Sure, the kids might still love the local carnival just an hour or two away from your house, but you could really knock their socks off with a trip to one of the 10 heaviest hitters in the American theme park landscape. Plus, these top 10 amusement park destinations won’t impress just the kids. You’ll likely return from the trip with plans for a repeat visit next summer!
1. Cedar Point – Sandusky, Ohio
Founded in 1870, Cedar Point is one of the oldest amusement parks in the country and a classic destination for thrill-seekers. But don’t let its age fool you; Cedar Point has some of the fastest roller coasters around. Millennium Force will send you flying at 93 mph through its smooth turns, and Top Thrill Dragster accelerates you 420 feet straight into the sky. If you want top speeds and high G’s, look no further. Stay at the Cedar Point’s own Hotel Breakers and you’ll be let into the park an hour before the front gates even open, giving the kids (and yourself) first dibs on all the excitement.
2. Knoebels – Elysburg, Pennsylvania
If you’re vacationing in the northeast, Knoebels is a must. Nestled into the beautiful Pennsylvania woods, Knoebels offers a truly unique charm. The park has rides for all ages, and admission is always free. Free? Yes. Free. And after a full day of Ferris wheels, bumper cars and classic coasters, you can even pitch a tent at the park’s own campsites and be back on the rides first thing in the morning.
3. Magic Kingdom – Lake Buena Vista, Florida
What could be more iconic than a trip to the heart of Walt Disney World? The Magic Kingdom offers more than just rides – it is truly a fairy-tale experience. Watch fireworks at Cinderella’s Castle or dine with one of your favorite Disney characters. Or take your little adrenaline junkies to Space Mountain and the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. Before you go, be sure to check Disney’s Experience app for the most efficient way around the park given the day’s crowds.
4. Kings Island – Mason, Ohio
Kings Island has something for absolutely everyone. Thrill-seekers won’t be disappointed by Diamondback, the parks’s signature hypercoaster, nor by the indoor thriller, Flight of Fear. Meanwhile, the little ones can have thrills of their own at the Peanuts-themed Planet Snoopy. Admission to Kings Island will also get you into the attached Soak City Waterpark, which makes for a nice cooldown to a fun-filled summer day.
5. Schlitterbahn – New Braunfels, Texas
Speaking of water parks, none can really compare to Schlitterbahn. The country’s largest waterpark, Schlitterbahn is the perfect place to relax in the heart of Texas. Some of the water slides will dump you right into the Comal River, which winds lazily through the park. You can even bring a picnic or enjoy one of many swim-up bars. And for a totally unique experience, don’t pass up the Master Blaster, an uphill water coaster. It’s just as crazy and fun as it sounds.
6. Busch Gardens – Williamsburg, Virginia
While Busch Gardens bursts at the seams with dramatic adventures and thrills, it’s the manicured gardens and exquisite landscaping that make it the “World’s Most Beautiful Theme Park.” Amid the steel coasters and log rides, you’ll find plenty of places to sit and enjoy a cold beer. You’ll be especially thankful for this as the kids inevitably queue for Apollo’s Chariot or the Lochness Monster for their fourth, fifth or sixth time.
7. Knott’s Berry Farm – Buena Park, California
Knott’s Berry Farm boasts plenty of thrill rides, and the park’s smaller acreage makes it easy to experience them all. Be sure you don’t pass up the GhostRider or the Pony Express, a coaster that you ride as if mounted on a galloping horse. A western theme ties the park all together, and you can even take a horse-drawn carriage with the family or catch a cowboy stunt show. Nearby Disneyland draws a lot of visitor traffic, so come early in the season to take advantage of shorter lines.
8. Islands of Adventure – Orlando, Florida
Where else can you sip Butter Beer with witches and wizards and take a picture with Captain America? Islands of Adventure is Universal Studio’s most thrill-oriented park, but it delivers the same immersive experiences that you expect from other Orlando parks. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter alone is worth the visit, and don’t pass up the Incredible Hulk Coaster at Marvel Super Hero Island.
9. Holiday World – Santa Claus, Indiana
A local gem that still flies under the popular radar, Holiday World is exactly as campy and fun as you’d hope. With plenty of shade, free sunscreen and free soft drinks, this family-run amusement park is a nostalgic reminder of the days before $9 hot dogs. Roller coasters are scattered throughout the park’s four holiday-themed sections, and a separate water park (included in your admission) boasts the two longest water coasters in the world.
10. Six Flags Magic Mountain – Valencia, California
For pure thrill, it doesn’t get much better than Six Flags Magic Mountain. And it doesn’t get much crazier than Tatsu, the park’s legendary flying coaster. Riders are strapped in face down and completely horizontal, then hurtled like Superman through zero-gravity rolls and pretzel loops. If you are brave enough for some of the country’s most cutting edge roller coasters, then Six Flags Magic Mountain practically demands your patronage.
Whichever of these top 10 amusement parks you and the kids choose to explore this summer, you won’t go home disappointed. More likely than not, you’ll go home arguing about which theme park you should visit next year.