- Sports and Recreation
25 Things to Experience at Kennywood Park
Every city has their share of mandatory summer destinations. Amusement parks are always a big attraction if you’re lucky enough to have one within driving distance. If you’re from Pittsburgh, PA, Kennywood Park in West Mifflin is a popular place to take a summer day trip.
This classic amusement park mixes old antique rides with new, computerized rides along with classic carnival food, music, and picnickers. Every living generation has its own memories of Kennywood. The park is constantly evolving with the times, and everyone has their own idealized image of the park. Below are 25 common and less obvious but still charming traits about the park that will stir up memories for returning guests and serve as a scavenger list for newcomers who may one day venture to its gates.
The Tunnel Entrance
It’s not hard to miss this landmark since it’s the only way you can get into the park. The parking lot is located across the street. So, once you pay your admission, you walk down a hill and through a tunnel. When you come out the other side, you’re in the park. It’s nothing new for Pittsburghers who are used to bridges and tunnels transporting them from one landscape to another, but it’s still one of the highlights of the day. If you’re tall enough, you can scrape the top of the tunnel with your fingertips. Kids love to echo in the drippy dark as they’re pushed in their strollers. When you emerge into the light, you feel like sprinting to the first ride.
The Carousel Music
Kennywood has a classic Merry-Go-Round just like most amusement parks and carnivals. Everyone from infants to the elderly gets on this ride to spin around in circles for the length of an old time song. Kids sprint for the one lion and tiger on the horse-filled ride (even though they don’t go up and down). Older people take a seat on the benches.
I like to choose a horse that goes up and down. There, you get a good view of the inside of the ride. You can see yourself riding up and down in the mirrors as you spin around. What I always look for, though, is the organ and drum set that creates the music for the ride. These instruments play by themselves and pump out old-fashioned songs that keep rhythm of the spinning and "galloping". That’s not something that you see every day. If you want to ride to something more contemporary, try the Musik Express.
The Gum Tree/Wall
Inevitably, every year people decide to collect their chewed gum in one place, typically a tree or wall in the park. Most often, you’ll find these gum trees and walls in the pine trees next to the Log Jammer (a water coaster) and Jack Rabbit (a classic Roller Coaster). You can still see the teeth marks in the dried gum and notice the many different colors in which gum is made. It’s both a fascinating and disgusting sight.
The Surviving Piece of The Old Mill
The Old Mill Ride is currently Garfield’s Nightmare. I don’t know one person who prefers this design to the previous one, but that’s a battle for another day. Luckily, the mill itself is still there, and you can stand in that endless line transfixed on that rotating wheel with the water cascading off of each spoke. These days, the line has been moved closer to the actual building inside so you get a better view of the mill and the last surviving part of the old skeleton-themed ride before you get in the boat to the tacky, 3D comic strip inside.
The Gorilla in Noah's Ark
Noah’s Ark is a biblical-themed walk through dark ride. You used to enter through a whale’s mouth, but these days, you get in an elevator which appears to crash once everyone is inside and opens into an underground tunnel. You work your way up into the rocking boat where you run into pairs of animals showcased behind glass. It’s a tame ride until you turn the corner, and an ornery stuffed Gorilla pops out at you, grunting from speakers above. You have no choice but to fall into the slanted wall behind you and curse this stuffed creature, teaching the kids in your group a few new words.
Update: As of the summer of 2016, Noah's Ark has been remodeled and updated while returning to its classic look, including the squishy-tongued whale.
The Layers of Painted Wood
Most of the rides are constructed of wood and are painted bright colors to give it some flair. You can tell that they must paint and repaint every year. The paint is laid on so thick that you can see the chunky brush strokes on the grain. As the paint chips away, you can see all of the other colors that the wood has been painted over the years. It looks like the inside of an everlasting Gobstopper and smells like an antique. It’s amazing.
Kids Riding The Turtles
Amusement parks are a kid’s paradise. They start in Kiddie Land and work their way up. One of the best adult rides to start a kid out on is the Turtles. There are four turtle-shaped cars fitted together and moved by metal spokes attached to the center of the ride. They climb over three bumps as they make their way around the circular track. It’s slow but bumpy and perfect for kids to ride with their parents. When they make their way over the first bump, check out the looks on their faces. It is a look of initial horror, and then as you hear the adults scream and laugh around them, they start to grin and then scream and moan over each bump. It is a mystifying transition from baby rider to kid rider.
The “George Was Here” Statue and Plaque
In case you need a history lesson while on summer vacation, you can visit the statue of George Washington while everyone takes a drink from the fountain near the Kangaroo Ride (a ride that spins you around in a circle before hopping off of a ramp). The plaque explains how George Washington crossed the nearby river during the Revolutionary War, meaning that Washington probably walked Kennywood’s grounds well before a funnel cake was ever fried there.
