Idlewild and SoakZone is set in Pennsylvania’s beautiful Laurel Highlands, just a few minutes from the town center of Ligonier. As the oldest consecutively running amusement park in Pennsylvania and one of the oldest amusement parks in the US, they have to be doing something right to have such a long tradition of family fun. In recent years, Idlewild even received the Golden Ticket Award for Best Children’s Park in the world several years in a row. (Which is amazing, considering that it’s been around for over 140 years!)
On our recent weekend trip from Pittsburgh to Ligonier, we got to spend the day at Idlewild and SoakZone with my 2 year old son and 4 year old niece. Although this charming amusement park is great for kids of all ages, its especially ideal for toddlers. Below are eight of our favorite reasons to visit Idlewild with a toddler.
Disclaimer: We received tickets for Idlewild in exchange for review. As always, all opinions are gladly our own. Note that we may also receive a small commission for any items purchased through our links, at no extra charge to you.
1. Story Book Forest Makes Nursery Rhymes and Other Children’s Stories Come to Life
Story Book Forest is the first attraction to open at Idlewild on a daily basis, and it couldn’t be a better start to a day at Idlewild with little ones. Upon entering the forest through the huge children’s book, we were immediately greeted by the sweetest lady playing mother goose. From there, the first stop on our tour of Story Book Forest was walking onto the Good Ship Lollipop. After being given lollipops on their first stop, the kids were instantly hooked.
Throughout the forest, there are several opportunities for families to walk through and climb into various structures. There are adorable houses throughout, from stories like Little Red Riding Hood, Goldilocks and the Three Bears, and The Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe. The path throughout the forest is adorned with signs and quotes from the related nursery rhymes along the way. I loved getting to re-live some of my favorite childhood nursery rhymes with my son, including some I forgot about until then. I didn’t get a chance to experience Idlewild as a child, and Story Book Forest was just as magical as I hoped it would be.
In addition to the fun play houses and other displays, there are several animals throughout the trail, including goats and sheep. (You can guess which nursery rhymes they’re from!) The trail ends at the castle from the Sword in the Stone. Within the castle, kids can try to pull out the sword, interact with the talking fountain and meet a princess.
In total, it took us about an hour to walk through Story Book Forest. This was timed perfectly, since other parts of Idlewild didn’t open until 11:30am on the day we were there.
2. Jumpin’ Jungle Lets Kids of All Ages Climb & Play
Jumpin’ Jungle is right next to Story Book Forest. It’s the perfect place for children of any age, from babies to teens, to blow off steam. There’s a variety of activities and climbing for kids of all heights and skill levels. If you’re visiting Idlewild with a toddler, below are a few things they can do in Jumping’ Jungle.
- Jump into Bubbling Springs, the huge ball pit
- Play music on the Jungle Organ and blow balls in the air with the Jungle Juggler
- Walk across the suspension bridge
- Slide down big foot’s mudslide (must be 32″ or taller and with an adult if under 42″)
- Run around the tree trunk and use the slides at the Safari Tree Hut
- Crawl through the Tunnel Crawl made of netted rope
- Toddlers 36″ or taller can see how high they cam climb in the Net Climb
3. There Are SO Many Rides for Toddlers at Idlewild
Having been to some larger, more commercialized theme parks with my son, I wasn’t expecting him to be able to ride on any rides without me. That couldn’t be further from the truth, which is one of the best things about going to Idlewild with a toddler. At 2 years old and 32″, he could ride a handful of rides without me. (In fact, many kiddie rides in Raccoon Lagoon don’t even allow adults on them.) His favorite ride had to be the classic cars.
There are also several rides for toddlers to ride on with adults. Some of my son’s favorites were the spinning turtles, the tea cups and the balloon race ride. The best part was that lines were almost nonexistent on the Friday that we were there. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a busy place. But there’s enough to choose from throughout the park that no one ride gets too packed. (That was our experience on a Friday in late June, at least!)
Height Requirements on Rides at Idlewild
While there are a handful of rides toddlers can do without an adult at Idlewild, there are several with minimum height requirements of 36.” My niece was able to do all of those, plus a few with an adult that required children to be 38″ or higher. She was in heaven when she got to go up on the ferris wheel and ride basically anything that spins. Note: Be sure to read the signs closely at each of the rides for height and adult accompaniment requirements. Height requirements can vary significantly from ride to ride at Idlewild. You can also find information on height requirements on Idlewild’s website before visiting.
Since it was my son’s first time on rides by himself, it was super helpful to have his 4 year old cousin there. If you only have one child, I definitely recommend going with another family so your child has someone to join him or her on the rides that don’t allow adults.
4. You Can Get up Close to Daniel Tiger at Idlewild
With the popularity of Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, it’s no surprise that this is one of the biggest draws for toddlers in Idlewild. On this ride, you hop aboard Daniel Tiger’s trolley while taking a ride through the trees to meet several neighbors along the way. The employee manning the ride was really enthusiastic throughout the 6 minute ride. At each stop to meet a different neighbor, the riders are engaged to answer questions and look for things on set. At the end, everyone gets together on “Neighbor Day” and sings with Daniel Tiger and his family. It’s basically the cutest thing ever.
