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10 Thrilling Historic Roller Coasters You Can Still Ride

By Bradley O'Neill
Read time: 6 minutes

From Coney Island’s iconic Cyclone to the jaw-dropping Great Scenic Railway in Melbourne, Australia, roller coasters have thrilled amusement park goers since the early 19th century — delivering heart-pounding drops, breakneck turns, and breathtaking plunges. Feel the adrenaline and experience the legacy of 10 of the most thrilling historic roller coasters you can still ride today.

The Phoenix – Elysburg, Pennsylvania

Riders on wooden roller coaster
Photo credit: Bill O’Leary/ The The Washington Post via Getty Images

First known as the Rocket, the Phoenix was originally built in 1947 in San Antonio’s Playland Park. After that park’s closure, it was dismantled and brought to Knoebels Amusement Resort in Elysburg, Pennsylvania, in 1985. This classic wooden roller coaster features a “double out and back” layout that allows riders to catch a glimpse of the surrounding hilly landscape from its highest point at 78 feet. Riding on its 3,200-foot-long track takes a total of two minutes, and riders reach a top speed of 45 mph. In 2023, the Phoenix again won the Best Wooden Coaster award from the Golden Tickets Awards, a title that it has maintained since 2018. 

The Grand National – Blackpool, England

Onlookers outside the historic Grand Theatre in Blackpool, England
Photo credit:  Rolf_52/ Alamy Stock Photo

Designed to put your competitive spirit to the test, this wooden coaster is Europe’s only twin-track racing coaster. Located at Blackpool Pleasure Beach, the Grand National has been thrilling parkgoers since its creation in 1935. The ride consists of two racing trains that leave the station at the same time to take on a Mobius loop, where you can expect heart-stopping double-dip drops. The Grand National stretches over 6,604 feet of track, with a maximum height of 62 feet and a top speed of 45 mph. It operates four trains with four cars, each carrying six riders, and up to 720 riders per hour.

Bakken Wooden Roller Coaster – Klampenborg, Denmark 

Sign above entrance to Bakken amusement park in Klampenborg, Denmark
Photo credit: GmbH & Co. KG/ Alamy Stock Photo

Located only a 10-minute drive north of Copenhagen, Bakken is considered the world’s oldest amusement park, dating back to 1583. Situated in the woods of Dyrehaven, Bakken offers a variety of rides for all thrill levels, but a highlight is Rutschebanen, aka “the Old Lady.” This wooden roller coaster, which has been in operation since 1932, reaches speeds of up to 47 mph, covers 2,795 feet, and soars to heights of 75 feet. Rutschebanen held the “Coaster Classic” recognition given by the American Coaster Enthusiasts until the year 2009, when the brakemen who rode along in the trains were retired.

Montaña Suiza – San Sebastián, Spain

View of Montaña Suiza roller coaster and coast of San Sebastian, Spain, from high point on track
Photo credit: Jorge Tutor/ Alamy Stock Photo

Opened in 1928, Montaña Suiza (“Swiss Mountain”) is the world’s oldest steel roller coaster still in operation. The ride is located on Monte Igueldo on the coast of San Sebastián, and it offers breathtaking panoramic views of the Bay of Biscay. It was designed by German engineer Erich Heidrich and originally built on wooden running rails, which were later changed to steel. Two trains ride along the 1,312-foot track, reaching a maximum speed of 31 mph. Montaña Suiza keeps alive the tradition of a brakeman riding onboard each train to control its speed.

Coney Island Cyclone – Brooklyn, New York

Image of the Coney Island Cyclone roller coaster in Brooklyn, New York
Photo credit: Patrik Urban/ Alamy Stock Photo

Inaugurated on June 26, 1927, the Coney Island Cyclone remains a quintessential landmark within Luna Park in Brooklyn, New York City. Located at the crossroads of Surf Avenue and West 10th Street, this iconic wooden coaster reaches speeds of up to 60 mph, accommodating 24 daring riders along its 2,640-foot track. Boasting the title of the world’s second-steepest wooden roller coaster, the Cyclone features electrifying 85-foot plunges at nearly 60-degree angles. The Cyclone has also been featured in popular culture, gracing the screens of major films such as 2017’s Wonder, music videos, and artwork.