Despite being on summer vacation, bell sounds are prevalent throughout the park. You hear them on the Grand Prix just before you start the bumping. You hear them on the carousel right before the ride starts spinning. You hear them on the pig race game and water squirting game to signal you to start the race. Bells signify action in the park, and it’s a thrilling sound. Though not really a bell, when the Baron Curve really gets going, a horn blasts so loud that you’d hold your ears if you weren’t afraid of falling out of the bobsled.
There are only a few water rides at the park, but plenty of water to look at throughout the park. The main stage in the middle of the park is surrounded by a pool of water. The log jammer is filled with green, sludgy water that pours off of the half-pipe track and splashes up on the riders on both hills.
The Raging Rapids is an extreme boat ride where riders float through a rapid-filled river on a circular tube. They enter on a spinning platform and buckle in, getting sprayed by water guns and splash up from the rapids. There are gates to maneuver through. Sometimes you need fellow riders to bump you through the course. Finally, you are bumped into a wall where a waterfall pours down on some, if not all, of the riders. Spectators can stand on a bridge above the ride and watch the ride open at noon. They flood the course with water at the beginning of each day, and you have a clear shot of the waterfall where you can jeer the riders who get soaked by the waterfall. If you come out without water squishing in your shoes, you haven’t had the full Raging Rapids Experience.
The Pittsburgh Plunge is basically a wide boat that takes you up one hill and down another. It’s one quick splash that soaks you worse than the Log Jammer but not as bad as the Rapids. If you don’t feel wet enough, you can always just stand on the bridge next to the plunge site and let the ride splash up and soak you without even getting on. It gets you much wetter, and unless you’re 10, you will regret the decision the moment you see the water descend on you.
When you don’t want to get soaked that bad, go to the water fountain and watch the water cascade down, or just go to the duck or fishing pond and win yourself a whistle or paper airplane.
The Garden Clock
There are several gardens in the park, but I always look for the grass shaped like a clock with hands that tell the correct time. It’s sometimes hard to read, but it’s such a unique piece in the park and has nothing to do with eating or standing in line, just something cool to stop for a second and look at and remind you that your time here is short.
The Wave Swinger Chains
You can go to any playground to use a swing, but these swings are different. They lift you up into the air and spin you around in a wavy circle. It’s the perfect ride to help you dry off after you’ve just been on the soaking Pittsburgh Plunge or Raging Rapids. The best part is when you first get on the ride and have to lift up the bar to sit down and hook yourself in like an infant. Dozens of clinking chains rise and fall. It’s metal on metal and gets you ready for the ride that lies ahead.
Grease on The Whip
I’d say watch out for this, but it’s a rite of passage to get off the Whip ride and find grease on your shoes and socks. The track is streaked with grease to keep the carts whipping around on each ride, and you have to walk on this track to get into the carts. So, it only makes sense that you take a piece of it with you when you leave.
The Last Car Down the Ramp the Kangaroo
The Kangaroo is a unique ride. Up to four riders side side by side and ride in a circle and up a ramp which throws them into a hop. They soar through the air, and once they hit ground, it’s time to ascend the ramp again. They go around several times before the ride starts to slow, and that cha-kah sound of each hop begins to subside. The hops are smaller and smaller until the ride comes to a complete stop, and the last car down the ramp slides its lone wheel down the steep end of the jump and then bumps along the back of the ramp until it comes to a stop. The car behind them needs to step on a platform to get down off the ride since they are stopped at the beginning of the ramp. It’s a really big deal to have your car stop at one of these two places on the track if you’re under the age of 12.
The Emergency Button on the Exterminator
The Exterminator is a dark ride coaster that spins you around a rat infested factory while coasting you down hills in a circular car. It spins you and bumps you and squishes you. You come out feeling as though you’d been in a fight. You’re shaky and dizzy but somehow giggly. It’s totally worth the wait of two lines. Yes, two lines. If the ride is just opening, you may be able to bypass the first located outside.
As you’re ushered through a tunnel, you come out at a zigzag ramp leading up to the front of the line which moves as slow as molasses. It’s crowded and stuffy inside with just one open door to circulate the air. I was once trapped in there for over two hours during a thunderstorm, and it was miserable. That’s how you know that the ride is worth it. There’s not much to do or look at in the line. It’s very industrial-looking with computer monitors and levers decorating the front wall with holes showing exposed, rat-chewed wires. There’s a button on the wall that you can push that will start an alarm going and red lights spinning to indicate that an emergency is taking place on the other side of the wall where you are about to be loaded into a car. It’s charming but eventually annoying as one rider after another pushes the button right before they are ushered around the corner to load up. Still, it’s all part of the experience.
