Cheap Thrills: Nine of the Best Roller Coasters in the US
Updated: April 19, 2023
AAA Travel Editors
Wikimedia Commons/Jeremy Thompson
Busch Gardens Tampa Bay
These floorless roller coasters will tie your tummy in knots. Montu whisks you into a corkscrew roll, drops, loops, seven inversions and an Immelmann loop. SheiKra climbs 200 feet, dangles you at the edge of a vertical drop, then it plunges in an Immelmann loop, a second drop and a tunnel underground, ending in a splashdown. After your stomach knots untie themselves, eat a hearty meal in Ybor City at AAA Three Diamond Columbia Restaurant, purportedly the largest Spanish restaurant in the world.
Busch Gardens Williamsburg
Your heart will pound before boarding Griffon, as you’ll be anticipating a 205-foot free fall—right after a cruel cliffhanger stop. Two Immelmann loops (a half loop and half twist, exiting in the reverse direction) and another vertical drop lead to a splashdown, dowsing nearby spectators. After drying off, head to the Shields Tavern, where costumed waitstaff serve American fare while musicians entertain—don’t hesitate to sing-along.
Courtesy of Carowinds Amusement and Water Park
Carowinds Amusement and Water Park
Charlotte, North Carolina
Located on the border between North Carolina and South Carolina, this high-adrenaline theme park boasts a whopping 14 roller coasters, including two of the tallest steel coasters in North America. With a peak height of 325 feet, aptly named Fury 325 is by far the most popular; prepare for more than 3 minutes of heart-pumping action as you reach speeds of up to 95 mph on one of the longest steel tracks in the world. The Intimidator is another favorite—the Dale Earnhardt-inspired coaster features seven drops and speeds up to 80 mph.
Valravn is a fast, long and tall dive roller coaster that will make you feel like you’re flying. After climbing 223 feet, you hang over the top of the fall for four long seconds before plunging 214 feet. Next, you’ll soar into a giant Immelmann maneuver, another dive, a loop, a roll and a brief airtime before landing back on solid ground. Cedar Point has 17 more roller coasters that are just as exciting, including Millennium Force (which reaches speeds up to 93 mph) and Steel Vengeance (a steel and wood hybrid coaster).
Pigeon Forge, Tennessee
Resembling a bright red 1950s hot rod painted with flames, the Lightning Rod wooden coaster will feed your need for speed. Feel adrenaline course through your veins as you’re launched 20 stories to a brief airtime (rising out of your seat as you crest a hill), followed by twin airtime summits and a tortuous, 165-foot drop. Nine more airtime elements, as well as banked turns, twists and loops will take you cruisin’ through Dollywood’s surrounding hills and trees.
Wikimedia Commons/Jeremy Thompson
Kings Island, a AAA GEM® attraction, claims to have the world’s longest wooden and steel inverted roller coasters. You can almost hear The Beast’s wooden track roar as you hurtle at speeds up to 65 mph through tunnels and banked turns in the surrounding forest. And if you’re not already hoarse from screaming after The Beast, you’ll shriek like a banshee through seven loop and roll inversions (where you’re turned upside down) at a maximum speed of 68 mph on Banshee’s steel track. The park is also home to Mystic Timbers, a thrilling wooden coaster with more than a dozen hills and drops that will have your stomach doing flip-flops.
Ascend 200 feet to a brief, spectacular view. Mimicking the fastest-known shark, Mako propels you as fast as 73 mph through nine airtime hills and banked turns. For more thrills, ride the floorless Kraken and face-down Manta roller coasters. After walking around the park all day, pamper your aching feet at the full-service spa at AAA Four Diamond Renaissance Orlando at SeaWorld. Beat the heat at the hotel’s water park.
flickr/Chun Yip So
Six Flags Great Adventure & Safari
Jackson, New Jersey
Ready to ride what is reputedly the tallest steel roller coaster in the world and the fastest steel coaster in North America? Six Flags Great Adventure & Safari’s Kingda Ka is nicknamed “The King” for a reason. You’ll reach speeds of 128 mph in just under 4 seconds, climbing to a height of 45 stories before dropping back down in a 270-degree spiral. Another crowd favorite is El Toro; one of the fastest wooden coasters in the world, it includes a 176-foot drop at a 76-degree angle.
Universal's Islands of Adventure™
Blast off into a spiffy, special effects-enhanced tunnel while rock music blasts and speeds reach 67 mph. The Incredible Hulk Coaster® twists you and turns you through upside down, weightless rolls. Avoid Orlando’s traffic jams by staying on property at the AAA Four Diamond, Italian Riviera-inspired Loews Portofino Bay Hotel at Universal Orlando.
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