The best theme parks in the US (2019 guide)

Theme parks in the USA

The first theme park in the USA opened way back in 1846, and our infatuation with rollercoasters, cotton candy and waterslides has only grown since then. In the last 170 years, the number of theme parks in the USA has risen from one to over 400 – more than any other country in the world!

Whether it’s a day out to celebrate your child’s birthday or a week-long trip with your friends, America offers the perfect theme park for you to let your hair down in. Yet with so many parks to choose from – and factors including travel time, climates and variable prices – planning an amusement park trip can seem like a daunting process.

To help visitors understand the options available to them across the country, we’ve researched and created a definitive USA theme park index. Using data from 65 theme parks across 30 different states, we’ve collated some vital information you should know before diving headfirst into your visit. You can read about our methodology here.

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The best theme parks for rollercoasters
Best theme parks for great weather
Best theme parks for repeat visits
Best theme parks for kids’ rides
The cheapest theme parks in the US
The best US states to visit for theme parks
US theme parks with the best dining options
Map of theme parks in the USA
Frequently asked questions

The best theme parks for rollercoasters

Theme parks really do have something for everyone. Where some people’s favorite theme park activity is indulging in carbs, meeting characters or cooling down on a water ride, others simply seek to get their heart rate up thanks to some of the wildest thrills on offer.

If you’re visiting an American theme park, you’re never short of thrill rides to satisfy your craving. Whether you’re interested in big drops or crazy spins, buckle up and head to one of these death-defying locations.

The top 10 US theme parks for rollercoasters and thrill rides

Theme park name State Number of thrill rides
Cedar Point Amusement Park Ohio 35
Carowinds North Carolina 21
Knoebels Amusement Park Pennsylvania 21
Kings Island Ohio 20
Six Flags Magic Mountain California 20
Six Flags New England Massachusetts 20
Six Flags Great Adventure New Jersey 19
Kennywood Pennsylvania 18
Luna Park New York 18
Six Flags Fiesta Texas Texas 18

Cedar Point Amusement Park

Ohio, USA

Cedar Point is often referred to as the roller coaster capital of the world, so it seems fitting it should make the top spot on this list. Out of the 72 rides you can enjoy at this park, 35 of them are thrill rides, ranging from coasters to sling shots to rocking boats to water rapids.

According to Cedar Point, 5 of these rides are considered to be of a maximum thrill level, perfect for those of you seeking out the ultimate adventure. And don’t worry — 23 of these heart-racing rides have a FastPass system, so there’s no reason you can’t try them all.

Knoebels Amusement Park & Carowinds

North Carolina

These next two theme parks are tied, with both of them providing thrill-seeking visitors with 21 thrill rides each. Knoebels may be considered a park for all ages, but that doesn’t mean the thrill-seekers in the family will leave disappointed. Out of the 21 thrill rides on property, 10 are labelled as “intense”, so you’ll have plenty of rides to entertain you – even while the kids are taken care of with milder attractions.

Carowinds is equally certain to get your pulse racing, with classics that will spin you, drop you and swing you ‘til you’re screaming with joy. 11 of the 21 thrill rides at this park are considered high or maximum thrill, and nearly all of them are valid for the park’s FastPass system.

King’s Island

Ohio

The Kings Island theme park in Ohio

An incredible 12 rides out of 20 are considered high-thrill at King’s Island, with the fastest ride experience in the park being Slingshot. This high-adrenaline experience catapults guests 275 feet into the air, approaching a dizzying 100 mph.

Six Flags New England

Massachusetts

Theme parks in Six Flags New England

Six Flags New England is the oldest park in the Six Flags chain, but that certainly doesn’t prevent it from delivering when it comes to thrills. If your heart isn’t already racing thanks to the countless loops that characterize these rides, then perhaps the impressively themed and gut-wrenching Batman The Dark Knight ride will do the trick. Amongst the numerous thrill rides to choose from, some even hold the honor of being record breakers, so that drop will feel even more exciting.

Six Flags Magic Mountain

California

Six Flags California

At Six Flags Magic Mountain, you’ll find all your favorites that you’d expect from the renowned Six Flags chain, plus some unique thrills to keep you coming back for more. This year (2019) marks the launch of West Coast Racers, the world’s first racing launch coaster. Here, two side-by-side tracks with four individual high-speed launches will allow riders to experience a genuine race-like experience, complete with a pit stop — an absolute must-see for any thrill enthusiast.

