From Thunder River to Roaring Rapids: Part 2 of our look at River Rapids attractions

One popular question about this type of ride:  how are the actual rapids created?  Obstacles such as pieces of timber, PVC pipes or flexible rubber hoses are mounted at the bottom of the channel and this has the effect of creating a ripple across the surface since the water has to flow slightly up to pass that obstacle.  By testing and experimenting where those items are placed, you can create any kind of action that you want.  This was a better method than the one used in Germany since once the concrete was set there, you could not change anything.  Also, we are not dealing with nimble and narrow boats, but huge round rafts and it required a lot of trial and error to perfect the course.  Using obstacles that you can move allows that.


In this picture shot at Great Escape, you can see the steel pipes that help create the rapids on that attraction.

A popular feature is also the classic waterfall placed somewhere along the ride.  Many parks built elaborate rockwork around sections of their ride and the waterfall pumps and holding reservoirs hidden among the rock facades.  The rockwork was made of sculpted cement and it was made so that the water would conveniently go in the ride path, soaking guests.  At the end of the ride, quite a few parks used powerful water jets to push the rafts toward the appropriate lift hill for unload when the ride was equipped with dual lifts.  Six Flags Astro World had to install a bumper and a water jet behind the waterfall because boats smashed through the intense triple dip rapids and then go under the waterfall… sometimes getting stuck under and causing guests to get dozens of gallons of water poured over their head until another boat pushed them out.  By installing the water jet, it helped prevent that.  Some other parks such as Six Flags Magic Mountain installed wooden barriers in front instead.

Whirlpools in the large pool/lake areas are created by submersible pumps that in theory keep boats moving through them.  In the case of Thunder River, if a raft entered it at the right moment, it would get stuck and spin in the lake until another boat came in and pushed it out.

The last element seen on Intamin rapid rides are the wave machines: huge steel blades are mounted to the side of a pool and the blade would go back and forth, creating a lot of water movement and help the boats move along in slower sections.  It also help keep the double or triple dip rapid sections filled with water.

After Thunder River opened, Six Flags already started eying where to put in their other properties.  Six Flags Magic Mountain (Valencia, CA) and Six Flags Great Adventure (Jackson, NJ) were the next parks to receive the ground breaking attraction in 1981 and according to our information,  Six Flags Magic Mountain opened first, making it the world’s oldest River Rapids attraction in operation.  The name selected by Six Flags for both rides was “Roaring Rapids” and they learned a lot from what worked and what didn’t on the prototype in Texas.

For example, the river is simply not as wide anymore and for both parks, a near copy of the Thunder River layout was impossible.  Over at Six Flags Great Adventure, Roaring Rapids featured two pools equipped with a wave machine, whirlpool pumps and a waterfall section placed after a series of rapids, similar to the original ride.  In this case, the wall surface behind the waterfall was sculpted so that guests would be pushed out toward the end of the course once it made contact with it.

In 1988, the wave makers and whirlpool generators were forever deactivated when the park installed wooden guide rails through the pools, making them useless.  Roaring Rapids was renamed “Congo Rapids” in 1991 when the area around it became the Adventure Rivers and a light jungle theme was applied to the ride.

The ride at first was considered too dry by the park, so various geysers were installed around the ride and a tunnel was announced, but never constructed.  Around 2008-2009, the water pump for the Waterfall broke and was sadly never fixed, leaving a huge gap in the experience.  For more information and great pictures of Congo Rapids, please see this page at:

The ride is still called Roaring Rapids at Six Flags Magic Mountain and it features a much more compact course with a single pool and wave machine.  The course is a nearly straight oval with the feature pool near the beginning and the wave machine is still working, helping to make the rest of the course a lot more exciting.  A lot of elaborate rockwork was constructed along and this make for a great visual experience since you are truly encased in a natural looking gorge and then out of nowhere, you hit the waterfall.  The rockwork was first sculpted by a skilled model maker employed by Duell & Associates and based on pictures that Ira West, one of Randall Duell designer, had taken while on a real rapids ride down the Colorado River.  Ira West carefully selected pictures of his white water ride down wooden dories and gave that to the model sculptor who then recreated that as a miniature.  He used real world shapes and colors in an era before digital photograpy and design to create rockworks that still look amazing today.


A nice sign of two eras: the top sign appears to be dating back years and the park kept it while installing another detailed sign under it.


The single loading station.


The boat leave the station and roll rollers into the river.



A boat is entering the station after climbing the lift hill at the end.


The transition from the lift hill to the loading station.



The first part of the river.  It was built quite wide as the park was expecting to build a second loading station.


You can see the first dip after the initial float that gives the boat the speed to enter the feature pool.  The metal blade of the wave maker can be seen in the background.


Part of the course through the trees.


The Coaster Guy provided us with this great shot of one of the raft smashing through the end of the Triple Rapid section.  You can see the boat is actually under water at that point and if you look around, you can also see some of the great Ira West inspired rockwork.


