Why Disney Fans Need to Visit Knoebels Amusement Park

Why Disney Fans Need to Visit Knoebels Amusement Park

Knoebels Amusement Park in Elysburg, Pennsylvania calls itself America’s largest free admission amusement park; rightly so. Knoebels (pronounced kuh-no-bells) is an amusement park without a gate or fence which is surrounded by forests, mountains, campgrounds and cabins. Besides the main parking lot, you can enter Knoebels from almost anywhere on the map! (There is even a road that bisects part of the park.)

knoebels park map

Knoebels has been on my wish list of parks to visit for many years and I was excited to reach out the the wonderful Knoebels PR team about my visit. They did provide a free ride wristband for my visit in exchange for social media posts and this blog post. But readers of ImagiNERDing know that I take my visits seriously and I will post the good with the bad. Spoiler alert: Knoebles is pretty daggum amazing!

So, Why Should Disney Fans Visit Knoebels?

Simply put: Knoebels is a beautiful example of a park that predates and led to the development of Disneyland. You won’t find rides like Pirates or Splash Mountain, but you will find undeniable charm, spectacular food and family fun.

The park officially opened in 1926 and is a wonderful example of how amusement parks were back in the 1920s and 1930s, before the idea of the theme park really caught on. Also, Knoebels, like Kennywood (outside of Pittsburgh), offers museum-quality flat rides that everyone should experience. The park feels like a simpler time and the type of place where kids hang out all summer and make amazing memories.

Knoebels Atmosphere

Right off the bat I was charmed by the beauty of the park. It’s nestled among the mountains of coal country and surrounded by forests and streams.

knoebels

There are bridges and pathways that seam to meander and take you to different parts of the park. Even after spending a full day at the amusement park, I still felt like there were surprises waiting for me.

knoebels

As I mentioned, you can camp at Knoebels. This would make a neat vacation because you could visit the park for a few hours, head back to the cabin for a meal and then do a few more rides.

knoebels campground

knoebels cabins
Surprisingly, these cabins are just a few steps away from a roller coaster!

knoebels

Knoebels Rides and Attractions

Knoebels is home to six roller coasters and more flat rides and amusement rides than you can count! There is no admission to the park and each ride has separate price. You can get a wristband during the week which covers all rides (except the Haunted Mansion) but during the busy summer weekends, you do have to buy tickets for each ride (they don’t offer wristbands on the summer weekends because of the larger crowds).

The Knoebels Coasters

Knoebels is world-renowned for their three wooden coasters. Each one has an amazing story and deserves much more attention.

Flying Turns

The Flying Turns is a bobsled-style coaster that was custom-built by the park and debuted in 2013.

knoebels flying turns

It’s extremely unique and truly is a one-of-a-kind ride. The sounds of the bobsled sections are unlike any other coaster.

knoebels flying turns
The Flying Turns ride vehicle supports single or tandem riders. There is a weight limit of 400 pounds per car and you are measured anonymously before the ride.

knoebels flying turns

The Flying Turns has a very slow load time, so make sure to be in line for this coaster before the park officially opens. The employees at Knoebels are fantastic and are very good, but the coaster just has a slow load time, so expect longer waits.

The employees at Knoebels were friendly, engaging and a lot of fun. I’ve visited parks all over the country and the very best employees have been at Dollywood, Holiday World and Knoebels. The Knoebels employees came from all walks of life and truly seemed to have a love for the park and what they were doing. Also, there were multiple attendants at most of the kids rides, which never happens at most regional parks. Kudos to Knoebels!

Twister

Twister is a coaster that is based on the designs of the Mister Twister coaster from Elitch Gardens in Denver, Colorado. They were going to relocate the coaster, but there just wasn’t enough space. So, they bought the blueprints and changed the designs somewhat to fit the space available.

knoebels twister
The Twister is almost in its own land, in that you have to cross a bridge to get to it. But it’s a gorgeous coaster.
knoebels twister
Yes, the Twister uses Philadelphia Toboggan Coasters, Inc. cars. They were surprisingly comfortable and did not have a lap belt, which was a very pleasant surprise!

knoebels twister

The Phoenix

The Phoenix is another inspiring roller coaster story. Knoebels wanted a wooden coaster, but the coast of a new one was prohibitive, so they found one in San Antoinia, TX, that was at a defunct park and relocated it to Knoebels, piece-by-piece. Yes, piece-by-piece.


knoebels phoenix

knoebels phoenix

The Phoenix is a sublime wooden coaster that belies its age. It is the most spectacular coaster in the park and well deserves the accolades. This is a coaster that deserves several re-rides.

knoebels phoenix
What struck me about this image is all of the space dedicated to sitting for spectators. This is not something you’d find at a park like Disney or Universal.

