17 Abandoned Theme Parks for Thrills, Chills, and Nostalgia

Williams Grove Amusement Park

Williams Grove Amusement Park by dfirecop (CC BY-ND)

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Williams Grove Amusement Park
Williams Grove Amusement Park by dfirecop (CC BY-ND)

The Thrill Is Gone

Amusement parks usually conjure up images of soaring, spinning thrill rides, invigorating roller-coasters, and stately Ferris wheels. But sometimes theme parks suffer unwelcome thrills of their own — from natural disasters to human tragedy to insolvency — and are forced to close. Such parks often lie in ruin, although a handful still hold out hope of rebirth or restoration. All are fascinating reminders of what a bad storm, bad luck, or a few bad business decisions can do to a once-cherished destination. Visitors to these sites should be sure to plan ahead. Some are in redevelopment talks or host events that are open to the public for a limited time, while others are off-limits but can be seen from afar, and others may soon disappear for good.

Related: Once Popular Tourist Destinations That Are Now Totally Abandoned

Abandoned waterslide at Dogpatch USA, in December 2014
Abandoned waterslide at Dogpatch USA, in December 2014 by kenzie campbell (CC BY)

Dogpatch USA

Newton County, Arkansas
Fans of the Li'l Abner comic strip and cartoon may remember Dogpatch as the home of all its colorful country characters. By the mid-1980s, Dogpatch was no longer a moneymaker — it was sold several times before closing in 1993. This week it was revealed that Johnny Morris, founder of Bass Pro Shops, has purchased the property and plans to restore it as "an ode to the heritage of the Ozarks and the abundant wildlife and natural beauty found here" and will rename it Marble Falls Nature Park.

Related: 25 Amusement Parks: Then and Now

Lake Shawnee Amusement Park, West Virginia
Lake Shawnee Amusement Park, West Virginia by Dustin (CC BY)

Lake Shawnee Amusement Park

Princeton, West Virginia
An amusement park with a haunted past, Lake Shawnee was built in the 1920s on land where an early settler's children were murdered in the late 1700s. In the 1960s, two young children died while visiting the park, leading to its closure in 1966. In recent years the park has opened each October for a Dark Carnival with tours every Friday and Saturday night through Halloween.

Related: The 20 Most Haunted Hotels in America

Six Flags New Orleans
Six Flags New Orleans by Darrell Miller (CC BY-NC)

Six Flags New Orleans

This location of the amusement park chain was abandoned following the ravages of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. It has seen numerous proposals for redevelopment — including offers to buy the property in 2017 — but city officials are still struggling to come up with a definitive plan for the site. In the meantime, it's become the backdrop for several films, including "Deepwater Horizon" starring Mark Wahlberg and Kate Hudson. Visitors aren't permitted on the grounds, but many of the abandoned attractions can be seen from outside the park. Hurry, though, as New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell has called redevelopment of the site a "priority."

Related: 50 Movie and TV Locations Worthy of a Road Trip

Discovery Island
Discovery Island by Sam Howzit (CC BY)

Disney's Discovery Island

Bay Lake, Florida
Disney's abandoned River Country was torn down to make way for a deluxe hotel and vacation property, leaving just one creepy tear-down on Disney property. Discovery Island (currently the name of one of the lands in Disney's Animal Kingdom) in Bay Lake was a zoological park Disney ran from 1974 to 1999, when it was shut down due to poor attendance and high maintenance costs, among other issues. While you aren't allowed to visit, you can still see the island from Disney’s Wilderness Lodge, Contemporary Resort and Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground. A man decided to self-isolate from the coronavirus pandemic on the island, calling it a "tropical paradise." Alas, he was removed and banned from Walt Disney property.

