Fun is the name of the game this summer at the country’s most exciting amusement and water parks.
“Nice ride” takes on a whole new (and awesome) meaning when you’re road-tripping to an amusement park. To help get you in the summer spirit, we checked in at some of the country’s most popular amusement and water parks to find out what not to miss and what’s new. Whatever region of the U.S. you find yourself in, there’s a wicked-fun place for you and your family to enjoy. Splurge on a fast pass if you can, or download the park’s app to stay on top of ride wait times (then tuck your phone away, and have fun!).
This park is for the thrill-and-chocolate seeker (drop from dizzying heights, then devour a candy bar of your own making at Hershey’s Chocolate World Attraction – in that order only please!). The park’s jewel, the Skyrush, is universally described as “intense,” particularly if you heed its tagline, “ride the edge” – which means choosing a seat that hangs over the side of the track. (You can also ride a standard side.) Always fun for competitive types, the Lightning Racer is a wooden dueling roller coaster with two trains, each on its own track, that travel through the same elements at different times (only one wins). Debuting this summer, the Hershey Triple Tower consists of three drop towers of differing heights – perfect for family members of all sizes to be able to ride together.
With more roller coasters of any other park in the country (19), Six Flags Magic Mountain calls for a game plan. Want to dangle upside down from the apex of a 160-foot loop with only a lap bar and physics to keep you in place? Go Full Throttle. Want to mess with reality even more? Try the New Revolution Virtual Reality coaster, outfitted with headsets that synchronize images to the action of the coaster. Other musts: the Tatsu, which soars at 62 mph at up to 170-feet, looking face-down at the earth beneath you, and the extra scary X2, which includes on-board audio and flame throwers. New this summer is the Justice League: Battle for Metropolis, a video game you can ride.
Located on 364 acres on a beautiful Lake Erie peninsula, Cedar Point dates back to 1870, and has been inducing screams since it unveiled its first roller coaster in 1892. It’s the only park in the world with five roller coasters higher than 200 feet (the tallest, the Top Thrill Dragster, launches you from 0-120 mph in less than 4 seconds, sending you 420 feet into the air). And the list of superlatives continues … from the world’s tallest and fastest inverted coaster (the Wicked Twister, consisting of two 215-foot spikes with 450-degree twists) to the enormous 310-foot Millennium Force (its very creation in 2000 led to a new category of coasters 300 to 399 feet tall that run a full circuit, the giga-coaster)! If you’re sticking around for an extra day and can’t stomach another drop, spiral or loop, check out the newly upgraded water park, Cedar Point Shores.
The wave pool may be one of humankind’s great inventions, but the two at Boulder Beach seem almost like natural bodies of water against the backdrop of North Idaho’s mountains. Part of Silverwood, the Pacific Northwest’s largest theme park, Boulder Beach keeps the mountain theme going with a 650-foot raft slide called Avalanche Mountain while the lazy-river Elkhorn Creek (with a “float-up bar” to grab drinks) is much more easygoing. And then there’s Velocity Peak, about which the park says: “If you’ve ever wanted to hit 55 mph on a thin layer of water in nothing but your swimsuit, these are your waterslides.” To be honest, we’d never considered the idea, but now that you mention it … we’re in!
Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin
You’ll know you’re in the Wisconsin Dells when … all you see are water parks! Noah’s Ark stands out, though, in this land of winding slides and yellow tubes. With more than 70 acres, this water park claims to be the largest, not just in the Dells, but in the entire U.S. What does size get you? The 1/4-mile Black Anaconda, a “water coaster” (part roller coaster, part waterslide); Time Warp, a gigantic bowl ride; and some 20 other very wet attractions to shoot down, float on, splash around in and … slide nearly upside-down on. That’s right: The 7-year-old Scorpion’s Tail was the U.S.’ first waterslide to feature a “nearly vertical waterslide loop.”
Federal Heights, Colorado
Simple waterslides aren’t enough at Water World, located 15 minutes north of Denver. Warp Speed, one of the park’s newest attractions, turns sliding into a game set in outer space. Using special buttons attached to the sides of their boards, riders zap out “cosmic threats” on their way down. For the less competitive, Water World features an enormous wave pool, more “rivers” than a small country, and rental cabanas for chilling out. Families return year after year for Voyage to the Center of Earth, a slow-moving splash through a dark, dinosaur-inhabited world.
Camp and Ride
What’s more fun than a camping trip? A camping trip that involves roller coasters. So pitch that tent and head to the nearest amusement park.
