Monday Top 10: The best coaster parks in North America

September 1, 2014, 11:32 AM · Today we honor the impending close of another thrill-ride season here in North America by honoring the best roller coaster parks on the continent. Quantity of quality is what's important here — we are scoring parks on the number of highly-rated coasters they have, rather than simply giving credit for the total number of coasters. This helps parks a few really great coasters move up the list, while parks that just order a bunch of mediocre thrill rides don't get as much love from us. Let's get to our readers' collective picks for the Top 10 roller coaster parks in North America.

As always, we present our Top 10 lists on one page, instead of in one of those annoying multi-click slideshows. And we've got lots of on-ride video for you to enjoy, too. (If you like our list, please share it via the Facebook, Twitter, and G+ buttons below!)

10. SeaWorld Orlando: SeaWorld's only got a couple of coasters, but they're among our readers' favorites anywhere: Manta and Kraken.

9. Canada's Wonderland: The park offers one of the deepest collection of coasters on the planet, but two stand apart from the rest: Leviathan and Behemoth.

8. Hersheypark: Readers' picks for the top coasters here are Storm Runner, Lightning Racer, and Fahrenheit.

Storm Runner

7. Dollywood: Sure, the park's known for its world-class musical performances, but Wild Eagle, Thunderhead, and Mystery Mine put Dollywood on many fans' lists for top thrill rides, too.

6. Busch Gardens Tampa: Why wait around for Falcon's Fury when you've got Montu, Cheetah Hunt, and SheiKra waiting for you? ;^)

5. Kings Island: Kings Island won this year's Theme Park Insider Award for Best New Attraction for Banshee, while The Beast and Diamondback continue to win high ratings from readers, too.


4. Cedar Point: We hope you enjoyed James Rao's trip reports from America's Roller Coast last week. His top coasters at the Point are our readers' top picks here, too: Millennium Force, Maverick, and Top Thrill Dragster.

3. Busch Gardens Williamsburg: Yes, you can have great thrills in a park with great theming, too. Especially when you have coasters such as Apollo's Chariot, Griffon, Alpengeist, and Loch Ness Monster.

2. Six Flags Great Adventure: The New Jersey parks wins readers' praise for El Toro, Nitro, Bizarro, and Kingda Ka.

1. Six Flags Magic Mountain: The Southern California park wins our top honor for the second time, with an awesome line-up topped by reader favorites X2, Apocalypse, Full Throttle, Tatsu, Goliath, and The Riddler's Revenge. Just wait until Twisted Colossus opens next year!

What's your favorite park for thrill rides?

Replies (26)

September 1, 2014 at 1:44 PM · I've only been to 60% of these parks. Someone needs to take away my Coaster Boy Card!

Despite a lower overall count, Silver Dollar City has three top notch coasters, Outlaw Run, Powderkeg, and Wildfire, as well as two excellent family coasters, Thunderation and Fire In The Hole. I don't know that I would drop anything off this list to include SDC, but I am fairly certain it offers a better "whole park experience" than several of the parks listed.

Interesting how only two of these parks are in the US top ten for annual attendance. Theme park enthusiasts like us are already a niche crowd, and within that niche is an even smaller niche of coaster enthusiasts. How humbling.

September 1, 2014 at 4:02 PM · I agree that SDC could crack this list if it just got some more votes, to get it up over the minimum vote thresholds. So let's make this my reminder to everyone to rate and review parks whenever you visit, so that we can build better lists like this.

Strong point about attendance, too. Coasters really are a niche within the niche.

September 1, 2014 at 4:26 PM · Also, the only park on the list that cracks the top 10 does not necessarily attract people because of its coasters.
September 1, 2014 at 5:15 PM · I've been to every park on this list except the two Florida parks, and all of them have multiple top notch coasters. Canada's Wonderland is the only one I would maybe debate on the list, as they've got 16 coasters, but other than Behemoth, Leviathan, and possibly Vortex, they are average at best (in my opinion, over half aren't worth riding if there's a line). However, if only looking at top coasters and not all coasters it fits. Overall, great list!

