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The all-American abandoned amusement park road trip

Haunted, deadly, and totally abandoned.

  • 6
  • 43:05
  • 2,691 mi
  • $396
Take This Trip

Created by Destination Strange - May 12th 2017

Ever dreamed of having an amusement park to yourself? No lines for rides, no whining kids… it’s the perfect scenario. Sadly, visiting one of these abandoned theme parks is probably the closest you’ll ever come to having a whole park to yourself. I wouldn’t suggest hopping on a ride, but exploring the creepy abandoned grounds is just as cool.

Note: Some of these are on private property, while others offer tours. We don't condone trespassing and have noted how to visit each place if tours are, in fact, offered.

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Holy Land U.S.A. (Abandoned)

Holy Land USA is an abandoned theme park in Waterbury, Connecticut. It's incredibly weird, strange and totally creepy. Originally built in the 1950s, the 18-acre, biblically-inspired theme park has been closed since 1984, but its catacomb replicas, Israelite village, stations of the cross and chapel remain intact, albeit in states of ruin. Although it's not open to the public, the Waterbury Region Convention and Visitors Bureau receives tons of calls a year asking for directions. Trespassers have reported experiencing paranormal occurrences.

Over the years there have been debates over the site's future. Some want it torn down, some want it restored and others want it preserved as folk art. In 1997 a bunch of Boy Scouts repaired the "Holy Land USA" sign as a community service project. Archbishop Henry Mansell replaced the original 56-foot cross with a 50-ft stainless steel one in 2008. It's been the location of some kind of gruesome crimes, so there's a reason trespassing is strictly forbidden. The sign is a creepy photo op, though.

Lake Shawnee Amusement Park is a thrill for more reason than one. It closed its gates in the 1960's after about 40 years of business bringing joy to most... and fright to others. The park lay abandoned and unattended for years before the White family purchased the property, which Chris White continues to manage today. The White family intended to re-open Lake Shawnee Amusement Park until they realized that there was a use for the park just the way it was-- rusted, crumbling, and overgrown. People were intrigued by the creepy, eerie pictures of Lake Shawnee... and surprisingly, they wanted to visit. This abandoned amusement park is pretty overgrown these days. It shut down in 1966 and has been derelict ever since.

Before it was a theme park, Lake Shawnee was the site of both a Native American burial ground and the massacre of the Clay family. The Clay family were settlers who were attacked by Native Americans. Two of their children were killed in the attack and the third was burned at the stake. The land was later bought in the 1920s and developed into the amusement lovely.

Several tragic accidents happened at the park when it was in operation. A little girl died on the mechanical swings, when a truck backed out from a stand and struck and killed her. The second accident was a boy who drowned in the lake. After this, the park was closed down. It's believed you can still hear children laughing, and some people claim they see a swing moving all by itself.

When you visit Lake Shawnee Amusement Park (they offer tours on occasion, mostly around Halloween) you'll have a chance to explore the abandoned grounds on your own. It's a great time to take some really rad pictures that will spook your Instagram followers, and it will give you and your friends a chance to meditate on the eerie juxtaposition of the innocent fun of the carnival rides and the creepy effects that time has had on the rusted attractions.

Of course, Lake Shawnee is also the perfect setting for a Halloween ghost story. According to White, the legends of it being a burial ground were corroborated by the fact that the Whites discovered a treasure trove of Native American artifacts when digging on the land. Tours of the park often end with people experiencing something spooky and mysterious. In fact, White asked us not to reveal the nature of the paranormal activity reported at Lake Shawnee.

Since eerily similar incidents have been reported by various guests, White wants to make sure that all the paranormal happenings reported are as authentic, genuine, and organic as possible (and as someone who has heard about the various reports, I can confirm that they are seriously strange and mysterious). Besides, not knowing the specifics of ghostly happenings adds another layer to the park's spooky aura. The White family and Lake Shawnee have been featured on various TV shows, and allow paranormal investigation groups to book overnight stays during the offseason.

