Summer is officially here, fellow wanderers! Of course, we all know that means its time for bar-b-cues, fishing trips, and family vacations to get underway.
Whether it’s hiking trips in the mountains, expeditions to Yellowstone, or a day trip to Dollywood, summertime gives us a chance to come together and spend more time with those we love. Pool parties, endless days on South Holston Lake, and frequent trips to Wetlands Water Park help us beat that stifling afternoon heat the Tennessee Valley is so famous for. Long summer evenings are like magic, as the fireflies alight and the katydids sing their chorus to accompany yet another gorgeous sunset.
Another favorite summer tradition for many is visiting one of the dozens of country fairs which roll into town. Open fields are soon turned into a colorful canvas of thrilling rides, flickering lights, and delicious foods. The smell of cotton candy blows in the wind and carnival music plays long into the night, bringing back childhood memories of carnivals gone by. It’s this feeling of nostalgia that Carowinds amusement park has tried to capture with the opening of the new County Fair area. Carowinds, located just about three hours away in Charlotte, features one of the largest collections of rollercoasters and thrill rides anywhere in the south and is also home to the third-tallest rollercoaster in the entire world.
Opened in 1973, Carowinds was originally going to be part of a much larger resort with the intention of competing with the likes of Walt Disney World. Alas, the resort hotels and other amenities never materialized, but we were fortunate enough to receive one of the largest thrill ride collections of any park in the region. Today, as you approach the park from I-77, the towering hills of no less than thirteen rollercoasters march across the skyline and dare you to come face your fears.
As you approach the main park entrance, you’ll notice two of the defining characteristics of Carowinds. First, the main entry plaza is split down the middle with a defining line. On the right lies North Carolina and to the left is South Carolina. Founder Earl Patterson deliberately chose to place the park on the border of the two states as a way of celebrating and bringing the two states closer together. Areas throughout the park are themed to the diverse landscape of the Carolina’s, and flags throughout the park indicate which state you’re currently in.
The second thing you are bound to notice is the bright blue and green track of Fury 325 sweeping over the entry plaza. Currently the third tallest rollercoaster in the world, this giga-coaster stretches over a mile long and reaches speeds of ninety-five miles an hour. Standing to the left of the walkway is Fury’s signature turnaround, affectionately named the “treble clef turn.” This maneuver spirals around before tackling a sideways hill, offering a unique sensation of airtime while turned almost ninety-degrees. Don’t stand and gawk at the fantastic twists and turns too long; you need to go ride it yourself!
Once you enter the park, you’ll have the choice to go to the right or left. Not unlike Dollywood, the park is mostly situated in a large circle, allowing easy navigation. If the sight of Fury 325 has whetted your thrill-seeking appetite, you’ll want to go to the right. A quick left turn, however, will bring you to the park’s other signature coaster: Intimidator. Named for racing legend Dale Earnhardt, this megacoaster was the star of the show until Fury showed up. A 232 foot first drop and multiple camelback hills still proves this coaster has a lot to throw at riders who dare to step onto the NASCAR-themed trains.
Continuing clockwise through the park, the next area is Planet Snoopy. Kids of all ages will have a blast enjoying one of the largest kid’s areas in an amusement park featuring dozens of pint-sized rides and a few bigger offerings the whole family can enjoy together, such as the Flying Ace Aerial Chase inverted coaster.
Nearby, you’ll hear the roar of a much larger inverted coaster known as Afterburn. This g-force machine whips riders through six inversions as it soars over the park. The air-force theme fits well here, as riders hit over four positive g’s on many of the insane elements. If crazy elements aren’t your style, try heading over to the Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare arena. This interactive 3D shooting attraction pits players against each other as they fight either for the flowers or the zombies in an effort to score the most points!
The County Fair area features four new rides that one would normally find at a local carnival. The Wave Swinger and Do-Si-Do spin riders in different directions, while the Rock’n’Roller lets you rock out to your favorite Elvis hits. The crown jewel of this area is the Electro-Spin, a dizzying six-armed contraption which sends riders in fifteen different directions while spinning at the end of a huge arm. Completely disorienting, the ride should only be attempted by those who have strong stomachs.
Carolina Boardwalk is an area themed to a classic seaside boardwalk. Classic attractions here include Ricochet, a wild-mouse style coaster with pinwheel turns, and the Carolina Goldrusher. This mine train takes riders down a mine shaft and through several intense helixes as it simulates a runaway mine train. Thrill Zone nearby is home to several flat rides such as the Drop Tower freefall and Scream Weaver. Here you’ll also find the Hurler wooden coaster, but the king of the area is Fury 325.
Carowinds offers so many other attractions that we haven’t yet mentioned, you honestly need more than a single day to experience everything the park has to offer. Thankfully, the park now includes a camping area for those who prefer not to stay in an area hotel. Other rides and attractions include the Nighthawk flying coaster and Vortex stand-up coaster are unique takes on a ride that has been around for over a hundred years. The Carolina Skytower has great views of the surrounding Piedmont and the beautiful Charlotte skyline ten miles away. If you’re brave, the views are even better on Windseeker, a 300-foot swing ride which leaves your feet swaying in the open breeze. Several shows and musical performances are offered throughout the year as well.
During the autumn months, the park is transformed into Scarowinds and has over a dozen haunted mazes and scare zones. This year will also see the first Christmas event at the park throughout November and December. While it’s still summer, you might want to check out Carolina Harbor waterpark, which is included free with park admission. Dozens of slides offer fun for all ages. Two gigantic wave pools, a kids splash pool, and several climbing/water complexes will provide hours of relaxation. While we didn’t get a chance to visit on our last trip, we’ll definitely be back in the future to do a full review.