May 21, 2024
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May 21, 2024
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Cold and Wild: The Ultimate Rides Of Mountain Creek Water Park

Lounging on Giant Mountain Creek Water Park chairs.

Even as a kid, I’ve always wanted to visit New Jersey’s most famous (and many would say infamous) waterparks, Mountain Creek Water Park, due to the supposedly insane rides. My wife Ahuva and I finally took “the plunge,” traveling an hour to the water park located in the beautiful ski area of Vernon, New Jersey. Home to over a dozen attractions, it offers water slides, cliff jumps, lazy river, mountain coaster, and adventure at every turn. All of the rides are built along the mountain, blending in with the natural elements and creating one of the most spectacular and charming parks I have ever seen.

While today there are over 1,000 waterparks ready and open for visitors’ enjoyment, back in the 1970s waterparks were a very new concept. Disney’s River Country, which operated from 1976-2001, is widely regarded as the first modern waterpark.

Roughly two years after its opening, businessman Gene Mulvihill, who owned the Vernon Valley/Great Gorge Ski Resort, wanted to make extra money during the off-summer months. Declaring himself the “Walt Disney of New Jersey,” he opened an amusement park to attract people from the New York area. Action Park was built along the ski mountains, with many of its attractions incorporated into the mountains, offering alpine slides and water slides slithering down the mountain’s sides.

Canyon Cliff Jump and Bombs Away.

Action Park was divided into a few sections: Waterworld, Motorworld and Alpine Center. Waterworld featured over a dozen water slides, including the first upside-down water slide, the Cannonball Loop. Motorworld had numerous attractions, allowing visitors to race in go-karts, ride speedboats on a lake, and even shoot tennis balls at each other on Battle Action Tanks. The Alpine Center contained a gladiator obstacle course, alpine slide and a bungee jumping tower. In addition, Action Park offered live shows and concerts throughout the day.

Unfortunately, despite all of its fun and glamor, Action Park was an abhorrently unsafe park. Hundreds of park guests sustained serious injuries, to the point that the park had to buy its own ambulance since the Vernon Township ambulance corps couldn’t keep up with the rising number of issues. Tragically, six people were killed due to the dangers of the rides. In 1996, after several years of dwindling attendance owing to guests’ fears of injuries, the park closed for good, with Mulvihill’s company declaring bankruptcy. Two years later, the park reopened under new management, changing its name to Mountain Creek Water Park. Management has since changed a few times and its name even reverted back to Action Park for two years from 2014-2016. Since then, the name Mountain Creek remains.

At the front of the park.

This brings us to today, when after years of curious longing, I finally had the chance to visit the park. Ahuva and I purchased our tickets on Groupon for $30 each (a 44% discount from the regular admission price of $53.49). To reach the park, we drove northwest through rural New Jersey. Along the way, I had to abruptly stop our car, nearly hitting a black bear emerging from the woods and running across the street just a few feet in front of us! I have seen deer before while driving, but never bears, so be vigilant on Vernon-Stockholm Road. The rest of the drive went smoothly, and we followed a few cars to a parking area in a field where hundreds of vehicles were parked. From there, we walked across a wooden bridge that led to the waterpark.

Mountain Creek is an appropriate name for the park, having literally been built on a ski mountain. In the summer, the park is stunning, offering breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains. It is adorned with elegant bushes, flowers, greenery and floral landscapes placed throughout. In designated spots, lounge chairs are positioned for families to unwind in, offering visitors the ability to bask in the sun and the scenery.

To begin my venture, I decided to try the Bombs Away Slide, essentially a green, rubbery chute that covers some rocks. After it propelled me forward for a few moments, I suddenly found myself airborne, descending 18 feet into a deep pool. The experience was quite jarring, possibly exacerbated by the freezing water (as none of the park’s water facilities is heated), and by my dislodged goggles. Without a doubt, it was the most exhilarating water slide I have ever encountered. Although I’ve engaged in cliff jumping before and fallen from higher ledges, the added boost from the waterslide introduced a new level of impact for me as I hit the water, causing my body to sting for a few minutes afterward. Unfortunately, Ahuva was prohibited by the lifeguard from riding Bombs Away and the Canyon Cliff Jump (which I’ll go into later) because she was wearing a cover-up. In accordance with park safety regulations, since cover-ups might inadvertently go over the rider’s head, they pose a hazard requiring a prohibition. Ahuva was permitted to join me on all the other rides.

