18 Roller Coaster Facts for Restless Thrill Seekers

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Disneyland Alternatives
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Off Track

Roller coaster fans were forced to put their hobby on hold during the COVID-19 pandemic, since amusement parks around the world were shuttered. With parks now reopening, here’s a roundup of some of the most amusing and notable facts about this popular industry.

Related: 25 Amusement Parks: Then and Now

Thompsons Switchback Railway 1884
Wikimedia Commons

Roller Coasters Were Supposed to Save Us From Satan

Roller coasters were meant to save our souls. During the late 1800s, amusements such as saloons and brothels were all the rage. LaMarcus Adna Thompson took it upon himself to create a more wholesome activity: a “clean and wholesome” ride that let you appreciate scenery, Theme Park Insider says. His Switchback Gravity Railway found a home on Coney Island, where it could be ridden for 5 cents. Thompson was subsequently nicknamed the “Father of the American Roller Coaster.”

The 'Up Route' cable Railway addition of 1846-47
Wikimedia Commons

The Earliest Roller Coaster Carried Coal First

Thompson’s railway wasn’t truly the first roller coaster in America. A few decades earlier a coal-carrying train was used to provide joy rides. This attraction, the Mauch Chunk Switchback Railway, was built in 1827 to ferry coal — traveling downhill through the Lehigh Valley at speeds of up to 50 mph. Passengers paid 75 cents to ride this train, which during the height of its popularity in the 1800s, reportedly drew 75,000 passengers.

Related: 20 Spectacular Trails That Used to Be Railroads

Kingda Ka
Kingda Ka by Dusso Janladde (CC BY-SA)

New Jersey Has the Tallest And Fastest U.S. Roller Coaster

Kingda Ka, at Six Flags Great Adventure in New Jersey, is a beast of a roller coaster is 456 feet tall — meaning its upside-down U-shaped track reaches 45 stories into the sky. But that’s not its only distinction: Kingda Ka is also the country’s fastest roller coaster, reaching speeds of up to 128 mph within just 3.5 seconds of the start of the ride. It’s the country’s fastest and tallest roller coaster, and not for the faint of heart.

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Jersey Devil Coaster
Six Flags

New Jersey Has the World's Tallest, Fastest and Longest Single Rail Roller Coaster

Six Flags Great Adventure opened their 13th coaster to the public on June 13, 2021. The Jersey Devil Coaster is 13 stories tall, has 3000 feet of track and reaches a top speed of 58 mph. Inspired by a mythological beast who has roamed the the Pine Barrens for hundreds of years, the Jersey Devil is the world's fastest, tallest and longest single rail roller coaster.

Braving The Formula Rossa Roller Coaster, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

The World’s Fastest Roller Coaster Is in the United Arab Emirates

There’s fast, and then there’s really fast. The fastest roller coaster on the planet, Formula Rossa, at Ferrari World in the United Arab Emirates, reaches top speeds of 149 mph in just 4.9 seconds. 

Related: The Most-Visited Tourist Destinations of the Past Decade

Superman: Escape from Krypton's tower at Six Flags Magic Mountain
Superman: Escape from Krypton's tower at Six Flags Magic Mountain by Jeremy Thompson (CC BY)

The West Coast’s Fastest Roller Coaster Opened in 1997

For West Coast residents who don’t plan to travel to New Jersey or the United Arab Emirates, the name to remember is Superman: Escape from Krypton. The ride, at Six Flags Magic Mountain in Valencia, California, travels up to 100 mph (which now seems a bit tame) — and was the first to reach that landmark speed. In fact, when it opened in 1997 it was the fastest in the world and the tallest, with a 415-foot tower.

The Top Thrill Dragster roller coaster at Cedar Point

Sandusky, Ohio, Is Right Behind Kingda Ka

Folks in the Plains and the Southeast may not want to go all the way to New Jersey for their rides, and certainly not to California for a third-place trip — not when the second-fastest roller coaster in the country is right in the Great Lakes: the Top Thrill Dragster at Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio. Opened in 2003, it goes from zero to 120 mph in 3.8 seconds, shooting straight up at a 90-degree incline to a 420-foot peak before coming down in a twist. Top Thrill Dragster was the tallest and fastest in the land for a whole two years before Kingda Ka came along.


