The twists, the turns, the awkward group photos during the drop: Roller coasters are predictable and predictably thrilling. But they aren't all created equal. Where your run-of-the-mill loop-the-loop merely weakens knees, a great coaster – one of Ohio's aging wooden monsters or a Dale Earnhardt–inspired speedster in Virginia – makes riders question their decision to climb aboard then decide it was the right move after all.
Since the Mauch Chunk gravity railroad, a mining company track in Pennsylvania, opened in 1827, American engineers have been building bigger and badder thrill rides. Here are the best in the country.
El Toro, Six Flags Great Adventure (Jackson, New Jersey)
For roller coaster enthusiasts, New Jersey is a destination like no other. And the chief attraction is El Toro at Six Flags Great Adventure in Jackson, a massive park full of massive rides that all look tiny compared to the intensely vertical wooden centerpiece. El Toro's 76-degree first drop is among the steepest of any wooden coasters on Earth. True to its name, the coaster, which reaches speeds of up to 70 miles per hour, feels like a ride on a bucking bull as the hills come in quick succession.