The Lion Garbage Can
When you’re out in a crowd, people can be pigs. They leave their food wrappers on the floor, leave drink containers on walls, and drop food all over the place. Kennywood is generally clean with employees who walk around with brooms and dustpans picking up the trash, but there is one ingenious garbage can in Kiddie Land where people go looking for trash just to get a chance to use it. Shaped like a carnival caravan, a lion's head sticks out from the center, and when you feed garbage into his mouth, he roars and sucks it up like a vacuum. Everyone gets a kick out of this. I can remember spending 10 minutes by the can one year just looking for scraps of paper to feed the lion. It’s totally worth the trip into Kiddie Land, even if everyone in your group is too big to ride any of those rides.
The Sneaky Pirate Soaker at the Pirate Ship
One classic ride at the park is called "The Pirate". This ride is shaped like a pirate ship and swings you back and forth. Many of the rides in the park are decorated with the theme of the ride around them. The Pirate is littered with classic pirate statues around the ship. One creepy guy holds a cannon, and on hot days, when you walk past, he blasts you with a shot of water. It’s alarming but ultimately satisfying. After all, if you go to Kennywood and come home dry, you’ve done something wrong.
Sky Coaster Riders
Near the Racer (a roller coaster in the park), there’s a booth where riders can sign up to ride the Sky Coaster. It’s not part of the general admission, and riders make an appointment for some time in the day to take their turn on the ride. Here, you are harnessed and then lifted high into the air. When you get to the top, you (and one or two fellow riders), pull on a string and are launched through the air, flying back and forth like in a swinging motion. While you are in line for nearby rides, you can watch the entire process of riders being pulled up and then listen to their hysterical screams as they swing overhead throughout the course of the day.
The Photo Op at the Log Jammer
The Log Jammer is a water track that snakes riders through a water track on a log-shaped flume. There is a built-in camera on the ride that takes a picture of each log so you can see the goofy look on your face when you go down the first hill. However, those who don’t want to get wet can stand in a special spot next to the back of the line where you can watch the logs go down the big hill. There, you can take pictures of your friends and family making a huge splash that wets them just enough to cool them off, or, you can stand on the rocks in front of the ride and have the backdrop of the big hill in the distance. Either way, it’s one of the best places to take a picture.
The Rumbling Roof Above the Racer Line
The Racer has a line that moves pretty fast, even when it’s long. This is because two cars are filled and run simultaneously. Still, there is a bit of a wait under a wooden roof. The cars are loaded facing the line and then disappear around the corner as they are launched. Suddenly, you see the cars turned away from the crowd of waiting riders and climbing the first hill. When they get to the top, just after they are met by a skull and crossbones warming them “DON’T STAND UP!” they soar down the hill. Suddenly, the cars are not seen but are definitely heard as they race above you, shaking and rattling the wooden roof above the crowd. It’s thrilling and a little unsettling at the same time. It’s always something I look forward to hearing while I’m at the park.
Before you get on the train, you walk through a doorway onto the train’s “platform”. Just before you enter the line, there’s a large woman behind the glass laughing her head off. At first you think, how annoying, but the longer you listen to her laugh, the more you begin to laugh. Sal is a total nut, and you can’t help but love her (or love to hate her).
The River View on the Train
The train is a great ride for when you need to take a break from the spinning and coasting. Once you’re on, you travel around the edge of one side of the park. Through the trees, you can see the last of Pittsburgh’s mills and a view of the river below. It’s not unusual for a Pittsburgh landmark to have a river view, but this is a view that you don’t see when you’re directly downtown.
A Golden Nugget Dip Cone
Pittsburghers rave about the food at Kennywood. Potato Patch Fries take first place to most people, fried slices of potatoes dipped in melted cheese. However, I save up for an ice cream cone towards the end of the night. You can get a soft serve cone or Dip N Dots at the park, but you can also find these at countless other places. I look for things that you can only get at the park.
Near Kiddie Land, you can get one of the most unique ice cream cones ever. They dip a block of vanilla ice cream in chocolate. Then, they roll it in sprinkles or nuts (if you wish), add an optional cherry on a stick. The chocolate dries in seconds, and they stick it in what looks like a stretched out cone. Suddenly, you basically have a Klondike in an ice cream cone. In case you’re not sure where to find it, there’s a giant version hanging off the side of the ice cream building. A giant drop of dripping chocolate runs off the bottom and looks like it’s just about to fall over the next person who walks under it. It’s a brilliant design.
The Umbrellas at Night
If you can stay late enough, when it gets dark, the lights are lit on all of the rides. It’s so pretty, but it’s the umbrella ride that I look out for. The ride twists you upwards and then back down again on umbrella-shaped cars. Each umbrella is painted a different color with lights to match, and when they start spinning, it’s one of the prettiest rides in the park.
The Goodnight Sign
When you’re ready to leave, you exit from the same tunnel from which you came in. Only on this side of the park, there’s a heart-shaped Goodnight sign above the tunnel entrance. At night, it lights up in warm colors and makes you feel both satisfied to have been there and sad to have to leave.
Have you ever visited Kennywood Park? If so, leave your favorite details about the park in the comments below!