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.
Kingda Ka, Six Flags Great Adventure (Jackson, New Jersey)
The tallest and fastest roller coaster in North America establishes its credentials right away. Riders reach 128 miles per hour in just three and a half seconds after climbing a 456-foot peak at a 90-degree angle. The drop is a stomach-turning 270-degree spiral. The entire ride lasts 50.6 seconds, but the dizzying effect will stay with you for an hour or two.