My family prides itself on a strong sense of tradition. Sundays, for example, have always been reserved for homemade buttermilk pancakes. Saturdays are for little league baseball games. But perhaps my favorite tradition of all is an annual one: a summer’s day at Lake Compounce, an amusement park in Bristol, Conn. Each year — for more than a decade — my younger brothers and I have squished ourselves into the (much too tiny) backseat of our family’s Subaru station wagon and, along with our parents, made the two-hour drive to Bristol from our Manhattan apartment.
Founded in 1846 and dubbed “New England’s Family Theme Park,” Lake Compounce is the oldest continuously operating amusement park in North America. Unlike bigger theme parks such as California’s Disneyland Resort or Six Flags Great America in Gurnee, Ill. — where wait times may climb north of two hours — the park doesn’t feel too crowded, and it’s possible to experience all of its thrills in just one action-packed day.
Guests will notice the classic rides (such as Wildcat, a wooden rollercoaster first built in 1927) mixed with a dose of more modern rides. The award-winning Boulder Dash, a high-speed wooden rollercoaster, is perhaps the park’s most famous attraction — it has been ranked the No. 1 “Wood Roller Coaster” by “Amusement Today” for the past three years. Boulder Dash winds its way through the mountainous, tree-covered terrain at speeds up to 60 mph and is best ridden after sunset.
In addition to rollercoasters and classic carnival rides, the park has several child-friendly attractions, including its Kiddie Swinger and Kiddie Bumper Cars. The park is also home to Crocodile Cove, a waterpark that borders a beach, and Lake Compounce, the area’s swimmable namesake. There are several waterslides, a lazy river and a wave pool, too.