While it may feel a little cheesy to us parents, the kids loved it. In fact, my year old niece said it was her favorite ride. Keep in mind that unlike some of the other rides at Idlewild, we did wait about 20 minutes for Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood. The “line” is actually rows of benches, though. So you get to sit with the kiddos (or let them play in the grass while you sit) instead of standing with grumpy kids the whole time. It’s the first time I’ve seen this at an amusement park, and it’s so genius!
If your kids want the opportunity to meet Daniel Tiger and other characters from the show, they’re in luck. Just look for the Daniel Tiger Stage for a meet and greet and sing-a-long in Raccoon Lagoon.
5. SoakZone Includes a Number of Toddler Friendly Water Features
Like the rest of Idlewild, SoakZone offers a variety of slides and other water features for the whole family. Below are a few things toddlers can do at Soak Zone, depending on their height.
- Captain Kidd’s Adventure Galley has a number of interactive spray features for toddlers and kids of all ages to cool off.
- Little Squirts offers a children’s pool and play area where kids of any age or height can play with their families
- Float Away Bay is Idlewild’s lazy river where toddlers can hop in an inner tube with their parents
- Toddlers 36″ or taller can ride on the Pipeline Plunge with an adult
- Kids of all ages can enjoy the Wowabunga Family Wave Pool
- Stand under the tipping bucket to get completely soaked.
Note: Non-Swimmers must wear a coast guard approved life jacket in most areas of SoakZone. They’re available at the waterpark or you can bring your own. We love this puddle jumper life jacket for toddlers. We unfortunately did not have time for SoakZone on this most recent trip, but it’ll be the first thing we do next time we’re in Idlewild!
6. Idlewild Has a Great Selection of Kid-Friendly Food
Let’s be honest, I always scope out the food when I go somewhere. I was a big menu researcher any time I went somewhere before my son. And I continue to do it now with a toddler who can be unpredictably picky at times. I was pleasantly surprised that Idlewild offers much more than just the typical pizza, chicken fingers and fries for kids.
If you’re in Hootin Holler, there’s an outdoor food court type area that offers several kid-friendly favorites. There you can find anything from BBQ with corn on the cob and macaroni and cheese to quesadillas and nachos. (In addition to pizza, chicken fingers and fries, of course.) In Raccoon Lagoon, you can find kid friendly options at Ricky’s and other family favorites including Auntie Anne’s and Rita’s Italian Ice.
While you’re there, don’t forget to end your trip at Idlewild with a sweet treat. There are a few options for ice cream throughout Idlewild, and the infamous Cyclone is something that shouldn’t be missed. This freshly made waffle cone is filled with vanilla soft serve ice cream and topped with fresh strawberries and whipped cream. It was just as yummy as I hoped it would be!
If you don’t want to spend the money on food during your trip to Idlewild, you can also pack a lunch and eat at one of several pavilions.
7. You Can Take a Break for Naps and Come Back
If your baby or toddler is still napping and you all need a little break from the excitement at the park, it’s totally doable. Parking is free at Idlewild, and it’s easy to get in and out of the parks. Nap schedules are also one of many reasons I recommend staying overnight in Ligonier with kids at least once. Not only does it make your Idlewild experience less tiring, but the town of Ligonier itself is seriously amazing.
Once you get a bracelet at the entrance to the park, you just need to keep the bracelet on all day. Then, when you’re ready to come back, all you need to do is show the bracelet at the gate again. And if you don’t want to leave the park, there are plenty of quiet and shaded areas throughout, including several pavilions.
8. Kids Under 3 Are Free at Idlewild
Last but not least, there’s no charge to take your baby or toddler to Idlewild if he or she is under 3 years old. If you read my post on traveling with kids under 2, you know we love taking advantage of doing as many things with our son as we can before he requires a ticket to get in. While the “free under 3” rule is pretty standard across amusement parks, the fact that younger toddlers can do so much at Idlewild makes this such a great value.
Know Before You Go: Additional Tips for Visiting Idlewild with a Toddler
- Idlewild is located at 2574 US-30, Ligonier, PA 15658
- Idlewild is typically open from 10:30am- 8pm. Be sure to check the website before you go, as hours can vary.
- Parking is free at Idlewild, and the only admission gate is from your car before you enter the parking lots. (Once you park, just walk right in!)
- The Loyalhanna Train goes around Idlewild and connects to various areas if you need a break from walking. I’m pretty it was my son’s favorite thing about Idlewild.
- If you’re traveling with little ones, I recommend bringing a stroller to Idlewild since it’s spread out and you’ll be doing a lot of walking.
- You can bring outside food and drinks into Idlewild.
- There are lockers available for rental at Soakzone if you need them.
- Cell phone service is very limited at Idlewild. Be sure to print out tickets if you have them on your phone.
Thinking about extending your visit to Ligonier? Stay tuned for our post on visiting Ligonier with kids!
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