Based on where I've been and using the criteria listed above, my top ten coaster parks would probably be:

1. Six Flags Magic Mountain
2. Six Flags Great Adventure
3. Cedar Point
4. Kings Island
5. Busch Gardens Williamsburg
6. Hersheypark
7. Six Flags Great America
8. Canada's Wonderland
9. Carowinds
10. Dollywood

September 1, 2014 at 7:13 PM · Silver Dollar City, and Dollywood for that matter, would certainly be near the top for "whole park experience" when all of their various offerings, atmosphere, etc. are factored in.

The attendance observation is indeed interesting. Are roller coasters more "relevant" to regional amusement/theme parks that general have annual attendance under three million guests? What does it say that the highest attended parks aren't ones that focus on coasters and pure thrills? I realize the answer isn't nearly that simple but it is an intriguing point to ponder.

September 1, 2014 at 7:14 PM · I haven't done some cool california parks.

I really like Kings Island, a lot of good coasters, wish they hadn't taken down Son of Beast although Banshee is also great (wish it had replaced the BAT instead).

And not on your list, I really like Kings Dominion. A dozen coasters, most of which are legitimate coasters. Volcano is one-of-a kind (wish it didn't bleed off all the speed without doing at least one loop or something). 305 is lightning fast. They have 3 good wood coasters in Grizzly, Rebel Yell (wonder when they'll give in to political correctness and change that name), and the Hurler. Dominator is a decent ride, as is flight of fear and the stunt coaster formerly known as The Italian Job.

I don't like stand-up coasters but they have one. Anaconda is too old and bumpy, but it does plunge under the water. Scooby Coaster is good for kids and small adults, as is ricochet. And that little tiny thing in Scooby Land (taxi?).

No theming, one coaster is essentially in the parking lot, so it doesn't get marks for that. I guess Volcano is kind of themed.

I also love Busch Gardens, and hope they get one more good coaster.

September 1, 2014 at 7:31 PM · How could Six Flags Great America not make it on this list? There is no way that it can be outranked by Seaworld. It has way too many different and quality coasters not to make the list.

I guess its votin time for me!

September 1, 2014 at 8:18 PM · I'm surprised that Holiday World wouldn't be on here given the three high-quality wooden roller coasters. Kraken is great (I haven't ridden Mantis), but it's a little surprising to see Sea World on this list.
September 1, 2014 at 8:24 PM · One important point concerning attendance. Most of these parks are in areas where, due to the weather, they are only open for part of the year. So their total attendance numbers are operating under a regional handicap. Some of them are very crowded with extremely long lines during the periods when they are open....But my personal preference, though, are the actual theme parks. I've been to six of these parks on many occasions, and the only one I would rate close to Disney & Universal is Busch Gardens Williamsburg (I don't think Seaworld belongs on this list since it has less good coasters than parks like Kennywood, etc. which TPI doesn't rate)), and that park has dropped in my esteem since Blackstone took over...But, if you are primarily a thrill & coaster fan, this is a good representative list. Excellent parks for teenagers & twenty somethings.
September 2, 2014 at 5:33 AM · Rob, from this list you need to get to Dollywood if you have not done so already. It is at least as good as Busch Gardens IMHO. And personally I think Silver Dollar City (not on this list) is even better (or at least more intimate and personal) than Dollywood. Two parks for the next Pastor Family Adventure!

Charles makes a good point about Kings Dominion, as it does have a solid collection of coasters (although I disagree with Hurler being a good wooden coaster, as it is a neglected Dinn Corp creation which is very painful and not fun). Volcano is one of my absolute favorites.

Six Flags Over Texas is another good candidate for this list with four headliners in Titan, the Texas Giant, Batman, and Freeze.

Anthony, one of these days I need to get up to your neck of the woods and visit the Gurnee park. Question is, will you be as good of a host as Mr. James Koehl? I am guessing the answer is yes....

