Years ago we launched exhaustive (and exhausting) list of every U.S. state in order from worst to best – for coaster lineups, at least. We enjoyed putting this article together and it’s remained one of our top performers.
However, as you might imagine, several states didn’t have a lot to talk about, so in revisiting the article we’ve opted to stick with a Top 20. Some of the conclusions we arrived at were a surprise even to us: some states have lost their coaster hotbed status since our last revision, meanwhile others have rocketed their way up the ladder in undeniable ways. Some of our long-standing ideas of states and their coaster collections have been challenged upon review for this article, and we hope you find some of the changes as interesting as we do.
One of the most impressive shifts in the country’s coaster landscape has taken place in the unlikely state of Iowa. Lost Island Theme Park, an ambitious, from-the-ground-up destination with several major rides, opened in Waterloo in 2022. Perhaps in anticipation of this new competition, Des Moines’ Adventureland has opened three new coasters (and a flume ride!) in four years. Finally, we can’t forget Arnold’s Park, home to the John Miller classic Legend. Arnold’s Park also welcomed Joyland of Texas’ Herschel Wild Mouse in 2019 – their first new coaster in exactly 60 years. In 2023 alone, we saw Adventureland open their Zamperla family coaster / flume combo, meanwhile Lost Island brought their highly anticipated Matugani Intamin hydraulic launcher online.
There isn’t much going on in Minnesota coaster-wise outside of the Twin Cities, but as far as single-metro areas go, you could do a lot worse than Minneapolis / St. Paul. Here we find three amusement parks: the smallest of which, Como Town, is the charming, Zyklon-clad component of the Como Park Zoo. The region’s other offerings, Valleyfair! in Shakopee and Nickelodeon Universe in Bloomington, are sizeable parks offering thirteen coasters of nearly every shape and size. The GCI-built Renegade and seminal D.H. Morgan hyper Wild Thing are highlights, and Nick U’s scenic Orange Streak is one of Zierer’s most clever projects. Nick Universe has the added benefit of being inside the gargantuan Mall of America, meaning Minnesotans can get their coaster fix all year round.
Unless you’re looking for mountain coasters, a kiddie credit (Edaville’s unique Kersplash water coaster still hasn’t operated since 2019), or a tiny, by-appointment-only coaster inside of an art museum, there’s only one place for coaster fans in Massachussets: Six Flags New England. While this Springfield/Hartford CT area fixture is the only proper coaster park in the state currently, the park boasts one of the most well-rounded coaster collections in the Six Flags chain. The RMC Wicked Cyclone and award-winning Intamin Superman The Ride are obvious highlights, but the B&M floorless Batman is sorely underrated, and the historic Thunderbolt is the oldest coaster in the Six Flags family.
Like Massachusetts, Utah is pretty much a one-park wonder for coaster fans (mountain coasters and an invitation to test out Axis at the S&S plant notwithstanding), but Lagoon Amusement Park alone is worth the trouble. Classic Schwarzkopfs and the peculiar hyper-looper Cannibal are the key motivations to book a trip to Salt Lake City and drive to the northern suburb of Farmington, but their vintage woodie, one-of-a-kind Zierer vertical launcher, and buffet of family coasters sweeten the deal.
Sticking with the Mountain time zone, our countdown brings us next to Colorado, particularly the Mile High City of Denver. Lakeside Amusement Park hosts the beautifully preserved Cyclone and Wild Chipmunk vintage coasters, which will probably remain the highlights of your Colorado coaster tour. Nearby Elitch Gardens has a pleasant (if unremarkable) group of coasters, the most notable of which being the Arrow Shuttle Loop salvaged from the original Elitch’s when the park relocated in 1995. Outside of Denver, the can’t-miss Glenwood Caverns Amusement Park offers the highest roller coasters in the world, including a custom. Euro Fighter and one of the state’s best mountain coasters.
Maryland may not be the first place your mind goes when considering great states for coasters, but for such a small state Maryland manages solid offerings in three distinct regions. On the western side of the state is Adventure Park USA, home to the Schwarzkopf Wildcat from Busch Gardens Williamsburg as well as a Zamperla Windstorm. Near Baltimore we have Six Flags America, which hasn’t done much with their coaster collection lately, but Joker’s Jinx, Superman, and Batwing remain a fun snapshot of Premier Parks-era overambition, and their woodies are a fun pair that couldn’t be more dissimilar. Finally there’s the oft overlooked Ocean City region, home to a trio of parks that host a total of six coasters, including a Zierer Flitzer, another Schwarzkopf Wildcat (the smaller model), and one of the earliest installations of the Vekoma Boomerang.
Propelled by six extraordinary wooden coasters, Indiana has been cultivating a reputation of great roller coasters since the mid 90s. Indiana Beach and Holiday World engaged in friendly warfare for over a decade with their Custom Coasters International (and in the case of the enigmatic Voyage, CCI successor Gravity Group) arsenals. The woodies speak for themselves, and both parks have also cultivated a unique parkgoing culture through value, customer service, and entertainment. Both parks are roughly in the middle of nowhere, in north and south Indiana, respectively, but their tiny hometowns of Santa Claus and Monticello take immense pride in the parks. Not into wooden coasters? Fortunately, public support has been such that it justified the superb, launched B&M wing coaster Thunderbird at Holiday World, and Indiana Beach is poised to debut the legendary Schwarzkopf American Triple Loop – a satisfying complement to their last-of-its-kind-in-the-Americas Jet Star, Tig’rr Coaster.
13. North Carolina
For anyone who knows coasters, it’s obvious that North Carolina is all about Charlotte’s Carowinds. Fury 325, Afterburn, Copperhead Strike, and Intimidator are an enviable Top 4, but the park’s “B Team” is full of other gems too. Classics Carolina Cyclone and Carolina Goldrusher are some of the best maintained Arrow coasters anywhere, and the B&M Vortex offers one of the last stand-up coaster experiences in the country.
Crossing the border due west brings us to the Tennessee side of The Great Smoky Mountains, home to industry sweetheart Dollywood and also the largest collection of mountain coasters anywhere in the world. Dollywood’s lineup speaks for itself – from the sensational RMC Lightning Rod to the Arrow Looper swan-song Tennessee Tornado, you’ll struggle to find a more satisfying collection of coasters anywhere. The GCI Thunderhead for 20 years now has been the bar upon which other GCI projects are judged, and now the multi-launched Big Bear Mountain is expected to do the same for regional park Vekomas.
Despite a rich history of amusement parks, Illinois’ youngest major park would also end up being its last: 1976’s Marriott’s Great America. With the only other Illinois park to offer more than a single kiddie credit being nearby Santa’s Village (Zyklon fans rejoice), Six Flags Great America is the clear choice for coaster junkies in the Chicago and Milwaukee metros. Thanks to a superficial fued with Cedar Point and a long-standing relationship with B&M, Six Flags Great America has one of the world’s most technologically significant collections of coasters, with B&M’s development of the 4-across coaster train, prismatic spine track bed, and looping inverted coaster all calling Great America their first canvas. Other industry highlights include custom installations from now-defuct legacy manufacturers, record-breaking wooden racer American Eagle, and an RMC from the now-retired Topper Track product line. Their most recent coaster, Max Force, boasts the highest rate of acceleration of any coaster outside of Asia.