The 10 Best Amusement Parks in America


Were back and just in time for summer with our list of the 10 Best Amusement Parks in America as voted on by the travel enthusiasts here at USA Travel Guide with a little help from our readers. From Pennsylvania to Florida to California, were spanning the nation and listing top picks all along the way.

What did it take to make the list? Above all else: rides! We looked for a variety of rides, both type and age level, and as thrill fans ourselves, we turned a caring eye to roller coasters. Beyond that, we weighted shows, concessions, quality and cleanliness of facilities, helpfulness of staff, kid-friendliness, customer value and the overall look of the park into the mix. In the case of multi-parks, these are treated as one as long as a reasonable multi-park ticket option is in place.

And now, the 10 Best Amusement Parks in America!

#10 Legoland in Carlsbad, California

If youre anything like me, then Legos are something you never grow out of entirely. You dont have to build something everyday, but youd much rather see a sculpture made of Legos than boring old marble or stone. Legoland California in Carlsbad, CA is for people like that, well, and for kids of any age. Legoland California stretches its alluring, nostalgic theme over 50 rides, shows and attractions that are friendly to younger children and consistently fun for all. All nine sections have plenty to see and do, but for Lego buffs like me, the favorite has to be Miniland USA. Here you’ll see stunningly accurate Lego models of New York City, San Francisco, Washington D.C. and many others.

Ride intensity and height requirements skew smaller at Legoland California, so this is a great park for kids.

Grand Carousel, Six Flags Great America

Legoland is open year-round with varying hours and blackout days. Web site.

#9 Six Flags Great America in Gurnee, Illinois

Six Flags is a dependable brand for thrill-lovers needing a little mid-summer fun, and at the top of the pack we like Chicagos own Six Flags Great America. With nearly 70 rides to enjoy, including 10 adult coasters, theres no shortage of options here for anyone who loves classic amusement park entertainment. Must-rides include last years addition, The Dark Knight, the parks first indoor and part-dark coaster, and the famous Raging Bull, a massive steel hyper-twister and frequent award winner. Park admission also includes access to Hurricane Harbor, the adjacent waterpark.

Seasonal calendar runs May to October with varying hours/days. Web site.

#8 Knoebels Amusement Resort in Elysburg, Pennsylvania

With the installation of a swimming pool, a steam-powered carousel and a few picnic tables in 1926, Knoebels Amusement Resort humbly began, and it has since evolved day by day into a historic park with plenty to love and personality to spare. Proclaiming itself, Americas Largest Free Admission Park, Knoebels offers free admission and parking, with rides available either a la carte (about $0.75 – $4.00/ride) or through an all-day pass ($29.50 - $37.00). Currently projected to open in June 2009 is Flying Turns, the only wooden bobsled roller coaster in America.

Knoebels is an Amusement Today Golden Ticket winner for Best Food for seven years running now. There are several great restaurants, both sit-down and counter-style, but we prefer the flagship choice: The Alamo. Campgrounds are also available.

Seasonal calendar runs May to September with varying hours/days. Web site.

"Icon" Tower, Universal Studios Orlando (David Bjorgen, Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.5)

#7 Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida

Having seen countless end-caps on Nickelodeon featuring the iconic Universal Studios Globe as a child, this Orlando, Florida juggernaut was always more exciting to me than Disneyland or Six Flags. When I finally saw it for myself, it did not disappoint! With more entertainment than you can experience in a whole week across two large parks and the retail-centric CityWalk, the Universal Orlando Resort is simply a lifetime must. At this theme park, rides and attractions are based on popular movie and TV show properties, including Shrek, Men in Black, The Mummy, Terminator, Jaws (a classic, as always) and so on. The new The Simpsons RideTM is just awesome!

Even more exciting for thrill fans is the sister park, Universals Islands of Adventure. Separated into five sections, or islands, this park takes guests on a journey through the world of Marvel super heroes, Dr. Seuss, Jurassic Park and others.

Both parks open daily with hours varying by season. 2-park tickets available. Web site.

#6 Busch Gardens Williamsburg in Williamsburg, Virginia

With a full roster of past awards to place upon its mantle, Busch Gardens Williamsburg is one of the most beloved theme parks in America, and it makes our list easy. Most apparent about Busch Gardens Williamsburg is the sheer beauty of the park. Well-maintained with a unique design, this place is almost as fun to walk as it is to ride. The ten sections, or hamlets, are inspired by countries in Europe, from Scotland to Germany, and the quality of the theme or never fails to impress.

Nor do the rides, especially the Griffon, the worlds tallest and fastest dive machine coaster. We also like the shows here in particular, many of them inspired by the countries that present them.

