Idlewild Park

I’ve been thinking lately about a place from my youth. It’s called . Idlewild is a amusement park located in southwestern Pennsylvania, where I grew up. It is located in an absolutely breathtakingly beautiful idyllic countryside with meandering streams and lush forests known as the Laurel Highlands.

Old Time Days at Idlewild (Photo courtesy of Idlewild Park)

Old Time Days at Idlewild (Photo courtesy of Idlewild Park)

I loved this place, and still do! I have many happy memories of family picnics there when I was a little girl.

The school district in which we lived had a picnic at the park every year at the end of the school year. All the kids would carry a bagged lunch to the school on the very last Saturday of the school year to hop on school buses that would take them to the park for the day. But, not our family.

Oh, no! This was one of our family’s big events of the summer. And, it was a big day! Dad and Mom and, usually Grandma, would pack up the station wagon with the picnic fixings and us kids and we would drive over the mountain to get to the park as soon as it opened. The three food staples always on hand at this yearly picnic were Mom’s potato salad and pickled eggs and Grandma’s ham salad. Sometimes, we had Dad’s homemade chocolate and peanut butter fudge. And we always packed a few bottles of fix-a-drink (see the story here

What this meant is that our friends from school would go sit under a pavilion and eat a PB&J or a cold cut sandwich, while we grilled hot dogs and hamburgers and had potato salad, ham salad and huge chunks of watermelon. The students who went to the park from school had to leave the park at 5 p.m. But, not us! We could stay till the park closed. Matter of fact, I do recall one time packing up and leaving so late that we got locked in the park! Some park attendant had to come back and let us out! We were the Griswalds before there were the Griswalds, if you know what I mean!

Some of my earliest memories are of this park. I remember going when I was very small, and too little for the “big kid” rides. So, I spent my time in Kiddie Land. My favorite ride there was one that wasn’t even motorized. It was called Kiddie Cars. You got to hop into this little car (that reminded me of a giant ice skate) and you got to pedal yourself (on a rail) around a little wooded area. If some slow poke littler kid (yes, I meant to say littler) was in front of you, then you were stuck! I used to ride the rail as fast as I could pedal and at the end, the ride attendant would tell me that I was the fastest of anyone he had ever seen in his many years of supervising that ride. So, I would naturally, pay another ticket and go around again to see if I could beat my own record! He always said I did!

But, I really couldn’t wait until I was tall enough to ride the big kid rides – the roller coaster, bumper cars and caterpillar. The Rollo Coaster at Idlewild is awesome. It is a Philadelphia Toboggan Company Rollo Coaster built and sent to the park in 1938. It is still in operation today and has been named a Classic Coaster by the American Coaster Enthusiasts.

The Rollo Coaster (photo courtesy of Idlewild Park)

The Rollo Coaster (photo courtesy of Idlewild Park)

The Caterpillar is an old ride, too. According to Idlewild’s website ( the Caterpillar is a set of linked cars that speed around a circular track. During the ride, a green canopy covers the riders leaving them in the dark. From the outside, the covered ride resembles a caterpillar. There are only three Caterpillar rides remaining in North America with only two, including Idlewild’s 1947 model, known to still use the canopy.

The Caterpillar (photo courtesy of Idlewild Park)

The Caterpillar (photo courtesy of Idlewild Park)

The bumper cars, known as Skooters, were first introduced at Idlewild in 1931. The cars, themselves, have been replaced a few times over the last seven decades, but the building that houses the ride remains the same.

The Bumper Cars (Photo courtesy of Idlewild Park)

The Bumper Cars (Photo courtesy of Idlewild Park)

The Merry-Go-Round is a beautiful carousal. It, too, was built by Philadelphia Toboggan Company and has been at Idlewild since 1931.

Idlewild was founded in 1878, making it the oldest amusement park in Pennsylvania. I also read somewhere that it is the third oldest park in the nation and the twelfth oldest park in the world.  It has won several awards, including five from Amusement Today as the second-best children’s park in the world.

So, I will be in western Pennsylvania in August having my yearly vacation with my three sisters. And, I want to spend one day at Idlewild. We could pack a picnic! Linda can make Mom’s potato salad. I could make Grandma’s ham salad. Bonnie could make Dad’s fudge. Pam, well, I don’t know what to have her make. We’ll think of something!

