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Pennsylvania's Five Best Traditional Amusement Parks

Updated on August 13, 2012

A Western New York Girl rides in Pennsylvania.

I have travelled through most of the United States and Canada with family and friends just to visit amusement parks and ride their fabulous roller coasters. Although I live in Western New York, I always find myself gravitating down to the rolling hills of Pennsylvania and its wonderful amusement parks. I even met my husband at one of them!

While I enjoy theme parks, I go to Walt Disney World every chance I get, I much prefer traditional parks. This is probably because I grew up riding in a traditional amusement park, the now defunct Crystal Beach. (See my lens on Crystal Beach and you'll understand why I continually look for a substitute for this terrific long-lost park.)

Luckily, Pennsylvania has a nice selection of parks and many of them are traditional. It doesn't take much encouragement for my husband and I to hop into our car and drive anywhere from two to five hours to one of our favorite Pennsylvania parks. Our dog, Happy, accompanies us as well!

Here are my five favorite traditional Pennsylvania parks and the ones I consider the best in the state. I chose these parks because they are very clean, have nice landscaping, good picnic groves, a great eclectic mix of classic and new rides, family-friendly, affordable, and have a really great selection of roller coasters. Additionally, they are intent on preserving not only their own history, but amuseument park history in general. I hope you get the chance to go out and enjoy them.

Traditional parks have been around for over 100 years. They often have rare and classic rides. These parks don't have a specific plan or design, their rides are placed where ever they fit. The feeling here is laid back and pure fun.

Theme parks have a single theme or they have different themed "lands". Rides and queues are themed. So are their shops, restaurants and shows. Many theme parks have modeled their design after Disneyland: themed areas circling a central hub.

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Number 5: Lakemont Park, Altoona

I first discovered Lakemont Park after the Skyliner roller coaster, originally of Roseland Park, Canandaigua, New York, reopened there. I enjoy this park for many reasons, mostly because it has many of the classic rides I grew up with. The park overcame many obstacles that threatened to close it forever, including the razing of its abundant shade trees. Today it is the 8th oldest amusement park in the United States.

Lakemont is also home to the Leap the Dips, the oldest and only side-friction roller coaster in North America. Built in the park in 1902 by the E. Joy Morris Company, the coaster operated until 1985 when it was closed due to disrepair. A fund raising campaign commenced to rescue the coaster from demolition. Many roller coaster enthusiast clubs participated in the fund raiser. The Leap the Dips reopened in 1999 and is still operating today. It is a National Historical Landmark. Not bad for a 110 year old roller coaster!

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Where is it located, When can I go, What does it have?

Lakemont Park is located at 700 Park Ave., Altoona, Pennsylvania 16602

Phone number 814-949-7275

Lakemont has been around since: 1894 when it opened as a trolley park.

Rare and Classic rides: Ferris Wheel, Octopus, Toboggan, Skydiver, train

Waterpark: Island Waterpark with slides, a splash activity pool and a swimming pool.

Picnic grove: Yes. You can bring in your own picnic or rent a shelter for the day. Grills cannot be brought in.

Food: The usual park fare is available.

Parking: Usually free, but the park shares a parking garage with the Altoona Curve baseball team and a fee may be charged during a ballgame.

Admission: Free. Buy Ride and Slide passes. $5.00 on weekdays, $10 on weekends, $8 after 5pm. This is a real bargain!

Extra charge required for Go Karts, mini golf, and Leap the Dips ($2.50 a ride which goes toward its continual preservation.)

Open from: Memorial day to Labor day. Hours vary. Check their website

Leap the Dips

This is the exciting roller coaster Great, Great Grandma rode in her youth. While the ride may not be exciting now, it is a treat you will find no where else. It goes faster if the track is wet with rain.

