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A first-timer’s guide to Silverwood Theme Park and Boulder Beach: ‘Just have fun’

UPDATED: Thu., July 6, 2017, 3:13 p.m.

I didn’t know how excited I was for this assignment until I saw Aftershock.

The roller coaster loomed over Silverwood Theme Park, and as my friend, Meghan Varner, and I were driving up to the park, I realized I was practically giddy, the butterflies in my stomach fluttering with a mix of nerves and anticipation.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: “Assignment? You went to Silverwood for work?”

Yes. Yes, I did. Perks of being an entertainment writer.

I’ve lived in the Inland Northwest for nine years now, yet, for no reason in particular, I’ve never made it out to Silverwood.

Upon learning this information, my editor decided to send me to the park to create a first-timer’s guide, a collection of tips to make your time at Silverwood as fun as possible.

Because we went on a chilly Thursday in June (the high in Athol was 64 degrees), when not all school districts had let out for summer, we had our choice of parking spaces.

TIP: Bring $5 for parking. You’ll receive a park guide and a “Discover North Idaho” booklet after you pay.

TIP: Locate the light post nearest to your car and make a note of the ride on the sign. This will be a reference point for finding your car at the end of the day.

After having our bags searched, Varner and I picked up our tickets then headed inside the park.

TIP: Check Silverwood’s website for a list of allowed and disallowed items before you go.

TIP: Check the Silverwood Facebook page for ticket giveaways, and download the free Silverwood app to receive discount alerts.

TIP: Not sure if you’ll be able to fully enjoy Silverwood and Boulder Beach in one day? Consider purchasing Bounce Back Admission. Purchase a ticket at the park on the day of your visit to receive a discount to come back to the park the following day.

As per Varner’s family tradition, our first stop was also the first ride you see upon entering Silverwood: the carousel.

This ride isn’t exactly geared toward two 20-somethings (a girl of no more than five and her grandparents were in line behind us), but it’s a classic. And a beautiful one at that.

The horses on the carousel, whether they are stationary or move up and down, are ornately decorated, making choosing the perfect horse to ride difficult.

Maybe it was because it was the first ride of the day, but riding the carousel, though a low-intensity ride, really put me in the theme park mindset. After dismounting our faithful steeds, I was ready for more.

Next to the carousel is the train depot, the starting point for the park’s Train Stunt Show.

TIP: The train ride is a nice break for those looking to rest their feet in the middle of the day.

The train leaves every hour on the hour and takes visitors around the park and into the Silverwood back forest. The 30-minute show features comedy, improv, guest interaction and facts about Silverwood and the surrounding area.

TIP: Have some spare change handy, just in case the train is hit by a team of bandits. (Any “loot” collected is donated to a local charity.)

It’s near the train depot that you really start to notice the park’s theme, a mix of Old West and Victorian. Especially on Main Street, with the High Moon Saloon and Victorian Coffee and Tea House.

On Main Street, visitors can window shop for souvenirs and sweet treats or step into the Main Street Theatre for a show.

Past Main Street, Varner, who estimates she’s been to Silverwood between eight and 10 times, decided it was time for us to hit our first roller coaster of the day, the Corkscrew.

The Corkscrew originally opened at Knott’s Berry Farm in 1975 and has called Silverwood home since 1990.

The coaster takes riders straight up until they’re 70 feet high. A short drop and a turn lead into an exhilarating double corkscrew.

TIP: Leave the earrings off, at least while riding the Corkscrew. This coaster jerked riders’ heads back and forth more than any other we rode.

Mark Kenney, a fellow first-timer, and Dustin Clark, who was visiting Silverwood for the sixth time, enjoyed the Corkscrew too.

They were looking forward to the water rides, but it was a little too chilly for them to hop in. They also suggested riding Aftershock, which quickly became a recurring theme among visitors I interviewed.

“It’s really fast, it’s very long, and it’s Seahawks colors,” Clark said. “Plus it’s got a loop-de-loop.”

Aftershock was one of the few roller coasters Varner and I didn’t get to during our day in Silverwood, but more on that later.

