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.
Where Is Idlewild Park?
If you’re from Southwestern Pennsylvania, you’ve probably heard of, if not been to, Idlewild Park and Soak Zone. This amusement/water park has been around since 1878, starting as a campground and eventually adding rides, pools, and other attractions that make for an adventurous day in the middle of the mountainous woods of Ligonier.
Those of us who grew up visiting this summer destination at least once a year have certain spots in the park that we just have to hit. Below are 15 great things about Idlewild Park.
1. The Forrest Landscape
The woodsy landscape of Idlewild is what makes it unique. Each section of the park is hidden by the others by the green, leafy trees that shield it from the busy roads and any view of civilization.
There’s still that campground feeling among all of those electric rides and state-of-the-art pools and water slides. The bathroom facilities look like little cottages with screen doors and front porches.
They still have picnic groves in the parking lot where you can pack a lunch and eat away from the bustling park itself. It’s not lunchtime at Idlewild if bees aren’t trying to get into your pop cans and the wind isn’t trying to blow away your paper plates. The heart of the park, where the rides are located, is made of gravel where you will inevitably get rocks stuck in your shoes throughout the day, but that’s all part of the experience.
2. The Snacks in Story Book Forrest
Story Book Forrest is one of the best places to take anyone under the age of six. It’s got interactive storybook scenes, dozens of picture-taking opportunities, and your favorite nursery rhyme characters come to life. You get to visit Pinocchio’s house, try to pull King Arthur's sword from the stone, and sit on Aladdin’s magic carpet among other things.
The best parts of the trip through Story Book Forrest, though, are the spots where you get a treat. The first is the Good Ship Lollipop where you can expect to come out with a sucker selected from a treasure chest by a friendly pirate. When you get to Little Red Riding Hood’s house, the lunch-toting girl is waiting for you, typically with a package of crackers for each visitor. If you’re really lucky, Snow White will be waiting outside the Dwarves’ house to stamp your hand.
3. Raccoon Lagoon
Idlewild is very kid-friendly. Aside from Story Book Forrest, there’s Raccoon Lagoon, an entire section of the park dedicated to kiddie rides. Parents can sometimes join their kids on these rides.
It's fun to watch kids circle around on the Pollywog Regatta. Four riders are loaded into boats that spin in a circle near a giant fountain while they turn little steering wheels. The Motorcycles are also a nostalgic favorite of mine.
4. The Narrow Train Bridge
Idlewild’s train ride is called the Loyalhanna Limited Railroad and actually takes you from one section of the park to another, from Raccoon Lagoon to Hootin' Holler However, it involves crossing a long, narrow bridge over the Loyalhanna Creek below.
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5. Confusion Hill Defying Gravity
The only walk-through ride in the park is Confusion Hill where groups are led through a building filled with optical illusions and clever construction. In one room, the tour guide rolls a ball onto a crooked shelf on the wall, starting at the lower end, and amazingly, the ball rolls up the other side instead of back down. It’s a simple magic trick that leaves everyone wondering how it works.
6. Riding Through the Trolley Tunnel
If you can stomach the hour-long wait to ride the Mr. Rogers Neighborhood Trolley, which was updated in 2015 to take riders through Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood, you’re relieved when you’re finally loaded into the car and begin the ride. It’s all worth it when the trolley music starts, and you coast through the tunnel into the neighborhood of make-believe, set on a much larger skill than you’re used to seeing on TV. It’s one of those transporting moments of childhood that you’re not likely to forget.
7. The Rollo Coaster
A great first roller coaster for kids to ride is also one of the best rides in the park. This wooden coaster snakes riders through the woods at the edge of the park and is so quick and smooth that almost anyone can handle the one-minute ride.
The first hill is the most thrilling because it really gets the ride going, and takes you up with that clinking chain started by a large lever that an operator pushes on the platform. It seems like such a long way up for a kid, but as an adult, it gives you your roller coaster fix for the day and is one that you can ride over and over again. It's also one of the fastest-moving lines in the park.
8. Sticking to the Super Round-Up
You don’t find this ride too many places anymore, but it’s one of the best. What’s most amazing is the fact that you’re held in by a loose chain. There are no shoulder straps or seat belts. You just stand back and let the ride spin you around while you practically stick to the wall of your individual compartments.
9. Getting Stuck at the Top of The Spider
The Spider ride is a visually interesting and equally intense ride at the park. It takes forever to load, but it’s worth it. It requires loading riders on the ground and lifting the others higher and higher into the air until you are suspended upside down in mid-air.
The smaller you are, the more you’re sure that you are going to slide out and come crashing down onto the concrete below. Just when you think you can’t hold on anymore, you are lowered and spun around a little closer to the ground. Eventually, the ride starts and the riders spin around in their carts while the ride itself spins in a circle and the individual arms lift up and down in the air.
10. The Pool
At the peak of the day, it's time to go to the pool. The pool area features several slides that lead right into the main pool along with others found in the outskirts of the pool area which feature a giant Soak Zone bucket, Hydro Racers, and Rafter's Run.
11. Raccoon Burgers
One of the best places to eat in the park is Ricky Raccoon’s-Grill Side in Raccoon Lagoon. They grill giant burgers that you can smell from the entrance. They have barbecue-quality burgers that are worth the wait.
12. Jumping Across the Swinging Bridge in Jumping Jungle
As big fans of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, it was always mandatory that I hop across the bouncy bridge in Jumping Jungle. The long bridge is surrounded by netting on both sides so that you don’t fall over the side. It brings back memories of that famous bridge scene in the movie. Half of the bridge walkers are going to jump on and shake the bridge as hard as they can while the others will spend their trip across screaming at the others to stop.
13. The Mesmerizing Jungle Catch
This netted court gives you a chance to perform your own magic. Jets of air shoot up from short, vertical pipes, and colorful, plastic balls are strewn throughout the ground for you to pick up and place over the pipes, allowing the balls to float in mid-air.
Every kid tries the same old tricks, balancing two or three balls at once or shoving a ball down into the pipe and letting it shoot up into the air and fall to the ground. It’s a simple but mesmerizing trick, especially for toddlers and pre-school-aged kids or even a tired adult looking to amuse themselves with some innocent fun.
14. Racing Boats in the Alligator Swamp
Jumping Jungle is all about interaction with the other amusement park goers. Sometimes it gets downright competitive. In one corner of the park, there is a shallow pool with several inflatable boats that float below clothesline rope. The object of the ride is to pull yourselves across the pool and back as fast as you can using the rope. Riders in each boat tend to race each other across the pool and back. It’s not as easy as it looks, and if you don’t have a lot of older riders in your boat, you can end up losing to your competition.
15. Reminiscing About Old Rides
Through the years, all amusement parks add new rides and remove old ones. One of the more thrilling rides in the otherwise tame park was the Caterpillar.
Riders were loaded in connected cars and then sent around and around in a bumpy circle as it spun faster and faster. Halfway through the ride, a large tent popped up from the center of the ride and covered all of the cars, making it seem like you’re one section of a giant caterpillar.
The canvas tent was full of holes, and sunlight streamed in through these holes as you struggled to maintain your balance and try to keep from squashing or being squashed by your rider. This was one of many attractions that have disappeared over the years, and it’s a reminder to enjoy them while they last.