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5.19.2016

A Visit to Historic Knoebels Amusement Resort, Elysburg, PA

Knoebels Amusement Resort is a one-of-a-kind place. It harkens back to old time amusement parks, while also having some modern thrills. As you may have already known, Pennsylvania is home to seventeen wooden roller coasters, more than double that of the next closest state. Knoebels is home to three of them, including the perennial favorite Phoenix, plus the highly regarded Twister and Flying Turns coasters. The park also has two excellent steel coasters, with the looping Impulse roller coaster, and the Black Diamond dark ride roller coaster that manages to be both fun and thrilling, while incorporating a coal mining theme that references the rugged history of the region. This park has fought against tough odds, surviving through the boom and bust of coal mining in the region. Dozens of other amusement parks in north central and northeastern Pennsylvania were shuttered in the years following the exodus of the coal and steel industries in this region. Knoebels is the only amusement park that survived in the region. Through the resourcefulness of the Knoebels family, the park not only survived through the thin years, but it eventually flourished. The nearby Yuengling Brewery has a similar history as another institution that beat the odds when nearly all of the breweries were shuttered in the region following the bust of the coal industry. As the park enters its 90th season, we need to appreciate the difficult circumstances that this park was able to overcome, in addition to enjoying this excellent family owned institution.
The Flyers, a classic set of Bisch-Rocco flyers, once a mainstay in amusement parks and now only a handful remain. These flyers were once located at another historic PA park, Kennywood. Knoebels purchased this ride when Kennywood was about to scrap it when the engine blew out. Sensing an opportunity, the Knoebels purchased this ride and replaced the motor with an old truck engine. Because this motor ran in the opposite direction of the original motor, the flyer tubs were reversed, thus you enter the tubs from the inside as opposed to the outside. While a handful of these rides remain, very few are operated to their highest potential. Knoebels runs these at full speed, providing quite a thrill.

The roller coaster in the background is the Flying Turns, a coaster that was the culmination of an effort to resurrect an old coaster style, one that had not been in operation for decades. 
The park's latest coaster, Impulse, with a thrilling mixture of extreme airtime and fun inversions. It debuted last season. 
Fascination is a quirky game that only survives in a handful of places, like many of the great things that Knoebels has. They keep this game in pristine condition, something that is extremely difficult to do. Spending lots of time playing this game is a staple of any visit to the park. 
Naturally, Brit won right away!
One of the central parts of the charm and excellence of this amusement park is the way this park has held on to their many classic and rare attractions, in addition to picking up many priceless rides, attractions, and more, from many parks that were either removing their rides or closing. In the 60s, 70s, and 80s when most of the parks in the region ended up closing, Knoebels went and found many things that could improve their park. Between the family's mechanical prowess and keen eye for spotting a bargain, the park has not only salvaged much of what would have otherwise been thrown out, it has also preserved a little bit of the legacy of all of these parks and allowed future generations to experience what may have otherwise been completely lost. For example, in addition to the rides that I have already mentioned, the park is home to two priceless antique carousels, one of which spent time at the former Croops Glen Park in Hunlock Creek, PA and the former Sunset Beach Park at Harvey's Lake, PA. These two parks were near and dear to the hearts of many North Eastern PA natives, including my Grandmother and others. You can visit Knoebels and recapture some of the joys that previous generations experienced at these old parks. The Grand Carousel spent several years in New York and New Jersey, before Knoebels picked it up as a bargain and made it the centerpiece of their park in 1941. It is one of the only carousels that remains where you can reach out for the brass ring. 
In the 1980s, Dick Knoebel was interested in having a wooden roller coaster at the park. He inquired about possibly moving a wooden roller coaster The Phoenix Roller Coaster was designed by Herbert Schmeck of the Philadelphia Toboggan Company in 1948. The Coaster operated for 32 years in San Antonio, Texas as the Rocket at the former Playland Park. The coaster's fate stood in limbo, and was eventually purchased by Dick Knoebel, taken apart, moved to Knoebels, and rebuilt in 1985 where it has thrilled millions of riders since.
The Knoebels have always been a resourceful bunch. This covered bridge, dating back to 1870, was moved to the park in the 1930s. It was purchased for a sum of forty dollars and it spans the border between Columbia and Northumberland counties. It was originally located near Benton, PA.
The Flying Turns, as I mentioned earlier, was a recreation of a design that had not been in use for many decades. This wooden bobsled coaster is a blast for young and old and it offers quite a thrill. It was a challenge to get this project up and running to modern standards. It took the better part of a decade to get it fully set and the results are excellent. This was a "hot rod" style project for the park and they did a terrific job.
The Twister is a recreation of a classic wooden roller coaster that was once located at the original Elitch Gardens in Denver. The original was designed by John Allen of the Philadelphia Toboggan Company This coaster is unique in that it has a double lift hill that enables the coaster to have a large lift, without taking up too much space. They built this coaster in house, something that is almost unheard of, and they did a terrific job. It has thrilled riders since 1999.

Part of the thrill of this ride is standing in the classic station and watching the trains pass the station twice on the swooping helix drops that encircle the station.

Knoebels is widely regarded in industry publications in having the best (and least expensive) food of any amusement park, the best carousel, the best dark ride, the best bumper cars, one of the best wooden roller coasters, and so much more. It is also home to dozens of historic rides that are amongst the last of their kind. The family rides selection at the park is second to none, with dozens of family rides and attractions, and more. 

To fully take in Knoebels, you really need to try to spend two days at the park. As soon as I walk in to Knoebels, my pace immediately slows down. I relax and find my happy place at Knoebels. We love amusement parks and travel all over the place to visit them. Knoebels is truly the perfect amusement park. The rides are superb, the location within a mountain valley is stunning, creeks flow through the park, there are tons of historic rides and attractions that are meticulously maintained, and the place has so much character. If you are planning to stay at the park, they have two different campgrounds, in addition to a golf course. If you have a dog, take it along with you. Dogs can even ride on some of the rides at the park. 
As the lights pop on at Knoebels, this park really comes alive.

The attention to every detail at Knoebels is something that really makes this place special. Instead of building just a basic bridge to cross the creek, they built a covered bridge. 
And goodnight to one of our favorite places on the planet, Knoebels Amusement Park. We've visited this place for most of my life and it is so special to me, my family, and countless others that have made family memories at this world-class destination.
If you are interested in more Knoebels history, and in learning about more of the amusement parks throughout the state, be sure to check out our book, "Great Pennsylvania Amusement Parks Road Trip." It is available through local bookstores, online, and through the drop down menu near the top of this page. 

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