Things to do

The definitive* ranking of Carowinds’ 11 roller coasters

It’s summer, which means it’s Carowinds season. Many people are sure to be passing through the amusement park’s gates this holiday weekend, and when they’re not watching Daughtry perform (7 p.m. tonight at the Paladium Amphitheatre) many of them will want to ride roller coasters.

With that in mind, I present the definitive* ranking of Carowinds’ 11 roller coasters.

*By definitive I mean one person’s opinion. Mine. 

(1) Fury 325

It’s the newest and the most fun, hands down. You go 325 feet up in the air, plunge down an 81-degree drop and reach speeds of 95 mph. And it’s so smooth. You feel like you’re gliding on air as you’re ripping through S-curves and diving beneath the pedestrian bridge near the entrance of the park.

(2) Nighthawk

About to ride on this monster. #Nighthawk #SaxtonsAtCarowinds

A photo posted by dan_saxton (@dan_saxton) on Jul 20, 2013 at 9:19am PDT

When I went to Carowinds earlier this summer this ride had the second longest line (after Fury), which didn’t make any sense to me until we got on the ride. It’s a flying coaster, which means you’re spending most of the ride horizontal and looking down at the ground. That first time you flip over … terrifying/exhilarating.

(3) Intimidator

8/20/2011 Wendy and Glen Swearengin take the plunge on the Intimidator at Carowinds Saturday morning. Glen proposed to Wendy on the coaster last year and the couple decided to tie the knot on the ride's platform. Todd Sumlin - Todd Sumlin

The second-newest coaster in the park may be a little overlooked now with Fury, but it shouldn’t be. The Dale Earnhardt-inspired coaster gets up to 80 mph and has several hills and drops, which I love. My friend made a good point, though: Is it the best idea to have a coaster named after someone who died in a NASCAR wreck?

(4) Afterburn

Carowinds Afterburn roller coaster. Ho CAROWINDS

The ride I still call “Top Gun” is an oldie (ish … 1999) but a goodie. It was one of the first roller coasters I ever rode and remains one of my favorites. Fun fact: Riders go through an “Immelmann,” an actual maneuver used by fighter pilots.

"WW1Immelmann" by E.L. Ford (Royal Naval Air Service) - Practical Flying. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

(5) Carolina Goldrusher

This is where y’all might start thinking I’m crazy, but bear with me. Goldrusher never fails to thrill me. Every time, I think “Oh, it’s that kiddie ride. Eh, might as well do it.” Then about halfway through the cars go flying around a corner and I find myself going “wooaaAHHGH!” So much fun.

Also, it’s the oldest roller coaster in the place, opening with the park on March 31, 1973. Respect your elders.

(6) Carolina Cobra

Folks ride the  Carolina Cobra roller coaster at Carowinds. file
Folks ride the Carolina Cobra roller coaster at Carowinds. file Andy Burriss Andy Burriss aburriss@heraldonli

I just love this concept. The coaster sends you flying down a track that turns riders upside down six times, then you get to the end and it sends you right back through the same course backward. And you can’t beat the suspense right before the change of direction.

(7) Vortex

9/01/96 1C DIEDRA LAIRD/Staff Five injuries were recorded between 1992 and 1994 on the Vortex, a stand-up roller coaster at Paramount's Carowinds. (UNPUBLISHED NOTES:) (8/15/96 STANCILL) shot of crowds on the Carolina Vortex, one of 3 rides that have had troubles at Carowinds. DIEDRA LAIRD/staff DIEDRA LAIRD

According to the Carowinds website, it’s the first stand-up roller coaster in the South and it’s a cool little ride. But, for reasons I won’t get into here, it’s always a little too uncomfortable for me. Just … yeah.

(8) Thunder Road

Thunder Road roller coaster at Carowinds amusement parkThunder Road roller coaster at Carowinds amusement park

Some people might get mad at me for ranking this classic coaster so low. People love it. I’m sure that for many native Charlotteans — my wife included — it was the first roller coaster they ever rode. But let’s be honest: There’s a reason it’s being torn down. When I went this summer I enjoyed the first half of the ride, but during the second half I could feel my brain rattling around in my skull and I left with a headache.

(9) Carolina Cyclone

7/29/98 In the front car of Carolina Cyclone l-r front row volunteer Heidi Forsythe,15,and Malinda (CQ) Hayes,17; and l-r row behind them directors Garnet McKeown and Wendy Waddle, all of Camp ARC, riding Carolina Cyclone as part of a Rock Hill Camp ARCfield trip to Carowinds today. About 35 Camp ARC teenagers from the camp, run by Rock Hill Parks, Recreation and Tourism, attended Carowinds today from 10 am to 3 pm, riding the rides and having lunch at Plantation Pavilion. The camp has 2 field trips toCarowinds during its June 15-Aug 14 run (9 1-week sessions of 35 kids each during this time). Camp ARC has been visiting Carowinds for 10 years. DIEDRA LAIRD

I rode this right after Fury during my last visit. Remember when I said how smooth Fury was? The Cyclone was not smooth. At all. Brain-rattler No. 2.

(10) Ricochet


I almost didn’t include this one, but I guess it’s a coaster. It’s one of those “Wild Mouse” ones where you twist around the track. It’s alright.

(11) Hurler


The wife and I refuse to ride this one anymore. So rough. Don’t need a brain-rattler No. 3. Nope. No thank you.

Photos:  David T. Foster, III/Charlotte Observer; Todd Sumlin/Charlotte Observer; Andy Burriss/(Rock Hill) Herald; Charlotte Observer file

Corey Inscoe @CoreyInscoe