Lake Compounce: America’s Oldest Continuously-Operating Theme Park

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To comprehend the reasons why Lake Compounce has been able to stay open since 1846, perhaps a trip through the woods will help you understand.

While the country’s longest continuously-operating theme park, located in Bristol, Connecticut, may not be Six Flags, attractions like Boulder Dash and Wildcat make this park stand out completely on its own.

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Boulder Dash is a non-stop 60 mph thrill ride through the woods of central Connecticut on the side of a mountain that wooden roller coaster fans can’t stop praising. It was rated the number one wooden coaster in 2001 and 2004 by National Amusement Park Historical Association and won the top prize in 2004 and 2013 in Amusement Today’s Golden Ticket Awards for Best Wooden Coaster.

Guests are unable to see most of the 4,672-foot track before entering, so the surprise factor for the first time rider is a huge added bonus. With a ride time of two-and-a-half minutes, the ride continues to thrill from the first hill ascension until the cars pull into unload. Plus, how many of you have ridden a coaster that is fully immersed in the forest?

The Wildcat coaster is a little tamer, but extremely impressive given that it opened in 1927. Continuous updates, most notably during the most recent off-season, have allowed for guests to continually enjoy the attraction. Regardless of the age, Wildcat is perfect for wooden coaster fans.

Lake Compounce General Manager

Lake Compounce General Manager Jerry Brick

“It’s not rocket science,” said park General Manager Jerry Brick, about how the park has managed to stay open for so long. “Keep the place clean, hire great people that love their job and have great guest service. We don’t have a magic eight ball, but focusing on the basics works. Also the diversity of the park attractions, where anyone at any age can ride most of the rides here, makes for the complete package.”

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Another giant addition has been adding Halloween and Christmas dates to the schedule. The harsh New England weather doesn’t allow to for locals to hop on Boulder Dash with scarves and stocking hats on while snow hits them in the face, but Lake Compounce does the holidays right.

Copyright Lake Compounce

Copyright Lake Compounce

Every Friday through Sunday from October 3 through November 1, guests enjoy five giant haunted houses, two haunted trails and over 160 actors. Holiday lights, meetings with Santa and train rides take place every Friday through Sunday from November 28 through December 21.

Copyright Lake Compounce

Copyright Lake Compounce

Spooks aren’t limited to Halloween, as Ghost Hunt is a shoot-‘em-up Buzz Lightyear-type attraction, where once guests hit the targets, the ghosts become more animated. This type of attraction is always a hit with kids and any competitive type, as it’s impossible not to look at the score of the person sitting next to you.

It’s impossible to say Ghost Hunt isn’t at least semi-inspired by the Haunted Mansion, but find me any spooky, ghost-themed attraction that isn’t.

ghost sign

The location of the park, while quite suburban, benefits the company quite a bit. According to Brick, from Bristol, a trip to Boston’s Faneuil Hall is two hours away and so is downtown Manhattan. Six Flags New England, located in Agawam, Massachusetts, is a mere 40 miles away. While both are in the same business, Brick is confident in his park.

“I know what we are,” said Brick proudly in comparison to Six Flags and other competition. “Boulder Dash is our flagship attraction. We offer a different product than other theme parks. The big parks like Disney and Universal seem to have an endless supply of money. People enjoy our parks. We’re proud of that here. We keep offering new attractions and people respond to that.”


According to Safety and Training Manager Tyler Morrell, the park relies on local high schoolers, college students, retirees and teachers during the summer months to fill its many roles. Morrell was quick to point out that some of the ride technology in the newer attractions, such as Thunder N’ Lightning, is as high tech as you can imagine. The screaming swing-type attraction has the same cable propulsion mechanism that launches jets off aircraft carriers.

Copyright Lake Compounce

Copyright Lake Compounce

In the over a century-and-a-half they’ve been open, things haven’t been so perfect. Before the park was bought out in 1996, they were on the verge of bankruptcy. They are currently owned by Palace Entertainment.

One of the major ways they have stood out has been their food. Unlike most theme parks, fountain drinks are free, as the park has a deal with Pepsi where the drink prices are built into the park admission. While it’s normal to see McDonald’s and other restaurant chains inside parks, Lake Compounce really went for something unique.

pinks stand

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Pink’s Hot Dogs is a staple of Hollywood and has been for 75 years. A few other locations have popped up on the west coast and one made it as far as Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio, but Brick was all smiles as he stood in front of the stand and noted that Lake Compounce has the only Pink’s Hot Dogs on the east coast.

Johnny Rockets has recently come to the park, but the transition hasn’t been smooth. This will be the first full year of the hamburger chain taking residence in the beach area of the park.

This leads me to the “other” side of Lake Compounce, which consists of Crocodile Cove, a water park boasting water thrill rides, a wave pool and cabanas. Expanding the beach area has not been easy, as Lake Compounce management has worked closely with the town to make this possible.

Copyright Lake Compounce

Copyright Lake Compounce

“We were looking to expand the water park, but were landlocked,” explained Brick. “In order for us to expand, we had to build a new road for the town. The road that was there before was on park land and we had to spend hundreds of hours to move around the land to make this possible. We also had to bring power, water and sewer to the area.”

Crocodile Cove is named after the oldest political dinner in the country, which took place on the grounds over 130 years ago at the Croc Pot Cafeteria in the Crocodile Club.

Another one of Lake Compounce’s famous facts is that the Rob Reiner-directed film, “And So it Goes,” set to open later this year, was partially filmed at the water park. The film stars Michael Douglas and Diane Keaton.

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Work is being done six days a week on Bear Creek, the camping and RV section of the park, which they plan on opening on July 1. The plan, according to Brick, is to make the park a multi-day destination and the cabins will offer full amenities, including kitchens, bathrooms and power.

For families, wooden coaster fans, those looking to catch some rays or folks wanting to spend a few days camping, Lake Compounce is exactly what it sets out to be. Those New Englanders looking to take a trip, consider Bristol, Connecticut as your next stop. Honestly, can you say you’ve ridden a coaster through the woods?

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