Roller coasters are among the greatest joys in life. The thrill of the air whipping in your face as you careen down the tracks at maximum velocity is a glorious sensation. Alas, it’s too good at times and causes theme park tourists to miss the forest for the trees on occasion. Many of the best rides at amusement parks around the world aren’t roller coasters, and they’re not produced by The Walt Disney Company or Universal Studios, either. Instead, they’re triumphs of engineering and architecture from underrated vacation destinations.
Let’s take this opportunity to celebrate the hidden gems that populate parks you should have on your travel bucket list. Here are six of the best non-roller coaster attractions in the world. Remember that we’re taking Universal Studios and Disney parks out of the voting here to celebrate the truly underrated!
1. Timber Mountain Log Ride – Knott’s Berry Farm
Ominous build-up? Absolutely.
Rickety ride mechanics? Check.
Dark and foreboding tunnel? Is there any other kind?
Charmingly outdated indoor logging themes? You know it.
Bearded old men in underwear? Unfortunately yes.
Random moonshine stills? Why not?
Gentle waters that push you down the path to glory? But of course.
A breathtaking view on a sunny? YES! It’s California, people!
A splashdown that will leave your socks wet for the rest of the day? Hell yes! Well, sometimes. They kind of dialed that down during the renovation.
Timber Mountain Log Ride is a novelty in the amusement park industry. It’s ostensibly a flume ride, but it’s also themed, making it the spiritual ancestor of Splash Mountain. This Knott’s Berry Farm attraction dates back to the 1960s. It even shares roots with Disney attractions in that the ride designers brainstormed with Arrow Development, builders of The Matterhorn and other famed Disney attractions. In 2013, Timber Mountain Log Ride received an update to modernize it while maintaining its silly heritage. This attraction has remained one of the park’s most popular for almost 50 years now, and you’ll understand why if you watch the video above. It’s glorious fun, so much so that Disney basically ripped it off for Splash Mountain, which is not coincidentally one of their best rides.
2. Barnstormer – Dollywood
You’ve ridden swings since childhood. You know the sensation of pulling backward as far as you can in order to propel forward at maximum velocity. You relish in that feeling of soaring into the air, as it’s the closest humans can feel to flying on their own.
You’ve also take a spin on those pirate ships and space shuttles at amusement parks. You know the ones I mean. On the first rotation, they take your ship a quarter of the way up in the air. The next time, you go halfway. Soon afterward, you find yourself either upside down or spinning in a full turn, both of which are equally disorienting.
Barnstormer carries elements of both ideas and then elevates each one, creating an absolutely terrifying yet exhilarating ride experience. The video above displays what the ride looks like from a distance. I intentionally chose that one to mislead you a bit. If you want to know what Barnstormer is like for the ride, watch this clip instead:
If your heart’s not in your chest right now, you’re a more courageous person than me. When I take a spin on Barnstormer, the challenge is keeping the contents of my stomach internal, and it’s not a battle I win every time. In my defense, it’s the only time I’ve ever gone 45 miles per hour while flying 11 stories in the air that didn’t involve an airplane. I’m also not the only one who feels this way. Do you remember the Never Again, Grace meme from a few years ago? That was about Barnstormer.
That loving father speaks for any sane person taking a spin on the world’s scariest swing. And speaking of questionable sanity…
3. Insanity – Stratosphere Las Vegas
Admittedly, you’ll have plenty of options for entertainment when you’re in Las Vegas. One of them needs to be this ride, though. You’ll claim a spot as one of the bravest thrill ride enthusiasts on the planet if you survive this monstrosity in one piece.
The Stratosphere has garnered a well-earned reputation for its thrill rides, featuring four of them at the top of its majestic 115 story façade. Insanity is the oldest and most notorious, for reasons good and bad. As you can see from the video above, riders board what is effectively a five-pronged harness that lifts them over the building’s structure.
The metal alloy from which they dangle is all that separates humans from a 1,150 foot plunge to their gruesome deaths. And this very scenario is something guests had to ponder in 2005 when the safety system noticed a fatal flaw with the system. It triggered a fail-safe that shut down Insanity immediately…with several passengers dangling helplessly away from the building. They had little choice but to stare down at the ground far, far, faaaaar beneath them for 90 minutes. If any of them ever returned to ride again, they’re equal parts hero and fool.
Hey, did I mention that Insanity spins? Yes, it’s the equivalent of those infernal tea cups on the Mad Tea Party at Magic Kingdom, only you’re spinning at a point almost as high as the Empire State Building. You’ve never seen a protein spill like one that happens at a thousand feet. Insanity isn’t for everyone, but it’s a daredevil’s dream.