Mountain Creek Water Park, known as Action Park from 1978 – 1996, is a unique, clean, and scenic water park located in Vernon, NJ. Conveniently over the Tappan Zee Bridge and minutes from the NY border, Mountain Creek is a favorable commute for those of us in lower Fairfield and Westchester Counties. Admission is also relatively cheap, at just over half the price of a Six Flags Great Adventure admission. Unlike typical water parks, Mountain Creek is located on the side of a beginner ski mountain, so most rides are built to use the contours of the natural terrain as opposed to the slides being suspended well above the ground. This makes for a lot of one of-a-kind slides, most of which are very impressive in their construction and ambiance; their rides truly are thrilling, and a lot of fun. But first a little history…
Action Park was one of the first water parks in the country, and really paved the way for water parkdom. Markedly, it was also a great learning experience in the field of water slide engineering, the way they frivolously pushed the envelope of ride safety all the while dodging insurance adjusters and employing stoners to run the rides and fudge casualty reports. In the height of the Action Park days the park had a reputation for being dangerous and unsafe, both in ride construction and operation. There were numerous injuries, as well as 6 fatalities. Those who grew up in the tri-state area and visited Action Park in the 80s and 90s may remember this, or even have firsthand experience. Feel free to share in the comments section.
I only visited Action Park three times during its twilight years, mostly with camp. My memories are hazy, but I clearly remember the sheer terror I felt there as a child. My legs would shake while I was in line for the rides. I was scared of roller coasters at the time, but that’s because they were too tall and went upside down. I was afraid of these rides because I actually thought I might die on them, or at least get seriously injured, as safety was not guaranteed. For example, immediately upon entering the park there was this:
Now I’m always down for a thrill, but this? Are they serious? This was the first time I ever looked at a ride and didn’t trust it. I knew there was a 100% chance that I would get hurt on that ride. It was usually never open, but I did see someone go on it once. It was a girl; I saw the operator at the top spray her down with a hose and in she went, although to be honest I don’t remember if she came out or not. And I wouldn’t be surprised if it was the latter, as riders were known to get stuck in the loop. Recently I discovered that a couple of my friends were at the park on some of those rare days and have actually ridden it. They both made it out unscathed, reporting that it resulted in extreme disorientation but was otherwise worth the experience. Other than that it appeared abandoned, like ruins, set off in a grassy basin near a wooded area, away from the main path. It was very ominous, and it has haunted my thoughts ever since. Still to this day I have far fetched dreams involving unimaginable roller coasters and water rides, all stemming from the mindfuck this ride gave me as a teenager.
Mountain Creek wasn’t having it, however. When the park was sold the new owners dismantled the Cannonball Loop, as if to balance out the belligerent disregard of safety that it was. A few of the other more dangerous rides from the Action Park days were also removed, namely the Aqua Scoot, the Alpine Slide, the bungee rides, the Aerodium, all of Motorworld, and a few other minor water slides. Some of the rides that remain have a higher emphasis on safety yet still pack an unrivaled punch, and a few new rides have been added in recent years as well. But enough background, let’s talk about the rides themselves.
One of the first attractions you see upon entering the park is the brand new Alpine Mountain Coaster, which sends you coasting down the mountain at about 30mph. Essentially a safer replacement for the Alpine Slide of old, in this version the cars are attached to a steel track and have seatbelts.
Instead of riding a ski lift to the midway point of the mountain you board at the base and the car is pulled up the track by a steel cable, leisurely ascending the mountain and offering nice views of a few of the slides. You can control the car’s speed on the way down, but are instructed to only use the brake at the end of the track as it can cause a collision if you go too slow. Yes, they actually instruct you to go as fast as possible. And you will actually be thrown off the ride or even out of the park if you go too slow and cause a collision. Tip: Use your foot to hold the handle down to get maximum speed. Just don’t let the ride attendants see you at the end, shhh..
If you decide to trek up the mountain from here, you’ll find 2 areas around since the Action Park days. First, off to the left in a heavily shaded area you’ll find the Tarzan Swing and the Cannonball Slides. The Tarzan Swing is a simple concept, grab a bar, swing out over the water and let go, as this brah demonstrates:
Just next door are the Cannonball Slides. These slides are rumored to offer head injuries during the final turn before dumping you out 10ft above the spring water-fed pool below. Turns out this is true, the rumor was confirmed first hand by the Phenomenal Jesse Styles when she sustained nearly-debilitating head trauma in order for me to get this photo. She is a true martyr for the sake of journalism.
If you continue to the top of the hill you will find one final slide complex, containing 2 covered tube slides and the second tallest speed slide in the country. The tube slides are not very tall or exciting; the real attraction here is H2Oh No, a 99 ft tall, almost straight down speed slide. Unlike more modern versions of this slide, which have a long horizontal section prior to the drop, this slide drops off immediately. The slide itself is not visible from the launching position, you just need to lean back and hope as you push off. As one of the biggest and baddest versions of its kind, this slide offers one of the highest thrills in the park, as well as a knee-buckling wait on a 10-story staircase, which sadistically plays at your second thoughts when the line is long.