Related: 25 Places to Take the Family Now That Disney Is So Expensive

Steel Dragon 2000 roller coaster at Nagashima Spaland
Steel Dragon 2000 roller coaster at Nagashima Spaland by Ivan Lucas (CC BY-SA)

Japan Hosts the World’s Longest Roller Coaster

There’s fast and there’s tall, but what about the longest roller coaster in the world? That honor goes to Steel Dragon 2000, at Nagashima Spa Land in Japan. This ride once held the trifecta of honors — fastest, tallest and longest — but remains longest at 1.5 miles. It takes about four minutes to complete this ride, which includes an initial drop of 306.8 feet.

The Beast's location in the back of the park near the former Vortex coaster
The Beast's location in the back of the park near the former Vortex coaster by WillMcC (CC BY)

Our Longest Roller Coaster Is Still Made of Wood

For those who are unlikely to travel to Japan for a long ride, there’s always The Beast at Kings Island in Mason, Ohio. The Beast opened in 1979 as the longest and fastest ride on the planet. While it may no longer be the fastest, The Beast, at 7,359 feet, is still listed by Guinness as the longest wooden roller coaster in the United States. The ride takes more than four minutes and includes vertical drops of up to 135 feet.

The Gravity Max
The Gravity Max by Thelennylegoshow (CC BY-SA)

A Taiwan Roller Coaster Had the First 90-Degree Drop

There’s a constant race to outdo the competition in the roller coaster world. The Gravity Max, at Lihpao Land in Taiwan, has the distinction of being the world’s first roller coaster to include a true 90-degree drop. It is also the world’s only tilting coaster — which is exactly what it sounds like, and exactly as terrifying as you might imagine.

Big Thunder Mountain Railroad at the Magic Kingdom
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad at the Magic Kingdom by AmaryllisGardener (CC BY-SA)

Big Thunder Mountain Helps Dislodge Kidney Stones

Sure, there’s tall, fast, and thrilling in the roller coaster world. But there’s also health benefits. Apparently those who have kidney stones may benefit from riding Big Thunder Mountain Railroad at Walt Disney World, because the ride’s many ups and downs help move kidney stones. So says a 2016 study in The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, anyway.


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

Toboggan ride at Mutianyu section of Great Wall of China
Toboggan ride at Mutianyu section of Great Wall of China by David Berkowitz (CC BY)
Takabisha by Jeremy Thompson (CC BY)

The Scariest Drop Is in Japan

While this title may be a little subjective, Takabisha at the Fuji-Q Highland park in Fujiyoshida, Japan, won a recommendation from Patrick Lindich, creator of the YouTube channel, CoasterFanatics, to CNN last year. What makes the drop so scary is not just its 141-foot length, but it’s unique 121-degree angle, which manages to put a drop within a drop along with the ride’s seven rotations. A bonus is the view of Japan’s legendary Mount Fuji.

Related: The 50 Most Beautiful Views in the World

The Smiler, at Alton Towers
Wikimedia Commons

An English Roller Coaster Has the Most Inversions

The ride with the most inversions is The Smiler, at Alton Towers in England, which boasts 14 loops. The name suggests that being turned upside more than a dozen times while zooming along at 85 mph will leave you grinning from ear to ear.

Six Flags Magic Mountain
Six Flags Magic Mountain by Jeremy Thompson (CC BY)

There’s a Park With 19 Roller Coasters

For those who’d (someday) like to squeeze in as many rides as possible into a single park visit, head to Six Flags Magic Mountain. The park is home to 19 roller coasters. The options include an Apocalypse coaster that drops from 95 feet; the Full Throttle, which takes riders looping up to 160 feet, and the Goliath, a hypercoaster that drops 255 feet.


Related: 25 Amusement Parks That Aren't Horrible for Parents

The Expedition Everest roller coaster at Disney's Animal Kingdom
The Expedition Everest roller coaster at Disney's Animal Kingdom by Benjamin D. Esham (CC BY-SA)
The World's Oldest Wooden Roller Coaster, Leap-The-Dips, at Lakemont Park.
Wikimedia Commons

There's a Ride in Use That's More Than 100 Years Old

The Leap-the-Dips roller coaster, at Lamont Park in Altoona, Pennsylvania, is a National Historic Landmark. It was built in 1902 and is the world’s oldest wooden roller coaster.

Twistosaurus curves with train
Twistosaurus curves with train by Lachlan (CC BY-SA)

You Can Still Ride a Roller Coaster at 105

Speaking of age, you’re never too old to enjoy a roller coaster (though your doctor should have a say in which one you go on). In 2017, U.K. resident Jack Reynolds became the oldest person to ride a non-inversion roller coaster at 105. He braved the ride to raise money for a local charity, but it also became his second Guinness record after being the oldest person getting a tattoo.

Related: 16 Seniors Who Are in Better Shape Than You