Spending the day at an amusement park is a classic family vacation activity. There are rides for all ages, plenty of food, and some pretty unique themes to experience.
Younger kids will enjoy seeing their favorite cartoon and movie characters while older children can go for thrill rides on some of the most thrilling roller coasters in the world. Many amusement parks also have water parks nearby that are the perfect place to cool off in the summer.
This list of the best parks in the United States will have you dreaming of your next family adventure.
Check out our Best Theme Parks in the World.
Lake Buena Vista, FL
When most people think of amusement parks, Disney is at the top of the list. Whether you spent a memorable time there one summer as a child or have just seen it in pictures, there’s a reason almost everyone loves this park.
Dubbed the Most Magical Place on Earth, Magic Kingdom was the first theme park and opened in 1971. The fairy tale Cinderella’s Castle can be seen there along with many Disney characters from favorite films.
The entire park is divided into different “lands” that each have a theme, including the iconic Main Street, U.S.A. to Frontierland, Adventureland, Fantasyland, and Tomorrowland. Many themed lands have rides, attractions, cruises, and more.
Orlando, FL and Universal City, CA
Universal Studios Theme Parks are connected with NBCUniversal, and their parks are based around entertainment from movies, television, video games, cartoons, and more. Their two main parks are located in Florida and California: Universal Studios Hollywood and Universal Orlando.
The Hollywood location is the original that opened in 1964 and features nine thrill rides and seven shows. One of the most popular attractions is The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, which opened in 2016 with thrill rides, a replica of Hogwarts castle, and a family-friendly roller coaster.
Universal Orlando is a sprawling park that combines Universal Studios Florida and Universal’s Islands of Adventure. The water park, Volcano Bay, is also nearby. Universal Studios Florida has its own branch of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, along with many other rides and shows inspired by popular culture.
Islands of Adventure is designed to take visitors on an adventure to different themed islands with superheroes, cartoons, dinosaurs, and many rides to experience along the way. Seuss Landing, based on the books of Dr. Seuss, is an especially family-friendly locale with spinning rides and a carousel.
The 27-acre water park named Volcano Bay has a 200-foot artificial volcano at the center. You can enjoy slides, pools, beaches, a lazy river, raft ride simulations, a water coaster, and the near-vertical body plunge slide. There are many rides for younger children and calmer wave pools for those who don’t enjoy daring slides.
Known as the roller coaster capital of the world, this large theme park is one of the oldest in the country since opening in 1870. Today it has 18 roller coasters and more than 70 rides. Six of its roller coasters are taller than 200 feet, which makes it perfect for thrill-seekers of all ages.
In addition to roller coasters, there is a wide variety of thrill rides to experience that include spinning rides, a circular ride, a swinging pirate ship, a pendulum ride, drop tower, twisting, or scrambler rides, and a tower swinger.
Cedar Park also has nine family rides that are ideal for younger visitors. Children will love the classic carousel, a western-themed train, riding in classic cars, the Tilt-A-Whirl, a Ferris wheel, bumper cars, and more.
In addition to the rides, there is a one-mile-long beach and both an indoor and outdoor water park. Other children’s areas are dedicated to rides for young ones and have over 20 things to try, including kiddie coasters.
This African-themed amusement park covers over 300 acres and has been growing ever since it opened in 1959. It features a lot of animal attractions along with nine roller coasters and other rides.
Themed areas include Morocco, Egypt, Nairobi, and the Congo, to name a few. The Serengeti Express railway runs along the back of the park. Each area features different rides, and some have exhibits of animals such as gorillas, chimpanzees, orangutans, crocodiles, rhinoceroses, and birds.
The Serengeti Plain animal habitat is home to zebras, giraffe, ostrich, impala, and a black rhinoceros. Edge of Africa is a walk-through attraction where visitors can see a variety of African animals, including a pride of lions.
While at Busch Gardens, you can stop at the waterpark Adventure Island for slides and rides. There are three children’s areas and two pools, along with ten different water slides.
Located just outside of Cincinnati, this amusement park has more than 100 attractions with 14 roller coasters and a water park. This seasonal park is one of the most visited in the United States and also has a great kids area.
King’s Island is home to some famous, adrenaline-fueled roller coasters that will have you going through corkscrews, upside down, and even feeling airborne. The Diamondback coaster reaches 80 miles per hour while Banshee is the longest inverted steel coaster.
On International Street, you can find a replica of the Eiffel Tower and a fountain that can shoot thousands of gallons of water into the air. Planet Snoopy features a junior roller coaster along with a kid’s play area, water attraction, and other family-oriented rides for smaller children.
Admission to the park also gets you into Soak City, the water park with two wave pools, water slides, and a few areas just for children. The seven-story water slide Tropical Plunge is especially thrilling, while the raft ride is another family favorite.
The Six Flags amusement park company has many amusement parks throughout the country in states as varied as Texas, Maryland, Oklahoma, and Missouri. One of the most popular is Six Flags Magic Mountain in California just outside of Los Angeles.
This park recently surpassed Cedar Park for the most roller coasters and currently has 19 different ones. The Full Throttle coaster has one of the tallest vertical loops in the world, The Riddler’s Revenge is a unique stand-up coaster, and the Superman Escape coaster was the first to reach 100 miles per hour.
Within the park are eleven different areas with their own distinctive theme along with rides and attractions. Fans of DC comics will enjoy the DC Universe and Metropolis inspired by the Justice League.
Bugs Bunny World has rides inspired by characters from The Looney Tunes that appeal to younger guests. You can also find carnival-style games, Samurai Summit with Japanese folklore, and a boardwalk.
Pigeon Forge, TN
Partially owned by singer Dolly Parton, who grew up in the area, this amusement park located near the Smoky Mountains in Tennessee is one of the biggest tourist attractions and is a favorite among families. Each area of the park reflects the history and culture of the area while the Dollywood Express, a full-sized steam-powered train, is one of the park’s top attractions.
One of the world’s fastest wooden roller coasters can be found here along with the first winged coaster in the country. Those who prefer something a little calmer can take part in the swing rides, zip lines, and flume ride.
Many attractions for younger children provide hours of fun while the suspended family coaster lets everyone ride together. The lighted 50-foot tall tree is sure to enchant, and there are a few play areas scattered throughout the park for toddlers and young kids.
Throughout the year there are many festivals, concerts, and other events hosted at Dollywood that families can take part in. The nearby water park, Dollywood’s Splash Country, shouldn’t be missed during summer visits.
This family theme park west of Philadelphia has 70 rides and attractions, a zoo, and several wave pools, including a smaller one for children. Founded by the founder of The Hershey Company, the park references their products to categorize children by age so you can quickly figure out which rides are a good fit.
A rating system also lets you know how thrilling a particular ride might be and what to expect, so you know if your child will enjoy it. Families can take in a show at one of the two theaters or head to the boardwalk to try the waterpark attractions, relax by the pools in a cabana or ride the hydro-magnetic coaster slide
ZooAmerica features more than 200 animals on 11-acres and is easy to visit while at Hersheypark. The areas are categorized by location, and the zoo is home to rare animals like mountain lions, pronghorn, elk, lynx, black bear, ocelot, bobcats, and wolves.
While you’re in the area, you can also stop by Hershey’s Chocolate World to make your own candy bar, ride an old-fashioned trolley, watch a 4D movie, or take a free tour to see how chocolate is made and get a sample.
Check out the 8 Biggest Amusement Parks in the World.