FlipsidePA reporter Abbey Zelko takes on the tallest, fastest and oldest roller coasters at Hersheypark for National Roller Coaster Day.
Jeremy Long, FlipSidePA

You look up. Way up.

Gulp. “What did I get myself into?”

There’s no sympathy to be had from the person next to you — they’ve done it before.

As you’re climbing that hill, being serenaded by the clacking of the car you’re strapped into, there’s only the track in front of you.

Grades, money, love, heartbreak … There’s no room in your head for any of that while you’re on a roller coaster.

Well, a good one, anyway.


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Pennsylvania has plenty of those. Eleven roller coasters in Pennsylvania were ranked among the top 100 in the world in 2016. That’s more than any other state. Or any foreign nation.

A survey of 500 roller coaster enthusiasts from around the globe determines the annual “Golden Ticket” top 50 lists for steel and wooden roller coasters. The awards — which also assess other aspects of amusement parks — are basically the Emmys of the theme park industry, organized by trade publication Amusement Today.

Pennsylvania’s top coasters aren’t the fastest. They aren’t the tallest. And for the most part, they certainly aren’t the newest — one is nearly 100 years old, actually.

But there’s something special about them, according to enthusiasts.

“Magic” is the word Tim Baldwin, Golden Ticket awards communications coordinator, used when talking about the kind of roller coaster Pennsylvania specializes in: timeless attractions worth taking your kids (or grandkids) back to experience.

While many amusement parks closed or tore down their older wooden roller coasters after the 1970s theme park craze, many of Pennsylvania’s parks bucked the trend, Baldwin said.

The result: A number of Pennsylvania’s roller coasters are a page out of history — thrilling in a way that’s impossible to recreate.

“You laugh together. You remember it. You hold on to it,” Baldwin said.


That idea of a shared experience is baked right into the design of some of the classic wooden coasters.

Baldwin cited Kennywood’s Thunderbolt — built in 1968 and ranked the 21st best wooden roller coaster in the world. The West Mifflin park won’t allow single riders on.

Why? It’s designed to be ridden together — the curves smash you up against your riding…