Candy apple kiosk at Knoebel's

Knoebels Amusement Park Review & 10 Tips for Camping at Knoebels

One of our favorite camping spots is an old amusement park tucked in a valley in north central Pennsylvania, Knoebels Amusement Resort.

The park was founded in 1926. Visiting is like going back in time: there are wooden rollercoasters, picnic tables, an arcade with the game Fascination and candy apples – sold in a concession stand built to look like an apple.

But the best part about Knoebels camping is that you can camp in the park, right by the rides, and wake up and walk right over to the rollercoaster. With your dog! Dogs are welcome at Knoebels. So is bringing in your own food. There is no admission fee. You pay for the rides with old fashioned tickets. Parking is free.

Here’s a quick highlights video I made of our trip to Knoebels. For my top 10 camping tips, jump to the bottom of this post.

Knoebels is adorable and not fancy (although as amusement parks go, it has some serious cred…more on that below). The simple joy of a bumper car ride, buying homemade fudge from an adorable stone cottage, and sitting atop a Ferris wheel looking down on a bread-shaped building called The Loaf.

This park escaped the corporatization of amusements parks. Rides aren’t named for companies and advertising is nearly absent. It has been run by the same family since it opened, creating a preciousness that is a treat you might not have realized you missed. The antique car ride is called….Antique Cars. The bumper cars…Bumper Cars.

The drive from Philly is just over two hours and gets better as you get closer. Knoebels was the first trip we took with our Westie campervan. As the van was new to us, we weren’t sure she could make it up the winding hills, which are a nice little warm-up to get you in the mood for coastering.

Best rides at Knoebels

Wooden roller coasters

Adding to the park’s charms are three wooden roller coasters, and one of them, the Phoenix, has held the title of best wooden roller coaster in the country for the past seven years by the National Amusement Park Association.

The Phoenix thrills the old-fashioned way – with speed, heights, and most importantly a loud, creaky roar that for me adds an element of pure terror as I ride, wondering if this will be the old coaster’s last trip!

The Twister is the coaster that runs right alongside the campground. It is the tallest wooden coaster in the park, ascending over 100 feet, and reaches speeds of just over 50 mph. I fly out of my seat on both these coasters and find the Twister a rougher ride, but worth it for the thrills.

You can actually ride another ride, the Pioneer Train, that takes you through the Twister, on a track that goes underneath. It’s fun to listen to the screams as you relax on this tiny train that winds through the park.

Flying Turns

Saving the best for last here – the Flying Turns is the best of the three wooden coasters.

You’ve never ridden anything like it.

It’s a trackless coaster designed to evoke the feeling of riding in a bobsled. It’s actually a super smooth ride and manages to deliver a rare experience of thrilling without being jarring. A nice high-speed glide with just the right amount of terror. This is a one-of-a-kind ride that draws crowds, so expect a wait.

Pioneer Train

The first thing to know about the train is to expect to wait to ride it. The line is usually long, like, roller-coaster long. But worth it.

You will sit in tiny cars and enjoy a relaxing ride through the woods, under the Twister roller coaster and past little constructed Western ghost-town scenes. Halloween is a great time to visit; there are little spooky vignettes along the way. I like to ride twice, once during the day and another at night.

Grand Carousel

You’ve heard the expression “Grab the brass ring”, right? You can actually experience it at Knoebels!

Grabbing the brass ring

The brass ring is a game that only riders on the outside horses (the ones that don’t move) can play. Legend has it that’s why the game was invented…to incentivize riders to choose the stationary horses.

Here’s how to play: When the carousel gets going, listen for a bell. When it rings, the game is about to start. A metal arm holding rings will project outwards towards riders, giving each horse a chance to grab a ring when they pass.

There are many rings, but just one is brass. Read more about this special carousel and watch ring grabbing in action.

The best bumper cars in the world

An Amish woman enjoys a bumper car ride. Photo credit: Rich Cervantes

If you Google “best bumper cars in the world,” you’re likely to see Knoebel’s cars, which they call “classic Skooters.” Unlike modern bumper cars constructed of fiberglass, Skooters are made of metal. They are solid and deliver much more bumping power. The company that made them, Lusse Auto Skooters, closed decades ago but Knoebels keeps them alive for a reason. They are a rare find and offer the best bumping power!

The Whipper

Another ride that ranks high on the nostalgia meter (an actual metric used by the park!) is the Whipper, my favorite of the old-time rides.

The nostalgia rating is highest for the Whipper

The concept is pretty simple: cars loop around an oval, whipping riders at the curves. The genius of the ride to me is that it goes very slow until you get to the whip. The anticipation, coupled with the smooth-yet-thrilling motion of the whip, make it unique. The styling of the ride adds to the allure.

Little ones can enjoy a miniature version of the ride called the Kiddie Whip.

Top 10 Camping tips at Knoebels

There are four main lodging options at the park: two campgrounds, cabins and a B&B. If you’re bringing your dog, camping is your only option.

One of the two campgrounds, called simply Knoebels Campground, is located directly adjacent to the park. The other, Lake Glory, is a few miles down the road. Lake Glory is great for large group gatherings and is quieter but lacks the convenience and charm of Knoebels Campground. This review focuses only on Knoebels Campground, where we’ve camped for years.

