For us enthusiasts living in areas affected by seasons, the spring is always an exciting time to look forward to. This year I launched the coaster season with a whirlwind trip to Pennsylvania to check out some of the world’s best coasters. Accompanied by my patient boyfriend Andrew and our friend Pete, we embarked on a two day, one night trip from Columbus, Ohio to Knoebels in Elysburg, Pennsylvania and Hersheypark in Hershey, Pennsylvania.
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Our trip started at 10 am on Saturday, May 8 with a quick pit stop at our local Starbucks. Our route to Knoebels took us through Akron and Youngstown before passing across the Pennsylvania/Ohio boarder. We arrived at Knoebels a little after 4 pm and immediately headed to one of the parks many ticket booths. Knoebels is a unique traditional amusement park which offers free parking, free entry, and both pay-by-ride and unlimited ride ticketing. Upon your arrival you’ll notice how the park is nestled in a lovely hollow with mountains and hills surrounding the entire park. The parking lot is gravel, but is free and features nice views of Impulse, the park’s Zierer looping coaster, and the surrounding hills. Knoebels is well-integrated into the surrounding landscape. You will have trouble spotting the coasters until you’re very close. Upon parking we made a beeline through the park’s open entrance (no temperature or security check required) to one of the small ticket booths and bought a $20 book of tickets for each of us. We iheaded to the back of the park to our most anticipated coaster, the legendary Phoenix.
Phoenix is a legend in the coaster community. Phoenix is a classic Philadelphia Toboggan Company (PTC) wooden coaster which originally opened at San Antonio’s Playland Park as Rocket in 1947. Carefully relocated to Knoebels for the 1985 season, its reputation has only grown through the years winning the “Best Wooden Roller Coaster” Golden Ticket Award in 2018 and 2019. Phoenix features a straightforward double out and back layout packed with airtime moments including an infamous “double up, double down.” The trains’ minimalist “buzz bar” restraints augment this layout, allowing maximum room for airtime. Phoenix is a fun ride that has the whole train laughing and screaming. It also runs incredibly smooth for a coaster of its age. After two rides on Phoenix we made our way towards the park’s drop tower StratosFear. This was the first Larson drop tower any of us had experienced. Unlike other towers that have a waiting period at the top, the Larson towers drop you almost immediately once you reach top. This sudden drop took all of us by surprise and we agreed this drop tower was far more thrilling than its size suggests. The climb up also gave us some great views of the unfortunately closed Flying Turns. After StratosFear we made our way to the park’s other wooden coaster, Twister.
Twister is inspired by Mr. Twister, a defunct PTC coaster that operated at the original location of Denver’s Elitch Gardens from 1965 to 1994. When Elitch Gardens announced its relocation, Knoebels initially planned on relocating Mr. Twister to Knoebels like they had with Phoenix. This proved financially and logistically unrealistic so Knoebels moved forward with building a customized version of the coaster using John Allen’s original designs. Like its name suggests, Twister focuses on intense lateral turns and compliments the straightforward airtime of Phoenix. Twister’s location resulted in a few wonderful quirks which the ride is now famous for. The most well known is its split lift hill: the coaster ascends one chain lift before taking a sharp righthand turn into another lift. This location- determined design means Twister features two of Mr. Twister’s famous pre-drop turn. Other quirks include a curved loading station, an underground tunnel towards the end of the ride, and a curved brake run featuring classic friction brakes. Twister is an absolute beast that tears through its compact layout. It was the surprise of the trip and its combination of airtime, positive gs, and near miss elements really make it a special coaster. We actually ended up enjoying our rides on Twister more than the highly regarded Phoenix but agreed the two make the perfect pair.
After two rides on Twister we made our way towards the park’s indoor coaster Black Diamond. This mine-themed dark ride/coaster hybrid began its life in 1960 as Gold Nugget at New Jersey’s Hunt’s Pier. After Hunt’s closed in 1998, the ride sat abandoned until Knoebel’s purchased, refurbished, and reopened the ride in 2011. While the track and layout of Gold Nugget remain, Knoebel’s totally re-imagined the attraction making it entirely enclosed and establishing a consistent mining/western theme. The ride features multiple tight turns, drops, old school animated figures, and a large-scale revolving tunnel. Quirky in all the right ways we enjoyed our ride on Black Diamond. While we had limited time in the park we took our walk from Black Diamond to the park’s newest major coaster Impulse to take in some of the many vintage rides, games, and homespun theming.
Many enthusiasts mistake Impulse for a Gerstlauer Eurofighter, but this unique vertical drop coaster was built by German industry stalwart, Zierer. Impulse features a straightforward layout with a vertical lift, 90 degree drop, cobra roll, vertical loop, a few overbanked turns, in line twist, and helix. Its comfortable restraints and smooth but forceful ride make it enjoyable but nothing compared to the exceptional wooden coasters in the park. Impulse fills the role of modern steel looper perfectly. I hope Zierer lands more large scale coaster contracts soon as I’ve enjoyed all that I’ve experienced. After our ride on Impulse we grabbed some of Knoebels delicious hand-cut fries and headed to the parks classic Haunted Mansion. Opening in 1973, the park constructed Haunted Mansion using components from classic Pretzel dark rides, show elements from defunct dark rides in Pennsylvania, and additional new built show scenes. This lengthy classic dark ride is an absolute gem utilizing lighting, props, and sounds to create a spooky and surreal experience.
After our trip through the Haunted Mansion we headed back towards Twister to get a final ride before heading out of the park. Knoebels has so much more that we didn’t have time to explore on this trip. Knoebels resort features camping, cabins, a pool with water slides, and even a golf course on the property. The park has 2 creeks which run through the property. While these creeks have caused problems due to flooding they also contribute to the parks charming atmosphere with numerous footbridges connecting different parts of the park. The entire park feels incredibly organic and explorable without being overwhelming. We had a great time and can’t wait to revisit the park and explore more of of the park, including its many flat ride offerings.
After leaving Knoebels we decided to stop for dinner in Shamokin, PA at Heritage Restaurant. This local restaurant was an unexpected highlight of the trip. Shamokin is an old coal town which has experienced much of the depopulation typical in the region. We were definitely hungry after a long day of driving and coasters and the food and service we experienced was top notch. Our meal began with some complimentary drop biscuits that are worth the visit alone. I ordered the “Coal Region Special” which featured two giant potato and cheese pirogi with kielbasa sausage, Andrew got a delicious chicken Parmesan and Pete went with a classic bacon avocado burger. If you’re in the area the restaurant is on the way to Hershey and a great place to grab a meal outside of Knoebels. You can find more information on their website (http://www.heritage-shamokin.com/) After dinner we drove the remaining hour or so to Hershey and settled into our hotel for the night. Tomorrow was going to be a busy day!