Six Flags Great Adventure

New Jersey

The Great Adventure theme part in NJ, USA

It’s another Six Flags classic for our final pick, this time in the New York/New Jersey area. Great Adventure provides thrill seekers with 19 rides to choose from, including some one-of-a-kind ride systems that have been pioneers in their respective fields; standouts include Cyborg Cyber Spin, a first-of-its-kind, 7-story high anti-gravity thrill ride. This park combines all the classic thrill ride systems we know and love with impressive theming, as well as the technological advances that make these experiences extra special.

The best theme parks for great weather

If your idea of a good time is getting wet on a water ride rather than getting caught in a spontaneous thunderstorm, you’ll want to head for the Golden Coast. Unsurprisingly, three of our four picks for sunshine enthusiasts are in California, all of them boasting some of the lowest rainfall in the country. Which one will be your top pick this season?

The top 10 driest US theme parks

Theme park name State Rainy days per year
Knott’s Berry Farm California 32
Six Flags Magic Mountain California 34
Disneyland Park / Disneyland Resort California 35
Disney California Adventure Park California 35
Castles ‘n’ Coasters Arizona 37
Legoland California Resort California 38
Seaworld San Diego California 38
Cliff’s Amusement Park New Mexico 57
California’s Great America California 63
Six Flags Discovery Kingdom California 65

Knott’s Berry Farm

California

Knotts Berry Farm is one of the best theme parks in the USA

At number one we have Knott’s Berry Farm, located in Buena Park, California. With only 32 days of rainfall each year, there is very little chance of your trip getting ruined with a spontaneous shower. This is thought to be the USA’s first-ever theme park, so you’ll be experiencing a slice of American history while you soak in the California sun.

Six Flags Magic Mountain

California

Which are the best theme parks in the USA?

Six Flags Magic Mountain boasts as little as 34 annual days of rainfall a year, and draws in visitors from all over the world. However, if you feel the need to take a splash, Santa Clarita is also home to the adjacent water park, Hurricane Harbour.

Disneyland Resort and Disney California Adventure

California

Disneyland Resort in California – one of the best theme parks in the USA for great weather

Tied for third place are the Disney Parks in Anaheim, which receive a total of just 35 annual days of rainfall. While these theme parks may be smaller than their Floridian counterparts, visitors are almost guaranteed good weather every day of the year, so make sure to load up on the sunscreen.

Castles ‘N Coasters

Arizona

Castles and Coasters gets a lot of sunshine!

Heading over to California’s next door neighbor for our final pick, we have Castles ‘N Coasters in sunny Phoenix. It may be located in the Sonoran Desert, but that hasn’t stopped Phoenix from becoming one of the fastest growing metropolitan areas in the state, including this 10-acre theme park. With only 37 annual rainfall days in this part of the state, visitors certainly won’t need to pack their umbrellas for this trip.

What about the rainiest theme parks?

If you’re visiting one of these theme parks, you might want to bring a poncho and an umbrella. These places get more rain than most of other theme parks in the USA!

Theme park name State Rainy days per year
Santa’s Village New Hampshire 163
Darien Lake Theme Park Resort New York 149
Kennywood Pennsylvania 145
Story Land New Hampshire 140
Enchanted Forest Theme Park Oregon 133
Canobie Lake Park New Hampshire 132
Dollywood Tennessee 129
The Great Escape New York 127
Cedar Point Amusement Park Ohio 125
Silverwood Theme Park Idaho 125

The best theme parks for repeat visits

America’s theme parks offer fun-packed, exhilarating experiences that will make you want to go back again and again. However, there’s no getting away from the fact that a theme park holiday can be expensive, whether it’s with a group of friends or a family affair.

If you just can’t stand the idea of visiting your favorite theme park just once a year, then investing in an annual or season pass can be most affordable way to sustain your thrill fix.