Photo Gallery

Click thumbnail to view full-size
The Skyliner was built at Roseland Park, Canandaigua, New York in 1960 by Philadelphia Toboggan Company's coaster designer, John Allen. It operated there until Roseland closed in 1984. I rode this coaster while it was at Roseland.Lakemont owners purchased the Skyliner at the auction and rebuilt it at the Altoona park. It began operating at Lakemont in 1987 and is currently a park patron favorite. With a height of 60 feet, the Skyliner reaches a top speed of 44mph.
The Skyliner was built at Roseland Park, Canandaigua, New York in 1960 by Philadelphia Toboggan Company's coaster designer, John Allen. It operated there until Roseland closed in 1984. I rode this coaster while it was at Roseland.
The Skyliner was built at Roseland Park, Canandaigua, New York in 1960 by Philadelphia Toboggan Company's coaster designer, John Allen. It operated there until Roseland closed in 1984. I rode this coaster while it was at Roseland.
Lakemont owners purchased the Skyliner at the auction and rebuilt it at the Altoona park. It began operating at Lakemont in 1987 and is currently a park patron favorite. With a height of 60 feet, the Skyliner reaches a top speed of 44mph.
Lakemont owners purchased the Skyliner at the auction and rebuilt it at the Altoona park. It began operating at Lakemont in 1987 and is currently a park patron favorite. With a height of 60 feet, the Skyliner reaches a top speed of 44mph.

Toboggan

This portable roller coaster is very rare. While the ride may be rough, it is historical enough to take the chance and hop onboard.

The Skyliner

I rode this roller coaster when it was located at Roseland Park. It's just as much fun at Lakemont. Long on fun, it has plenty of dips producing a good amount of air time. Throw your hands up and scream!

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Number 4: Idlewild, Ligonier

Tucked away in the majestic woodland of Ligonier Township is Idlewild Park. I first discovered this delightful park in the early 1990s on a coaster trip with fellow enthusiasts. The park has been voted Best Kid's Park by Amusement Today, but it appeals to all ages. I am enchanted by the park's natural beauty and quaint traditional feeling. I even enjoy meandering through Storybook Forest and reliving the storybook parks of my youth.

Idlewild's ride line up includes some very rare rides like the Octopus and Caterpillar, and some very beautiful rides like the 1931 carousel. The park's wooden roller coaster, the Rollo Coaster, is built on a hillside, and while it isn't very tall or very fast, the ride is crazy fun with its steep dips into the terrain and the kick of speed on the return half of the run. Like the rest of the park, the Rollo Coaster makes you feel like a kid again.

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Where is it located, When can I go, What does it have?

Idlewild is located at Route 30 East, Ligonier, Pennsylvania 15658.

Phone number 724-238-3666

Idlewild began as picnic grove and campground in 1878. The amusement area was developed in 1931, Storybook Forest in 1956. Kennywood Park owners bought Idlewild in 1983.

Rare and Classic Rides: Flying Scooters, Caterpillar, Octopus, Eli Ferris Wheel, Paratrooper, Whip

Waterpark: Soakzone with slides, tipping bucket and wave pool

Picnic Grove: A very scenic picnic grove in the woods. Picnic baskets welcome. No grills, please.

Food: A nice variety of typical park food and healthy selections. My favorite decadent treat: fried oreos

Parking: free

Admission: All day pass, $33.99, Seniors 60+ $25.99, Next day $17.99, upgrade with waterpark. Season passes. Kids 2 and under free

Open: from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Weekends only September and October. Kid friendly Halloboo event in October. For hours see website.

Photo Gallery

Click thumbnail to view full-size
My favorite carousel horse, seen here, is on Idlewild's carousel. The ride is accompanied by a Wurlitzer #103 calliola. The carousel is a historic landmark.Confusion Hill will leave you really confused!The wood Rollo Coaster's track was built from trees cut on the property.  At 27 feet high, reaching a top speed of 25mph, Rollo Coaster is great first coaster for kids and great fun for adults.Follow the trail through Storybook Forest where you will see the homes of your favorite storybook characters. You may just meet Mother Goose along the way!Ride Trolley through Mr. Rogers Neighborhood of Make-Believe. Endorsed by Mr. Rogers who was from the area, Trolley's tracks weave through a sun-dappled woodland, stopping to visit King Friday X111, the Platapus family and many more characters you re
My favorite carousel horse, seen here, is on Idlewild's carousel. The ride is accompanied by a Wurlitzer #103 calliola. The carousel is a historic landmark.
My favorite carousel horse, seen here, is on Idlewild's carousel. The ride is accompanied by a Wurlitzer #103 calliola. The carousel is a historic landmark.
Confusion Hill will leave you really confused!
Confusion Hill will leave you really confused!
The wood Rollo Coaster's track was built from trees cut on the property.  At 27 feet high, reaching a top speed of 25mph, Rollo Coaster is great first coaster for kids and great fun for adults.
The wood Rollo Coaster's track was built from trees cut on the property. At 27 feet high, reaching a top speed of 25mph, Rollo Coaster is great first coaster for kids and great fun for adults.
Follow the trail through Storybook Forest where you will see the homes of your favorite storybook characters. You may just meet Mother Goose along the way!
Follow the trail through Storybook Forest where you will see the homes of your favorite storybook characters. You may just meet Mother Goose along the way!
Ride Trolley through Mr. Rogers Neighborhood of Make-Believe. Endorsed by Mr. Rogers who was from the area, Trolley's tracks weave through a sun-dappled woodland, stopping to visit King Friday X111, the Platapus family and many more characters you re
Ride Trolley through Mr. Rogers Neighborhood of Make-Believe. Endorsed by Mr. Rogers who was from the area, Trolley's tracks weave through a sun-dappled woodland, stopping to visit King Friday X111, the Platapus family and many more characters you re

