I am the author of three middle-grade children's books, and I blog on the side. My favorite topics are movies, writing, and pop culture.
About Kennywood Park
Every city has their share of mandatory summer destinations. Amusement parks are always a big attraction if you’re lucky enough to have one within driving distance. If you’re from Pittsburgh, PA, Kennywood Park in West Mifflin is a popular place to take a summer day trip.
This classic amusement park mixes old antique rides with new, computerized rides along with classic carnival food, music, and picnickers. Every living generation has its own memories of Kennywood. The park is constantly evolving with the times, and everyone has their own idealized image of the park. Below are 25 great things about Kennywood Park.
The Kennywood Tunnel
The Tunnel Entrance
It’s not hard to miss this landmark since it’s typically the only way you can enter the park. The parking lot is located across the street. So, once you make it through the gates, you walk down a steep, winding hill and through the tunnel.
The tunnel is low enough that adults can scrape the ceiling with their fingertips. And kids love to echo their shouts and screams as they pass through.
The ceiling drips regularly, and if it rains, the tunnel is often the first to flood. So, riders are usually escorted out an emergency exit if the park closes early due to rain.
When you come out the other side, you’re in the park, surrounded by rides, shops, and attractions. It’s nothing new for Pittsburghers who are used to bridges and tunnels transporting them from one landscape to another, but it’s still one of the highlights of the day.
The Carousel Music at Kennywood
The Carousel Music
Kennywood has a classic Merry-Go-Round just like most amusement parks and carnivals. Everyone from infants to the elderly gets on this ride to spin around in circles for the length of an old timey song or two. Kids sprint for the one lion and tiger on the horse-filled ride (even though they don’t go up and down). Older people take a seat on the benches.
I like to choose a horse that goes up and down. There, you get a good view of the inside of the ride. You can see yourself riding up and down in the mirrors as you spin around.
What I always look for, though, is the organ and drum set that creates the music for the ride. These instruments play by themselves and pump out old-fashioned songs that keep rhythm of the spinning and "galloping". That’s not something that you see every day. If you want to ride to something more contemporary but still of its time, try the 60's-themed Musik Express.
The Gum Tree/Wall
Inevitably, every year people decide to collect their chewed gum in one place, typically a tree or wall in the park. Most often, you’ll find these gum trees in the pine trees while in lines made of stairs or a ramp that help them to reach these high places.
In recent years, a section of their coaster called The Thunderbolt has housed a collection of hair ties next to a section at the end of the track where the car pauses for a second before drifting around the corner to the loading/unloading platform. There's something gross yet fascinating about these makeshift, trash-based art installations.
The Old Mill
The Mill in The Old Mill
The Old Mill boat ride is one of the oldest and first attractions that you'll find at Kennywood. This classic haunted house-style dark ride was transformed into a 3D, black light comic strip ride called Garfield’s Nightmare for several years before reverting back to a more modernized yet traditional version of its classic form.
However, one feature that has always remained is the actual mill which was used to keep the water flowing and the boats moving throughout the ride. This line moves slow. So, the mill is a mesmerizing piece of architecture to look at while you wait.
Noah's Ark Ride
The Gorilla in Noah's Ark
Noah’s Ark is a biblical-themed walk through dark ride. You enter through a whale’s mouth and work your way up into the rocking boat where you run into pairs of animals showcased behind glass. It’s a tame ride until you turn the corner, and an ornery stuffed Gorilla pops out at you, grunting from speakers above. You have no choice but to fall into the slanted wall behind you and curse this stuffed creature, teaching the kids in your group a few new words.
The Layers of Painted Wood
Almost every ride, attraction, and bench is painted in bright colors. You can tell that they must paint and repaint every year. The paint is laid on so thick that you can see the chunky brush strokes on the grain. As the paint chips away, you can see all of the other colors that the wood has been painted over the years. The entire park looks like the inside of an everlasting Gobstopper and gives off a vintage aroma.
Kids Riding The Turtles
Amusement parks are a kid’s paradise. But young kids have to start out slow in Kiddie Land and work their way up once they have hit the right height requirements. One of the cutest rides to see kids riding is The Turtles. There used to be an adult version of this ride which was removed in 2020. But parents can still ride the smaller version in Kiddie Land with their children. It's a great training ride to build up to those big coasters.
George Washington Statue at Kennywood
The “George Was Here” Statue and Plaque
In case you need a history lesson while on summer vacation, you can visit the statue of George Washington while everyone takes a drink from the fountain near the old Kangaroo Ride (a ride that spins you around in a circle before hopping off of a ramp). The plaque explains how George Washington crossed the nearby river during the Revolutionary War, meaning that Washington probably walked Kennywood’s grounds well before a funnel cake was ever fried there.
A Video of Kennywood's Carousel
Bell sounds are prevalent throughout the park. You hear them on the Grand Prix just before the cars start up. You hear them on the carousel right before the ride starts spinning. You hear them on the pig race game and water squirting game to signal you to start the race. Bells signify action, excitement, and a timed adrenaline rush.
