Mother Nature does a damn good job at capturing our collective attention. It’s why we often call her “The Great Outdoors.” But thrill designers and roller coaster engineers are pretty good at capturing our attention, too. Which is why amusement and theme parks have remained a tourist staple since Coney Island first popularized them over a century ago.
Not only do these parks enable four of the five sensations everyone should experience, they usually bring friends and family together. Before booking your next outing, consider these top-rated American amusement parks.
If there’s one roller coaster joint that’s consistently voted “the best” by adrenaline junkies, it’s this one. Billing itself as the “roller coaster capital of the world,” Cedar Point features 17 coasters and is the only amusement park in the world with five taller than 200 feet. Although built for grown-up kids, other attractions include a one-mile beach, an outdoor waterpark and indoor waterpark. Millennium Force, Top Thrill Dragster, Maverick, Valravn and Cedar Downs Racing are standout rides.
The big draw of “kuh-NO-bels” is undeniably it’s free admission. Anyone can get in, walk the grounds and people watch—even dogs. You only pay per ride—no more than $3 each. And there’s also a picnic grove and campground, which explains why the charming park rates so well among families. But don’t let those feel-good amenities distract you. With over 60 rides, Knoebels is also a whole lotta fun. Highlights include Phoenix, Twister, Haunted Mansion, Impulse and Flying Turns.
Holiday World & Splashin’ Safari
Santa Claus, Indiana
Two for the price of one. That’s what you get at Holiday World of the best-rated amusement parks in the nation plus one of the best-rated water parks in the nation. Previously named “Santa Claus Land,” the park is divided into four sections that celebrate Christmas, Halloween, Thanksgiving and Independence Day. The safari-themed water park includes the world’s two longest water coasters: Wildebeest and Mammoth. Top picks overall include The Voyage, Thunderbird, The Raven, Legend and Raging Rapids.
Anaheim, California & Orlando, Florida
When someone criticizes Disneyland, they’re not criticizing the spare-no expense surroundings, young-at-heart thrills, double your money’s worth rides and food, and tatted-up goths walking around in Mickey ears and huge smiles. They’re criticizing one thing: long lines. With wait times up to three hours during peak season, it’s a valid criticism. But if you go during low season, I’m confident you’ll be fully converted to the gospel of Walt Disney. Although Disney has templated parks and sub parks all over the world, Disneyland Park, California Adventure and Magic Kingdom are the global stars.
Six Flags Magic Mountain
With one more coaster than Cedar Point, Six Flags Magic Mountain actually holds the world record for most roller coasters in an amusement park. But it’s not just quantity over quality here. With every kind of coaster imaginable, these rides are wicked good. The best ones included Twisted Colossus, X2, Full Throttle, Lex Luthor, Tatsu and Goliath. To catch them all in a single day, plan a mid-week visit to avoid crowds.
Image: Courtesy Cedar Point