Best Family Amusement Parks in America

Looking for thrills close to (and far from) southeast Michigan? Find summer fun for kids, from roller coasters to carousels, at these U.S. theme parks, including Cedar Point and Disney Theme Parks.

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Hitting the amusement park is a summer rite of passage for kids. After all, charting how much your kids have grown over the past year becomes a matter of what rides they’re tall enough to board. Inching up to the point that your child will finally be able to go on the most talked-about, scream-worthy rides – a badge of pride among younger kids. For tweens and teens, they feel a sense of independence when they’re old enough to venture through the park, sans mom and dad.

Michigan thrill-seeking kids have been lucky enough to grow up going to one of the best amusement parks in the country, next door in Ohio. But real ride enthusiasts won’t be satisfied with one place. There are a slew of family-friendly amusement parks just waiting to be discovered. Here’s a taste of some marvelous meccas – aka the best amusement parks in America (and Canada) – that are worth the trip!

Note: Details up to date as of June 2017, but check ahead for the latest.

Busch Gardens Tampa

  • Address: 10165 N. McKinley Drive, Tampa, Fla.
  • Phone: 813-884-4FUN(4386)
  • Roller coasters: 8
  • Rides/attractions: 15
  • Hours: vary; check online for the day you’re visiting
  • Tickets: General: $104.99/ages 3-plus (online discounts available)
  • Parking fees: $18

Walk into a safari at this amusement spot suited for animal lovers, which features safari tours and animal attractions. Experience the jungle with up-close encounters in the Jungala attraction. For more of an adrenaline rush, soar above the park 200 feet before dropping 90 degrees on the SheiKra roller coaster. If that’s not enough excitement for you, head over to the Kumba, which includes a 360-degree spiral … after a 135-foot drop. Whew! Be sure to check out this spot’s newest attraction, Cobra’s Curse, and the 335-foot-tall drop tour, Falcon’s Fury, which was featured on an episode of Bert the Conqueror. 

Busch Gardens Williamsburg

  • Address: 1 Busch Gardens Blvd., Williamsburg, Va.
  • Phone: 757-229-4386
  • Roller coasters: 7
  • Rides/attractions: 100-plus
  • Hours:vary; check online for the day you’re visiting
  • Tickets: $90-$120 (online discounts available)
  • Parking fees: $15/regular, $20-$30/preferred

This European-themed park is known for having the best theming in the world. Take a trip and ride the indoor/outdoor Verbolten whisks riders through the Black Forest before plunging them 88 feet toward a river. Don’t worry: It’s all in good fun at Busch Gardens Williamsburg. Along with thrill rides, the park features variety shows, food festivals and much more. They even just opened a new viking-themed wooden ride, InvadR.

Canada’s Wonderland 

  • Address: 1 Canada’s Wonderland Drive, Vaughan, ON
  • Phone: 905-832-8131
  • Roller coasters: 16
  • Rides/attractions: 69 (plus 8 shows and Dinosaurs Alive)
  • Hours: vary; check website for the day you’re visiting
  • Tickets: $64/adults, $40/juniors and seniors (online discounts available
  • Parking fees: $20/regular vehicles, $30/oversized vehicles

Canada’s first major theme park is only about a four-hour drive from metro Detroit and features some of the biggest and baddest coasters around, including the 230-foot hyper, Behemoth, and the 300-foot monster, Leviathan. Also offers plenty of kiddie rides and coasters like Ghoster Coaster and Taxi Jam, plus plenty of classics like an antique carrousel and White Water Canyon. And, new for 2017, try out the newest thrill ride, Soaring Timbers, which will spin guests 360 degrees on two rotating gondolas while swinging them as high as 66-feet on two 45-degree arcs.

Carowinds

  • Address: 14523 Carowinds Blvd., Charlotte, N.C.
  • Phone: 704-588-2600
  • Roller coasters: 13
  • Rides/attractions: 64
  • Hours: vary; check website for the day you’re visiting
  • Tickets: $65/adults, $44/juniors (online discounts available)
  • Parking fees: $15/general, $20/preferred

Carowinds’ 398-acre park is spread over two states – both North and South Carolina. The thrill park boasts one of the tallest, fastest, longest roller coaster in the Southeast, aptly dubbed the Intimidator! But it also has plenty of rides to thrill youngsters. Your price of admission also includes the 20-acre water park.