After the Corkscrew, Varner and I stopped to chat with retail barista Courtney Simpson, who was adding an armful of squid-shaped hats to the shelves of her shop.

When asked for tips for Silverwood visitors, Simpson suggested bringing a jacket, just in case. Though you could always stop by her shop to get some weather-appropriate gear.

“On cold days, people won’t bring jackets, but that’s when we get the most business,” she said.

TIP: Don’t swear off Silverwood if roller coasters aren’t your thing. There are plenty of rides, like Simpson’s suggestions of Paratrooper and the Ferris wheel, that don’t go as quickly or as high but are still fun to ride. And the low-intensity rides found in the Garfield’s Summer Camp section of the park will keep kiddos entertained.

With Varner leading the way, we ended up at Roaring Creek Log Flume, where we ran into Jessi Malcolm and Stephanie Birkeland, both from Montana, who were at the park with their children, celebrating the beginning of the summer.

TIP: Before visiting Silverwood, watch videos on each ride to decide which ones you want to check out, like the Malcolm and Birkeland families did. Both families also planned out a list of dry rides and wet rides. Height and weight restrictions for each ride are available on the Silverwood website.

Malcolm and Birkeland were staying at Silverwood’s RV park, which they said was a convenient way to stay nearby.

The Silverwood RV Park features 126 full hook-ups, 41 tent-only sites and easy access to the theme park and Boulder Beach via an underground tunnel.

RV Park amenities also include discounted admission tickets, free Wi-Fi, picnic tables and fire rings at each site, laundry facilities, a play structure and a volleyball court.

TIP: Out-of-town visitors should consider the RV park if they plan to visit Silverwood for more than one day. Check silverwoodthemepark.com/lodging for more information on the RV park, pricing and availability.

Standing next to the Roaring Creek Log Flume, Deven Birkeland and Kyle Malcolm suggested visitors check out the ride, a leisurely trip until riders begin their descent.

The splash at the end gets both riders and onlookers wet, which the pair weren’t expecting.

“We got really wet,” Deven said. “You’re soaked all the way down to your shoes.”

“There was a sign,” Kyle said.

“But we didn’t think it was that much,” Deven finished.

TIP: Get back at the riders who splash you by spending a quarter to soak the incoming log with water via hidden water cannons.

By the second day of their two-day trip, Jessi Malcolm and Stephanie Birkeland had learned a thing or two they thought first-timers should know.

“We didn’t know you could bring a backpack,” Malcolm said. “There are great places to stow your stuff we weren’t able to see on the website.”

TIP: Locker rentals are available at Boulder Beach, the General Store on Main Street, the arcade near the Country Carnival Entrance and the Thunder Canyon entrance.

And for visitors with an eye on the water park, Birkeland advises leaving the towels at home and renting one from Boulder Beach.

Tubes to float the Lazy River or ride Rumble Falls and mats for the wave pools are also available to rent at Boulder Beach Lockers.

After leaving the log flume, Varner and I were ready for another roller coaster, so she steered us to Tremors, one of two wooden roller coasters at Silverwood.

Once they’re strapped in, riders slowly climb up to a height of 100 feet before dropping 103 feet into the first of four underground tunnels.

A series of exhilarating drops, turns and tunnels brings riders back to the station.

At this point in the day, Varner and I probably should’ve stopped for a bite to eat at one of the many restaurants in the park. Meal options include barbecue (Chuckwagon John’s, Country BBQ, Granite Grill), Mexican (Kool Cactus, Pablo’s), chicken (Chicken Shack), sub sandwiches (Subs & Spuds), pizza (Caselli’s Pizzaria, Cold Springs Pizza) and a variety of lunch and dinner favorites (High Moon Saloon, Lindy’s).

Silverwood also offers theme park staples like caramel apples, Dippin’ Dots, slushies, kettle corn and funnel cakes.

We also could have eaten a picnic lunch at the tables between the parking lot and entrance tunnel.

TIP: If you’re leaving the park for lunch (or any reason, really), be sure to get a hand stamp for readmission at the exit gate.