Ahuva is tall enough to ride!

After going on Bombs Away I was a bit shaken, so we decided to try a gentler double-tube water slide called Alpine Rush. A half-enclosed, half-open slide, this ride sported a black and yellow pattern, reminding me of a bumblebee. As we were riding down the enclosed section, the multi-sensory lights were accompanied by music, adding a “cool” effect as we slid down. One of the park’s most popular slides, it had the longest wait of the day: 45 minutes. For most of the other slides, we stood in line for between 15-30 minutes. Ahuva and I then walked back to the front of the park to ride the ski lift. In the summer, this ski lift is generally used for mountain bikers who take their bikes up the lift then follow it by a bike trail down the mountain’s steep slope, all culminating in an action-packed bike ride. Although we didn’t have a bike, the chair ski lift (without seats) is also open to all visitors, so we treated it as another ride, standing in the cart as it was being pulled by a pulley system up the mountain. The journey down the mountain was scarier than the ascent since we saw how high up we were. With its dazzling panoramic vistas, it was awesome watching the bikers soar down the mountain below us.

At 2 p.m., the Alpine Mountain Coaster, also near the front of the park, opened, and Ahuva and I queued up to give it a try. This coaster isn’t your typical roller coaster: it’s a manual coaster with handles on the sides that allow riders to control the speed. By pushing the handles forward the cart accelerates; by pulling them back, the cart slows down. It was fascinating to observe the workers place the carts on the track as they were able to pick them up by themselves and wedge them into the metal track. Anyone above 54 inches is allowed to ride alone and individuals between 38-54 inches can ride with someone who is at least 16 years old.

The first half of the ride was a rope lift that pulled the cart up the mountain. Along the ascent, signs cautioned guests not to stop, showing pictures of how to ride properly. After approximately four minutes of climbing, a sign indicated when the top was reached, and suddenly the rope ceased pulling. For the next 90 seconds, gravity took over as the cart zoomed down the mountain. I pushed the handles forward the whole time and flew down the mountain at a blazing speed. The coaster featured steep drops, sharp turns, and even moments where it nearly went sideways while weaving down the majestic mountain and passing by the park’s waterslides.

Upon reaching the bottom, I had to wait a few minutes for Ahuva to arrive. Just behind her was another rider who had nearly caught up as Ahuva couldn’t reach the handles easily and was unable to keep accelerating the whole time, frequently using the brakes. Both Ahuva and I agreed that this was, by far, our favorite attraction of the day.

With the mountain coaster conquered, Ahuva and I celebrated by eating kosher Mini Melts® which were like small beads of ice cream. Then, we embarked on the double-tube slide Thunder Run. Like Bombs Away, the slide was also rubbery green and built on top of the mountain. This allowed it to be much bumpier as we were practically on top of the rocks. It felt like a hybrid between a traditional river rapids ride and a tube slide, with numerous drops and sharp turns that made it feel akin to being inside a pinball machine. There is a similar ride called Gauley, which supposedly is even faster, but it is single-tube only, so Ahuva and I opted not to try it this time. (Note: all of the attractions that were made out of these green rubbery materials were original offerings from Action Park.) Furthermore, in the same area, we found a family slide dubbed Colorado River. This slide is remarkably long, with a duration of approximately two-and-a-half minutes, encompassing bumps, a cave passage and moments of becoming airborne. It supposedly feels like a cross between a water slide and an actual white-water rafting experience. Though it looked amazing, we didn’t take advantage of the slide.

Enjoying Mini Melts.