And, then, on my bucket list, I want to ride the Rollo Coaster! It’s tame by today’s standards, so I don’t think it will kill us! And, I can post the pictures on my blog! Gosh, I hope there’s not a weight restriction in order to ride!

So, I hope my sisters are up for it! And, dear readers, if you are ever in western Pennsylvania, spend a day at Idlewild Park. You won’t regret it!


25 thoughts on “Idlewild Park

  1. There are so many wonderful things to do in the Laurel Highlands, including spending a great day at Idlewild. They are adding some new attractions too. This blog site includes other wonderful activities to enjoy in the Laurel Highlands, check it out

    • Sara, the Laurel Highlands are such a beautiful part of Pennsylvania! I consider myself lucky that I grew up there! The link you included in your comment looks like a very good source of information! Thanks!

  2. It used to be Idlewild, Kennywood, and Sand Castle were owned by the same family. I don’t know if that’s true today. Each park has it’s own unique appeal. My second date with my now husband (1972) was at Kennywood. I screamed my lungs out on the Thunderbolt and haven’t been on it since!!! Do you know that I am only 5 minutes from Kennywood and haven’t been there since Kara was in a cheerleading competion in 1996!!! We used to go to Sand Castle (just a few minutes from my house)on Sunday nights for a car cruze and oldies dance. It’s been quite a while since I was at Sand Castle. …So I have memories from the “BIG 3” amusement parks of southwestern PA.

  3. I worked at the park 2006-2008 in the rides department. At one point or another, I have operated every ride in the park. I loved my summers there and will miss the park greatly this summer. I will be interning in Africa for most of the summer but as soon as I get back in late July, a trip to Idlewild is a must.

    The Caterpillar was definitely one of the hardest rides in the park to operate. At first I hated it but by the end of the summer I fell in love with her.

    Bumper cars, however, are at the bottom of my list of favorites!

    • I am now 50 years old and would still love to work there!

      Thanks so much for taking the time to comment on my blog. BTW, I love how you called The Caterpillar “her.”

      • My friend and I gave unofficial names to all the rides in the park (Ryan Round Up, Wilma Whip, etc).
        We came up with the names ourselves except the Caterpillar’s. I asked a little girl on the ride to name it and she said Cynthia Catepillar.

        • J, Of course she was named Cynthia! Love it! I’ll remember that when we go this year! However, I might not ride her! At least one sister and I hate things that go round! We’ll see…

  4. OMG Everyone!

    I just remembered the time I ran to the Rollo Coaster upon our arrival to the park to see if I was tall enough to ride that year and, after I discovered that I was, I ran back to our picnic site to get Mom to come ride it with me! That very first climb up, I thought I was going to pee my pants!

    So, okay, I’m crying now! Happy tears. Happy memories. Woohoo!

  5. Welp – here you go. I read about your story and followed the link from the Idlewild web site.

    I am lucky enough to live near Idlewild just as you did growing up. Plenty of childhood memories for me as well and my family is now making new memories. We are season pass holders and go to the park as often as we can each summer.

    Reading your story reminded me how lucky I am to have Idlewild so near. Sometimes we take for granted the things closest to us. Thanks for reminding me and thanks for a great story.

    • Scott, Thank you for commenting! You know, I have lived in different parts of the southeast and have been to several different amusement parks in my life – Carowinds, Six Flags, Kings Dominion, etc. None compare to the charm of Idlewild!

  6. A few pf my memories include:

    1) Mom always dressed Pam and me alike. It was so neat to get new matching outfits. (Pam and I are the closest in age – that’s the only reason that I can think on that one.)

    2) Mom, dad, amd gramdma always wanted to eat before we when down the the park. . . we kids, hated that, forget the food, let’s go have fun.

    3) Always remember looking for the perfect picnic table and shaded spot.

    4) When walking down to the park, crossing the little stream. I don’t know what that was such a fasination.

    5) Those bumber cars!!!!!

    6) Petting the animals.

    7) Watching the special shows the park put on.

    8) Hating when it got dark because we had to go soon.

    9) Having a most wonderful day and counting the days until the next picnic.

    Happy days.

    • Bon, Yes I remember now that Mom and Grandma wanted to eat first! It would take so long to get set up and get everything ready! And, that little stream! Everything you say is so true!