September 2, 2014 at 6:39 AM · James: Prophetic that you would mention Dollywood since it's a park I've always wanted to go to but never got around to. It's setting looks beautiful in the Appalachian Mts. which is similar to the area that I live in. And, yes, it appears closer to a theme park than a coaster amusement park. Seems like a lot of great entertainment, which is something I look for in a park.
September 2, 2014 at 7:23 AM · I would second Kings Dominion on the list, and I would probably put Dorney Park (not even available on TPI ratings) pretty close to the top 10 as well along with Carowinds following the addition of Fury 325. I think Hersheypark is a bit overrated. Certainly, that park has the diversity, but aside from Lightning Racer, not a single one of their coasters is even among the top 10 of it's style. Great Bear is one of the worst B&M inverts out there, Fahrenheit is a 1-trick pony, Storm Runner is good but not great, and Skyrush has those really uncomfortable restraints. Hersheypark definitely scores points for having such a large number of different types of coasters, but there's not that one destination coaster that will bring fans back over and over. King's Dominion has two (Intimidator 305 and Volcano) along with good diversity to back those 2 headliners up. Hersheypark is the better overall park, but in terms of coasters, it just doesn't measure up in terms of overall quality.

September 2, 2014 at 9:30 AM · strongly disagree on Riddler's Revenge. that was one train of pain. couldn't wait to get off that ride.
September 2, 2014 at 11:39 AM · All stand-ups are a bit of an acquired taste, and require some pre-boarding tricks to ensure a less painful ride. Riddler's Revenge is still the best stand-up coaster in the world (Green Lantern, formerly Chang is a close second). If you don't put your body in the correct position before the restraints are locked, you're guaranteeing yourself a painful ride.
September 2, 2014 at 11:46 AM · I've been to only 8 of these parks and have never been to Magic Mountain so cannot comment on whether that deserves to be rated above my home park, Great Adventure, but am delighted to see GAD at least come in second. As much as people dis this park, it has the best ride lineup of any I've visited. But then I have special criteria. For me, a top-rated park should have both a top 10 wooden coaster and top 10 steel coaster. With El Toro and Nitro, GAD meets my criteria. (The only other park on this list that comes close is Kings Island, as Diamondback and The Beast were both in the top ten at one point.) The fact that Cedar Point doesn't have a world class wooden coaster is why I prefer GAD. Also, if you pick the right time to go, you can get in more rides at GAD than CP, which is always mobbed. On Labor Day almost every ride at GAD was a walk-on, including Kingda Ka, which typically has at least a 90-minute wait.
September 2, 2014 at 12:24 PM · Holiday World, Six Flags Great America, and Six Flags Georgia are much better coaster parks than SeaWorld and Dollywood.
September 2, 2014 at 2:11 PM · Having been to both Bobbie, I can tell you that SFMM is the better coaster park. Let's break it down...

Riddler's Revenge is a couple of ticks better than Green Lantern at SFGAdv
Scream! and Bizarro are identical layouts with a gnat's whisker of an edge going to Bizarro for theming, even though they took out the speakers.
Tatsu is far superior to Superman, and is up there with Manta for the best flyer in the world.
Goliath is probably not quite as good as Nitro, but it's a pretty darn good hypercoaster.
Superman Escape from Krypton doesn't hold a candle to Kinda Ka.
El Toro blows away both Apocalypse and Colossus.
The Batman: The Rides are identical, and thus a wash.
Gold Rusher is a bit better than Runaway Mine Train.
I'd much rather ride Ninja than Skull Mountain.
However, SFMM still has Green Lantern: First Flight, X2, Viper, La Revolution, and Full Throttle (which I have yet to ride) to go against Great Adventure's "left-overs".

Even though Kingda Ka and El Toro have definitive edges, that does not top the 5 other headliners available at Magic Mountain. I don't think the 2 parks are even close, even though I have strong disdain for both parks.

