Whip ride at Lakeside Amusement Park


Amusement Park Staff Memories

As we excitedly await the start of summer and amusement park season, we wanted to look back fondly on our memories of thrilling rides, delicious fried food, and breathtaking performances. We asked some of the staff at History Colorado to share some of their favorites.

Six Flags Elitch Gardens

“In the mid-90s a season pass to Elitches was only 40 dollars. So one summer my mom bought my brother Josh and I each a pass, and then almost every morning dropped us off right as the park was opening. It was way cheaper than paying a babysitter, and more fun for us. We learned pretty quickly to save the water rides for the end, that’s an easy lesson to learn after getting drenched first thing in the morning and having to walk around in soggy clothes the rest of the day. Back then, all the trademark rides were new. The Mind Eraser had just begun erasing minds, and the Tower of Doom had just started towering. My brother and I were small enough that we could sneak through the lines and bypass most of them quickly. Being small and without an adult, there wasn’t much pushback from irritated customers. It didn’t take long for Josh to figure out where the camera was on the Twister II roller coaster, and after a couple failed attempts he was able to time a picture so he was pointing directly at it when the photo was taken. By the end of the day we’d tried most everything Elitch’s had to offer, Mom was at the entrance ready to pick us up, and we’d start planning what we were going to do at the park the next day.” ~ Jeremy Morton, Exhibition Developer and Historian

Twister II at Six Flags Elitch Gardens

Jeremy Morton (right) and brother Josh (left) riding Twister II at Six Flags Elitch Gardens.

Photos courtesy of Jeremy Morton

“I'm of the Six Flags generation and remember being very confused because we all said Six Flags and Elitch Gardens and Elitch's simultaneously. I was unsure what the difference was except that Six Flags had that silly man who danced in the commercials. I guess it's a Denver tradition to call things by the old name, much like we say Mile High and Invesco Field simultaneously; or how now I say Pepsi Center THEN Ball Arena. Anyway, my main memories of Six Flags are when I was a bit older and went on school field trips. My middle school took us there for the end of our school year field trip. I think I finally decided to not be afraid of the roller coasters. I played silly carnival games like climbing the ladder, flirted with the other teenage boys at the park, and remember being glad to go in the daytime because the lines didn't suck! There was also a sense of nostalgia for being too big for the kiddie rides, but I still wanted to go on them because of the fond memories I had of them. I stopped going to amusement parks when I went to college primarily due to cost and also because I never liked waiting in lines. But I'll always have memories of school field trips and going with my best friend's family. Oh! And once I realized that having Six Flags in Denver was kind of a big deal, I felt a sense of pride in that. Then again, when Six Flags left and we took back our name, Elitch Gardens, we still got to keep the rides!” ~ Shanea Ewing, Director of Membership



Old School Denver: Amusement and Community

“I went to Holy Family High School in the ’80s when it was still located on 43rd and Utica. During my four years there, we were lucky enough to be near both Lakeside and Elitch’s and this led to lots of fun and minimal trouble. The fun part was every year families would gather to watch the annual fireworks held at Lakeside Amusement Park. This was probably one of the largest gatherings in North Denver composed of Italian and Mexican families. So much amazing food, so much laughter, and moments that seem like they happened oh so very long ago. To some, it still feels like yesterday. Just a very simple and magical time for everyone.

A few blocks up was Elitch’s, quite possibly the source of so much trouble and so much laughter in my youth. We all loved our roller coasters. Which one was best: Twister or the Wild Chipmunk? We equally loved our amusement parks but knew that if we had to rely on our allowance, then Lakeside was more accessible than Elitch’s. 

But something happened every weekend in front of Elitch’s which was another type of amusement park—cruising down 38th. This was a decade where cruising happened in a few places, but the two spots with the largest turnout were on 38th in between roughly Sheridan and Federal and on Colfax between about Wadsworth and Sheridan. There were daytime cruising events around Sloan's Lake and sometimes down Federal, but the Federal events began once Elitch’s moved and gentrification began to push into North Denver. 

Thirty-Eighth was a sea of beautiful lowriders blasting R&B out the windows with airbrushed women and the flag of Mexico seen on quite a few car hoods. The best was being in the backseat when the driver flipped the hydraulic switch. Who needed a roller coaster when a car could do this? The bossest of muscle cars, rock music blasting from the windows, and teenagers hanging out of the passenger window yelling at each other. Quite often you would see passengers switch cars at stop lights, never certain if the driver knew the person getting into the car, but most likely everything remained peaceful and fun.