Sites at Knoebels Campground are arranged by streets named for US states, Canadian provinces and Bermuda. The campground is sandwiched between the amusement park and Campground Road, which has entry points so you can go directly to your site and bypass the large parking lot by the park’s main entrance.

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1. Best sites at Knoebels campground

While the individual sites are adequately sized, Knoebels park campground is higher density compared to a typical state park. When it’s crowed, it can get loud, and it’s frequently crowded, as Knoebels is open seasonally and the crowds don’t seem to decrease in colder weather. Halloween is one of the busiest times.

Our experience has varied greatly depending on the area/site. Over the years, we’ve compiled a cheat-sheet of our favorite sites:

Texas Panhandle

  • Texas Panhandle sites TP-9, TP-10, TP-11 and TP-12
    On the far end of the campground, this area backs up to meadow and Mugser Run creek. It’s the most secluded spot in the campgrounds and these sites at the end of the road book months in advance. They frequently seem to be reserved by groups of families in the know who have come to Knoebels for years.
  • Texas Panhandle sites TP-1, TP-3, TP-5 and TP-7
    These sites overlook the creek and are the next best thing to the “end of the road” sites above. Note they are odd-numbered; the even number sites across the way are less flat and lack the view.

Sites near Campground Road

These sites are at the edge of the campground so you won’t be surrounded by campers on all sides. The screams from the coasters are faint up here, and the traffic is minimal. The road itself is lovely for walking. The meadow views are lovely!

  • Arizona A-4.
  • Delaware D-7 and D-9.
  • California C-12.
  • Indiana I-4, I-6 and I-8

2. Visit during Halloween

Every October, Knoebels decks out the park in festive fall foliage and spooky settings and opens just for the weekends. Hallo-Fun is held each weekend in October. Campers follow suit by decorating their RVs, stringing lights and passing out candy to kids. It’s a treat! By far our favorite time to go, and we book months in advance. Returning guests staying in cabins get priority year after year, so space there can be hard to come by.

3. Bring scooters and bikes for the kids

The campground doubles as a playground. A scooter ride around the campsite is a great way for kids to enjoy a little freedom (adults, too!) and meet other kids. There are playgrounds close to the camp store. I recommend putting your children’s names on their wheels to avoid a mix-up. All those Razor scooters look alike!

4. Reserve a platform site if you’re a tent camper

This campground lies on a hill. While many sites have been leveled, others feature wooden platforms which are built into the hill to provide a flat area. They are generously sized and make set-up much easier: no staking and fighting over the most level sleeping spot! You may request a platform site when you call to make reservations.

5. BYOB food (and drink!)

Knoebels offers many options – in the fried, caloric comfort food category. If you’re seeking lighter, healthier fare, it’s best to BYO. No worries if you don’t have a camp stove or fire; there are numerous picnic tables in the park. There are even stations with grills and electric skillets you can use to warm up your food!

Alcohol is not permitted at Knoebels, which of course means it’s not sold in the park. If you enjoy a brew when sitting around the campfire, plan ahead. You don’t want to have to break camp and drive out of the park. Pack a cooler and some cups and be discrete. If you’re respectful and quiet, the Knoebels’ police won’t arrest you. You will, on the other hand, have to make more trips to the restrooms. 🙂

6. Visit the camp store

I love a good camp store, and this one shouldn’t be missed. Cute-as-can-be Knoebels swag, practical camping supplies and candy for the kids. We still use the blue enameled tea kettle we got here on the van’s maiden voyage. If you need a minute to yourself, give the kids $5 each and send them to the store. You’ll see them later.

7. Fill up with water when you arrive

Campsites have electric but not water, so be sure to fill up. When you arrive, there are several stations near the main gate, where you’ll get the windshield tag that will hang over your dash. Be sure not to confuse the entrance line with the filling lines; check up the road a bit to see if there’s a free station; otherwise you may be waiting for nothing. There are also sink stations in the campground you can use to wash dishes. Bring a bucket or two to lug your dishes. I like to use one for soaping and the other for rinsing, an easy pop-up sink!

8. Buy your firewood here

The Knoebels family runs a lumber business close to the campsite and at the campground, the wood is good, and reasonably priced. Outdoor wood tends to get moldy, but we’ve never had a bad log here. If you’re super picky, you’ll be happy to know it’s sold by the bucket and you can choose your own logs.

9. Bring a space heater – even if you’re a tent camper

It’s much cooler upstate than in Philly. Each site here is equipped with electricity, so even tent campers have the option of sleeping with a space heater, and many of them do. Be sure to bring one that turns off automatically if it tips over like this one that comes in colors.

10. Buy tickets instead of the day pass

Admission to Knoebels is free, so if you want to ride rides, you’ll pay separately.

A few years back, Knoebels began offering day passes on most days, but we’ve found it’s more economical, and less stressful, to buy tickets a la carte.

Day passes are, of course, only good for one day. Ride tickets don’t expire.

If you’re camping for a few days, buy the tickets on your first day; you can always purchase more. Store the spares in your dashboard for a souvenir of your trip, and you won’t have to remember to bring them when you come back. If you’ve been here once, I’d say there’s a pretty good chance you’ll be back again.

5 thoughts on “Knoebels Amusement Park Review & 10 Tips for Camping at Knoebels”

  1. Cedric Noronha

    Very good post. Highly informative for travellers who want to visit Knoebels in Pennsylvania. Nicely written. Keep up the good work.

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