Next, we raced each other down Surf Hill, which reminded me of snow tubing but for water slides. Ahuva and I grabbed blue mats that had handles in the front and carried them up a steep mountain. Once it was our turn, we placed them down, zooming down a bumpy mountain slide roughly eight stories high! It was far and away the fastest mat waterslide I have ever experienced and I really enjoyed it (while Ahuva found it to be a bit too intense).

For our final ride together, we climbed all the way to the top of the park to ride the Vortex. Along the way up, we passed signs with information and pictures of woodland animals that could sometimes be found in the area, such as foxes, raccoons and bears. This made us a bit wary because of our previous encounter with a black bear earlier on our drive. Thankfully, we didn’t see any “friendly” critters, successfully reaching the park’s peak.

Once at the peak, we were met by four attractions, two of which stood above the rest: H2OHNO!, a 99-foot high body slide that drops nearly completely vertical, and Zero-G, a trapdoor body slide that opens with a huge drop and then spirals into a double sideways looping slide. They both looked incredible but the lines were very long and we wanted to do a ride together, so we opted to pass on them. (Next time though, I hope to try them.)

Beneath these two behemoth contraptions were the Vortex and Vertigo. These slides were much more family-friendly as they were enclosed tube slides and far smaller. Vertigo was a basic purple slide that went straight down with a few bumps along the way, so we chose to ride its more challenging neighbor Vortex, which had multiple sharp turns instead. Despite looking like a tame ride from the outside, it actually went pretty fast and on some of the turns it felt like there was no gravity, which added to the fun!

Wrapping up our visit, I decided to take a leap of faith on the Canyon Cliff Jump. This 23-foot attraction has been terrifying visitors for over four decades. To ride the Canyon Cliff Jump, visitors must test their wits by standing on the ledge of one of two platforms as hundreds of guests watch to see if they will make the jump or chicken out. I’d estimate that about half of the people ended up jumping with no problem, a third needed some encouraging cheers before making the jump, and a sixth ended up chickening out altogether. As I observed more guests taking their turns and my own time to jump grew nearer, my anticipation continued to build.

Finally, when it was my turn, I stepped onto the platform and gazed down below, my legs trembling. I hesitated for a moment and I could already hear a few murmurs from the onlookers wondering if I would muster the courage to jump. I silently counted to three and then stepped off the platform, free-falling for a few seconds before splashing into the pool. The water was cold but I was glad the challenge was over! Unfortunately, that sense of accomplishment and euphoria was short-lived when Ahuva approached me and asked if I could do it again so that she could record it. So, I resolutely returned to the back of the line and I did it again so that it would be video proof!;)

Alpine Mountain Coaster.

All in all, Mountain Creek Water Park certainly lived up to its hype of being one of the world’s most thrilling water parks. There was a great mix of classic Action Park attractions (with modern safety standards) and contemporary thrill waterslides. For the classic rides, the lines were situated on the rocky terrain that had a paved makeshift stairway. I found this to be neat, making me feel like I was on a hike, and I liked it better than the typical water slide staircases that can be scary at times when I am high up.

Mountain Creek Water Park is not best suited for little kids, although they do have several kid-friendly attractions such as The Hook, a small waterslide; The Fishing Village, a water splash play area; and Lost Island River, a pint-sized lazy river. Beyond that, most of the rides are intense and you need to be in decent shape to climb all of the park’s hills. Also, the freezing cold water is not pleasant for children to play in.

If you’re interested in learning more about the park’s infamous history, I highly recommend watching the documentary “Class Action Park” (2020) on the streaming service Max. It goes through the park’s history and the absurd rides that they built. Thankfully, today Mountain Creek Water Park is much safer and Ahuva and I had a great time visiting the park. For Ahuva, it was probably a one-and-done, but I hope to return next summer, possibly with my brother Gabe, who after watching the documentary really wants to visit!

Zachary Greenberg is a consultant at Semler Brossy and the TABC track coach. This summer, Greenberg visited Disneyland and Disney World in the same week. He also recently watched the documentary “Class Action Park” on Max. If you have any recommendations of fun places for him to cover, email [email protected].

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