Charlotte, North Carolina/Fort Mill, South Carolina
The founder of Carowinds sought to bring the two Carolinas together by building an amusement park along the border (isn’t that sweet?). But there is nothing sentimental about the Fury 325, one of the tallest and fastest steel roller coasters in the world, which opened in 2015 and puts riders at speeds of up to 95 miles per hour as they curve over and under the park’s main entrance (voted No. 1 steel coaster in the world in 2016). Opening this season, a 1950s style County Fair, featuring four new rides for the whole family. Bonus: Carolina Harbor Water Park is included in the admission price.
Where to Stay: Carowind’s Camp Wilderness has home-like cabins for those who prefer modern lodging and amenities, as well as 35+ RV/trailer pull-thru sites and 56 tent and pop-up sites.
New Braunfels, Texas
You’re in Texas. It’s summer. And you’re thinking, “I’ve never felt so overheated in my life.” Fortunately, there’s probably a Schlitterbahn Waterpark just a short drive away (there are multiple outposts in the state). While at first you won’t be able to pronounce this park’s name, you will soon find yourself plunging down their 1,000-foot long Master Blaster Uphill Water Coaster. Other spiraling, splashing and spitting attractions await, as well as the slightly more … cerebral … Hang Ten Harbor Activity Pool obstacle course and the more relaxing Lava Lagoon heated pool.
Where to Stay: Located along the Guadalupe River are two camping grounds owned by the same family, KL Ranch Camp – On The River and KL Ranch Cliffside. They offer scenic places to camp, fish, kayak and tube if you aren’t already waterlogged enough.
For good old-fashioned family fun that is a short drive from San Francisco, Gilroy Gardens is a solid (and verdant) standby, offering 40 rides and, yes, six gardens. The park started as a mission to educate children and families about horticulture. The largest ride is the Quicksilver Express Mine Coaster, a two-lift mine train that weaves in and out of rocks and trees. For train-obsessed kiddos, a ride around the park along the Bonfante Railroad is a sure bet – it’s a replica of an 1863 C.P. Huntington steam locomotive.
Where to Stay: There’s a green lawn, the South County Picnic Grove, for pitching tents at the Gardens where families can stay for Park Camp Nights. The overnight packages include camping fees and meals (fires and charcoal are prohibited; restrooms do not have showers).
“Imagine feeling as though you are 100 stories up ... covered in mutant spiders!” tempts the Six Flags website, promoting the VR-enhanced Drop of Doom. While we have never ever actually imagined this, it’s good to know this terrifying possibility is out there ‒ along with plenty of other spine-chilling options, from sky-diving 12 1/2 stories in the air on the Dare Devil Dive to descending into Gotham’s abandoned subway on THE DARK KNIGHT Coaster. Also enjoy more kid-centric rides and waterslides galore.
Where to Stay: Richard Bong State Recreation Area ‒ although an easy punchline for many nearby college kids ‒ the Bong recreation area is a clean, reliable and affordable campsite.
Kansas City, Missouri
Worlds of Fun and its water park sibling Oceans of Fun get their theme from the Jules Verne classic Around the World in 80 Days ‒ though we don’t recall a Planet Snoopy in the novel. Whether you’re in the park’s Africa region doing the old-school Mamba (one of the longest steel roller coasters in North America) or in Europa checking out the new Falcon’s Flight (a 100-foot-high ride that rises and spins simultaneously, with an ample side of swooping), you’ll find this park to be, well, worlds of fun for adults and kids alike.
Where to Stay: Worlds of Fun Village offers cottages, cabins and fully equipped RV sites and has a pool, hot tub, grills, free Wi-Fi and a fully stocked store.
Pigeon Forge, Tennessee
You’ll be working this endearing park from 9 to 5, and loving every minute of it. Set against the Great Smoky Mountains and surrounded by old hardwood trees, along with well-executed architectural features (yeah, we’ll get to the rides in a second!), Dollywood delivers on the quirky charm of its namesake. Rides such as America’s first wing coaster, Wild Eagle, the award-winning wooden coaster Thunderhead and the short-but-intense inverted coaster, the Tennessee Tornado, will not disappoint. And don’t forget to catch a show before it’s time to clock out ‒ of all the parks, this is one where the biggest thrill may happen when you’re sitting in the audience listening to bluegrass.
Where to Stay: Alpine Hideaway Campground, located in a valley between two gorgeous mountains, is a rustic campground that offers 62 RV sites and eight cabin rentals. It includes a pool and playground, and is an easy, scenic stop for a family.