      So, will you ride the Rollo Coaster with me?

      • I have to ride it in the front seat, then in the middle seat, and of course the very last seat. Still have to put my hands up in the air. Oh, we are so brave.

        Let’s not forget the mousetrap rollercoaster. That’s a hoot also. I also liked to take the row boats out and go around the park. Of course, Ken did the rowing. When we got hot, Ken and I also would hop the train to cool down as we would wind through the park ever so slowly and bumpy.

        Remember the smell of cotton candy, french fries and candy apples.

        One more thing, do you remember the game right beside the rollercoaster. You had powerful squirt guns that you had to aim in the center of the object with, lets say 12 other people. Whom ever got their tube filled first got a prize. Loved that.

        • Bon, So you are saying you are going to ride the Rollo coaster three times? Woohoo! You are brave! Yes, I do remember the squirt guns! Also, remember the paint place, too, where you squirted all different colors of paint on a white piece of cardboard and then spun it to make crazy designs. and the fishing booth, where you dipped your hook into the little stream to catch little numbered fish to win the corresponding prize!

          • Cin, I was remembering the paint swirls booth and the little fish stream. If you watched for a while you could figure out what color or number went for the big prizes. Then when you saw it coming
            dip your hook. Of course you had to be at the returning side so you could see it coming.

            Hey, anyone remember seeing peacocks in the park or am I thinking of the Denver Zoo?

        • Bon, I remembered the little train but don’t remember ever taking a row boat. We’ll have to do that as well being as we got so good at rowing when we visited Cindy in South Carolina. Actually I think Cindy and you did the rowing. Linda and I just supervised. Next time
          it will be Linda and my turn to row.

          Bon, I wonder if they still have the squirt gun game. You and I were pretty good. I say the four of us have to have a contest. May the best man (I mean woman) win.

    • Too cool that Idlewild linked you! Now all of Western PA will reminisce with our family!

  7. I remember all the good times we had at Ildewild Park. The kiddie rides (including the pony rides) and the adult rides. Mom used to love the roller coster and would raise her arms above her head. I used to think she was sooo brave. Anyway, my dear little sister peep I make a mean macaroni salad that my family and coworkers request when we have potlucks. So I’ll be able to hold my own with you all.

    Hey, by the way I loved all the history and pictures of the park.

    Dad didn’t bother with Storybook forrest when we were kids but I remember taking Denny and Lori (our neice and nephew) there.

    • Pam, Yes, you made me remember watching mom riding the roller coaster from the ground (I was too short to ride yet) and her raising her arms! Woohoo! She was brave!

      And, the Penny Arcade! And getting our fortunes told by that mechanical fortune teller (kinda like Zoltar in the movie Big, but ours was a woman)!

      So, are you gonna ride the Rollo Coaster with me?

      • Cindy, I will take the leap and join you on the Rollo Coster even though I’m getting more cautious as I age. I want to be a part of bucket list endeavors. We’ve already done a few together.

        All the memories and stories are great and I enjoyed Idlewild Parks website. Good job Cindy girl (little Peep). See you in August and we’ll party, picnic, and ride. Hey I won’t ride anything that goes in circles (caterpiller or tilt-a-whirl) Even the Merry-go-round makes me nauseaus.

  8. Be sure to visit Story Book Forest….My favorite! Poke your heads through the big block of cheese! And try to remove King Arthur’s sword! Oh, and visit the crooked house!

    • Care, I thought about adding Story Book Forest, but decided I was opening a whole nother topic!

      For those of you that don’t know, Story Book Forest is right next door to Idlewild. At one time, two separate owners and two separate admissions. Today, the same parent company owns both and one price admission gets you there, too! It is an awesome place, too!

      I don’t think anyone has been able to remove Excalibur from that stone!

  9. Yes, I’m up for going to Idlewild and making mom’s potato salad. Once, when I was a BIG kid, I went on the Kiddie Kar and wrecked because I was going too fast. I had grease all over myself and had to live that way all day! (At that time I don’t think I minded being dirty!) Can’t wait for August!!!…..But I doubt they will let me on the Kiddie Kar this time!

    • Lin, Okay, so, no to the Kiddie Kars, but you didn’t say if you were willing to get on the Rollo Coaster…

      BTW, What doesn’t kill us only makes us stronger!

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