Opposite the tenured slides resides the most modern section of the park, containing 2 slides built since the Mountain Creek transition. The Alpine Pipeline, the one with the black and yellow checker motif, sends 2 riders in a double tube down a pitch black enclosed tunnel. The ride is quite lengthy, traveling at high speeds with many turns and surprises. High Anxiety, the horn o’ plenty looking thing, sends riders in a 4-seater tube down an enclosed chute and dumps them into a huge funnel that offers feelings of temporary weightlessness as the tube travels up and down the inner walls. These rides are a lot of fun and are great examples of the progress in ride technology, yet they lack the carnal testicle-retracting feel of the older rides.
Going back down the hill and up the other path brings you to the heart of the park, containing most notably lockers, changing rooms, some shops and restaurants, a bar and the wave pool. Lockers are reasonably priced, the food was decent, and beers were cheap and allowed anywhere in the park, even in the gondolas (which I’ll get to later). The wave pool is very large, but not very deep measuring in at 5’6″. Back in the Action Park days the wave pool was much deeper and had taller waves. But after record-breaking amounts of rescues and two fatalities, it’s only natural Mountain Creek would tone it down a bit (lame).
Up above the wave pool is my favorite ride and one of the most fun things I have ever experienced: Surf Hill. Opened originally in the Action Park days, this ride was modified and renamed by Mountain Creek and was open until 2005 when it was closed and abandoned. It was recently restored and actually reopened last month just in time for my visit. It is largely the same, save for a much shorter stopping ramp at the end. This ride is similar to the slide commonly found at firehouse carnivals, only it’s much larger in scale, wet, and riders travel headfirst. Also, it’s built right into the side of the mountain. When the proper technique is applied, the rider can achieve very intense speeds, and there is a small pool of water in each lane at the bottom to stop riders. However, you can skip your mat over the water and travel even further into the stopping ramp, although this can be risky now since the ramp has been shortened in an effort to deter riders from overshooting the pool. Originally this ramp was very tall, like the side of a skate bowl, and riders could ride all the way up and catch some air. There was a very special episode of Headbangers Ball on MTV in 1993 that took place at Action Park with special guests Alice in Chains that shows a park guest performing said stunt, as well as several other features of the original park.
The one downside to this slide is the walk to the top sucks; the path is uneven and there is much tree shrapnel from all the overhanging branches. This is especially bad when combined with the beating your feet have already been through from walking around the rest park. Actually, let me take this moment to recommend picking up a pair of Aqua Sox; they are available for purchase at the park for about $20 and are highly worth it. I decided to forgo them and ended up regretting it as I butchered the bottom of my feet to the point that walking was a very slow and painful affair after only walking around part the park. If I had a pair of Aqua Sox, I would have jumped head first off Surf Hill at least 15 or 16 thousand more times in the same amount of time it took me to do it 3 times without. Walking around the park barefoot is debilitating, end of story.
The last section of water park resides below the wave pool area, hidden in a densely wooded grotto. The entrance to this section currently sports a kiddie area and some cabanas where the Aqua Scoot once lived. As you walk further the grade starts to steepen and becomes very uneven, abruptly ending at a precipice 20 feet above a pool, providing 2 cliff ledges to jump from as well as a slide to nowhere that drops you about 12 feet into a large pool. There is also a green body slide in this area that looked pretty fun, but it was not operating nor is there a mention of the ride on their website. At the far end are 3 river rapid style tube rides, arguably the 3 most unique and fun rides in the park.
Thunder Run and The Gauley share a line queue and flank each other as they twist down the rocky slope. Thunder Run is designed for riding in a double tube, while The Gauley is a single tube free-for-all. Known as Roaring Rapids in the Action Park days, you grab your tube at the bottom and wait on a path in between both slides, offering great views of riders wiping out and getting stuck. Which happens a lot. The course of Thunder Run is highly contoured in order to keep the less versatile double tube on a straight path down the course. The Gauley is a different story however, being very wide open and fiercely powerful. There is a large pool area near the middle of the slide that I saw old fat men stuck in during both my trips down, although I’m not sure how they got stuck since my tube careened through this area backwards uncontrollably both times.
My second plummet was notable and life threatening. A lifeguard in the middle section was assisting said stuck fat man as I torpedoed towards them, nearly taking out the poor girl. My hopes of traveling through the end of the slide facing forward were quickly shattered as I’m sent spiraling down this toilet bowl vortex section of slide (pictured left). Just out of view in the center of the spiral is an immediate steep drop off into an enclosed high speed tunnel, which I naturally enter again backwards while being pursued by the aforementioned newly dislodged fat man. Just when it can’t feel more like a scene out of an action movie I’m dumped out into the landing pool, my tube flips, and I hit my head on the concrete pool floor and proceed to thrash about underwater. It took me a good minute to recover and start breathing correctly again, all the while the oblivious lifeguard sat there unbeknownst someone was kinda drowning for a minute right in front of him. Not surprisingly, this just in: http://www.northjersey.com/vernontownship/5_injured_in_ride_accident_at_Mountain_Creek_amusement_park.html
The last tube slide in this area is the Colorado River. This ride utilizes a large inner tube that can seat up to 4 people and is much longer than the two smaller tube slides. The slide wraps around the bottom edge of the park, mostly out of view from the accessible areas of this section. One part even travels through a dark man-made though natural looking cave as the tube continues to pick up speed. This used to be one of the best rides in the park. I say used to because they now require you to wear a football helmet while on the ride. Yes, this water slide actually requires wearing a football helmet in order to ride, feeling nervous yet? Unfortunately for me their largest helmet wasn’t big enough, and I rode down with the metal bar of the mouth guard pressed up against the front of my chin, which would have shattered the lower half of my face should there have actually been a spill. I’m not sure how long this policy has been in place, but I’m hoping it was only for this season and next year the helmets will be gone, or that they will at least get larger helmets.