Seasonal hours from April to October. Regular admission tickets function as season tickets. Web site.

#5 Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, California

For hundreds of thousands of theme park fans, Disneyland could never be anything but #1, but even in fifth position theres no question that Disneyland Park and the larger resort, with 20 million annual visitors combined, is simply one of the best. Disneyland Park, the original opened by Walt Disney himself in 1955, is visited by more than 14 million guests every year, the second most of any theme park in the world, and you can bet that this jam-packed park has something for them all.

So much of what makes Disney theme parks famous started at Disneyland: the monorail, Its a Small World, Mr. Toads Wild Ride, Haunted Mansion, The Matterhorn, true classics! Today, the exploration is near endless with Disneyland Park, Disneys California Adventure and Downtown Disney to discover. More than a park, Disneyland is a cultural rite of passage.

Hours vary by season. Park Hopper tickets available. Learn more.

Body Slides, Schlitterbahn (Rei, GNU Free Documentation License, v1.2)

4. Schlitterbahn in New Braunfels, Texas

You didnt think we were going to leave our home state in the lurch, did you? Not a chance! The only waterpark to make the list, and easily our favorite, is Schlitterbahn Waterpark Resort in New Braunfels, Texas. Featuring three incredible parks (for one admission), 40+ rides, 17 slides, nine tube chutes, uphill water coasters, three lazy rivers and more than three miles of tube rides, Schlitterbahn is simply massive, and the variety is staggering.

The original park, Schlitterbahn West, is the place to find the classic tube chutes and it remains our favorites to this day. In the newest park, Blastenhoff, youll find the Master Blaster, the uphill water roller coaster that everyone should give at least one ride. Unusual these days, Schlitterbahn still allows guest to bring their own concessions, but they request no alcohol or glass.

Open late May to September, hours vary. Learn more.

3. Kings Island in Mason, Ohio

At this point, it really gets tough. Kings Island started much lower on the list, but as the debate raged back and forth it crawled higher and higher on one simple fact: this is a good, old-fashioned, pretension-free, no guff, no gimmicks thrill-park.

Its also humongous, with 364 acres of park grounds boasting over 80 rides and attractions. Coaster-enthusiasts take note: this is the kind of park for you! Kings Island features 15 roller coasters including Beast, the worlds longest wooden roller coaster, and Son of Beast, the worlds fastest and tallest wooden roller coaster. The 2009 addition, Diamondback, is causing quite a stir already, so we cant wait to get up there again to check it out.

Spaceship Earth, Epcot, Disney World (Carlos Crus, GNU Free Documentation License, v1.2)

Kings Island also features an admission-included waterpark and multi-award-winning Kids park called Nickelodeon Universe.

Daily hours from late May to September. Learn more.

2. Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida

What isnt there to say about Disney World? The largest, most-attended recreational complex in the world and home to some of the most iconic landmarks and imagery on the planet, Walt Disney World is an American pastime. You can call it expensive, you can call it corporate, but you cant deny to sense of wonder that greets you at every turn.

The Disney World Resort is a collection of four theme parks and numerous other attractions like waterparks, shopping districts, concert venues and restaurants. The original park, and still the most popular to this day, is the Magic Kingdom, home of the world-famous Cinderella Castle and Main Street U.S.A. where the dazzling parades thrill the little ones and ignite the nostalgia of parents every day of the year. Guests also owe it to themselves to visit Epcot, unmistakable for its flagship attraction and landmark, Spaceship Earth.

Open year-round, seasonal hours. Park Hopper tickets available. Learn more.

Top Thrill Dragster, Cedar Point (Chris Light, GNU Free Documentation License, v1.2)

1. Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio

We had to go all the way to Ohio to find it, but it was well worth the trip. At 364-acres with 75 rides, ten shows, a water park and seventeen roller coasters, Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio packs more thrills per square foot than anywhere else on the planet, and that makes it our choice for the very best amusement park in America. Among the 17 coasters, the most of any park on Earth, youll find several notable must-rides. Magnum XL-200 was once the tallest and fastest steel coaster in the world. Mean Streak is surely one of the most visually arresting wooden coasters weve seen. And with its astonishing 120-mph, 400-ft. 90-degree drop, the Top Thrill Dragster separates the thrill-maniacs from everyone else in only 17 seconds!

If youre heart needs a rest, settle into the audience for one of several award-winning shows, all brimming with good tunes and good laughs without too much cheese. Cedar Point has an adjacent waterpark, Soak City, available with either separate admission or with a combo ticket, not that the main park wont have enough for you to do.

Daily hours last from late May to early September. Combo tickets available. Learn more.

There you have it! The 10 best amusement parks in America! Theres nothing else to wait for, so get out there and make it an unforgettable summer!