For urban explorers, few places are more fascinating and haunting than abandoned amusement parks. It can be striking to see these former meccas for family fun and excitement—once brightly colored and filled with happy crowds—now desolate and in varying states of disrepair and decay.
Some have been shuttered for decades, with only the skeletons of roller coasters and tatters of midway games left behind by the elements; those that have closed more recently may still be in near-pristine operating condition, making their stillness even more eerie.
Looking for additional interesting articles on abandoned spots? Check out some of these deep dives:
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- Exploring Abandoned Tunnels: Transit and Utility Tunnels
- Exploring Abandoned Storm Drains: The Wild Art of Draining
Exploring Abandoned Amusement Parks
If you’re an urban explorer looking to branch out from the typical vacant warehouses, crumbling churches and boarded-up homes, consider taking a road trip to some or all of the abandoned amusement parks listed below.
While they may not deliver the same kind of entertainment for which they were designed, you’re sure to be captivated by their complicated histories and strangely beautiful remains.
Lake Shawnee Amusement Park (West Virginia)
When he broke ground on the first rides in the 1920s, developer Conley Snidow had no clue his Lake Shawnee Amusement Park would be built on a foundation of tragedy and murder.
During the late 18th century, a settler migrated to West Virginia with his young family, where they established an 800-acre farm. Sadly, a Native American tribe attacked the family while its patriarch was out hunting, murdering two of the family’s 14 children and kidnapping another, later burning him at the stake.
Decades passed, and Snidow acquired the property with the intention of opening an amusement park featuring circular swings, water slide, dance hall, swimming hole and speakeasy. However, tragedy soon struck again, with the deaths of a young girl on the swings and a boy in the swimming hole. By the time the park closed in 1966, six visitors had met their untimely deaths on the property.
Twenty years later, a developer attempted to build residential neighborhoods on the grounds, but when excavations revealed Native American artifacts and human remains, the plans were abandoned and both the deteriorating amusement park structures and burial plots were left intact.
Today, the park is available for private tours and even overnight stays, having been named by the Travel Channel as one of the “Most Terrifying Places in America.” It is also open to the public every October for the “Dark Carnival” event, featuring bonfires, a haunted corn maze populated with scary clowns and more. It is one of the most popular abandoned amusements parks on Earth.
Dogpatch USA (Arkansas)
In 1966, this former trout farm in the Ozarks was acquired by local real estate agent O.J. Snow, who saw it as the ideal location for the pioneer-themed amusement park he had always dreamed of opening. Upon further examination of the lot, he noted its resemblance to the community featured in the classic comic strip “Li’l Abner” and decided to use it as his inspiration.
Pitching the idea to the strip’s creator, Al Capp, he described horseback riding, paddle boats, train rides, arts and crafts shops, theater presentations and other family-friendly features as well as actors dressed as “Li’l Abner” characters. Notably, the park would not include roller coasters or other raucous rides that would detract from the dignified environment he sought to establish. Capp gave his blessing, and the park opened to about 8,000 visitors in May 1968.
While Dogpatch USA managed to turn a profit in its first few years of operation, attendance waned in the late 1970s, and the park was acquired via bankruptcy by Ozarks Entertainment, Inc. (OEI), which added roller coasters and other rides and commissioned major stars like Reba McIntire to perform in the park’s amphitheater. Despite several profitable years in the early and mid-1980s, Dogpatch USA closed its gates for good in October 1993.
After sitting idle for two decades, the property was sold to investor Charles Pelsor in 2014 for $2 million. While Pelsor has announced plans to restore the property, restock the trout farm, build a new restaurant and preserve artifacts in a Dogpatch USA museum, these grand designs have yet to materialize, leaving the neglected park available to curious urban explorers with a penchant for abandoned amusement parks.