Ride the Rollo Coaster

Don't you just love those art deco trains?

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Number 3: Waldameer, Erie

Waldameer Park may be small in comparison to other amusement parks, but it is big on fun! This park began as a trolley park 116 years ago by the Erie Electric Motor Company, the area's main trolley company. Prior to that it was a picnic park called Hoffman's Grove. The trolley company renamed it Waldameer which is German for "Woods by the Sea."

I'm a repeat rider, so I like this park. It's just the right size for riding over and over again, expecially the roller coasters! The wooden coaster, Comet, is a wonderful out and back roller coaster built in 1951 by my favorite roller coaster designer, Herbert Schmeck. It is complimented by a spinning wild-mouse style coaster, the Steel Dragon, and the kiddie coaster Ravine Flyer III. But the most radical and certainly the most ambitious wood coaster in the park is the Ravine Flyer II. Modeled after the orginal Ravine Flyer which was removed in 1938, Ravine Flyer II drops into the ravine and crosses Pennisula Drive twice!

Additionally the park has a very cool waterpark, squeezed into a small space, very nice picnic grounds and a friendly staff. The 2012 season begins with Waldameer's new Wally Cards which allows patrons to go cashless inside the park. Harkens back to the days when even food was purchased using tickets.

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Where is it located, When can I go, What does it have?

Waldameer Park has two entrances and two parking lots.

220 Pennisula Dr, Erie, PA 16505

3100 West Lake Rd, Erie, PA 16505 (turn onto Waldameer Rd. to reach the parking lot)

Waldameer Park first opened as a trolley park in 1896.

Rainbow Ballroom is available for events September through May. Nice place to have a wedding.

Classic and Rare Rides: Paratrooper, Scrambler, kiddie Skyfighter, kiddie Pony Carts, Whacky Shack dark ride, Pirates Cove walk-thru

Waterpark: Water World, lots of slides in a small space, Endless River, heated relaxing pool and kiddie area

Picnic Grove: picnic groves and shelters scattered throughout the park. Portable grills cannot be used on table tops.

Food: Standard park fare. My favorites are the cookies baked right in the park

Parking: Free

Admission: Free and so is the entertainment. Season passes are available. Riders over 48 inches $23.50 for ride only, under 48 inches $16.50 for ride only, Night Rider after 5pm $18 for over 48 inches and $13 for under 48 inches. Ride and slide combos are $26.50 and $19.00.

Open: from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Check website for hours.

Happy wants you to know you can bring your pet to the amusement park section of Waldameer! Your furry pals need to be on a short leash, 6 feet long or less and you must clean up after them. The whole family can enjoy Waldameer!

