Little towns can still have big thrills. In fact, some of the best amusement parks in the country are located in small towns with names that you may have never heard before. Whether you are looking for exhilarating roller coasters, a simple place to relax and have fun with your family, or a water playground help you to stay cool in the summer sun, these theme parks are putting their towns on the map. Here are 12 of the best places for small town fun this summer.
Amusement Parks in the U.S. To Put on Your Itinerary
1. Cedar Point – Sandusky, Ohio
If you are a roller coaster aficionado, then you have probably already been to Cedar Point. If not, what are you waiting for? The park has seventeen coasters and five of them are taller than 200 feet, which is a world record. Non-thrill seekers will still have plenty to do at America’s second-oldest amusement park, with 71 rides overall. The park is located on a Lake Erie peninsula, so you can also sneak off to the beach for a break via one of the entrances around the park.
Location: 1 Cedar Point Drive
Hours: Park hours vary by season, but typically start at 10 am when in season.
2. The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk – Santa Cruz, California
On the coast of this free-spirited beach town, is The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, a classic seaside amusement park with two rides that are National Historic Landmarks. The park is on the smaller side with only 35 rides, so you can visit for a day trip, or as part of a longer visit to Santa Cruz. If you want to eat anything other than classic amusement park food, you can use that as an incentive to explore the eclectic town.
Location: 400 Beach Street
Hours: Rides are open seasonally and hours vary. The indoor Casino Arcade and Laser Tag are open year-round, but hours depend on the day of the week.
3. Dollywood – Pigeon Forge, Tennessee
Roller coasters, award-winning shows, and Dolly Parton history - what more could you ask for from a Southern theme park experience? Aside from the typical rides and concessions that you expect at any amusement park, the fun is amplified here by attractions like the Dolly museum and a tour of one of Dolly’s old tour buses. And if you like country music, make sure to budget your time at the park to include one of the shows because there is really no better way to feel fully immersed in Tennessee culture than through music.
Location: 2700 Dollywood Parks Blvd.
Hours: Hours vary, but the park is typically open from mid-March through December.
4. Knoebels Amusement Resort– Elysburg, Pennsylvania
Nestled in the Pennsylvania woods is Knoebels Amusement Resort, a family-owned park that makes up for in charm what it lacks in mega thrill rides. The park has free parking and entry, and guests pay per attraction. Central to the park is the Crystal Pool, filled with nearly 900,000 gallons of mountain stream water, and complete with waterslides and a kiddie pool. If you can appreciate a vintage atmosphere mixed in with a few coasters, a spooky Haunted Mansion, and a variety of usual carnival rides, Knoebels is definitely worth the trip.
Location: 391 Knoebels Blvd.
Hours: Hours vary depending on day, but Knoebels is open for the summer season with weekend hours in the fall.
5. King’s Dominion – Doswell, Virginia
King’s Dominion is a great park for roller coaster buffs (there are 13 here including the Intimidator 305, which has a 300-foot drop and reaches 90 miles per hour), but one thing that really sets it apart is its Dinosaurs Alive! attraction. Who knew you could have an educational, and fun, experience at a thrill park? The exhibit features 40 life-sized animatronic dinosaurs, some of which visitors can control. The dino walkthrough is like an educational zoo with prehistoric creatures and can be a great place to cool down between adrenaline-inducing rides.
Location: 16000 Theme Park Way
Hours: The park is open June through August with weekends in May, September, and October. Daily hours vary.
6. Funtown Splashtown USA – Saco, Maine
When you visit Funtown Splashtown USA, you can choose to buy a combination ticket for admission to both the theme park and the water park or just choose one. Funtown features Maine’s only wooden rollercoaster, Excalibur, and the completely original, Astrophere, a scrambler-type ride inside a blowup dome with light projections and Electric Light Orchestra’s Fire on High. Splashtown combines extreme water slides like Poseidon’s Plunge, on which you start out standing and the floor drops from beneath you, with kid-friendly areas like the Pirate’s Paradise playground.
Location: 774 Portland Road
Hours: Hours vary by month and day of the week. Park is open seasonally during the summer.