We munched on snacks we’d brought from home as we walked (personal snacks, including food for medical needs, as well as baby food and formula, are allowed in the park), but we were planning on getting pizza from Caselli’s before the magic show later in the afternoon and wanted to save our appetites.

This might have been our inner children talking, but we decided to stop for ice cream, thinking it would make a good snack. The ice cream was great, but it turns out a “single scoop” is more like five.

Neither Varner or I managed to get even halfway through our bowls of ice cream, and too much sugar and not enough water led to headaches that kept us off Aftershock, which we were saving for last.

TIP: Don’t be like me. Drink water throughout the day, and make sure to have at least one complete meal, not just ice cream, to keep you energized.

Instead of eating, Varner led the way to Boulder Beach.

Had it been warmer, the near-deserted park, would’ve been packed with water fans of all thrill levels.

There’s Polliwog Park and Toddler Springs for the kids, lazy fun via floating the Elkhorn Creek, raft rides like Avalanche Mountain and Ricochet Rapids, Bumper Boats, Velocity Peak (a high-intensity ride with three slides to choose from) and the pièce de résistance, Riptide Racer.

The mat racing water slide, at nearly 60 feet tall, features more than 400 feet of slide for you and five friends to race down.

There are also two wave pools as part of Boulder Beach Bay, which is where Varner and I ran into Spangle’s Cole Ottmar, Cheney’s Logan Wilson and Tekoa’s Matthew Heer.

Wilson’s advice, said through chattering teeth as he toweled off, seemed obvious in hindsight: “Think about the weather.”

On a nicer day, Ottmar would’ve been first in line for Riptide Racer.

“There’s a big slide, and there’s a lot to it,” he said.

And once again, we were told to check out Aftershock. Heer said he once rode the coaster 15 times in one visit and 42 times in one summer.

Before the magic show, Varner and I squeezed in a couple more rides: retail barista Simpson’s suggestion of Paratrooper, which offers a great view of the park and the surrounding area, and Timber Terror, the other wooden coaster at Silverwood.

The coaster’s initial drop was intense, but after that, the intensity lowered significantly over a series of hills compared to Tremors’ continuing turns and trips through tunnels.

Nearing 3 p.m., Varner and I made our way to Main Street for magician Nick Norton’s “Phantasm.”

TIP: If you want to see the magic show, schedule your day accordingly. Shows are at 3, 5 and 7 p.m. Thursdays-Mondays (through Sept. 5), 5 and 7 p.m. Tuesdays and Wednesdays (through Sept. 4) and 3 and 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays (Sept. 9-24).

On the day we saw Norton, he performed card tricks and joked with the audience during the “pre-show show.”

During the 30-minute show, Norton and his assistant/wife Amanda ran through a series of impressive illusions that included everything from tricks with live birds and Amanda’s split-second outfit changes to levitation.

Save for a bird that was reluctant to fly from its cage off stage to Norton’s hand at the end of show, the performance seemed to go off without a hitch.

After watching the show, it was obvious why “Phantasm: The Magic of Nick Norton” won Best Theatrical Production, Annual Attendance 250,001-1 million, at the 2016 International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions Brass Ring Awards.

Norton himself won the title of Best Male Performer. In other words, the best male performer, from any theme park, of any size, around the world, is in little ol’ Athol, Idaho.

After the magic show, and because of those sugar-induced headaches, Varner and I decided to call it a day.

With Aftershock in the rearview, I thought back on the day.

With a variety of ride and food options, plus classic carnival games like the three-point shootout, ring toss, a shooting gallery and an arcade, Silverwood and Boulder Beach have all the marks of a great theme park.

Perhaps the best thing about Silverwood is how customizable it is.

You can hit every roller coaster twice or spend the day lounging on the Elkhorn Creek Lazy River, enjoy all the culinary delights the park has to offer or bring a picnic of your own.

But no matter what you ride or where you eat, a successful day at Silverwood perhaps most simply boils down to a tip I got from Madison Malcolm, who we met with her family near the Roaring Creek Log Flume.

“Just have fun.”