Related: Disney Bucket List: 18 Things You Don't Want to Miss

Holy Land USA - Waterbury, CT
Holy Land USA - Waterbury, CT by LeanneMarie1215 (CC BY)

Holy Land USA

Waterbury, Connecticut
Holy Land USA provided a little slice of biblical history for nearly 30 years. The 18-acre attraction opened in 1955 and quickly became a popular spot for visitors to see recreations of stories from the Bible. It closed in 1984, although there have been recent attempts to resurrect it. The park temporarily re-opened in September 2014, after a lighted cross was put up on the property. In 2019, more than 1,000 people gathered there for a Mass honoring the Rev. Michael McGivney, a local priest who is a candidate for sainthood.

Williams Grove Amusement Park
Williams Grove Amusement Park by dfirecop (CC BY-ND)

Williams Grove Amusement Park

Cumberland County, Pennsylvania
Dating to 1850, Williams Grove Amusement Park remained open until 2005. Fans still post details of visits they've made to the park on Facebook, where photos depict the park in its heyday. Those eager for an in-person glimpse may want to visit sooner rather than later. The park reportedly has been the target of recent vandalism, altering its faded allure.

Hobbiton USA
Hobbiton USA by Brenna (CC BY)

Hobbiton USA

Phillipsville, California
It's a long way to the Shire from here — and a long way from this eclectic recreation of J.R.R. Tolkien's world to the rich and textured one in the Peter Jackson films. Hobbiton USA was originally built in the 1970s, when the closest Tolkien had come to the big screen was the oddly charming 1978 Ralph Bakshi animated version of "The Lord of the Rings" and a Rankin/Bass cartoon TV special in 1977. The simple sculptures of the California Hobbiton, which closed in 2009, reflect those efforts. (If you're visiting Phillipsville to see the remains of Hobbiton, don't miss the chance to take in the nearby Avenue of the Giants, a 31-mile stretch of highway that winds through ancient redwoods.)

Related: 50 Iconic Movie Locations You Have to Visit

One of the last standing rides, Ripcord, pictured in 2011
One of the last standing rides, Ripcord, pictured in 2011 by Jeremy Thompson (CC BY)

Geauga Lake Park

Aurora, Ohio
Geauga Lake Park operated from 1887 to 2007 — one of a few amusement parks in the country to span the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries. Already a popular spot for picnics and swimming when it opened, it featured everything from an Olympic-size swimming pool to a race track, dance hall, theater, and bowling alley. Throughout the decades, Geauga Lake added many attractions and rides, including a number of popular roller-coasters and other parks on surrounding sites. In 2016 the last of those, Wildwater Kingdom, called it quits. Grocery store chain Meijer had contracted to purchase the property, but it has abandoned plans to build a store there. Most recently, a 245-acre residential development was proposed for part of the site, although plans hit an impasse when requested variances were rejected by the zoning board of appeals. Many of the park's rides have been moved to other amusement parks, like Kings Dominion and Missouri's Worlds of Fun.

Joyland Amusement Park, Kansas
Joyland Amusement Park, Kansas by Randy (CC BY)

Joyland Amusement Park

Wichita, Kansas
Opened in 1949, Joyland was an amusement park fixture that closed in 2006. The years since haven't been kind to the site, with vandalism, theft, and fire ravaging the remains, including a blaze that destroyed the park's beloved Whacky Shack ride in 2018. In recent years, many of the old rides were sold off or given away and old structures were torn down. In November 2018, the 57-acre site was bought at auction for $198,000, and planners and neighbors approved a new use for the site as an outdoor event center and paintball range. 

An arch from the amusement park remains in the State Park
An arch from the amusement park remains in the State Park by Rhododendrites (CC BY-SA)

Rocky Point Park

Warwick, Rhode Island
Rocky Point Park in was a pioneer in American amusement parks. It opened in 1847 and didn't close until 1995, falling victim to many of the same market forces that shuttered so many classic amusement parks in the 1990s and 2000s. After making it through a nasty phase of abandonment and vandalism, the area has been cleaned up and made part of the new Rocky Point State Park.