Cedar Point

  • Address: 1 Cedar Point Drive, Sandusky, Ohio
  • Phone: 419-627-2350
  • Roller coasters: 17
  • Rides/attractions: 150
  • Hours: vary; check website for the day you’re visiting
  • Tickets: $67/adults (48 inches and taller and under 62 inches), $49/kids (3 and older), free/under 3 (online discounts available)
  • Parking fees: $15/general, $25/preferred

Just across the border in Ohio, Cedar Point is known as the roller coaster capital of the world. Since 1870, this haven for adrenaline junkies boasts some of the tallest, longest and fastest roller coasters around. Everyone has a favorite among the various coasters. For diehard coaster fans, the Millennium Force is the ride. After all, this 310-foot behemoth was the very first giga coaster (yes, “mega” didn’t cut it when the ride debuted in 2000). Cedar Point has repeatedly been voted “Best Amusement Park in the World” by Amusement Today readers.

Disney Theme Parks

  • Locations: Anaheim, Calif. and Orlando, Fla.
  • Prices, hours, attractions: see website

No list of family amusement parks would be complete without a mention of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts. Disneyland, which opened in Anaheim, Calif. in 1955, started it all. Today, the 500-acre Disneyland includes two theme parks. In Orlando, Fla., Disney World has four theme parks to visit and boasts more than 25,000 acres of amusement. A trip to see Mickey and Minnie is at the top of many kids’ wish lists and definitely something the whole family will never forget.

Dollywood 

  • Address: 2700 Dollywood Parks Blvd, Pigeon Forge TN.
  • Phone: 865-365-1900
  • Roller coasters: 7
  • Rides/attractions: 40 (plus 15 shows)
  • Hours: vary and are subject to change. Check ahead
  • Tickets: $68/ages 12-plus, $63/ages 60-plus, $55/ages 4-11
  • Parking fees: $12/regular vehicles, $18/oversized vehicles, $25/preferred parking, $38/valet parking

Nestled in the hills of the Smoky Mountains, near the hometown of Miss Dolly Parton, sits this premier park. Find all kinds of thrills, including the all new, 20-story, drop tower, Drop Line, the classic coaster Blazing Fury and this spots hottest ride, Lightning Rod, a coaster themed to a 1950s hot rod that launches riders from zero to 45 mph up more than 20 stories. You’ll also find plenty of kids rides, like the Lucky Ducky and Piggy Parade; plus a 110-ton coal-fired stream engine, a massive waterpark, eagle sanctuary and the best homegrown southern eats in town. Stop by in the wintertime to see the park aglow and watch out for visits from Dolly, herself!

Hersheypark

  • Address: 100 W. Hersheypark Drive, Hershey, Penn.
  • Phone: 717-534-3900
  • Roller coasters: 13
  • Rides/attractions: 70-plus
  • Hours: vary; check online for the day you’re visiting
  • Tickets: $64.95/ages 9-54, $41.95/ages 3-8, $41.95/ages 55-69, $26.95/ages 70-plus, free/2 and under
  • Parking fees: $15/regular, $20/oversized, $25/preferred

With chocolate as the backbone of this 120-acre theme park, it’s no wonder kids love it. Rides’ thrill level is measured according to candy. That’s right – youngsters can look for signs for Hershey’s miniatures for kiddy rides all the way up to Jolly Ranchers for high-speed rides (Twizzlers and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups are somewhere in the middle).

Kennywood

  • Address: 4800 Kennywood Blvd., West Mifflin Penn.
  • Phone: 412-461-0500
  • Roller Coasters: six
  • Rides/attractions: 31 (plus 4-D Theater, five live shows)
  • Hours: vary; check online for the day you’re visiting
  • Tickets: $44.99/adults, $28.99/juniors, $21.99/seniors, free/2 and under
  • Parking: Free, but $7 VIP parking is available

This more than 110-year-old park boasts as being Pittsburgh’s best amusement parks for families. With it’s mix of classic rides, like the Turtle and Whip, and six coasters, including the 230-foot Phantom’s Revenge, there’s something for every thrill-seeker. You’ll also find three water rides, kiddie rides galore and a 4-D screening of The LEGO Movie.

Kings Dominion

  • Address: 16000 Theme Park Way, Doswell Va
  • Phone: 804-876-5000
  • Roller coasters: 12
  • Rides/attractions: 60 (plus 8 shows)
  • Hours: vary; check online for the day you’re visiting
  • Tickets: $67/adults, $45/juniors and seniors (online discounts available)
  • Parking fees: $15/regular, $20/preferred

Kids will love the animatronic dinosaurs that come to life at this spot’s Dinosaurs Alive attractions. They’ll also find three new kids’s rides, the Kite Eating Tree, Sally’s Sea Plane and PEANUTS 500, in their Planet Snoopy kids area. Older family members find high-speed thrills on rides like Intimidator 305, which stands 305-feet-tall and reaches speeds of 90 miles an hour, race through an erupting volcano on Volcano: The Blast Coaster, and twist and turn through inversions on Dominator. Also offers game on Apple or Android devices. Pick a team and battle other thrill-seekers, log your rides and play park trivia to win parts of the park.