Photo Gallery

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The Whacky Shack is a historic dark ride with twists, turns, and surprises.The Ravine Flyer II plunges 120 feet into a ravine.The Ravine Flyer II has 6 tunnels and this 165 foot arched bridge that spans the 4 lane Pennisnula Drive.Ravine Flyer II takes riders on a white knuckle ride to the other side of the road.
The Whacky Shack is a historic dark ride with twists, turns, and surprises.
The Whacky Shack is a historic dark ride with twists, turns, and surprises.
The Ravine Flyer II plunges 120 feet into a ravine.
The Ravine Flyer II plunges 120 feet into a ravine.
The Ravine Flyer II has 6 tunnels and this 165 foot arched bridge that spans the 4 lane Pennisnula Drive.
The Ravine Flyer II has 6 tunnels and this 165 foot arched bridge that spans the 4 lane Pennisnula Drive.
Ravine Flyer II takes riders on a white knuckle ride to the other side of the road.
Ravine Flyer II takes riders on a white knuckle ride to the other side of the road.

Ride Ravine Flyer II

This video will make you want to plan a trip to Waldameer right away!

Learn more about Waldameer.

Fun Waldameer Souvies Through the Years

Postcards are windows into the past. Antique postcards of Waldameer can often be found on Ebay.

You can find discount tickets for most of these parks at local supermarkets or AAA.

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Number 2: Kennywood, Pittsburgh

I do favor this park because I met my husband there at a roller coaster event in 1999, but I was frequenting Kennywood long before I met him. This lovely landscaped park has a wonderful lineup of modern and classic rides. It is also a roller coaster enthusiasts mecca having both older and newer roller coasters with enough flips and dips to satisfy every thrill seeker. Thunderbolt is on my top ten wooden roller coaster list.

Plus, Kennywood has preserved some of its classic rides, updating them to appeal to today's patrons. Noah's Ark walk thru is the last of its kind. Structural problems forced a 1996 restoration and retheming of this classic attraction that dates back to 1936. The oldest ride in the park is Garfield's Nightmare, a water dark ride rethemed to the cartoon cat's adventures. The ride began as the Old Mill in 1901.

Perched high above the Monongahela River, Kennywood began as a trolley park, bringing people from Pittsburgh to enjoy a day away from the city. Today this 114 year old park is a destination for people from all over Pennsylvania, Ohio, New York and beyond. It certainly holds a special place in my heart.

Where is it located, When can I go, What does it have?

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Kennywood is located at 4800 Kennywood Blvd, West Mifflin, PA 15122. That's only 8 miles from downtown Pittsburgh.

Phone 412-461-0500

Kennywood opened in 1898 as a trolley park. It became a National Historic Landmark in 1987.

Classic and rare rides: Auto Race 1930, Kangaroo 1962, Dentzel Carousel 1927, Old Kennywood Railroad 1945, Paratrooper1959, Turtle 1927, Whip 1918, Noah's Ark walk thru 1936, kiddie whip, Turtle Chase a kiddie turtle ride, and kiddie carousel 1923.

Waterpark: Not located within Kennywood, Sandcastle is a separate park located 5 miles away.

Picnic Grove: Everyone is welcome to bring in their picnic baskets and enjoy one of many nice picnic shelters throughout the park.

Food: A mix of healthy choices and traditonal park fare. I crave Potato Patch Fries. They are made onsite, fresh, hand peeled and sliced, and come with a variety of toppings.

Parking: free except in select areas closer to the gate. A chairlift takes patrons to the upper parking lot.

Admission: season passes are available. A Funday pass is $37.99, Jr. Funday under 46 inches is $24.99, Seniors 55+ are $18.49, Night Rider after 5pm is $22.99 and Senior Night Rider is $10.99. Under 2 years is free.

Open: Early May weekends. Daily Memorial Day to last week in August. Weekends September and October. Phantom Fright Nights. Holiday Lights for Christmas seaon. Hours vary. Kennywood has a soft close, that means 10pm or later determined by daily crowd and weather. This is the only park I know that plays goodnight songs to signal closing.

Kennywood's Jack Rabbit

The oldest roller coaster in the park, the Jack Rabbit, built in 1921, has some major airtime, old fashioned, cushy cars and a tunnel. The 40 foot lift hill comes mid-ride. Longest drop is 70 feet into the ravine. Although its top speed is 45mph, it feels much faster. Enjoy.

Kennywood's Thunderbolt

I love this coaster. It drops right out of the station into the ravine and does nearly a complete course before engaging the 76 foot lift hill. The Thunderbolt began life as the Pippin in 1924, the upper section spaghetti bowl was added in 1968 by Andrew Vettel. The longest drop is 50 feet. The ride finishes with a drop out of the spaghetti bowl section back into the ravine before returning to the station. Thunderbolt is a rough and tumble ride that leaves you wanting to ride again.