Six Flags New Orleans
Opened to the public in 2000, this 140-acre amusement park saw just five years of operation before suffering catastrophic damage in Hurricane Katrina. The property sat under seven feet of floodwater for about a month, and the effects of extended exposure to saltwater left most of the rides in an unsafe and inoperable condition. It was declared a total loss by Six Flags, and after several years of failed plans to redevelop the site, the city of New Orleans took over the property in 2009.
Subsequent efforts to open outlet malls, parks and other attractions on the site have been unsuccessful, although the abandoned park has become a surprisingly popular film location, with scenes from “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” “Deepwater Horizon,” “Jurassic World” and several other Hollywood blockbusters staged on the property.
However, it has also seen its fair share of trespassers and vandals, so the New Orleans Police Department is frequently on patrol there—something to keep in mind if you decide to visit. Despite this, it is one of the most commonly visited abandoned amusement parks in the world today. You’ll also need to watch for the wild boars, venomous snakes, alligators and fire ants that roam the area.
Williams Grove Amusement Park (Pennsylvania)
Families flocked to this site for the better part of two centuries, starting in 1850, when the Williams family hosted community picnics in a secluded grove just outside Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania. Several years later, the area was developed into a park, and by the end of the 19th century it had been transformed into the Mechanicsburg Fairgrounds. The first carnival-style rides were added to the site in 1928, and the adjacent Williams Grove Speedway opened in 1938.
In a fateful year for the park, 1972 brought a change in ownership and the addition of several rides from the shuttered New Jersey Palisades Amusement Park, but Williams Grove also sustained severe damage when Hurricane Agnes battered the region. The park was rebuilt and continued to operate for another three decades, featuring attractions like the Cyclone, a 65-foot wooden roller coaster; the Wildcat, a steel roller coaster; several water slides; and a haunted house called Dante’s Inferno.
The amusement park closed in 2005 when its owners decided to pour all of its resources into the Williams Grove Speedway. A few of the rides were relocated elsewhere, but remnants of some—including Dante’s Inferno, a water slide platform and the skeleton of the Cyclone—are still partially standing, creating a haunting scene for urbex enthusiasts to photograph and explore.
Geauga Lake Park (Ohio)
For more than a century, Geauga Lake Park was a popular entertainment and amusement destination for local and regional visitors. Established in 1887, it featured attractions like an Olympic-size swimming pool, racetrack, theater, bowling alley and dance hall. Its first roller coaster opened in 1925, a 65-foot wooden coaster known as the Big Dipper and the largest coaster of its kind at the time. By the turn of the 20th century, the park offered more than 30 thrill rides and water attractions, including the Skyscraper, Mind Eraser and Double Loop.
Six Flags Ohio acquired the property in 2000, adding 20 new rides and investing $40 million in expanding the park. New attractions included a massive wave pool, a floorless roller coaster and another wooden coaster. Six Flags Ohio subsequently purchased the Sea World marine park located just across the lake, merging the two to form the world’s largest theme park.
However, financial challenges forced the company to sell the massive property to Cedar Fair in 2004; its new owners substantially downsized the park and shifted operations to summers only. Cedar Fair announced the closure of the amusement park in 2007 and reopened it as Wildwater Kingdom water park. Unfortunately, the new park was a flop, and the site was abandoned in 2013.
Many of the rides were moved to other amusement parks, but many structures and artifacts remain available for exploration, at least until one of the many redevelopment proposals discussed for the site come to fruition.
Joyland Amusement Park (Kansas)
Joyland originally opened in Wichita, Kansas in 1949 as a location for its owners to operate a miniature steam locomotive. Over the years, additional rides and attractions were added, including the two-story Whacky Shack funhouse. The park’s Ferris Wheel was the site of an unfortunate accident in 2004, when a 13-year old patron fell 30 feet from the ride and sustained serious injuries, prompting an investigation by the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
After the 2006 season, the park shut down due to low attendance and financial woes, and has since been targeted by vandals and damaged in several fires. Virtually every building on the site was painted with graffiti, and the sign atop the roller coaster was stolen in 2009. A 2015 windstorm destroyed most of the roller coaster, and the remains have since been razed.