Kings Island

  • Address: 6300 Kings Island Drive, Mason Ohio
  • Phone: 513-754-5700
  • Roller coasters: 15 (including two kiddie and one junior coaster)
  • Rides/attractions: 48 (plus seven shows and the Dinosaurs Alive attraction)
  • Hours: vary; check online for the day you’re visiting
  • Tickets: $67/adults, $42/juniors and seniors, free/kids under 3 (online discounts available)
  • Parking fees: $20/regular, $30/preferred

Find a variety of rides including the hyper-coaster, Diamondback, Banshee and The Beast (which is best at night). You’ll also find great starter coasters for kids in the 16-time Golden Ticket award winning kids’ area, Planet Snoopy; plus a massive waterpark and live shows. Be sure to take a ride on their new for 2017 coaster, Mystic Timbers, but beware,  where your ride ends, fear begins “in the shed.”

Six Flags Great Adventure & Safari, New Jersey

  • Address: 1 Six Flags Blvd., Jackson, N.J.
  • Phone: 732-928-2000
  • Roller coasters: 13
  • Rides/attractions: 50 (plus four shows)
  • Hours: vary; check online for the day you’re visiting
  • Tickets: $74.99/general, $47.99/kids under 54 inches; free/2 and under (online discounts available)
  • Parking fees: $25

This park boasts being the world’s largest theme park. Signature rides at this amusement park include El Toro, which has the steepest drop of any wooden coaster in the United States, Nitro, a steel coaster that speeds along at 80 miles per hour, and the Kingda Ka, the tallest roller coaster in the world and fastest in the country. Younger riders have several different areas of the park to go to for rides tailored just for them. Head over to the Safari Off Road Adventure, where you can go on a guided tour to see 1,200 animals from six different continents within a 350-acre area. Check out its newest coasters, The Joker, a 4-D free-fly coaster and El Diablo, the giant loop.

Six Flags Great America

  • Address: 1 Great America Parkway, Gurnee, Ill.
  • Phone: 847-249-1776
  • Roller coasters: 15
  • Rides/attractions: 86
  • Hours: vary; check online for the day you’re visiting
  • Tickets: $71.99/general, $48.99/kids under 48 inches, free/kids 2 and under (online discounts available)
  • Parking fees: $25

From Batman: The Ride, known for its one-of-a-kind zero-gravity “heart line” spin, to the wooden thriller Viper, there are tons of rides to explore here. The 2017 season debuts the free fly coaster, The Joker. If you’re not up for twists and turns, there are plenty of family rides, too.

Six Flags Magic Mountain

  • Address: 26101 Magic Mountain Parkway, Valencia, Calif.
  • Phone: 661-255-4100
  • Roller coasters: 19
  • Rides/attractions: 100-plus
  • Hours: vary; check website for the day you’re visiting
  • Tickets: $82.99/general, $57.99/kids under 48 inches, free/2 and under (online discounts available)
  • Parking fees: $23

In the quest for bigger and better roller coasters, Six Flags Magic Mountain recently added new coasters to its list, including Full Throttle and Twisted Colossus. Want to take the plunge? For youngsters that aren’t ready for inverted loop-de-loops, you’ll find an assortment of kiddy rides, too.

Universal’s Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios

  • Address: 6000 Universal Blvd., Orlando, Fla.
  • Phone: 407-363-8000
  • Roller coasters: 5
  • Rides/attractions: 51
  • Hours: vary; check website for the day you’re visiting
  • Tickets: Single-day, park-to-park: $219/adult, $179/child; single-day, single park: $124/adult, $119/child
  • Parking fees: $20

Become part of your favorite story in Universal’s Islands of Adventures. For wannabe wizards, there’s no better place to go than The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Kids can also step into the role of Spider-Man, The Cat in the Hat, dinosaurs from Jurassic Park – and the list goes on. Or, head over to Universal Studios, where you can continue your Harry Potter adventure, jump on The Simpsons Ride, check out Despicable Me Minion Mayhem or hang out with Shrek and much more. The attractions literally let you become like the characters.

This post was originally published in 2013 and has been updated for 2017 by Christina Clark.

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