If you don't wind up seeing an actual ghost during your visit, don't worry... the park also features a theatrical haunted house that should give you a fright or two! Plus, the setting of the park adds a whole other level of thrills and chills-- how often can you say you went to a haunted house that might actually be haunted?

They also feature talks given by not only people who have expert history on the land, but also by people who have experienced ghostly happenings, and even occasionally from people who visited Lake Shawnee as kids, back in its glory days, which is always interesting to hear. If you're feeling brave enough to pay the park a visit, they're open on Friday and Saturday nights in the month of October between 6:30pm (for picture-taking and exploring) and midnight. For more specifics and details, or to enquire about overnight stays during the off-season, just give them a call:

Land of Oz

The Wizard of Oz is creepy enough on its own, but an abandoned Oz is even creepier. It may not be in Kansas, but this mostly abandoned theme park was still a major attraction back in the day. In the roughly 10 years it was open, it saw the death of its owner, a fire in the Emerald City (that destroyed some valuable movie props) and eventually a severe decline in visitors, forcing it to close. It still hosts reunions and Oz festivals, and parts of the park can be rented for various occasions, but it’s nothing like it once was. Also, Dorothy's House is available as a vacation rental during the summer and fall!

Disney's Abandoned River Country

The first water park in Walt Disney World opened on June 20th, 1976. It was named Disney's River Country, and it operated for 25 years. Then, after closing initially in 2001, on January 20th, 2005, it was decided that it would remain closed, permanently. However, rather than demolishing the park completely, it was simply abandoned. For the past 14 years, Disney's abandoned River Country has become a real-life jungle. The lush vegetation that was originally planted there on Bay Lake, has now overtaken the ruins of the water park.

River Country was built on 5 acres of Bay Lake, at Fort Wilderness. President Ford's daughter Susan helped open the park, which was designed to resemble a swimming hole, like the kind Mark Twain would write about in his Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer books. Bay Lake provided the freshwater that was used for the flume and raft rides. The park also had natural sand beaches for guests to walk on, instead of concrete.

River Country was a very popular water park and was quite often sold out. It inspired Disney to build two more water parks, Disney's Typhoon Lagoon Water Park and Disney's Blizzard Beach Water Park. Unlike these other water parks, River Country used unheated water, and was often closed for refurbishment when the weather got a bit chillier. There are some rumors regarding why Disney decided to close the park. One such rumor was that new laws restricted having water parks in natural bodies of water due to fears of deadly amoebas. Ew.

Today, thrillseekers and explorers try to get access to the park by jumping over fences, but you can actually see the abandoned relics if you peek through from Fort Wilderness's Hoop-Dee-Doo Review. Or, you can try your luck at getting permission to go on-site for photographs or just simple reminiscing. And Disney's official statement on visiting the abandoned River Country water park: "While we appreciate the enthusiasm of our fans, undeveloped areas of Walt Disney World are off limits to guests. As a private property owner, we have the right to trespass guests who deliberately enter unauthorized areas."

Abandoned Six Flags Park

After Hurricane Katrina, this Six Flags park was abandoned by the company after seeing the extent of the damage wreaked by the storm. There are allegedly plans in the works to do something to the remains of the park, which are now owned by the city, but nothing has been done as of yet. While exploring the grounds is trespassing and could get you arrested, many people still sneak in to get a glimpse of this once-bustling park. This is probably the most well-known of abandoned amusement parks, as it’s been heavily photographed and documented.

Dogpatch USA

This Li’l Abner-themed park was around from the early 1960′s through the early 90′s, when it finally closed. It was for sale for years after, as most abandoned amusement parks are. Although no one bought it (not even when it was listed on eBay…shocker), in a weird twist, it was awarded to a teen who sued the owners after he was nearly decapitated in an ATV accident on the property. It was then purchased, piece by piece, by a woman who revitalized parts of it. Some of the park remains abandoned.

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