Related: The Best State Park in Every State

RipTide at Miracle Strip Pier Park
RipTide at Miracle Strip Pier Park by milst1 (CC BY-SA)

Miracle Strip Amusement Park

Panama City Beach, Florida
 This park harkens back to the boom of seaside attractions in the 1960s. It opened in 1963 and, like many of its contemporaries, limped into the new century — and then closed in 2003. Despite attempts at reviving the attraction, the rides were eventually auctioned off. Swampy Jack's Wongo Adventure opened in the old Miracle Strip location, although it is expected to take several more years to get fully built, so nostalgia hounds may still see glimpses of the old site during construction. 

Mount Rockmore
Mount Rockmore by Tbennert (CC BY-SA)

Bedrock City

Custer, South Dakota
Seeking to cash in on the popularity of the Flintstones in the 1960s, the company behind the cartoon decided to allow entrepreneurs to license the characters for use in theme parks in the United States and Canada. The Canadian parks disappeared (or morphed into their own brand) in the 1990s, but the Custer, South Dakota, park clung to life until 2015. It recently reopened as the Buffalo Ridge Camp Resort of the Black Hills, where camping costs as little as $15 a night and hints of the Flintstones can still be found. (The last place to see a Bedrock City park is Valle, Arizona, which has now become Raptor Ranch.)

Jungle Habitat | New Jersey
Jungle Habitat | New Jersey by bill-now (CC BY-ND)

Jungle Habitat

West Milford, New Jersey
From 1972 until 1976, Jungle Habitat let visitors get up close and personal with animals — including rhinos, lions, tigers, and monkeys — in its walk-through zoo and drive-through park. Sometimes things got too close and personal, and visitors were injured by the animals. Warner Bros. owned the 800-acre facility, and eventually it was sold to the state and became part of an area park. Mountain biking is big there, and visitors can still see remnants of the animal park as well as actual animals: American black bears are fairly common in the area near the Appalachian Trail.

Related: 21 Places to Safely See Wild Animals Up Close

Space City USA | Alabama
Space City USA | Alabama by Adam Campbell (CC BY-ND)

Space City USA

Huntsville, Alabama
 Space City USA was a product of 1960s space-race enthusiasm. Plans for the $5 million theme park called for attractions such as Dead Man's Island, Moon City, and Time Circle. But sadly it all fell to Earth in 1967 as bad weather, swamp-related problems with the site, cost overruns, and other issues scuttled the park's opening. Remnants and details of the dream can still be seen on a Facebook fan page.

Related: 29 Destinations That Defined the 1960s

Afterburner rollercoaster
Afterburner rollercoaster by MrHarman (CC BY-SA)

Fun Spot Amusement Park & Zoo

Angola, Indiana
As amusement parks go, the family-owned Fun Spot in far northeastern Indiana had a pretty good run, lasting more than 50 years, from 1956 to 2008. Its popular Afterburner roller-coaster was the state's only coaster with an inversion until 2008. Today parts of the park remain visible, and some of the grounds have been used as a rugby playing field.

Busch Gardens California

Busch Gardens

Van Nuys, California
While most people associate Busch Gardens with current locations in Tampa, Florida, and Williamsburg, Virginia, from 1966 to 1977 there was a Busch Gardens in Van Nuys, California, that included boat rides, exotic birds, a monorail, and, amazingly, free beer samples. Today all that remains is a pedestrian bridge and the monorail, which is used for product transfer at the Anheuser-Busch brewery. 

Dinosaur World
Dinosaur World by Stef (CC BY-NC-ND)

Dinosaur World

Beaver, Arkansas
 This 65-acre park contained 100 life-size sculptures of dinosaurs,  cavemen, and other creatures including a giant King Kong. It opened in the late '60s and closed in 2005, and though it's closed off from the public, the statues remain, making the site a magnet for hikers and curious drone operators.

Related: 19 of the World's Oddest Theme Parks