Amusement parks are as much a part of American culture as baseball games and barbecues. From their earliest origins as picnic gardens at the end of city trolley routes, they have grown with America through the years and spread to all corners of the globe. Those initial visitors who gasped in terror aboard the Switchback Railway would no doubt be amazed to see how massive modern theme parks have become. Stretching across hundreds of acres and seeing annual attendance in the millions, Six Flags, Universal, and Disney serve as money-making powerhouses on which entire economies have become reliant.
Approach any park entrance today, and you’ll be greeted with towering thrill rides and heart-racing rollercoasters. Millions of dollars are spent to create sophisticated motion-simulators that transport visitors into favorite movies or far-flung galaxies. Comic books, fairy tales, or worst fears can all come to life. As much fun as a trip to Magic Kingdom can be, sometimes it can be just as fun to step back in time and visit a traditional amusement park which has a storied history behind it.
Only a short drive away in Rossville, Georgia (a Chattanooga suburb), Lake Winnepesaukah sits on the shores of its namesake lake. Originally opening in 1925, this is one of the oldest amusement parks in the southeast. For those entire 92 years, it has been family-owned and operated. It was truly a work of love for Carl and Minette Dixon, the original owners. Picnicking, swimming, and fishing were the primary activities offered in those early years, but rides were soon to follow. Two years later the Boat Chute attraction opened to the public, a ride entirely designed by the Dixons.
Today, a museum sits on the midway dedicated to preserving the unique history of this charming destination. Just across the lake, riders still make a splash on the Boat Chute. It is now the oldest-operating such ride in the world. While the surrounding park has had numerous changes and additions throughout the years, Lake Winnie itself remains unchanged.
This park runs very differently then most you may have visited. When you arrive, park in the free parking lot (free!) and head to the ticket station. You can decide to either buy an all-day hand stamp for under $35.00 or get individual tickets. If you don’t feel like riding anything, it costs less than $18 to enter. We decided to go ahead and get the day pass, because it really is a good bargain for what you get.
Past the gates it feels like you’ve arrived at your local carnival, with classic rides such as Tilt-A-Whirl and Fireball making an exciting first impression. Other classic carnival rides such as Alpine Bobs, a Ferris Wheel, and a swinging pirate ship all await. Newly-added last year is the Twister, a dizzying ride which spins brave souls head over heels. Even those with strong stomachs should really think about this one (spoken from experience here!) A kids’ area has rides the little ones and families can enjoy together, allowing those unfortunate Twister riders an appreciated rest. Kids can drive their own motorcycles or board their own magical flying elephants.
Head down the midway to the lake’s southern shore to find even more rides. Two of our favorites, the Wild Lightnin’ and Cannon Ball rollercoasters can be found here. The first is a compact wild mouse which races around hairpin turns and abrupt drops, while the second is a much larger wooden coaster themed to the grey and blue of the north and south. Opened in 1967 by the Philadelphia Toboggan Company, the coaster is surprisingly smooth for its 50th year of operation. Designated an ACE Rollercoaster Landmark, the station is devoid of any electronics. Cars are still stopped and released by pulling a manual break lever.
Other rides in this area include Oh-Zone!, a freefall which falls faster than gravity, and a Fly-O-Plane. This unique ride is the only one left of its kind in America and is a must-ride if you don’t mind going upside down. Paddleboats allow guests to ply the waters of Lake Winnie. The underwater algae forest visible through the crystal clear water are teaming with friendly fish. If you have some popcorn, through some out and watch the mad dash that ensues. The nearby skylift travels high over the water, offering great views of Lookout Mountain and the entire park.
As an added bonus, park guests get to enjoy Soakya Waterpark with park admission all throughout the summer. The park is still fairly new, having been constructed in 2013. Waterslides, a wave area, lazy river, and a kiddie splash area and playground are all included. Shaded cabanas can be purchased for $75, giving guests a private area to relax in throughout the day. The park also has an extensive picnic grove for those who wish to bring their own lunch. Many visitors make the most of this to include a family picnic during the hot hours of the day before heading back out to enjoy the rest of the park.
Our visit last week was very relaxing and enjoyable. The park is clean and well-kept, even if some of the rides are beginning to show their age. Of course, that is to be expected with a park that has been operating for almost a century! If you include the waterpark, Lake Winnepesaukah offers a good half day of fun. If you don’t want to spend an entire day at the park, try adding a stop at one of Chattanooga’s other amazing attractions to your visit, such as Rock City or the Tennessee Aquarium. For directions, ticket prices, and operating schedules, we recommend visiting the park’s website at www.lakewinnie.com.