This is where I would often be after telling my mother I was going to Elitch’s with friends. She dropped us off in front, and then we jumped into friends’ cars and were off until the time we were picked up. Our parents were never the wiser, or so I hope. Cruising was one of the most exciting, joyful and (looking back) foolish things I did as a teenager but it is sad to see it disappear. There is something to be said for the naivete of teenagers but there is something we lose as we age, our sense of wonder over cars with a ridiculous hydraulic system and airbrushed flags and booming fireworks overhead on a hot summer night. Simple things at the time but looking back you realize how much magic was in those nights.” ~ Noelle Bailey, Senior Director of Equity and Engagement



Lakeside Amusement Park

“I have fond memories of visiting the old Elitch’s as a child, but when our own kids were young, Lakeside was our go-to place for family fun. It was the early 2000s, and we didn’t have a lot of money, but for 16 dollars, our kids got unlimited ride wristbands and a souvenir soda cup you could refill for a dollar. We would get there when Kiddie Land opened at noon (the big rides opened around 5pm) and stay until dark. Our favorite entertainment was watching the kids ride the mini kiddie roller coaster. Both of them would spend the entire time watching the ride operator to see when he would pull the lever indicating it was the last lap. We laughed ourselves silly over that.” ~ Kim Kennedy White, John W. Emery Associate Curator of Oral History

The Scrambler, Lakeside Amusement Park

Eamon and Alison White on the Scrambler, about 2007.

Courtesy of Kim Kennedy White
Eamon and Alison White on the Scrambler, about 2017

Eamon and Alison White on the Scrambler, about 2017.

Photo courtesy of Kim Kennedy White

“My grandma and I always had a fascination with Lakeside. The glowing tower and rustic nature of it was always a draw, and the access to the land around it was simple and made a perfect backdrop for our photos. We would explore for hours and scope out new spots while riding the train. And that tradition continues today. Lakeside still carries that charm of a place that hasn't caught up to the growing of the metro area, but perhaps that's why it's so important. A slightly decaying view into our past that is as recognizable as any other Denver landmark.

One of the many things that fascinate me about Lakeside is the junk in plain sight (this is still true, even with Walmart tidying things up a bit). At the time I took this photo, the Heart Flip ride wasn't in use (you can see it beyond the trucks). Apparently it's now back in operation.” ~ Isiah Kaleth, Facility Operator

Lake view of Lakeside Amusement Park at twilight

Lake view of Lakeside Amusement Park at twilight.

Photo courtesy of Isaiah Kaleth.
Trucks on Lakeside grounds with Heart Flip ride in the background

Trucks on Lakeside grounds with Heart Flip ride in the background.

Photo courtesy of Isiah Kaleth

“The summer before I went into 1st grade, my family got tickets to Lakeside Amusement Park through our library's summer reading program. My siblings and I had never been to an amusement park, and excitement was high as we approached the larger-than-life white wooden roller coaster that towered over the park. We eagerly waited behind the painted line on the wooden platform as the train came to a stop, and then my sister and I climbed in. She was two years older than me, so naturally, it was her right as both the oldest and the tallest to get in first. We fastened the safety belt across our laps and held tightly to the handlebar in front of us. With a jerk, the ride started and we plunged into the spooky dark tunnel and then burst into the summer evening, chugging up one hill and hurtling down the next, being thrown against each other and the sides of the car as we went!

When we breathlessly disembarked at the end of the ride and reunited with our parents, my sister was crying and saying her shoulder hurt. Assuming she was more scared than hurt, they did their best to provide comfort until she had calmed down. The shoulder pain was a bit disconcerting, but in classic eldest-child style, she didn't want to ruin the fun for the rest of us and insisted we stay. And so the night went on, full of the bright lights, dazzling rides, and tall ice cream cones that are nearly synonymous with childhood nostalgia. When we finally went home, my sister's brave stoicism began to melt away, and my parents eventually became concerned enough about her shoulder pain that they took her to the emergency room. Turns out she had broken her collarbone while bracing herself on the handlebar of that first roller coaster ride of the evening! 

Even as an almost-first-grader, I tended to be an empathetic child, so I must have felt sorry for my sister. But somehow, all I remember is the excitement of learning that the amusement park staff gave us free tickets to go again the next summer once my sister was recovered. And with the "lightning won't strike twice" logic of youth, my sister and I continued to ride that roller coaster together again and again during each summer of our childhood.” ~ Emily Turner, POS & Group Sales Manager

“We had a staff picnic/celebration at Lakeside back in July 2018. It was so much fun! We were able to invite our families and they covered our admission and food!” ~ Emily Dobish, Director of Volunteer Engagement 

Eleanor Dobish on the ferris wheel at Lakeside Amusement Park

Eleanor Dobish on the ferris wheel.

Photo courtesy of Emily Dobish
Henry and Eleanor Dobish on the train

Henry and Eleanor Dobish on the train.