Photo Gallery

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The Kangaroo maybe the last Flying Coaster ride in the United States.The 1927 Racer is the only continous track roller coaster in North America. A revers curve allows the trains to travel side by side throughout the entire ride without splitting apart. Each train returns to a different side of the station from where iThe Turtle is one of only two Tumblebug rides still operating in North America.The Phantom's Revenge began life as the Steel Phantom in 1991, but was redone in 2001. It weaves in, out and over the Thunderbolt.Follow the yellow arrows to Kennywood Park.
The Kangaroo maybe the last Flying Coaster ride in the United States.
The Kangaroo maybe the last Flying Coaster ride in the United States.
The 1927 Racer is the only continous track roller coaster in North America. A revers curve allows the trains to travel side by side throughout the entire ride without splitting apart. Each train returns to a different side of the station from where i
The 1927 Racer is the only continous track roller coaster in North America. A revers curve allows the trains to travel side by side throughout the entire ride without splitting apart. Each train returns to a different side of the station from where i
The Turtle is one of only two Tumblebug rides still operating in North America.
The Turtle is one of only two Tumblebug rides still operating in North America.
The Phantom's Revenge began life as the Steel Phantom in 1991, but was redone in 2001. It weaves in, out and over the Thunderbolt.
The Phantom's Revenge began life as the Steel Phantom in 1991, but was redone in 2001. It weaves in, out and over the Thunderbolt.
Follow the yellow arrows to Kennywood Park.
Follow the yellow arrows to Kennywood Park.

Rock and Roll singer Freddie Cannon recorded "Kennywood Park" to the same tune as his 1962 "Palisades Park" song. "Kennywood Park" featured seven of the park's rides in the song. The 2009 film "Adventureland" was filmed at Kennywood.

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Number 1: Knoebels, Elysburg

This is not only my number one Pennsyvlania park, but my all time favorite operating amusement park. The park has been owned by the Knoebel family from its beginning in 1926 and actually before that when Reverand Henry Hartman Knoebel allowed picnickers onto his land to enjoy the day alongside Roaring Creek. Knoebels is a great place for thrill seekers and families and when you are there you are family.

The woodland setting and tree shaded natural pathways give the park it's unique feeling, but there is so much more. It's easy to find quiet little places to enjoy a floral display, watch the swans who have made their home in Roaring Creek, or just people watch. Knoebels is the only amusement park I know of with a covered bridge. Onsite craftsmen create woodcarvings visitors can purchase and take home and there's a carousel museum in the park as well.

The food is good and there is an excellent variety to suit every taste. My husband literally eats his way through the park. Besides the usual park fare of candy apples, hot dogs and pizza, Knoebels offers bison burgers, pierogis, ice cream on fresh made waffles, and dill pickles on a stick. The Oasis is one of two restaurants. Serving cafeteria style, the menu changes daily with such selections as spaghetti and BBQ ribs. The Alamo is the other park restaurant. Its specialty is chicken and waffles with gravy. Knoebels has won Amusement Today's Golden Ticket Award for food every year since 1999, so you know I'm not just being partial.

The rides, of course , are the biggest appeal for me. Knoebels is well known for preservation. Lost rides and roller coasters that faced extinction have found a home at this lovely park. Great care is taken to preserve the park's trees. Rides are built around or in-between them, so very few trees are ever cut down. Quite the task for a family who also owns a lumber mill adjacent to the park.

Knoebels has two antique wooden carousels. The Grand carousel is one of the few carousels still in existence with a brass ring game.If you catch the brass ring you get a free ride. Two miniature trains take visitors on rides through different sections of the park. Ole Smokey is a live steam train that skirts the edge of the park near the entrance road. The Pioneer train consists of Allan Hershcell 1845 model gasoline-powered trains with open cars that chug a mile and half into the woods. Traversing a trestle over the creek and two tunnels, the ride is spooky fun in the pitch black darkness of nightly runs.