The waterfall, behind the crane that is used to transfer boats in and out of the water.

The ride was planned to also have a double loading platform and lift like at Six Flags Astro World and Six Flags Great Adventure, but only one was constructed.  The boats are also unique since they have custom headrests only seen at this park.


Three boats can be in the station at once and you can see the unique headrests in this picture.  The ropes you see are used to secure the floatation collar to the raft and the rubber skirt over it to technically “reduce” the soaking guests receive during the ride.

In 1982 and 1983, Intamin opened fixed versions of the Thunder River course with additional features at Opryland (Nashville, TN) as Grizzly River Rampage, Six Flags Over Georgia (Austell, GA) as Thunder River in 1982 and Six Flags Over Texas (Arlington, TX) as Roaring Rapids in 1983. Those featured a tunnel before the pool with the waterfall at the end and the course in general worked perfectly.  In the case of the Grizzly River Rampage, the park placed a large Grizzly figure inside the tunnel and had speakers installed to play a very loud roar when the boat went inside.  All this startled and shocked guests and made them completely unprepared for the following rapids and waterfall sequence.

Negative-G - The Remains Of Opryland USA took a trip to Nashville and stopped at the Opry Mills mall to take pictures of Grizzly River Rampage.  We included 4 in this article.

Negative-G - The Remains Of Opryland USA

You can still see the pretty rockwork and course on the outskirts of the property.

Negative-G - The Remains Of Opryland USA

At this point, with the grown forest around it, if you did not see the concrete channel, this could pass for a natural rock formation.

Negative-G - The Remains Of Opryland USA

Entrance to the tunnel that housed the Grizzly figure.

Opryland closed in 1998 and Premier Parks/Six Flags bought the equipment of 13 rides from the park, including the hardware of the Grizzly River Rampage.  This was used to construct the Penguin’s Blizzard River at Six Flags Kentucky Kingdom (Louisville, KY) in 1999.  The boats were refurbished and painted to the appropriate colors and the new course decorated with various theming features that make guests feel like they were inside Artic World from the Batman Returns movie.  The park lost the DC Comics license when Six Flags closed the park in 2008 and when the park reopened the ride in 2015, it received a new fleet of Hopkins 8 seater boats and the name changed to the Raging Rapids River Ride.  What is rather interesting visually is that while all the penguin (animals) figures and Penguin (the Batman villain) references were removed, they kept the rest of the theming and themed tunnels.


The course and rockwork on Thunder River at Six Flags Over Georgia was inspired by popular local whitewater rafting spots.  In this picture, you can see the intense rapids after the tunnel and the strategically placed waterfalls that soak the raft as it bounces off the wall and toward the station.

Busch Gardens: The Dark Continent expanded behind the train tracks in 1982.  They built Congo River Rapids, a large Intamin 12 seat river rapids attraction on what was previously undeveloped land.  The main entrance is quite dramatic as guests arrive in the center of the ride and queue there after passing over a large wooden bridge over the ride.  This bridge got even more dramatic in 1993 when Busch Gardens opened Kumba, a huge Bolliger & Mabillard Sitdown Roller Coaster.  The Cobra Roll was built around the suspension bridge next to the river.  Throughout the years, more and more guard rails were installed and the random nature of the attraction was removed as the path is pretty much fixed.


One of the current Congo River Rapids boat.  The headrests have been replaced to the same ones Hopkins had been using.


One of the rapid section.


Double Rapid section with the bridge in the background.


You can see the boat tipping through the middle of the double rapid.

Congo River Rapids was the first River Rapids to have a solid theme as the surroundings of the ride were made to look river ports that you would find in Africa.  Dramatic classic music played throughout the ride in order to raise the excitement level.


Some of the pretty theming installed next to the river banks.

Thunder River opened in 1983 at Six Flags Over Mid America (renamed to Six Flags St. Louis) in Eureka, MS.  The ride is very similar to Roaring Rapids at Six Flags Magic Mountain, but with an additional lake and wave maker further along the course.  There were initially beautiful rockwork housing the waterfall, but it collapsed in 2014/2015.  The park still wanted a waterfall feature and while waiting for the budget to redo the rockwork, re themed the surface to a local lake and turned the waterfall back on.  For 2016, the rockwork that had collapsed around a wave maker was rebuilt along with a brand new mechanism.

intamin-12-thunder-river-sfstl provided us with this picture of Thunder River at Six Flags St. Louis.

intamin-12-thunder-river-sfstl-2 took this great shot of a raft in the middle of a rapid dip.  You can see the course is nicely shaded by trees at that point.


The rebuilt waterfall, shot in 2016.  You can see the ride holding reservoir to the right in this picture.


The raft has just been under the waterfall and is heading toward the single loading station.

sfstl-9-17-2011-daredevil-daze-thunder-river-2 shot this picture of a boat going up the lift hill.  As you can see, it still features the original Intamin headrests.