The Giant Dipper – San Diego, California

Riders throwing hands in the air at top of roller coaster
Photo credit: joseph s giacalone/ Alamy Stock Photo

If you are looking for a roller coaster with ocean views, then look no further than the Giant Dipper at Belmont Park in San Diego. Built in 1925, the wooden coaster is a mainstay of Mission Beach. It zooms at speeds of up to 48 mph along the sweeping fan curves of its half-mile track. Although some wood has been gradually replaced to maintain safety standards, most of the original structure and form are still intact, including the 75-foot-tall arches. In 1978, the ride was added to the National Register of Historic Places. 

The Jack Rabbit – West Mifflin, Pennsylvania

Close-up view of dip in track of wooden roller coaster
Photo credit: StacieStauffSmith Photos/ Shutterstock

Operating since 1920, the Jack Rabbit at Kennywood Park near Pittsburgh is famous for its unique 70-foot “double dip” drop. Built along a natural ravine, the ride offers not only thrills but also spectacular views of the surrounding Monongahela Valley. Once a modern marvel of engineering, the Jack Rabbit was a pioneer in its use of under-friction wheels. In June 2010, the American Coaster Enthusiast organization designated Jack Rabbit as an “ACE Roller Coaster Landmark, making it a rite of passage for coaster enthusiasts.  

The Wild One – Bowie, Maryland

Riders throwing hands in the air for drop on the WIld One roller coaster in Maryland
Photo credit: Everyday Artistry Photography/ Alamy Stock Photo

Maryland’s Six Flags America amusement park offers adrenaline junkies the chance to ride on the Wild One, an architectural gem originally built in 1917. Previously known as Giant Coaster, this massive 4,000-foot-long, 108-foot-tall wooden roller coaster has been restored many times since its inauguration. The train whooshes by at speeds of up to 53 mph and offers mind-blowing 450-degree helix drops. The long layout of the ride allows riders to enjoy almost two whole minutes of thrilling dips and turns. 

Great Scenic Railway – Melbourne, Australia

Sign for Great Scenic Railway in Melbourne, Australia, with coaster towering above
Photo credit: Richard Milnes/ Alamy Stock Photo

Dating from 1912, the Great Scenic Railway sits at the heart of Melbourne’s Luna Park and is the second-oldest roller coaster in operation in the world. The ride offers jaw-dropping dips and turns along its 0.6-mile wooden track, as well as fantastic views of Port Phillip Bay — that is, if you can keep your eyes open. Standing 52.5 feet tall, the coaster can reach speeds of over 37 mph. Found on Australia’s National Heritage List, the coaster was designed by the L.A. Thompson Scenic Railway Company of New York, whose founder, LaMarcus Adna Thompson, constructed the world’s first purpose-built roller coaster in Coney Island in 1884. The “scenic” part of its name refers to the paintings that can be found inside the tunnels over the tracks. 

Leap-the-Dips – Altoona, Pennsylvania

White wooden roller coaster with hut at top of track
Photo credit: Vejas/ Shutterstock

Located in Lakemont Park near Pittsburgh, Leap-the-Dips has been luring thrill seekers since 1902, making it the world’s oldest roller coaster still in operation. The 41-foot-high, 1,420-foot-long wooden structure was designed by E. Joy Morris and built by the Federal Construction Company in the early 20th century. It is the last remaining coaster in the U.S. from the 400 or so “figure-eight” coasters that were built between 1889 and 1922. Leap-the-Dips was closed in 1985, but thankfully, it was saved from demolition by members of the American Coaster Enthusiasts. The ride reopened in 1999 and promises to continue to exhilarate for generations to come.

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