The Giant Fountain in Lost Kennywood
There are only a few water rides at Kennywood but plenty of water flows throughout the park.
The main stage in the middle of the park is surrounded by a lake of water where visitors can rent paddle boats.
The Raging Rapids is an extreme boat ride where riders float through a rapid-filled river on a circular tube. They enter on a spinning platform and buckle in, getting sprayed by water guns and splash up from the rapids. There are gates to maneuver through. Sometimes you need fellow riders to bump you through the course. Finally, you are bumped into a wall where a waterfall pours down on some, if not all, of the riders. Spectators can stand on a bridge above the ride and watch the ride open at noon. They flood the course with water at the beginning of each day, and you have a clear shot of the waterfall where you can jeer the riders who get soaked by the waterfall. If you come out without water squishing in your shoes, you haven’t had the full Raging Rapids Experience.
The Pittsburgh Plunge is basically a wide boat that takes you up one hill and down another. It’s one quick splash that soaks your clothes without taking all day to dry like it does after exiting the Rapids. If you don’t feel wet enough, you can always just stand on the bridge next to The Plunge site and let the ride splash up and soak you without even getting on.
When you don’t want to get soaked that bad, go to the water fountain at the edge of The Plunge and watch the water cascade down, or just go to the duck or fishing pond and win yourself a whistle or Styrofoam airplane.
Cobweb-Filled Railing in Ghostwood Estate
The Spooky Atmosphere of Ghostwood Estates
One of the newer dark rides at the park is Ghostwood Estate. This ride is part haunted house, part video game as visitors are ushered into a Victorian-decorated room and listen to instructions on how to "blast" the ghosts by shooting at the targets inside the ride with a laser gun. These instructions are given by a friendly, holographic ghost who comes out of a painting.
The crowd then exits the room and gets in line up a set of stairs as they each wait for their car to arrive. Then, over the next few minutes, they're focused on shooting at the targets, trying to beat their opponents' high scores and making the ghosts and other objects in the house pop out of corners or lunge at the riders.
The Garden Clock
The Garden Clock
There are several gardens in the park, but I always look for the clock that is built into some artfully placed landscaping. It’s sometimes hard to read, but it’s such a unique piece in the park and has nothing to do with eating or standing in line, just something cool to stop for a second and look at and remind you that your time here is short.
The Wave Swinger
The Wave Swinger Chains
You can go to any playground to use a swing, but these swings are different. They lift you up into the air and spin you around in a wavy circle. It’s the perfect ride to help you dry off after you’ve just been on the soaking Pittsburgh Plunge or Raging Rapids. The best part is when you first get on the ride and have to lift up the bar to sit down and hook yourself in like an infant. Dozens of clinking chains rise and fall. It’s metal on metal and signals that you're about to go for a ride.
Grease on The Whip
I’d say watch out for this, but it’s a rite of passage to get off the Whip ride and find grease on your shoes and socks. The track is streaked with grease to keep the carts whipping around on each ride, and you have to walk on this track to get into the carts. So, it only makes sense that you take a piece of it with you when you leave. It's probably what still makes your shoes smell like Kennywood the next day.
The Exterminator Line
The Emergency Button on the Exterminator
The Exterminator is a dark ride coaster that spins you around a rat-infested factory while flying down hills in a circular car. It spins you and bumps you and squishes you. You come out feeling as though you’d been in a fight. You’re shaky and dizzy but somehow giggly. It’s totally worth the wait of two lines. Yes, two lines. If the ride is just opening, you may be able to bypass the first located outside.
As you’re ushered through a tunnel, you come out at a zigzag ramp leading up to the front of the line which moves as slow as molasses. It’s crowded and stuffy inside with just one open door to circulate the air. I was once trapped in there for over two hours during a thunderstorm, and it was miserable. That’s how you know that the ride is worth it.
There’s not much to do or look at in the line. It’s very industrial-looking with computer monitors and levers decorating the front wall with holes showing exposed, rat-chewed wires. There’s a button on the wall that you can push that will start an alarm going and red lights spinning to indicate that an emergency is taking place on the other side of the wall where you are about to be loaded into a car. It’s charming but eventually annoying as one rider after another pushes the button right before they are ushered around the corner to load up. Still, it’s all part of the experience.
Leo the Lion Garbage Can
The Lion Garbage Can
When you’re out in a crowd, people can be pigs. They leave their food wrappers on the floor, leave drink containers on walls, and drop food all over the place. Kennywood is generally clean with employees who walk around with brooms and dustpans picking up the trash, but there is one ingenious garbage can in Kiddie Land where people go looking for trash just to get a chance to use it.
Shaped like a carnival caravan, a lion's head sticks out from the center, and when you feed garbage into his mouth, he roars and sucks it up like a vacuum. Everyone gets a kick out of this. I can remember spending 10 minutes by the can one year just looking for scraps of paper to feed the lion. It’s totally worth the trip into Kiddie Land, even if everyone in your group is too big to ride any of those rides.
