The Next Generation of Wooden Roller Coasters


Hurler - Kings DominionThe Next Generation of Wooden Roller Coasters – Part I
Not Your Father’s Wooden Roller Coasters
From my early riding experiences at Kings Dominion on wooden staples like the old-school racing coaster Rebel Yell, I would use two words to describe wooden roller coasters. Rough and boring. Of course some woodies were more enjoyable than others, but I think overall I didn’t appreciate wooden coasters. And who could blame me? Compared to their steel counterparts that were breaking world records for height and speed and throwing riders into awe-inspiring loops and inversions, wooden coasters seemed about as run of the mill as can be.

I’d heard about legends like the popular woodies out in Ohio like the Beast and Mean Streak. Also, Texas Giant, Megafobia in England, and the preeminent woodie, The Cyclone at Astroland, But these seemed like exceptions to the rule. The wooden coasters in my neck of the woods, the Mid Atlantic area of the Eastern U.S. were nothing to write home about. So, my status as a steelie fan was solidified early on in my coaster enthusiastness.

However, this all changed a few years ago. Both Great Coasters International, Gravity Group, and even steel stalwarts Intamin are changing the game by delivering wooden coasters that I would never describe as boring or even all that rough. My new found respect for wooden coasters both new and some old all began with Boulder Dash in 2005.

Boulder Dash – A Fast & Furious Ride on a Mountain
Boulder Dash is a terrain coaster located on the side of a mountain behind Lake Compounce. The large Custom Coasters International woodie likely helped to put the small Connecticut park on the map. After an unforgettable climb through the dense forest on the mountainside, the train takes a swooping dive to the right and the rest is an intense ride packed with lots of speed and several moments of airtime. Boulder Dash’s unique setting brought me to the park and thankfully its ride was as impressive as its location.

Thunderhead – World-Class Woodie with a Smooth & Twisted RideThunderhead - Dollywood
Dollywood received critical acclaim for their GCI designed Thunderhead. The coaster promised a beautifully twisted layout and it more than delivered. Aside from the ride’s twists and turns, Thunderhead features a one-of-a-kind station fly-through. About midway through its course Thunderhead sends riders tearing through an upper area of the station. I enjoyed the fly-through, but was really most impressed by the coaster’s buttery smooth ride. Using GCI’s millennium flyer trains that were lightly themed and more open than PTC’s, the ride was surprisingly smooth. The smoothness encouraged re-rides, something unusual for most woodies.

The Voyage – An Intense Marathon of Thrills
Holiday World’s The Voyage is a wonder to behold. It sports a traditional out-and-back layout, but riders encounter so many insane elements that The Voyage is far from traditional. This monster features eight underground traverses, two 90-degree banked turns, and a total ride time of 2 minutes and 45 seconds. An unThe Voyage - Holiday Worldassuming 154′ drop generates the speed needed to push the standard PTC trains to warp speed for nearly the entire ride. Thanks to the Gravity Group’s genius design The Voyage is still storming its way down the track all the way up to the final brakes.

The highlight on the journey is the ‘triple down in the dark’. Leaving the mid-course brake run, the train enters yet another tunnel and then the bottom literally drops out from under you in pitch black darkness. The Voyage is far from boring, but a little rough. It’s definitely a wooden coaster that’s redefined its genre and has taken the Golden Ticket Award from the former winner, Thunderhead.

In Part 2 of Next Generation Woodies, I’ll cover Intamin’s revolutionary, pre-fabricated El Toro, Ravine Flyer 2, and the god of the underworld Hades. We’ll also take a look into the future with wooden coasters set to open in 2009.

What’s your favorite wooden roller coaster? Are you a fan of older woodies or today’s woodies? Leave a comment below. Images courtesy of CoasterImage.

Founder of My favorite coasters are B&M hypers and gigas. I'm also a huge fan of terrain roller coasters.


  1. What's up coaster critic?I love your blogs and check your site out every day!Keep up the good work.I am surprsed that you do not give your home park much props.Kings Dominion us a top 5 park for me and i have been to most parks in the U.S.The Grizzly made my top ten woodie list.It is sort of a mini Beast!You must ride it at night to get the full effect.Rebel Yell is also an exceptional wood coaster,but that must be enjoyed in the front.The back was just too rough and I usually love a little roughness.I really enjoy the old school out and back woodies.The park itself is just filled with above average coasters where as most parks have one great coaster and a bunch of duds to go along with the great one.My home park is Dorney and that park has nothing to offer.

  2. Dion, I will give you Grizzly (7/10), but the other woodies at Kings Dominion are average or below. The last time I rode Hurler, it was really rough. Rebel Yell is somewhat fun. Sitting in the back of a backwards train offers some great air on the first drop, but as a whole these woodies just can't match up the park's steel coasters. That was really my point.Would you prefer KD's 4 woodies to Dorney's best 4 steel coasters?Thanks for reading.

    • hey, now! don't hate on hurler! that ride is great! even though the first time i rode (2nd time this season) it it was pouring out and we had to leave the line. once it stopped, and we went back, my friends sister was like "whoo! wet tracks!" and scared me, but it was AWESOME!!!! sit in the back next time you go, you get GREAT air time. grizzly is amazing too, rebel yell is okay, i guess. i've never ridden it backwards, but can't now that they don't do backwards any more. 🙁

  3. Interesting view on wooden coasters. I think few would use the word "boring", but to each his own.By the way, just to clarify for you, Boulder Dash was designed by Custom Coasters International (CCI), not Great Coasters International (GCI), though GCI has done much of the needed repair work to the ride since it opened.

  4. Thanks Anonymous. I sometimes get the GCIs and CCIs confused. I wouldn't call woodies boring anymore, it was just my early view because a rough, bumpy, jerky ride with some hills and drops didn't seem to match up to the loops, insane heights, and smoother ride on steel coasters. Or at least that's how how I used to see it.Now my Top 10 is littered with wooden coasters. I've got 6 woodies and 4 steel coasters. And I appreciate even the older woodies a lot more than I used to. To me, it's these newer woodies that really opened my eyes to wooden coasters. Thanks for reading!

  5. enthusiastnessIs that really a word? ;)My current top 10 (OK, 11):The Voyage, Holiday WorldThe Beast (after dark!), King's IslandThunderbolt – no brakes, KennywoodMillenium Force, Cedar PointFirehawk, King's IslandRaptor, Cedar PointRavine Flyer II, WaldameerThunderhead, DollywoodMaverick, Cedar PointTwister / Raven, Knoebel's / Holiday WorldIt sounds like Boulderdash should be put on mu "to do" list for next year.

  6. Nope.'Enthusiastness' is not a word, but maybe it will be now that I've used it.You've got quite a nice top ten there Judy. The Beast after dark is an amazing experience. Especially in the summer with all those fireflies. And yes, Boulderdash should definitely be on your to do list. You can tie a visit to Lake Compounce in with a trip to Six Flags New England pretty easily.


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