- Sports and Recreation
15 Great Things About Idlewild Park
If you’re from Southwestern Pennsylvania, you’ve probably heard of, if not been to, Idlewild and Soak Zone. This amusement/water park has been around since 1878, starting as a campground and eventually adding rides, pools, and other attractions that make for an adventurous day in the middle of the mountainous woods of Ligonier. Those of us who grew up visiting this summer destination at least once a year have certain spots in the park that they just have to hit. Below are 15 attractions that stick out in my memory as crucial to a successful visit to the park.
The woodsy landscape of Idlewild is what makes it unique. Each section of the park is hidden by the others by the green, leafy trees that shields it from the busy roads and any view of civilization. There’s still that campground feeling among all of those electric rides and state-of-the-art pools and water slides. The bathroom facilities look like little cottages with screen doors and front porches leading to the men’s and ladies’ rooms. They still have picnic groves in the parking lot where you can pack a lunch and eat away from the bustle of the park itself. It’s not lunchtime at Idlewild if bees aren’t trying to get into your pop cans and the wind isn’t trying to blow away your paper plates. The heart of the park where the rides are located are made of gravel where you will inevitably get rocks stuck in your shoes throughout the day, but that’s all part of the experience.
The Snacks in Story Book Forrest
Story Book Forrest is one of the best places to take anyone under the age of six. It’s got interactive storybook scenes, dozens of picture taking opportunities, and your favorite nursery rhyme characters come to life. You get to visit Pinocchio’s house, try to pull the sword from the stone, and sit on Aladdin’s magic carpet among other things. The best parts of the trip through Story Book Forrest, though, are the spots where you get a treat. The first is the Good Ship Lollipop where you can expect to come out with a sucker selected from a treasure chest by a friendly pirate. When you get to Little Red Riding Hood’s house, the lunch toting girl is waiting for you, typically with a package of crackers to munch on. If you’re really lucky, Snow White, will be waiting outside the Dwarves’ house to stamp your hand with a cute little picture. It doesn’t take much to excite you at this age, and getting a reward for stopping by a famous character’s house will do just that.
Idlewild is very kid-friendly. Aside from Story Book Forrest, there’s Raccoon Lagoon, an entire section of the park dedicated to kiddie rides. Luckily, adults can sometimes join their kids on these rides. One of the best rides to watch adults are on the Adult Handcars. Adults use hand pedals to push themselves along with their kids on wooden cars around a track. There’s a kid’s version of this ride called Little Rascal’s. It’s hilarious to watch kids struggle on this ride and parents help them out by walking behind the cart and pushing it around the track with a long, wooden stick. Another fun ride to watch in action is the Pollywog Regatta. Four riders are loaded into boats that spin in a circle near a giant fountain while they turn little steering wheels. The Motorcycles are also a favorite from back in the day.
The Narrow Train Bridge
Idlewild’s train ride is called the Loyalhanna Limited Railroad and actually takes you from one section of the park to another, from Raccoon Lagoon to Hootin' Holler However, it involves crossing a long, narrow bridge the Loyalhanna Creek below. It’s a terrifying moment in an otherwise calm ride.
Confusion Hill Defying Gravity
The only walk through ride in the park is Confusion Hill where groups are led through a building filled with optical illusions and clever construction. In one room, the tour guide rolls a ball onto a crooked shelf on the wall, starting at the lower end, and amazingly, the ball rolls up the other side instead of back down. It’s like a simple magic trick with everyone wondering how that just happened.
Riding Through the Trolley Tunnel
If you can stomach the hour long wait to ride the Mr. Rogers Neighborhood Trolley, you’re relieved when you’re finally loaded into the car and begin the ride. You realize it’s all worth it when the trolley music starts, and you coast through the tunnel into the neighborhood of make believe, set on a much larger skill than you’re used to seeing on TV. It’s one of those transporting moments of childhood that you’re not likely to forget. Note: Starting in 2015, the ride will now be called Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, based on the PBS show.