Photo courtesy of Emily Dobish
Carousel at Lakeside Amusement Park

Husband Jeremy Dobish and kids on the carousel.

Photo courtesy of Emily Dobish

“I can't quite say, ‘for as long as I can remember,’ but I can say that since I was 23 years old, I've been going to Lakeside.  I love it for its nostalgic feel, quirky rides, and cheap prices! It was the site of my 25th birthday, group hangouts, and farewell gatherings. My friend Michelle was moving away from Colorado, so a few of us got together to bid her adieu. These candid shots were taken by me and my friend Ryan.  Lakeside is such a magical place that will always be my go-to for summer fun.”  ~ Sophia Felder, Historic Preservation Contract Specialist

Lakeside’s Merry Go Round

Friends Michelle Miller and Ryan Zarichny in front of Lakeside’s Merry Go Round neon sign.

Photo by Ryan Zarichny, courtesy of Sophia Felder
Dragon Roller Coaster

Sophia Felder in front of the now-defunct Dragon Roller Coaster.

Photo by Ryan Zarichny, courtesy of Sophia Felder

“A few of my memories of Lakeside are my family and I arriving in the early evening on the 4th of July, riding the Spider and Spinning Cups, and welcoming the night to watch the fireworks display. My mom always encouraged us to ride the train or ferris wheel, and we wanted no part of it. My siblings and I were more interested in the Fun House, with the laughing lady and the mirrors, that altered your shape and height. Then one year, there was a new ride and we were all excited, the Round-Up. It was a circular shaped ride where you stood up inside a gate type of section, but there was nothing in front to enclose you; just an armrest to place your elbows so you could hold on to the joystick type of hand grips. It started with a circular motion and gradually began to spin at an angle and rotated back and forth, from side to side. Everyone screamed with excitement in anticipation for the next tilt. Once the ride was over, everyone in my family except me had been thrilled. That day, I learned that spinning around in that manner had been more than a notion for me, and I had to return to the car and lie down. It seemed I'd never stop spinning around.” ~ Sandra Coates, History Colorado Volunteer and Substitute Teacher



“I remember going to Lakeside Amusement Park with my father. He was wearing a white cap and his nose wore too much sunscreen. Climbing onto the swing ride, the searing hot chain links burned our hands. As we climbed into the air, I watched my father's eyes open in wonder. Spinning above the beautiful lake, we could see our community and the beautiful mountains. Suddenly, his hat flew into the lake. We watched it tumble into the dirty, dirty water. No negative feelings could touch our day: we just laughed and laughed, imagining the swans donning his muddy baseball cap.” ~ Aimee Resnick, Former Intern for the American 250 – Colorado 150 Commission



“These photos were taken around the summer of 2013. My wife, Sarah, says she likes Lakeside so much ‘because it’s basically like a time capsule you can visit!’” ~ Shawn Fausett, Preparator/Emery Archaeology Lab Coordinator

Ferris Wheel at Lakeside Amusement Park.

Ferris Wheel at Lakeside Amusement Park.

Photo by Sarah Fausett, courtesy of Shawn Fausett
Hurricane ride at Lakeside Amusement Park

Hurricane ride at Lakeside Amusement Park.

Photo by Sarah Fausett, courtesy of Shawn Fausett.
Rock O Plane ride at Lakeside Amusement Park

Rock O Plane ride at Lakeside Amusement Park.

Photo by Sarah Fausett, courtesy of Shawn Fausett

Heritage Square, Lakeside, and Elitch’s

“I grew up in Wheat Ridge with my maternal grandparents living in West Denver, and each summer my out-of-state cousins would come to Colorado to visit, and we would visit the surrounding amusement parks each summer. We'd go to Heritage Square, Lakeside, or Elitch’s. In the summer of 2010, after I graduated from Golden High School, I worked at Heritage Square's amusement park, before heading to college in the fall.

After my dad retired a few years ago, he got really into digitizing the family photos, and that's when we rediscovered all our old photos from attending the amusement parks. Most of them were taken in 1996, making my brother about a year and a half and me about four years old.

My grandparents lived only a few blocks away from Lakeside (my grandpa still lives there). When my mom was a child, she remembers regularly riding her bike down with her brothers to the amusement park. Lakeside is where she also took swimming lessons.” ~ Amy Nilius, Head of Data Management & Digital Projects

Amy Nilius at Heritage Square as a child driving a bumper car

Amy Nilius at Heritage Square as a child driving a bumper car.

Photo courtesy of Amy Nilius
Teacups ride at Six Flags Elitch's

Amy (peeking over the side of the ride) with her dad, Jim, and brother, Eric, in his arms riding a teacup at Six Flags Elitch’s.