Black Diamond

Blak Diamond is the fourth coaster that I was excited to try at Knoebles for historic reasons. This is a coaster that was originally called the Gold Nugget and was built in 1960 at Hunt’s Pier in New Jersey. It was a combination roller coaster and dark ride built by Philadelphia Toboggan Company and dark ride legend Bill Tracy (check out my PTC history video to learn more about Gold Nugget, here).

knoebels black diamond

knoebels black diamond

knoebels black diamond

Black Diamond was rethemed to legends of haunted coal mines of the local countryside and the special effects work very well. There are newer effects mixed with older dark ride stunts. It’s a wonder trip back through time.

Impulse

There is a modern Impulse coaster, which is odd for the flavor of the park, but younger riders (teens) will enjoy it.

The Knoebels Grand Carousel

The Grand Carousel is a work of art and one of the few remaining carousels in which you can still grab the brass ring for a free ride.

knoebels grand carousel
The carvings of the animals and the carousel are intricate and very pleasing.

knoebels grand carousel
Grab the brass ring!
knoebels grand carousel
I grabbed six!
knoebels grand carousel
During the last rotations, you throw the rings back into the lion’s mouth!

knoebels grand carousel

The Haunted Mansion

Another signature attraction is the Haunted Mansion, a classic 1973 dark ride. This is similar to The Whacky Shack at Waldameer, but offers a lot more jump scares.

knoebels haunted mansion

You do have to purchase a separate ticket for the Haunted Mansion, since it’s not included in the wrist band.

Pioneer Train

The Pioneer Train is a wonderful junior train that takes you through the nearby forest and right through the middle of Twister! It’s a fun train that’s perfect for the family.

knoebels pioneer train

knoebels pioneer train
Everybody wave!
knoebels pioneer train
You also go through several tunnels on the Pioneer Train!
knoebels pioneer train
Look! it’s Twister!

Other Knoebels Rides

Knoebels is replete with so many historic and modern flat rides that it’s mind-boggling. There are classic rides from the past and modern rides for the kids and teens.

knoebels titl-a-whirl

knoebels tea cups
I love the dimensionality of the Tea Cups sign! Check out the tea cups at the top of the sign. This ride is also very different from the typical Disney spinner ride.

knoebels

knoebels

knoebels

knoebels flyer

knoebels sky ride

knoebels sky ride

Knoebels Food!

Food at amusement parks is serious business and most food (even at Disney) is pretty terrible. Dollywood has always offered my favorite park food, but Knoebels is giving Dolly and crew some serious competition! The food at Knoebels has its roots in the Pennsylvania Dutch region and the fact that the park started as a picnic grove. The food is plentiful and very inexpensive!

Check out this awesome, round building that sells pierogis!

I did my best to snack on different things throughout the day, but I was stunned by the different choices for pierogis. Plus, the smothered fries were so good!

knoebels

knoebels lemonade
I kept wanting to ask the employees what it was like to work in a lemon!

knoebels

 

knoebels water mill saw mill
The water wheel actually propelled the round picnic shelter roof very slowly. What a cool concept!

Around Knoebels

I just wanted to share a few other photos from my visit. The park also has three separate Carousel, Coal and Knoebels Museums, but they each deserve their own post.

Just an older tractor you see from the Pioneer Train.
There is a lot of history of Knoebels and the area throughout the amusement park.

knoebels coal

knoebels

knoebels floods
Throughout its history, Knoebels has been hit with devastating floods. The park has always come back, usually within a few days. You can see flood markers throughout the park that show the highest points of each flood. In some cases, it’s hard to believe the floods didn’t destroy everything.

knoebels flood marker

knoebels t-chirts
I always like to check out the merchandise and I was very surprised with he high quality of the designs of the t-shirts at Knoebels. In most cases, they were better than most Six Flags or Cedar Fair designs.

Have you ever visited Knoebels Amusement Park in Pennsylvania? What’s your favorite ride or food?


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6 thoughts on “Why Disney Fans Need to Visit Knoebels Amusement Park

  1. Hi George! I visited Kneobels right around the time they were building the flying turns, but I had the opportunity to ride the gold nugget when it was at Hunt’s pier in Wildwood, NJ when I was a kid. The haunted mansion is such a classic there, and like you, I loved the old charm and history of the park. Glad to hear you had a great visit!

  2. You left out a LOT of the history of rides and the park. I’ve gone there for about 20 years and this article does not do it justice.

    1. You are completely right! I was only able to visit for about five hours. I needed to spend about two days to get to everything. What are your favorite parts of Knoebels?

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