One unique and quite charming aspect of the park can be found right at the main entrance. One of the few things visible from the road is the stream of white gondola cars on the main ski lift, which runs from the bottom of the park to the very top of the mountain. Back in the Action Park days this lift brought riders up in regular lift chairs and were exited halfway up the mountain in order to board the Alpine Slide that ran below. Now, larger standing gondola cars take riders to the very top of the mountain and can accommodate mountain bikes, as the Alpine Slide was removed due to safety concerns (the Alpine Slide was the site of Action Park’s first fatality in 1980 and also lead the pack in juvenile flesh wounds) and replaced with several bike trails. The lift is free for all with a bike park or water park admission, and actually offers a nice isolated respite and scenic view during its roughly 12 minute round trip. As I mentioned earlier it’s a great opportunity to enjoy a beer or a smoke, use your imagination. In addition to the bike trails, there is also a zip line course at the top operated by a company called Zoom for a nominal up charge.
Also in this front section over where the bungee towers used to be are several sport courts including tennis, soccer, football, and batting cages, which look nice and are free to use. There’s also a free cheesy zip line ride called the Soaring Eagle that sends you partway up the mountain and back. It takes a long time to load so waits are long even when the line is short. I’d recommend skipping this one because the gondola cars or Alpine Mountain Coaster are much more fun and worth the respective waits. There was also a new dry tubing park over beyond the wave pool but I did not get a chance to check it out.
The stigma of Action Park has haunted me since childhood so it gave me a sense of closure to visit it again in its current form as an adult. And I have to say, the park still holds up today. While there is a lot missing and the park has a different overall feel, it is still a lot of fun. And some sections, particularly the river rides, still feel as visceral as ever (save for the helmet). It’s nostalgic to see what is still there and what isn’t, and what new attractions have replaced the relics of old. There was one ride built back in the 70s and closed in 1982 that still remains a mystery to me. It was called the Kayak Experience, and sent single riders in a small kayak down a narrow channel of rapids powered by underwater fans. It caused the second death of the park in 1982 when a man was electrocuted after stepping on an exposed underwater wire and the ride was subsequently closed and never reopened. From what I’ve read it was short and not that great of a ride, and I have not been able to find any pictures or real information about the ride itself. If anyone out there has any info about this ride, even if it’s just where in the park it was located, please share in the comments.
Thanks to the magic of the Internet we can still watch the episode of Headbangers Ball I mentioned earlier, without commercials or (sadly) videos. Watch below to see Riki Rachtman and the Alice in Chains crew ride some slides and wrestle each other in sumo suits.
Notably, at 10:20 you can see the Surf Hill ramp trick and at around the 17:00 mark during the sumo wrestling segment, you can see the Aqua Scoot operating in the background — the only visual proof I can find of its existence. On this ride the rider sat on a very heavy sled that they first had to carry to the top, and traveled down a series of steel rollers into a shallow pool of water, where the sled “scooted” across the surface. I’ve read this ride led to frequent scalpings and other injures, making it sound like one of the more dangerous rides in the park, which is probably why it’s seldom documented or even mentioned.
In conclusion, if you like thrills and/or water parks you owe it to yourself to visit Mountain Creek. Whether you’ll be reliving your childhood terrors once again or experiencing it for the first time the park caters to all. Just keep in mind that while there are more rules and it is no longer the bastion of ride negligence it once was, the danger is still real and you WILL get hurt if you’re not a proactive rider. The ground will tear up your feet, you need to hold on, you will get water shot up your nose, and don’t forget to lean back on the speed slide. But that’s where half the fun comes from, right pussy?
According to the Internet, I’m not the only one with a fascination for Action Park. There are many sites celebrating its legacy, sharing memories, and I even found an individual on Craig’s List who is putting together a documentary on the park during its most notorious years. And please if you have any good stories or memories of the park feel free to share them in the comments section. And finally, here are some links I’ve compiled for more information about the park:
Mountain Creek Water Park Website
Mountain Creek Bike Park Website
Mountain Creek Facebook Page
Mountain Creek Wikipedia Page:
Action Park Wikipedia Page:
Weird NJ Story on Action Park:
Remembering Action Park:
Behold the Water Slide So Dangerous it was Shut Down Immediately
Cool blog site where ex employees recount memories of park shenanigans