The best US theme parks for repeat visits

Theme park name State Season pass price (USD; rounded to nearest dollar)
California’s Great America California 60
Darien Lake Theme Park Resort New York 64
Magic Springs Arkansas 65
Kentucky Kingdom Kentucky 70
Six Flags St Louis Missouri 70
Six Flags Over Georgia Georgia 72
Six Flags America Maryland 74
The Great Escape New York 76
Six Flags Discovery Kingdom California 79
Elitch Gardens Theme Park Colorado 80

California’s Great America

California

California's Great America is one of the best theme parks for repeat visits

A Silver Season Pass for California’s Great Adventure will cost you $59.99 per person, and allows you unlimited visits to the theme park throughout every operating day in 2019. This season pass does not include parking, but it does allow you access to both the theme park and Boomerang Bay Waterpark, for a total of more than 43 rides.

Darien Lake Theme Park Resort

New York

Darien Lake is a good-value theme park in the US

A 2019 season pass for Darien Lake costs $63.99 and allows you unlimited access to the theme park, as well as various other pass holder perks. These include exclusive ride time events and friends and family discounts, as well as many others. This Six Flags season pass will allow you to ride all 41 of its exciting rides.

Magic Springs

Arkansas

Magic Springs park in Arkansas

At Magic Springs, a 2019 season pass will cost you $64.99 for unlimited visits to the theme and water park, granting access to over 16 rides throughout the park’s operating days. Pass holders will enjoy exciting perks and benefits, including free drive-in movies and a range of summer concerts.

Kentucky Kingdom

Kentucky

A season pass for Kentucky Kingdom costs $69.95, allowing you access to the park throughout all operating days in 2019. As well as saving you money with each repeat visit, the pass comes with a range of added benefits that will help make your trip more affordable. This includes free parking, discounts on food and drink and even free sunscreen for those hotter days.

Best theme parks for kids’ rides

Most American theme parks are family friendly, but there are a few that give little ones extra special treatment. Two theme parks stand out when it comes to kids’ rides, and both are in Pennsylvania. Hersheypark and Knoebels Amusement Park both offer 22 child-friendly rides.

Which US theme parks have the most kids’ rides?

Theme park name State Number of kids’ rides
Hersheypark Pennsylvania 22
Knoebels Amusement Park Pennsylvania 22
Disneyland Park / Disneyland Resort California 21
Six Flags Discovery Kingdom California 21
Lake Compounce Connecticut 20
Silverwood Theme Park Idaho 20
Santa’s Village New Hampshire 20
Kings Island Ohio 19
Kings Dominion Virginia 19
Canobie Lake Park New Hampshire 18

The cheapest theme parks (per day)

If a season pass is not for you, then it’s likely you’ll be looking for the most affordable option based on a daily rate. Just showing up at a theme park with your family for a pleasant day out can cost a considerable amount of money once ticket prices, parking and extras are factored in.

That’s why we’ve created a shortlist for the most affordable parks for families of four based on two standard tickets, two child’s tickets and a daily parking fee – helping you to plan a day out with your kids that won’t break the bank.

The cheapest US theme parks per day

Theme park name State Price per day, per family (USD)
Bay Beach Amusement Park Wisconsin 0
Morgan’s Wonderland Texas 56
Castles ‘n’ Coasters Arizona 92
Storybook Land New Jersey 102
Cliff’s Amusement Park New Mexico 114
Story Land New Hampshire 128
Santa’s Village New Hampshire 136
Canobie Lake Park New Hampshire 136
Enchanted Forest Theme Park Oregon 143
Knoebels Amusement Park Pennsylvania 144

Beach Bay Amusement Park

Wisconsin


If you can believe it, the cheapest option on our list is actually free – a rarity when it comes to any kind of entertainment these days. Beach Bay Amusement Park is not only free for admission, but also offers free parking.

Though rides are ticketed, the cost is an affordable $0.25 per ride, and bulk buying for 400 tickets or more can be done over the phone at your own convenience. With 21 rides to choose from and four dining locations, this proves to be a great option for any family.

Morgan’s Wonderland

Texas

Not only is Morgan’s Wonderland an affordable option for families at $56 dollars per day, but it is the world’s first ‘Ultra-Accessible’ amusement park. Parking at this park is completely free, so ticket prices are the only cost you will need to factor in upon entering when you visit here.

Castles ‘N Coasters

Arizona

If you happen to be in the Phoenix area, Castles ‘N Coasters will still give your family change from $100, coming in at $96.96 for a family of four. Unlike many theme parks, this location offers impressively discounted child tickets, so you’re not forced to pay full price if you want to treat your little ones to a fun summer day out.