A fire claimed the famous Whacky Shack in 2018. A few of the remaining rides, including the carousel and iconic entrance sign and marquee, were donated to historic preservation groups, and the rest of the site is slated to be cleared for an outdoor event center and paintball course.
Holy Land USA (Connecticut)
This 18-acre attraction opened to the public in 1955, offering visitors the chance to experience life-sized recreations of scenes from the Bible. It closed in 1984 and remained largely dormant for the next several decades, although it continued to draw curious tourists thanks to its inclusion on Roadside America’s online list of must-see quirky attractions.
Over the years, most of the park’s attractions and statues were targeted by vandals, and efforts by the Knights of Columbus and other religious groups to restore the park were unfruitful. In 2008, a new 50-foot stainless steel cross was erected in place of the original 56-foot version, and it was again replaced in 2013 with a 65-foot LED-illuminated iteration funded by the community.
In recent years, the site hosted a group of more than 1,000 parishioners celebrating a mass to honor local priest and Knights of Columbus founder Rev. Michael McGivney, who was being considered for sainthood. Otherwise, the only activity at the park consists of adventurous tourists and urban explorers who come to tour the tattered religious relics that remain in this spot on our list of the best abandoned amusement parks in the United States.
Bedrock City (South Dakota)
This once-popular theme park in Custer, South Dakota was designed to mirror the fictional town featured in the hit cartoon “The Flintstones.” The 62-acre attraction opened in 1966 and featured life-sized replicas of the Flintstone and Rubble families as well as the residences and businesses in their TV community, including the Water Buffalo lodge, a functioning drive-in movie theater and “Mount Rockmore,” a parody of the state’s famous national monument.
While most of the Hanna-Barbera-copyrighted items were removed after the park closed in 2015, many of the brightly-colored faux Stone Age buildings still stand. The site recently reopened as a campground, but urban explorers can still scope out the remnants of the original Bedrock City abandoned amusement parks on the property.
Dinosaur World (Arkansas)
When it opened in 1967 as Farwell’s Dinosaur Park, this 65-acre theme park in rural northern Arkansas featured about a dozen life-sized dinosaur sculptures. In the late 1970s, a new owner added a 40-foot King Kong statue and renamed it John Agar’s Land of Kong.
Over the years, additional replicas of dinosaurs, cavemen and other creatures—as well as a massive Noah’s Ark mural—were added, making it the largest dinosaur park in the world when it closed in 2005. Since then, the site has sat largely untouched and is overgrown with foliage; suspected arson destroyed the park’s main building in 2011, but it remains one of the more interesting abandoned amusement parks on our list.
Fun Spot Amusement Park & Zoo (Indiana)
For a half-century, this amusement park in Angola, Indiana drew millions of visitors who came to ride the state’s only roller coaster with an inversion at the time along with two dozen other thrill rides, water slides, an arcade and food stands. Fun Spot was also home to a surprisingly large zoo filled with exotic animals.
Though the park closed permanently in 2008, many of its rides, buildings and other structures remain relatively intact, making it an interesting destination for urban explorers. In fact, the defunct park was featured in photographer Seph Lawless’ book Bizarro: The World’s Most Hauntingly Beautiful Abandoned Theme Parks.
A few of the rides have since been dismantled and removed, but for the most part, the slowly deteriorating park is embraced by the community as an iconic local landmark. It is by far one of the most interesting abandoned amusement parks in the country.
Final Thoughts on Abandoned Amusement Parks In The US
Unlike other abandoned structures, amusement parks tend to occupy large amounts of land and pose more potential liability issues, making them more vulnerable to demolition and redevelopment than traditional urbex sites.
Given their endangered status, if you’re interested in exploring the abandoned amusement parks on this list, you might want to go sooner rather than later, before memories are all that’s left.