Photo courtesy of Amy Nilius
Bumper car at Six Flags Elitch’s

Amy (driving) and brother, Eric, riding in a bumper car at Six Flags Elitch’s.

Photo courtesy of Amy Nilius

Amusement Park Memories and Grandparents

“As a Coloradan who grew up in the Denver metro area, Elitch Gardens and Lakeside Amusement Park have been a part of summer for my family for generations. 

My grandparents spent many a summer day at the parks when they were young. My Nana would regale us with stories of her best friend and her, at about 7 years of age, being each given a dime to spend the day at Lakeside Amusement Park (although it may have been called White City at that time). They would take the streetcar one direction, enjoy a ride or two at the park, then as the day progressed, they would decide whether to spend the remainder of their money on the streetcar fare home, or buy candy and walk home. She said they usually opted for the latter but had to keep an eye on the time so they’d get home by dinnertime. That was some impressive kid logic and candy dedication, as the girls lived near Five Points and it took more than two hours to walk home!

As teens, Lakeside and Elitch Gardens were popular places for my Nana and Grandpa to go cavorting with friends. My grandfather mentioned that he worked a couple of summers at Lakeside, and of course they loved to go dancing at the pavilions of both parks with friends or on dates. Their love for dancing continued long after they met, fell in love, and got married on a 3-day shore leave pass during WWII, until they had kids that dictated less-frequent visits and earlier bedtimes. They continued to go dancing at the parks until the last bands played and the pavilions were repurposed for video arcades. Every time we visited Elitch’s as kids, Nana and Grandpa would point out the stoplight fixtures hanging from the ceiling of the arcade, each colored filter printed with a different dance name like ‘Foxtrot’ and ‘Waltz.’

But that wasn’t the only occasion for which they enjoyed going to the parks. Elitch Gardens was just that—beautiful gardens with shade trees and flower beds galore and picnic areas nestled amongst the flora. It was a delightful urban outdoor destination, no thrill-seeking rides required. Nana and Grandpa would set the date for the annual family picnic at Elitch’s; Gram Cora (Nana’s mother) would fry the chicken and make the potato salad, Grammy and Grandpa Walcher (my Grandpa’s parents) would bring macaroni salad and other goodies, and our whole family would gather to spend one glorious summer evening at Elitch’s, picnic table staked out, and bottomless lemonade to take us right up to bedtime. When Elitch’s relocated, that beloved family tradition disappeared too.

As a kid, I also grew up going to Lakeside Amusement Park to watch the midget car races with my parents. Grandpa and my dad had long been auto racing fans and enjoyed the circular track excitement for years there. As a very young fan, I would walk through the pits holding my dad’s hand and carrying my program, collecting driver autographs. My very favorite driver was ‘Spider’ Anderson, and I was thrilled the day I learned he was married to one of my kindergarten teachers! I didn’t go to the races as frequently as my dad did through the years, but it was always a great time, and I looked forward to it. Then tragically, in 1988, one of the cars came off the track in the curve and crashed into the crowd, killing one of the spectators and injuring several others. That was the day that changed Lakeside racing history, and the track closed shortly thereafter.

A couple of decades later when my own kids were in school, a new “Hello, Summer” tradition was born. Their elementary school booked Lakeside for the evening of the last day of school, and it was their favorite way to start the summer break. I never did master fried chicken the way Gram Cora did, so instead we would get takeaway from Tocabe and stake out our picnic table at Lakeside surrounded by trees and friends and fun. 

My older daughter worked at Lakeside one summer during high school, selling tickets at the kiosk. There, she learned how to handle long lines of excited visitors, check for counterfeit cash, and maintain lots of patience. During the course of the summer, she made friends with the Krasners, and once the school year was back in swing, she was offered a position working in the business office after school, which she did until the following summer. Two years later when my younger daughter was old enough, she worked a brief stint at Lakeside as well—quickly learning which over-confident teenagers needed to be reminded not to run through the Crystal Palace  and which you should let learn on their own. However, after a fashion, she decided it was not her cup of tea.
The fond memories of visiting both Lakeside Amusement Park and the old Elitch Gardens extend five generations of my family. Although the new Elitch’s draws many visitors, we’ve never been. It was always more about the beauty and the charm and less about the thrills and spills of the rides. And even though the days of “Hello, Summer” nights at Lakeside are in the past, the illuminated tower and lights of Lakeside Amusement Park reflecting across the waters of Lake Rhoda still mean summer and good times.” ~ Lori Bailey Associate Editor & Managing Editor of the Weekly Digest

Horse and Buggy ride in Kiddie Land
Nostalgic signs at Lakeside Amusement Park
Lakeside’s arcade games
The Matterhorn
Whip ride at Lakeside Amusement Park
The Tower of Jewels