For that price, you can enjoy 16 exciting rides and five dining locations, as well as mini golf courses and an indoor video arcade that’s sure to keep your family entertained. Just make sure to budget for those claw machines!

Storybook Land

New Jersey

Storybook Land is a cute theme park in the USA

Our final affordable theme park pick comes in at just over the $100 mark, costing $102 dollars for two adults and two children. Parking is also free at this theme park, and although there are no separate child tickets, general admission is priced at a reasonable $25.50.

As well as the 16 fairy-tale themed rides, families can experience exciting meet-and-greets with beloved storybook characters, as well as experience special events such as Pirate Adventure Days and Princess Tea Parties.

The cheapest theme parks (per ride)

Sometimes it’s not just about the price of a ticket, but how much you’re getting for your money. If you’re the kind of person that takes great pride in getting the most bang for their buck at an amusement park, then we have the perfect list of parks for you.

An average price per ride has been worked out based on the total price for a family of four, divided by the number of rides at each park.

Which are the cheapest theme parks, per ride?

Theme park name State Price per ride (USD)
Bay Beach Amusement Park Wisconsin 0.25
Knoebels Amusement Park Pennsylvania 2.32
Canobie Lake Park New Hampshire 2.72
Cedar Point Amusement Park Ohio 3.06
Kennywood Pennsylvania 3.36
Dorney Park & Wildwater Kingdom Pennsylvania 3.59
Kings Dominion Virginia 3.61
Carowinds North Carolina 3.78
Valleyfair Minnesota 3.82
Kings Island Ohio 4.02

Beach Bay Amusement Park

Wisconsin

With free admission, free parking and a $0.25 cost per ride, Beach Bay comes out on top yet again for affordability. With classic beachside rides, including coasters and other carnival favorites, this park is the perfect spot to satisfy your theme park craving for as little money as possible.

Knoebels Amusement Park

Pennsylvania

Though this park is technically free admission, rides will still cost money based on a ticketing system. Buying a “ride all day” pass for the whole family and ride hopping throughout the day will give you maximum value for your money, with each ride amounting to $2.32 per family of four.

Canobie Lake Park

New Hampshire

Canobie Lake theme park, USA
Still within the $3 range, Canobie makes it onto our list at an average of $2.72 per ride. Parking is still free at this location, and child tickets are available at a discounted price. The good news is that even if you’ve ridden the 50 rides on offer to you, there’s still more fun to be had at this park, with arcade games, gift shops and live shows to explore.

Cedar Point Amusement Park

Ohio

Cedar Point amusement park, Ohio

Though the roller coaster capital of the world does not have free parking or discounted child tickets, the 70 rides on offer at this park brings the average price per ride down to just $3.06. If that isn’t enough to tire you out, you still have your pick of shows, events and meet-and-greets to ensure you get the best value for your money on this trip.

The best US states for theme park fans

Wondering which US states have the best selection of theme parks? Well, it’s perhaps no shock to see Florida and California topping the list with 8 and 10 major theme parks respectively. But you might be surprised to see states like Pennsylvania, New York and New Hampshire appearing high up too! For thrill rides, nowhere beats California.

Which are the 10 best states for theme park fans?

US state No of major theme parks Total no of thrill rides
California 10 108
Florida 9 36
Pennsylvania 6 75
New Hampshire 3 12
New Jersey 3 32
New York 3 41
Texas 3 21
Ohio 2 55
Georgia 2 29
Virginia 2 25

What about families?

When it comes to family vacations based around theme parks, Florida and California are both great options. In Florida, Orlando has some of the best dining and entertainment options anywhere in the United States, plus some incredible vacation homes, including places with their own movie rooms and themed bedrooms.

The US theme parks with the best dining options

Hersheypark has some of the best dining options of any theme park in the USA

One thing is for sure: if you’re visiting a theme park in the US of A, you won’t be going hungry. Even the smallest theme parks have multiple dining options to choose from, and at some of the bigger attractions you can expect to find a veritable feast of restaurants, cafés and bars.

It’s a close tie for the theme park with the best dining options in the USA. One of the first-placed parks is – unsurprisingly – Hersheypark. This candy-themed park in Pennsylvania is home to an incredible 65 places to eat and drink, including food trucks, donut stands and pizzerias.