September 2, 2014 at 2:30 PM · Six Flags over Texas is our home park, and we have been there 22 years in a row. I was at Magic Mountain this summer, and certainly do not disagree with it being on the list as the rides were great. On the other hand, it was the worst experience in a theme park for crowd control and customer service. Nobody could tell me where anything was located. The ride operators had no idea what rides would or would not have single rider lines. It took well over an hour just to get through the front door. When I rode on several coasters, I thought, man, some of these trees are fairly close to the tracks. Soon thereafter, the Ninja is derailed due to trees. Even though the park was at capacity, only a few cars would run at once. Hopefully, they can get these issues corrected. I would recommend people to go to other locations in Southern California for their theme park experiences.
September 2, 2014 at 3:17 PM · Why is seaworld orlando on this list it only has two coasters
September 2, 2014 at 4:48 PM · I am actually ok with the list (except maybe with Seaworld), but I was really surprised that SFGA did not make the cut.
Here's why:

Either by accident or on purpose, Six Flags Great America has had the great luck to have a good variety of roller coasters. Some are the first of their kind, some are the last of their kind. Either way, Great America has a roller coaster for everybody.

Goliath (First of its kind- hard to categorize)
X-Flight (Suspended Roller Coaster)
The American Eagle (Racing Wooden Roller Coaster)
Demon (Steel Coaster- Great intro "upside down coaster")
The Whizzer (Only Electric Roller Coaster still around Space Mountain-ish)
Superman (Flying Roller Coaster)
Dark Knight (Mouse Roller Coaster)
Raging Bull (Hyper Coaster)
Viper (Classic Wooden)
Batman (First Inverted Roller Coaster)
V2 (Launch Coaster)
Little Dipper (Kiddie Wooden Roller Coaster)
Spacely Sprocket Rockets (Kiddie Steel Roller Coaster)

September 2, 2014 at 5:50 PM · Interesting analysis, Russell. El Toro blows away just about everything! For a while I was tempted to rank Outlaw Run a notch higher but Toro remains number one due to the greater ferocity and intensity. (9 rides on it yesterday.) As to Nitro, I thought long and hard about which coaster was the best - Nitro, Apollo's Chariot, Behemoth or Diamondback - and came to the conclusion that Nitro leads the pack, with Bizarro at SFNE possibly being the only hyper that's a little better, although someone I was talking with yesterday whose home park is SFNE said that they'd slowed Bizarro down so that it wasn't as good. Bizarro at SFGAD is the best floorless coaster I've ridden; the elements flow together so beautifully until interrupted by the brake run. As to choosing Ninja over Skull Mountain, I would choose almost anything over Skull Mountain. I wouldn't mind not being able to see a damn thing were that coaster not so jarring. Not a great fan of dark rides, I nevertheless loved Flight of Fear at Kings Dominion but Skull Mountain is another story. Superman at GAD is mediocre and I'm sure is outclassed by Magic Mountain. MM probably does have a better selection but GAD has four standouts and Kindga Ka on a windy day like yesterday is totally insane!

And Anthony, I agree that SFGA has some very good rides. I liked X-Flight almost as much as anything I've ridden recently and got a kick out of Viper but Raging Bull was a disappointment. Putting the trim brakes on the 2nd hill nearly ruined the ride experience for me. Goliath is phenomenal but much too short.

September 2, 2014 at 5:51 PM · wow, just realized i've been to all these parks except canada's wonderland. not too shabby!
September 2, 2014 at 7:19 PM · SFMagic Mountain is my closest park (45 minutes away.) I'm not a big coaster person but they had a cheap season pass deal over Labor Day so I'll be going soon. Not much to do if you're not into big coasters (I'll do the little ones) but I'll find enough things to get my money's worth.
September 2, 2014 at 7:49 PM · I don't know about all the parks. However, Six Flags Great America has 14 coasters. I'd like to know who has more.
September 3, 2014 at 8:16 AM · "I don't know about all the parks. However, Six Flags Great America has 14 coasters. I'd like to know who has more."

Six Flags Great America actually only has 13 coasters...

SFMM has 19
Cedar Point has 16
Canada's Wonderland has 16, but had 17 before Skyrider closed earlier this week
Kings Island has 14
Kings Dominion has 14
Carowinds has 13, but will have 14 next year with the addition of Fury 325
Hersheypark has 12, but will have 13 next year with the addition of Laff Trakk
Six Flags Over Texas has 12

September 4, 2014 at 5:49 PM · Sea World Orlando is not a coaster park. Even if its two coasters are highly rated, there are plenty of other parks which could easily take its place at #10.

I'm glad to see Magic Mountain get some much deserved credit. It has an unbelievable collection of scream machines.

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