The Pirate Stands Guard Outside the Pirate Ship
The Sneaky Pirate Soaker at the Pirate Ship
One classic ride at the park is called "The Pirate". This ride is shaped like a pirate ship and swings you back and forth. Many of the rides in the park are decorated with the theme of the ride around them.
The Pirate is littered with classic pirate statues around the ship. One creepy guy holds a cannon, and on hot days, when you walk past, he blasts you with a shot of water. It’s alarming but ultimately satisfying. After all, if you go to Kennywood and come home dry, you’ve done something wrong.
The Sky Coaster Ride
Sky Coaster Riders
Near the Racer (a roller coaster in the park), there’s a booth where riders can sign up to ride the Sky Coaster. It’s not part of the general admission, and riders make an appointment for some time in the day to take their turn on the ride.
Here, you are harnessed and then lifted high into the air. When you get to the top, you (and one or two fellow riders), pull on a string and are launched through the air, flying back and forth like in a swinging motion. While you are in line for nearby rides, you can watch the entire process of riders being pulled up and then listen to their hysterical screams as they swing overhead throughout the course of the day.
The Top of the Racer
The Shaky Boards Over The Racer
The Racer is a coaster in the park that races two cars at once down a single track. Families like to split up on this ride so that they can race each other, and because two cars are loaded at once, the line moves fast.
Those in line stand under a covered roof while the two cars take off around a bend before meeting up at the top of the first hill. They disappear to those still in line not long after climbing the hill. Then, when the screaming starts, they whoosh overhead, shaking the roof overhead like an earthquake. This happens with every run, and less than a minute later, the cars return to the platform on opposite sides of the track, the lead car cheering in triumph.
Sal in the Window
Laffin' Sal used to greet you before you got on the train ride. Now, she's located in the window of the arcade. Sal is a large woman behind the glass laughing her head off. At first you think, how annoying, but the longer you listen to her laugh, the more you begin to laugh.
The River Scene on the Other Side of Kennywood
The River View on the Train
The train is a great ride for when you need to take a break from the spinning and coasting. Once you’re on, you travel around the edge of one side of the park. Through the trees, you can see the last of Pittsburgh’s mills and a view of the river below. It’s not unusual for a Pittsburgh landmark to have a river view, but this is a view that you don’t see downtown.
Artifacts from Rides of the Past
Rides That Aren't There Anymore
Kennywood Park is over 100 years old. So, despite many decades-old rides that are still in operation, every so often, they have to retire an old ride, and it's always sad. Sometimes rides come back in a new and improved form. And if they don't they try to leave old relics behind to remind those who remember of what used to be.
A Golden Nugget Dip Cone
Pittsburghers rave about the food at Kennywood. Potato Patch Fries take first place to most people, fried slices of potatoes dipped in melted cheese. However, I save up for an ice cream cone towards the end of the night. You can get a soft serve cone or Dip N Dots at the park, but you can also find these at countless other places. I look for things that you can only get at the park.
Near Kiddie Land, you can get one of the most unique ice cream cones ever. They dip a block of vanilla ice cream in chocolate (similar to a Klondike Bar). Then, they roll it in your choice of sprinkles or nuts and give you the option to add a cherry on a toothpick.
In case you’re not sure where to find it, there’s a giant version hanging off the side of the ice cream building. A giant drop of dripping chocolate runs off the bottom and looks like it’s just about to fall over the next person who walks under it.
The Umbrellas at Night
If you can stay late enough, when it gets dark, the lights are lit on all of the rides. It’s so pretty, but it’s the umbrella ride that I look out for. The ride twists you upwards and then back down again on umbrella-shaped cars. Each umbrella is painted a different color with lights to match, and when they start spinning, it’s one of the prettiest rides in the park.
The Goodnight Sign
When you’re ready to leave, you exit from the same tunnel from which you came in. Only on this side of the park, there’s a heart-shaped Goodnight sign above the tunnel entrance. At night, it lights up in warm colors and makes you feel both satisfied to have been there and sad to have to leave.
Have you ever visited Kennywood Park? If so, leave your favorite details about the park in the comments below!
Watching Kennywood Memories is a Pittsburgh staple for those who visit Kennywood annually.
Laura Smith (author) from Pittsburgh, PA on February 04, 2015:
He gets me every time. Thanks for the comment!
Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on February 04, 2015:
Beautiful photos and descriptions of these magical amusements. The Gorilla in Noah's ark is one I remember and would like to try. Thanks!
Laura Smith (author) from Pittsburgh, PA on February 02, 2015:
Thanks for reading! That double dip still freaks me out to this day.
Christy Kirwan from San Francisco on February 02, 2015:
I grew up near Pittsburgh, so this Hub really brings back memories! My favorite was always the Jackrabbit coaster. Great Hub, Laura. :)