's Berry Farm, the world's first modern inverting roller coaster.


Beginning life as a prototype, Corkscrew was purchased personally by the Knott family at a cost of $1 million, and in 1975 it opened as the first coaster at Knott's Berry Farm. Upon opening, it became not only the first modern looping coaster, but also the first ever coaster to invert riders twice. In 1989, Knott's Berry Farm opted to retire the Corkscrew in order to install Boomerang, and the ride was sold to Silverwood for $250,000 to become their first roller coaster.


Today, Corkscrew remains a basic and outdated ride, but it is in outstanding condition and is still well worth riding. Reportedly, Alan Schilke of Rocky Mountain Construction (which is headquartered just down the highway from Silverwood) has adopted Corkscrew as a pet project and maintains it for the park for just the cost of parts. While the flaws of Arrow's trackwork are still present, the ride is one of the smoothest Arrow coasters out there, and it is always fun to ride a piece of history.


Beyond the coasters, Silverwood's attractions are largely typical flat rides. They've got a Paratrooper, a Tilt-a-Whirl, a Scrambler, etc. However, the park does have a couple noteworthy flat rides.


This is SpinCycle. SpinCycle, at first glance, looks like your typical pendulum ride. However, it is actually something called a Maxi Dance Party (built by SBF/VISA), and is the first of its kind in the US. Basically, it is a pendulum ride, but one that goes 360 degrees over the top. Normally, I'm not the biggest fan of inverting flat rides, but I really liked this one. You get a ton of hang time at the top, and just watching the world spin around is a very unique sensation.


Next to SpinCycle stands Panic Plunge, a 140 ft. Larson Drop Tower. It may not be the tallest drop ride in the world, but this ride is intense. Unlike most drop rides, there is no pause at the top on this one, so the drop is very sudden and catches you off guard. The landing is a bit rough as the seats aren't the most comfortable, but it's still a pretty fun ride.


Like most parks, Silverwood does have a couple water rides. While I didn't ride the park's rapids ride, Thunder Canyon, due to temperatures (the high was in the low 70s), I did ride the Roaring Creek Log Flume. This is an Arrow log flume, and was actually transplanted from Kentucky Kingdom (though it only operated there for a year or two). As log flumes go, it was just okay. The ride begins by winding through a secluded part of the park, then goes out over a pond, through a tunnel, then up and down a medium-sized hill. Nothing special, but nothing to complain about either.


At this point, I'd like to mention the interesting operations at Silverwood. In the picture above, notice that this ride uses a typical log flume station setup...two channels with a platform in the middle, and separate loading and unloading points for guests. Normally, there will be one operator at each position, or at some parks it is one operator per side. Silverwood, however, had one operator manning ALL FOUR positions. In fact, almost every ride at Silverwood was staffed by a single operator (Aftershock and SpinCycle being the main exceptions), and while that's not too unusual for flat rides, I can't recall seeing a major coaster operated by a single operator everywhere else. On the wood coasters, it was somewhat amusing watching the operator run down one side of the train checking seatbelts, hop the tracks, run down the other, hop back over to the control panel, flip a switch to lock lapbars, and then repeat. To their credit, however, the operators at this park moved fast, and even with one operator dispatches were comparable to what a team of operators does at most Six Flags parks. I'm also guessing the major rides have more employees on busier days...nothing was more than a 15 minute wait on the day I visited.


Other than the coasters, however, Silverwood's star attraction is the Train. A 30 minute ride on a narrow gauge steam train, this ride encircles the entire 413 acre property (the theme park and waterpark combined occupy probably 50 acres of that). On the ride, passengers leave the park proper and head out into the woods, past various dioramas set up by the park. The ride is interactive and is narrated throughout, with a hokey story about a sasquatch.


The highlight of the ride, however, comes when the train stops outside a seemingly abandoned mine. Here, the guide exits the train after noticing a time bomb has been planted nearby. What follows is a 10 minute Western stunt show viewed from the train. Unlike some shows, the performers are well aware of the audience and do come aboard the train to rob it. In a twist from many parks, the robbers do actually take your money (if you hand it over), and Silverwood donates all of it to a local charity (reportedly they donate over $60,000 per year from robbery proceeds). It is things like this that really set small parks apart from corporate giants, and is an idea I wish more parks with simulated train robberies would incorporate.


While dubbed a theme park, Silverwood is really more of an amusement park. The entrance area is a nicely decorated Main Street, but beyond that the park is largely just plain pathways, some trees, and western-style buildings.


Silverwood does, however, feature a full service restaurant, Lindy's. Named after Charles Lindbergh, Lindy's features typical American lunch and dinner favorites, including pasta, burgers, and a few miscellaneous other items (like pulled pork and baby back ribs). The food was pretty good, and excluding tip the restaurant was about the same price as a counter service meal at a regional theme park. Full service restaurants are a rarity at small parks, so it is always nice when a park has one.


Overall, I was really impressed by Silverwood. The park is small, but they have some outstanding rides, and are one of the rare parks with three top 50 coasters. Theming is limited, but what they do have is nice, and the whole park had tons of landscaping that was kept up well. Employees were outstanding, operations were great, the food was good (at least at Lindy's), and prices were very reasonable. It's hard to get a true sense without actually visiting, but there is just something different about it. I'd compare it to somewhere like Lake Compounce, but lacking the corporate influence that park has.


This is actually a fountain and was running earlier in the day. It had been shut off by the time I took this picture, unfortunately.

Honestly, I think Silverwood may be my favorite small park. If I lived within a few hours of the place, I would certainly make at least one annual visit. It is tough to recommend it because the park is so remote, but if you happen to find yourself in Idaho and you've got a free day, I highly recommend stopping by. Besides, with rumors of a new coaster by Rocky Mountain Construction coming to the park in the next couple years, there's a really good chance enthusiasts will have just one more reason to visit.


Thanks for reading! Part 2 should be posted next weekend.

Replies (2)

July 2, 2017, 4:52 PM

Seems like a great little park serving its community well. Also good to see the love for Wooden Coasters. More please!

Edited: July 16, 2017, 5:19 AM

I visited that Corkscrew ride at Knott's back in '75, but was too short to ride. Cried my eyes out and spent the rest of the day on the Calico Mine Ride. Never did get to ride it. Still bugs me to this day. Guess I need to head to Silverwood and get it out of my system!

Great report. Heading over to read part 2 now....

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