If you’ve been following along, the boys and I are on a long east coast adventure. We’ve devoted most of the month to lazing about at the beach, chasing seagulls, catching crabs, and visiting with family. We’re good at keeping things simple, but, months in advance Sarah and I were already talking about how we had to take Alex to Knoebels, a small family-owned park just minutes from where we grew up in central PA. We couldn’t wait to introduce our adventure-seeking two-year-old to the rides, knowing that we would have just as much fun watching from the sidelines. Read on to find out why this is the perfect park for a family visit, even, or especially if you don’t plan on going on the rides.
This was also the first day that Alex and Luc were reunited with their poppop and PA aunt and uncles. So between rides there was a lot of catching up with the little guys. You know, letting Luc teeth on their fingers. Carrying Alex from ride to ride and getting a kick out of hearing him talk (“let’s ride it again!”, “one more time please”, etc.).
With its out of the way location in Central PA, this isn’t an amusement park that you would expect to draw huge crowds, but surprisingly it does. I’m sure its because word has gotten out that this really is one of the great family parks. Sure the crowds can be a bit of a downer, but there are enough perks that it’s worth navigating the crowds, especially if you have little kids.
There’s no admission and you don’t have to pay for parking! This doesn’t mean the park is free, but it does mean that you can show up on any given day, take a walk through the park and go on as many or as few rides as you want. You pay-as-you-go for rides with tickets that you purchase at any number of booths throughout the park, or you can pay for a hand stamp that allows you to ride most everything. Alex loved handing over the tickets for each ride, and I remember getting a kick out of counting tickets for rides once I learned to add, #itsthelittlethings. When we were in high school, it was common to go to the park just to take a walk through it, maybe go on a roller coaster, and then pick up dinner.
Now that we have little kids, I’ve realized that free admission is key. Why pay to get into a park if you don’t plan on going on the rides? Our whole family was able to go and have a blast watching Alex experience the park for the first time (ok, he went last year, but I don’t think he remembers it). We spent almost all of our time in the kiddie section, where Alex as able to go on most of the rides by himself while the rest of us stood by and watched. Every once in while one of us would join him on a ride… and then when it came to the trains, we all hopped on! In the photos below, you can see our surprise when we’re coming out of the train tunnel – riders usually give a yell in the tunnel, and on this particular ride Alex not only understood, but also gave a big yell!
If you’re a roller coaster lover, this park has earned some major cred, especially for its wooden roller coaster, Phoenix. The Phoenix is by far my favorite ride at the park, and while there are others I love (the haunted house, the whip & the big carousel!), I still get nostalgic for some of the smaller, more quaint versions of current rides, like the old ferris wheel, some of the old roller coasters.
When it comes to the food, everyone will have their favorites, but some of ours are the the Italian sausage sandwiches, fresh cut fries with salt and vinegar, teaberry ice cream, cheese on a stick (Sarah, I’m looking at you!), funnel cakes, and the pierogies. They also have plenty of traditional park fare, from hotdogs and burgers to cotton candy and soft serve.
To make our day easier, we rented one of the larger strollers. This was the first time we did something like that, and while it wasn’t completely necessary, I think it did make our afternoon easier on everyone. No one got to tired or hot carrying him, and I think Alex really liked relaxing in the stroller between rides.
And while we’re gushing, here are a few more reasons that we love the park. It’s blanketed by shade trees! Even on a hot summer day, you’ll find plenty of shady places to take a break. If it’s a particularly hot day, bring your bathing suit and you can go for a swim in their huge pool (while there, be sure to climb up into the treetops on the big nets!). Oh, and you can take your dog to the park (not the pool)! You’ll see plenty of families walking around with dogs, and even though this may sound crazy, I’ve never seen it cause a problem.