A road trip across America’s Coaster Belt

Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

I’m setting off on a road trip across America’s “Coaster Belt,” hitting eight theme parks in Ohio, Pennsylvania and New Jersey in just 10 days. Along the way, I’ll visit some of the oldest amusement parks in the world and climb aboard classic wooden coasters, record-setting modern metal beasts and vintage flat rides.

I’ve visited most of the big theme parks in Southern California and central Florida, but my roller coaster résumé has always been a little thin at the parks in between.

Photos: Road trip across America’s Coaster Belt

As I started making my bucket list of must-see theme parks, I realized that many of the biggest coaster behemoths and oldest coaster classics weren’t too far off Interstate 80, running between Cleveland and the East Coast.

After a bit of planning and some cajoling of my wife, Nancy -- my 11-year-old daughter, Hannah, needed no such coaxing -- the route was set for our trek to America’s great coaster mecca.


Our trip will take us along 800 miles of highways to eight theme parks. It promises to be equal parts adventure, journey and mission.

I’ll be posting dispatches and photos from each of the parks: Cedar Point, Kennywood, Idlewild, Lakemont Park, Hersheypark, Dorney Park, Knoebels and Six Flags Great Adventure.

I’m really looking forward to the trip, although I must admit I’m tired just thinking about it. I hope you’ll join us on our travels and help us navigate each of the parks.

What’s on tap:

Cedar Point (Sandusky, Ohio)
My first stop is at the one American amusement park I’ve never visited but always felt I absolutely must see. My hope is to tackle all 17 coasters at “America’s Roller Coast” and rank my Top 10 rides. Photos: Top 10 Cedar Point coasters

Kennywood (West Mifflin, Pa.)
With its extensive collection of turn-of-the-century rides and attractions, the 1898 park on the National Register of Historic Places is a trapped-in-amber ode to yesteryear. I plan to hop on the park’s oldest rides and rank my favorites. Photos: Oldest Kennywood rides

Idlewild (Ligonier, Pa.)
As one of the oldest amusement parks in America, the 1878 park in a picturesque mountain valley has always been geared toward youngsters under 12 years old. I’ll squeeze into as many kiddie rides as I can and choose the ones that rekindle the most memories of my childhood. Photos: Top 10 Idlewild rides

Lakemont Park (Altoona, Pa.)
My travels will put me aboard five of the oldest operating coasters in the world, including the very oldest at this little park. I’ll take a comprehensive look at the world’s oldest coasters, many of which were built in the 1920s during the “Golden Age of Roller Coasters.” Photos: World’s oldest coasters

Hersheypark (Hershey, Pa.)
After looking back at the past on my first few stops, I’ll glance into the crystal ball at what’s in store for Hersheypark in 2012. The chocolate-themed park has been conducting a teaser viral campaign that has ride enthusiasts tracking down clues and speculating about what many believe will be Hersheypark’s 12th coaster. Photos: Hersheypark’s coasters

Dorney Park (Allentown, Pennsylvania)
I’ll use my visit to this former summer resort that traces its history to 1884 to take a look back at America’s oldest amusement parks. Many of the parks on my trip opened before the turn of the century as weekend getaways accessible only by wagon, streetcar or steamboat. Photos: America’s oldest theme parks

Knoebels (Elysburg, Pa.)
Over the past five summers, this family-run park with a passion for resurrecting old rides has persisted in building a replica of a 1930s ride known as Flying Turns despite repeated setbacks. I’ll take a look at the effort to re-create the trackless bobsled coaster that sends riders in a toboggan-style train hurtling down a serpentine wooden chute. Photos: Flying Turns at Knoebels

Six Flags Great Adventure (Jackson, N.J.)
My trip will conclude, just as it began, with a visit to a park bristling with towering and twisting roller-coaster behemoths of the record-breaking and world’s-first kind. I’ll ride and rank my Top 10 coasters from Great Adventure’s stellar lineup of rides. Photos: Top 10 Great Adventure coasters