Also in the top spot with 65 dining options is Castles ‘n’ Coasters in Arizona. Visitors here can expect everything from tacos and corn dogs to waffles and ice-cream shakes. Yummy!

The US theme parks with the most dining options

Theme park name State Number of dining options
Hersheypark Pennsylvania 65
Cedar Point Amusement Park Ohio 62
Epcot Florida 58
Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk California 43
Disney California Adventure Park California 42
Disneyland Park / Disneyland Resort California 41
Knoebels Amusement Park New Mexico 38
Kings Island Ohio 37
Disney’s Animal Kingdom Florida 33
Kings Dominion Virginia 33

Map of theme parks in the USA


Frequently asked questions

How many theme parks are there in the US?

Our research has uncovered a total of 65 major theme parks with rides across the United States of America. This figure doesn’t include more sedate theme parks without rides, or religious-themed attractions like Florida’s Holy Land Experience.

Where are most of the US theme parks located?

It’s a tough race, but California is the US state with the most theme parks. The Golden State has a total of 10 major theme parks, including some of the country’s biggest and most famous – such as Disneyland and Six Flags Magic Mountain. Close behind is Florida, home to 9 major theme parks, many of them in the Orlando area.

What are the most popular theme parks in the US?

According to the 2018 edition of the Global Attractions Attendance Report, Orlando’s Magic Kingdom park is the most popular theme park in the US by attendance, followed by Disneyland California.

How many Six Flags theme parks are there in the US?

At the time of writing there were 23 Six Flags theme parks across the USA. There are also Six Flags theme parks in China, Mexico, Canada and Saudi Arabia.

How many Disney theme parks are there in the US?

There are a total of six Disney theme parks in the USA, including the 2 Disneyland parks in California and the 4 parks at Disney World in Florida. Additionally, there are several Disney water parks and themed shopping and entertainment areas in Florida.

How we collected our data

Currency
All prices are in USD and accurate as of June 2019. Prices are taken from theme park websites.

Ride numbers
Ride numbers are taken from theme park websites. A ride is categorized by the use of a mechanical object or moving parts, and does not include static amusements (eg slides). Included: Rides that are down for construction. Not included: Rides set to be opened after 2019. Water park rides (AKA slides). Walk through attractions and 4D experiences with no ride component. Children’s playgrounds or play areas with no ride component.

Thrill rides
Thrill ride numbers are taken from theme park websites. Included: Rides that are classified as ‘thrill’ on the theme park website. Coasters that are listed separately from thrill rides, provided they are not listed as a family or kids’ ride. Not included: Anything listed as a family or kids ride.

Kids’ rides
Kids’ ride numbers are taken from theme park websites. Included: Rides that are classified as a kids ride on the theme park website. If multiple age categories are provided instead of a kid’s category, the lowest age range was selected. Not included: Playgrounds, soft play or any other play area without a ride component.

Dining options
Dining options are found through theme park websites. Included: Table service, counter service, fast food, concessions stands and carts. Not included: locations serving drinks/shakes only.

Annual rainfall days
Data is taken from the website bestplaces.net/climate. On occasion where a theme park was located in an unlisted area, the nearest listed area or town was used and is provided in brackets.

Adult ticket prices
Adult ticket prices are taken from theme park websites. Included: any day, any time ticket price paid online in advance. Where no individual any day rate was available, the peak price is provided.

Kids’ ticket prices
Kids’ ticket prices are taken from theme park websites. Included: any day, any time ticket price paid online in advance. Where no kids’ tickets were available, the standard adult pricing is provided.

Season passes
Season passes are taken directly from theme park websites when available. Included: cheapest season pass prices starting from 2019 paid for online, even if the price is a special offer.

Daily price
Daily price rates are worked out based on a visit for a family of 4. Included: 2 x adult tickets, 2 x child tickets, daily parking rate. Not included: dining

Price per ride:
Prices are based on a visit for a family of 4, divided by the number of rides.

 

A guide to the best theme parks in the USA

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Vicki Hall says:

    My name Is Vicki Hall ,
    My husband is a disabled veteran we are taking our grandchildren and children to one of the Peet’s do we get a discount for veterans

    1. Steve says:

      Hi Vicki,

      Thanks for your message! We do offer a discount to veterans. Please get in touch with our team by phone and we’ll do our best to find you the perfect place to stay.

      Thanks,

      Steve

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