Last weekend, I got a chance to return to my home park, Knoebels, for a quick, but wonderful, visit.
I found myself in Pennsylvania over the weekend and, as many would tell you, no trip to PA is complete without a stop in at America’s Best Family Park, Knoebels.
If you’ll humor me, I’m about to wax nostalgic for a moment.
Growing up, I lived maybe 20 minutes from the park in the middle-of-nowhere Pennsylvania; so I can easily say Knoebels has a special place in my heart. It was where I rode my first coaster, where I rode my first steel and first looping coaster (RIP, you painful sonofabitch, Whirlwind), and just generally spent a bunch of time with friends throughout the years.
As I got older, I began to learn that Knoebels had a sort of notoriety around the country (and even the world), and was one of those “pilgrimage parks” that everyone felt like they absolutely had to visit. This was weird to me because, growing up, Knoebels was always just…there. It was that weird, small park we could go to whenever we wanted and waste a few hours without spending more than a couple bucks.
Now that I’m older and have experienced more parks around the world, I can definitely say that Knoebels is something very special in the world of amusement parks, and was something I greatly took for granted as I was growing up.
Quick nostalgia trip is up. Moving on.
If you don’t know, Knoebels is a family-owned, and run, amusement park in the woods of Central PA. They have free parking (Yay!), free entry (Super yay!), and a pay-per-ride ticket system or pay one price handstamp/wristband system (Ultra yay!). Unlike other parks which prioritize over-stimulation, new and exciting shows, or endless barrages of million dollar upgrades, Knoebels is still focused on that classic amusement park experience.
Three wholly unique wooden coasters, one kind-of-coaster-kind-of-dark-ride, and a brand new compact steel coaster are the headlining attractions at the park; but the menagerie of old classic rides (like the brass ring carousel) make Knoebels a pretty spectacular place to spend the day even if you aren’t searching for thrills.
The park has been thriving in recent years, attracting even more visitors from New Jersey, New York, and other surrounding areas, but has still managed to keep the overall charm that guests are accustomed to. As my first trip here in over a year, I would have to say it is great to see Knoebels doing so well when I’m all too familiar with the years of dwindling attendance, flood damage, and other negative experiences.
The park was clean and well staffed during my visit; and cloudy skies seemed to keep away most of the crowds in the few hours I spent in the park. Despite being a Saturday, Knoebels had little to no wait for most rides with maybe 10-15 minutes for Impulse (when open) and about 45 minutes for Flying Turns (which is very normal due to the dramatically low capacity of the ride).
I actually had never ridden Impulse before seeing as the last two times I was at Knoebels, the ride was either under construction of closed for whatever reason so I was excited to line up prior to park opening for my chance. Despite Impulse opening ‘late’ compared to the rest of the park, we got on within 10 minutes of entering the queue and I was quite surprised by the ride. The seats on Impulse are exceedingly strange, to say the least, with very rigid and upright backs, and an awkwardly long lap restraint and strangely-placed leg restraint. Once I got used to the strange setup, though, I found the ride to be extremely enjoyable. Not a record-breaker by any means, but Impulse has some great forces (both positive and negative Gs), as well as a very fun, compact layout with smooth transitions all around. In fact, the only moment of “roughness” came at the top of the lift when I could feel the whole thing vibrating like a jackhammer. I can’t say what that was, and it wasn’t wholly unpleasant, but it was strange and somewhat unsettling.
The coaster itself is a gorgeous, deep blue color with accents of neon green and yellow for a maybe faux-electricity theme. Though, in general Knoebels fashion, there really is no theme and nothing about ride operations are even attempted to be hidden from guests. If you’ve ever wanted to see exactly how basically everything in a ride station works, you’re sure in for a treat here. Overall, Impulse is a great ride and a fantastic addition for Knoebel’s first real modern coaster.
Walking through the rest of the park, it was great to see the little improvements that have been made to other areas of the park. A few new-er kiddie rides have been added (I didn’t get any pictures sadly) to make the Kiddieland section a bit more fleshed out. Elsewhere, a few new (to me at least) food options have been installed including an almost Starbucks by Twister, a new food area replacing the old almost Starbucks by the log flume, and a ‘spooky’ Dip-n-Dots stand by the Haunted House.
Speaking of those attractions, both the Haunted House and Twister have gotten some TLC in the off season. The Haunted House has had numerous enhancements made inside to existing effects and sets, while also adding all new effects and even a whole new room for the 2016 season. While I didn’t get to ride it myself, reports from internet dwellers have said it is a pretty significant upgrade that helps the ride not show its age quite as much.
Twister, on the other hand, got a whole bunch of fresh wood and some re-tracking done in an effort to smooth out the ride which, admittedly, had been getting a bit shaky over the years. I can say it’s a very welcome upgrade to keep a great ride running as smooth as possible.
Reports say that The Phoenix even received some retracting work during the off-season. I, however, didn’t ride it on this trip so I cannot say for sure. I can’t say I felt it was overly rough, though, so any new track work was probably done in a preemptive way to make sure the classic coaster can continue running without problems for years to come. I know quite a few people would be upset if it fell into disrepair so good on Knoebels for keeping everything running well!
Towards the front of the park, there is a huge hole near the Whip and Italian Trapeze (swings) where the famous Galleon used to sit. Right now, the site is a blank concrete pad because the old Galleon has been removed, all the parts sitting in the parking lot, before the arrival of their brand-spanking-new pirate ship attraction (also in the parking lot, probably to be called Galleon still). As sad as it may be to see an icon missing, I’m sure the upgrade will be well worth it. The park claims that the new Galleon will be ready to go by next month, as well!
I always love my time just walking around Knoebels. Everything is very quaint and vintage, but has a happy and modern vibe to it. Unlike Kennywood, nothing seems dirty and rundown; I don’t feel like I’m in a dangerous area of town or might witness a fight (which has happened to me before at Kennywood). Prices are cheap, rides are fun, unique, and thrilling, and everyone just seems to be having a good time. The park is gorgeous, situated as it is in a wooded valley, and lends itself to leisurely strolling in the mid-afternoon. As biased as I may be, I definitely think Knobels deserves its place as a famous “pilgrimage park” that everyone should go to if they have the chance.
Here are a few more random images from my time in the park.