7. Idlewild Park and Soakzone – Ligonier, Pennsylvania
While it may not be the best choice for a group of adults, Idlewild Park and Soakzone has won multiple Golden Ticket Awards by Amusement Today for being the Best Children’s Park. It combines both an amusement park and a water park, but one ticket gets you access to both areas. Younger children will feel especially catered to here with attractions like the new Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood trolley ride, that brings the television show to life, and the Story Book Forest, where you can meet your favorite fairytale characters.
Location: 2574 U.S. 30
Hours: The park is open for the summer season with adjusted weekend hours in May, September and October. When in season, the park usually opens around 10:30 am and closes at 8:00 pm.
8. Wet ‘n’ Wild Hawaii – Kapolei, Hawaii
With Hawaii having such infamous beaches, visiting a water park there may not be on your radar, but Wet ‘n’ Wild Hawaii may make you reconsider. Hawaii’s only water park has 25 attractions that range from a toddler playground called Keiki Kove to the extreme crowd favorite, Shaka, with a 35 foot drop that feels like falling straight down. Guests can even practice their surf skills on a continuous 40-foot wave called Da’ Flowrider, but be aware there is an extra charge for this attraction. The operating hours can be on the shorter side, so we suggest arriving early and staying until close.
Location: 400 Farrington Hwy.
Hours: Hours vary, but the park is open dates from May through December.
9. Stone Mountain Park – Stone Mountain, Georgia
Stone Mountain Park is more than just an amusement park, as it is combined with 15 miles of nature trails, including a 1-mile hike to the top of the mountain. There is enough to do here that in multiple days you won’t need to repeat an activity. You can ride the Summit Skyride tram, conquer the outdoor ropes course, mini golf, or even go snow tubing in the winter season. If you want a well-rounded vacation, you can also throw in a historic tour of some antique Georgia homes built in the 1800s. This is a great place to visit if you are looking for more variety in your trip. Before you go; though, you may want to note that there is some controversy here over the mountain’s confederate carving.
Location: 1000 Robert E. Lee Blvd.
Hours: Stone Mountain is open year-round, but attractions vary by season, as do hours.
10. Canobie Lake Park – Salem, New Hampshire
About 30 miles outside of Boston, you can escape the city for the small town of Salem, and their main attraction: Canobie Lake Park. The amusement park is nearly 115 years old, and maintains its antique charm, while also catering to more modern-day excitement-loving guests. The wooden roller coaster, Yankee Cannonball, was built in the 1930s and still remains one of the most popular attractions. Contrastingly, the more modern UNTAMED coaster is one of only a few vertical lift coasters in the United States. Your visit to Canobie Park shouldn’t have to break the bank either. Unlike most theme parks you can park for free here; and a game of skeeball in the Wooden Nickel Arcade is only 25 cents.
Location: 85 North Policy Street
Hours: Park hours vary by month, but it is open seasonally from April through October.
11. Lake Winnie Amusement Park– Rossville, Georgia
For a small-scale, more homespun feel, visit Lake Winnie Amusement park for a day of family fun. The park was known in the 1920s for having one of the South’s largest swimming pools, which has since been removed. But in 2013, it returned to its wet roots with the addition of SOAKya Water Park, five acres of water slides and a wave pool. This small town attraction is located right on the Tennessee-Georgia border and a great way to have a good time without being overwhelmed by the massive size of a mainstream Six Flags or Disney park.
Location: 1730 Lakeview Dr.
Hours: Hours vary, but the park is generally open May through July and on weekends August through October.
12. Splashin’ Safari Water Park – Santa Claus, Indiana
Not only is Splashin’ Safari a great water park, but it is also a surprisingly great value in the midst of overpriced amusement parks. Your admission ticket also grants you access to the Holiday World Theme Park, and all beverages are completely free. You can also connect to the park’s Wi-Fi at no extra charge so you can save your data plan while you post your outing on social media. You don’t even need to pack your own sunscreen because that’s free here too. Aside from all the freebies, the park has a lot to offer in rides, including the world’s two longest water coasters.
Location: 452 E Christmas Blvd.
Hours: The park is open varying hours from May through mid-August.
This article was written by Paula Ashlee Berg.