By Ashley Sepanski
1. Millennium Force, Cedar Point, Ohio
As its name suggests, this coaster debuted at the turn of the century in May of 2000 as the world’s first Giga coaster, breaking six world records and becoming a rite of passage for local thrill seekers. Today, it’s reputation as one of the best roller coasters in the world still holds up. Riders are held in place by an unnervingly small lap bar before they begin the ascent up the 310-foot hill, set alongside scenic Lake Erie for gorgeous views. Dropping down 300 feet, cars reach speeds of 93 miles per hour (consider ditching hats and other loose-fitting items for this one) as they careen over a second 182-foot hill for a moment of zero-gravity, two tunnels and a 360-degree helix turn. And while the line for this fan-favorite can easily break the 2-hour mark, a DJ booth and vending machines keep visitors entertained. Or, opt for a Fast Lane pass and cut the line entirely.
2. X2, Six Flags Magic Mountain, California
Speed, height, high energy rock ‘n roll music—this coaster has it all. But be warned, this ride isn’t for the faint of heart. Free-spinning seats situated on either side of the track have the ability to rotate 360 degrees for a truly disorienting effect the park calls the “fourth dimension.” Riders climb a 175-foot hill facing away from the track. At the top of the hill, the chairs are released and gravity takes its course, causing riders to flip and turn for the remainder of the ride. Track highlights include two inversions, a back flip, twisting front flip, two raven turns, and a top speed of 76 miles per hour.
3. Diamondback, Kings Island, Ohio
As roller coaster enthusiasts know, the first hill of a coaster really sets your expectations for the ride to follow. And while on Diamondback you can expect to plummet out of the sky from 230 feet in the air, reaching speeds of 80 miles per hour, it’s by no means a one-drop pony. Strategically placed hills and banks ensure riders get that butterflies-in-your-stomach feeling from start to finish. Splash down into a creek to cap off the ride with a blast of cool water—just enough to snap you back to reality before exiting the train car.
4. Manta, SeaWorld Orlando, Florida
Finally, a roller coaster that makes the queuing process just a little less boring. Before boarding the ride, pass through a subterranean aquarium filled with manta rays and other species of marine life. Once on the ride (sit near the front to get a better look at the car’s built in manta ray with 12-foot wingspan), prepare to be lifted into a flying position before ascending the 140-foot hill and nose diving 113 feet onto the track. Soar through a pretzel loop and the ride’s signature downward spin towards a lagoon where a fountain sprays water to simulate the dipping of the ray’s wing.
5. El Toro, Six Flags Great Adventure, New Jersey
See for yourself why this 2-minute, 5-second ride really does feel like riding an out of control bull. Voted the No. 1 wooden coaster in the world in 2017 by Amusement Today’s Golden Ticket Awards, you can expect everything wild and rickety you love from a wooden coaster with the speed and height of a steel thrill ride.
6. Invertigo, Kings Island, Ohio
With most roller coasters lasting between 2 to 3 minutes, every second counts. On Invertigo, the ride sets you up for maximum thrills from the get go. Riders face each other in groups of four so that one pair rides the coaster facing forwards, the other facing backwards. Don’t worry about choosing which direction you’d like to face, though—once the ride completes its full twisting course includes a cobra roll and a vertical loop (at a whopping 55 miles per hour, mind you) before cars race up a second lift hill and complete the track again, in reverse.
7. Revenge of The Mummy, Universal Studios Hollywood and Orlando
This ride may be 14 years old, but there’s something to be said for theatrics and excellent special effects. The scene is set from the moment you step in line as riders enter an ancient Egyptian tomb filled with artifacts and hieroglyphics—many of which spell out real warnings. Once on board, come face to face with a resurrected mummy who wants to claim your soul. Next, the coaster plunges riders into darkness through sharp twists and turns, takes you up close with moving mummy limbs and projected ghostly effects, and caps the ride off with a flesh-eating beetle encounter that feels real enough to spook even the bravest in your group. You can find it at both Universal Studios Hollywood and Universal Orlando.
8. Twisted Colossus, Six Flags Magic Mountain, California
Get in the competitive spirit with side-by-side trains on separate tracks that race and circle each other on this steel and wood hybrid. While you can expect a thrilling first drop and lots of airtime, the highlight of this ride is the “high-five” element, where both trains are turned toward each other at a 90-degree angle. Riders feel like they can reach out and touch the hands of riders in the opposite car.
9. Maverick, Cedar Point, Ohio
Forget the slow burn of anxiety build up that you get from a standard chain lift; Maverick launches riders up its 105-foot hill in a matter of seconds before careening over a 95-degree drop (that’s 5 degrees more than straight down). Tight corkscrews and sharp turns add to the excitement before riders come to a halt and are launched 400 feet at 70 miles per hour through a tunnel of flashing LED lights. (Smile, there’s a hidden camera here) Power through an S curve, an overbanked turn, and one more hill for airtime before the ride ends and you can finally catch your breath.
Kingda Ka, Six Flags Great Adventure, New Jersey
Height and speed are the name of the game on this coaster, which at 456 feet currently reigns as the tallest roller coaster in the world. Go from 0 to 128 miles per hour in 3.5 seconds right out of the gate before plummeting almost straight down through a 270-degree spiral. Wrap things up with a 129-foot camel hump before returning to the station. The ride clocks in at an adrenaline-packed 50.6 seconds from start to finish.
Cheetah Hunt, Busch Gardens, Florida
Topping out at 60 miles per hour, Cheetah Hunt simulates the speed and grace of one of the world’s fastest animals. The ride launches out of the gate before speeding through hills, dips, and clever sections of track that feel like a real chase through the African plains. While not short on thrills, the fun aspect really shines and will have you laughing all the way through.
Goliath, Six Flags Great America, Illinois
Experience the steepest drop of any wooden coaster in the country (180 feet at 85 degrees!) before barreling into a zero-G 180-degree twist that’ll leave you wishing the ride had shoulder restraints.
Expedition Everest, Disney World Animal Kingdom, Florida
If not everyone in your party loves coasters, this one provides just the right amount of excitement. The line takes riders through a Himalayan village at the base of a mountain. Once loaded into rickety-looking mine cars, the lift hauls riders past scenic waterfalls and mountain views. At the top of the hill, however, riders unexpectedly find the track ripped up and destroyed. Before you can look around for the beast responsible, the train plunges backwards into a dark tunnel within the mountain. Expect to see a yeti not once, but twice at equally thrilling moments in the ride. The immersive details and commitment to the story makes it a winner for everyone in your crew.
Superman the Ride, Six Flags New England, Massachusetts
A strategically placed underground tunnel means that the drop on Superman the Ride is longer than the hill itself. Freefall 221 feet into a fogged, affectionately named headchopper tunnel, bank around sharp turns and experience plenty of airtime on multiple hills. Clocking in at 2:35 minutes, you’ll want to get right back in line to ride it again.
Batwing, Six Flags America, Washington, D.C.
While not the fastest or the tallest, this coaster takes advantage of more disorienting sensatory thrills. After buckling in at a seated position, the train’s cars shift so riders lay flat on their back. Climb a 115-foot hill this way as you take in views of the sky and try not to panic before rolling backwards (head first) over the top and onto the track. Just in time for a heart-stopping 10-story drop, you’ll flip over into a flying position to soar Batman-style through dips, corkscrews and, with another quick flip onto your back, a 66-foot loop at top speeds of 51 miles per hour.