My favorite coaster at the park is the Phoenix. (No wonder, its a cousin to my beloved Comet roller coaster formerly of Crystal Beach now of Great Escape. They were built by the same designer, Herb Scmeck.) A double out and back with tight turns and a double up/double down feature, the Phoenix seems to reach breakneck speed when it hits the bunny hops on the way back to the station. It's an exciting ride when the Phoenix Phlys. The Twister roller coaster was built on the edge of the campground and is very, very fast. When the train hits the double helix, you are hanging on for dear life.

Knoebels took on a major challenge when they decided to build a classic lost roller coaster, the Flying Turns. It has been a long time since the structure went up. Although the ride is still not running due to car issues, it is commendable that the park took on such a preservation project. This year Knoebels opens the Black Diamond, a rare roller coaster dark ride rescued from the defunct Dinosaur Beach in Wildwood, NJ.

Every year Roaring Creek floods the park. Some years it is worse than others. Yet each time the Knoebel family, friends, neighbors, park workers and volunteers clean up the park, make repairs and get everything up and running again. Now that's devotion. There is even a tree with markers on the height of each of the worst floods.

A campground right on property makes it easy for visitors to stay where they play. Funky shaped buildings, a chair lift up a mountainside, very friendly staff, an eagle habitat, and a woodland picnic grove are some of the things that make this park so special and so much fun.

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Where is it located, When can I go, What do they have?

Knoebels is located at 391 Knoebels Blvd, Elysburg, PA 17824

Campground has a separate entrance.

Both entrances are off route 487

Phone number is 800-487-4386

Knoebels first opened as an amusement park in 1926

Classic and rare rides: Satellite (known as the Rol-O-Plane), Roto jets, Skooter with classic metal bumper cars, Whip, Looper, 2 carousels, Flyer, kiddie hand cars, kiddie Panther cars, kiddie Skyfighter, boats and helicopters.

Waterpark: Not per say, although they do have a couple of water slides and the gorgeous Crystal Swimming Pool.

Picnic groves: Knoebels has a very large picnic grove within the woods. Numerous shelters with grills.

Food: the usual park fare plus healthy options, homemade fudge, roasted nuts, and items such as gator bites and cheese-on-a-stick. My favorite...its hard to pick. I have something different every time I go.

Parking: free. A free tram moves patrons from the lot to the park.

Admission: free. Entertainment is free. Ride ticket books come in denominations of $5,$10, and $20. Various combinations of pay-one-price wristbands/handstamps that do or do not include the coasters. See website for pricing. Discounted Bargain Nigts and Sundowner (after 5pm.)

Open: Last weekend in April, weekends in May until the week prior to Memorial Day, then daily unitl Labor Day weekend; weekends in September and October. Covered Bridge Festival and Hallo Fun during October.

Knoebels has a soft close on the weekends, usually 10pm but later dependent on number of people in the park and the weather.

Happy wants you to know that dogs are welcome at Knobels park and campgrounds. They must be on a short leash and their humans are asked to clean up after them. Knoebels is Happy's favorite park too. He loves the smells and all the kids who want to pet him!

The Phoenix Phlys

I choose this video because of the great on ride footage. The black section is the Phoenix going through the tunnel. Yep. It's that dark. Testimonals at the end will convince you that this is a great coaster.

Knoebels

See all the fun you can have at Knoebels.

Photo Gallery

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Band organ music plays brightly from the moment Knoebels opens in the morning until it closes in the evening.The Flyer is one of the more popular rides in the park.A rare ride, the Looper was purchased and restored by Knoebels.One of those nice little spots to enjoy a quiet moment.The Twister rises from the woods.
Band organ music plays brightly from the moment Knoebels opens in the morning until it closes in the evening.
Band organ music plays brightly from the moment Knoebels opens in the morning until it closes in the evening.
The Flyer is one of the more popular rides in the park.
The Flyer is one of the more popular rides in the park.
A rare ride, the Looper was purchased and restored by Knoebels.
A rare ride, the Looper was purchased and restored by Knoebels.
One of those nice little spots to enjoy a quiet moment.
One of those nice little spots to enjoy a quiet moment.
The Twister rises from the woods.
The Twister rises from the woods.

Most of these parks open in late April and stay open through Halloween.

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      Leah J. Hileman 5 years ago from East Berlin, PA, USA

      I love the Paratrooper and Story Book Forest at Idlewild. I used to live near there and was there regularly with family during summer vacations. Great lens!