America is cuckoo for water parks. There are over a thousand of them dotting the map, and the number rises by about a dozen every year. If you grew up during the 70s or 80s, you could count yourself lucky if you got to visit one or two during your childhood. Now they’re almost mundane – just another summer activity to keep the kids busy when school’s out.
But then, if water parks seem mundane it’s probably because most of the new ones have been of the cookie cutter variety, with the same set of attractions and names that are virtually indistinguishable (half of them have the word splash in them). The best water parks in America, on the other hand, still have the power to awe even the most jaded vacationers. The parks on this list are a lot of things, but mundane isn’t one of them.
10. Water Country USA (Williamsburg, Virginia)
Having a unique theme is one way to stand out from all the other water parks competing for attention. Water Country USA is designed around 1950s/1960s surf culture, with attractions like Big Daddy Falls, Hubba Hubba Highway, Cow-A-Bunga (kids play area), and Rock ‘n’ Roll Island. In total, the Mid-Atlantic’s largest water park has over 30 rides – along with daredevil stunt shows, restaurants, and other fun stuff. As a bonus, it’s practically next door to Busch Gardens Williamsburg, making this a nice twofer vacation stop.
9. Six Flags White Water (Atlanta, Georgia)
Six Flags operates a number of water parks throughout the country, but this one is different not only because it doesn’t bear the Hurricane Harbor name, but because of its sheer awesomeness. The latest addition to the park’s large stable of rides is the Typhoon Twister, a giant toilet bowel slide. For thrill seekers, there’s also The Cliffhanger, billed as one of the tallest free falls on earth (9 stories). You can buy combo passes to get into Six Flags Over Georgia as well.
8. The Kalahari (Sandusky, Ohio)
The largest indoor water park in the country deserves a spot on this list – if nothing else for the neat trick of being open year round, rain or shine. But the Kalahari also deserves kudos for its cool African theme and impressive list of rides. It’s located in the theme park mecca of Sandusky, Ohio, so there’s no shortage of things to do outside the park either. But with a full resort onsite, an indoor water coaster (among other attractions), and an outdoor water park as well, there’s really no need to leave the premises. For more info, check out our full write up.
7. Splish Splash (Long Island, New York)
Open May through September, this large and ever-expanding water park is tops in the northeast. It opened in the early 90s, and has been adding to its stable of attractions ever since. Now, you can float down a 1,300-foot lazy river, take your family through the Hollywood Stunt Rider, or try your luck at one of the park’s newest and most intense rides, the Alien Invasion.
6. Splashin Safari (Santa Claus, Indiana)
This water park is part of Holiday World, a legendary theme park with four sections celebrating Christmas, Thanksgiving, Halloween, and the Fourth of July. As you can guess by the name, the water park has an African safari theme (yeah, doesn’t exactly gel with the holiday theme – but who’s complaining?). It includes rides like Hyena Falls and ZOOMbabwe, but the main attractions are two long water coasters known as The Mammoth and The Wildebeest.
5. Water World (Denver, Colorado)
Situated just north of Denver, this massive 67-acre park has been thrilling visitors since 1979. Being huge isn’t its only selling point, though – it’s also known for having a number of unique rides the likes of which you won’t find anywhere else. The centerpiece is Voyage to the Center of the Earth, which takes riders on a 5-minute adventure complete with animatronic dinosaurs.
4. Aquatica (Orlando, Florida)
This water park is connected to SeaWorld Orlando and Discovery Cove. It rocks a South Pacific theme, with rides like Whanau Way, Tassie’s Twisters and Roa’s Rapids (a not-so-lazy river). But the park’s main claim to fame is the unforgettable Dolphin Plunge, a tube slide that sends you through a pool containing a pod of actual dolphins.
3. Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach (Orlando, Florida)
You knew Disney would be making an appearance on this list at some point, right? These two water parks feature wildly different themes, but are both part of Disney World in Orlando. The tropical-themed Typhoon Lagoon draws more people than any other water park in the world, with rides like Humunga Kowabunga and Gang Plank Falls. Blizzard Beach has a novel snow-and-ice theme (it’s based on a legend that the park was originally intended to be a ski resort, until the snow melted).
2. Noah’s Ark (Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin)
It’s a sign of how strong this list is that until now we have found no room for any entries from Wisconsin Dells, the self-proclaimed “Water Park Capital of the World.” The Dells undoubtedly has more than one cutting edge water park, but the biggest and best is Noah’s Ark. With an astonishing 51 water slides and loads of other attractions, it’s enough to keep any family busy for days. While there are lots of contenders, the most famous ride is probably the massive water coaster known as Black Anaconda.
1. Schlitterbahn Waterpark (New Braunfels, Texas)
Sorry, but we’re not bucking the consensus with this pick. Schlitterbahn is consistently lauded as the best water park in the United States, and for good reason. This German-themed park has over three miles of inner tube rides, multiple Master Blaster water coasters, and its popular spring-fed tube chutes. Interestingly, the older, western half of the park gets most of its water from the Comal River. The water is filtered for park use, then returned to the river – all without the use of chemicals.