The Rollo Coaster
A great first roller coaster for kids to ride is also one of the best rides in the park. This wooden coaster snakes riders through the woods at the edge of the park and is so small and quick and smooth that most anyone can handle the one minute ride. The first hill is the most thrilling because it really gets the ride going, and takes you up with that clinking chain started by a lever on the platform. It seems like such a long way up for a kid, but as an adult, it gives you your roller coaster fix for the day and is one that you can ride over and over again.
Sticking to The Super Round-Up
You don’t find this ride too many places anymore, but it’s one of the best. What’s most amazing is the fact that you’re held in by a loose chain. There are no shoulder straps or seat belts. You just stand back and let the ride spin you around while you practically stick to the wall of your little compartment.
Getting Stuck at the Top of The Spider
The Spider ride is a visually interesting and equally intense. It takes forever to load, but it’s a must-ride. It requires loading riders on the ground and lifting the others higher and higher into the air as the people in the cars directly across from those being loaded end up suspended upside down in mid-air. It makes you wish you were stuck on top of the Ferris Wheel. The smaller you are, the more you’re sure that you are going to slide out and come crashing down onto the concrete below. Just when you think you can’t hold on anymore, you are lowered and spun around a little closer to the ground.
Waiting in Line for Rafter's Run
At the peak of the day, the pool is the place to be. It’s a good way to kill a few hours besides riding or walking around through the various sections of the park. The pool area features several slides. The one with the longest line is Rafter's Run. You can expect to wait a good half hour dripping wet, climbing one step at a time just to ride back down the tunnel on a raft. It’s a long, endless wait, but in the end, it’s worth it for that 30 second ride.
One of the best places to eat in the park is Ricky Raccoon’s-Grill Side in Raccoon Lagoon. They grill giant burgers that you can smell from the kiddie land entrance. They have barbeque quality burgers that are worth the wait.
Jumping Across the Swinging Bridge in Jumping Jungle
As big fans of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, it was always mandatory that I hop across the bouncy bridge in Jumping Jungle. The long bridge is surrounded by netting on both sides so that you don’t fall over the side. It brings back memories of that famous bridge scene in the movie. Half of the bridge walkers are going to jump on and shake the bridge as hard as they can while the others will spend their trip across screaming at the others to stop.
The Mesmerizing Jungle Catch
This netted court gives you a chance to perform your own magic. Jets of air shoot up from short, vertical pipes, and colorful, plastic balls are strewn throughout the ground for you to pick up and place over the pipes, giving the balls the illusion that they are floating in mid-air. Every kid tries the same old tricks, balancing two or three balls at once or shoving a ball down into the pipe and letting it shoot up into the air and fall to the ground. It’s a simple but mesmerizing trick, especially for toddlers and pre-school aged kids or even a tired adult who doesn’t feel like riding anymore.
Racing Boats in the Alligator Swamp
Jumping Jungle is all about interaction with the other amusement park goers. Sometimes it gets downright competitive, though. In one corner of the park, there is a shallow pool with several inflatable boats that float below clothesline rope. The object of the ride is to pull yourselves across the pool and back as fast as you can using the rope. It’s not as easy as it looks, and if you don’t have a lot of older riders in your boat, you can end up losing to your competition, causing you to be the subject of ridicule.
Reminiscing About Old Rides
Through the years, all amusement parks add new rides and remove old ones. One of the more thrilling rides in the otherwise tame park was the Caterpillar. Riders were loaded in connected cars and then sent around and around in a bumpy circle, smashing riders into one another as it spun faster and faster. Halfway through the ride, a large tent popped up from the center of the ride and covers all of the cars, making it seem like you’re one section of a giant caterpillar. The canvas tent was full of holes, and sunlight streamed in through these holes as you struggled to maintain your balance and try to keep from squashing or being squashed. This was one of many attractions that have disappeared over the years, and it’s a reminder to enjoy them while they last.
What are your favorite memories/experiences at Idlewild Park? Leave your answers in the comments below!