Jeremy Thompson, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Best Non-Disney Theme Parks for Family-Friendly Fun

Shouldn't we teach our children to root for the underdog? To appreciate the independent, quirky, and regional? Why not impart that lesson while riding ridiculous roller coasters and splashing down water slides!

Visiting an amusement park on summer break from school it practically an American tradition, but there are a lot more theme parks than the obvious juggernauts (we're looking at you, Disneyland, Walt Disney World, and Universal Studios Hollywood). The ones on this list are particularly good for families with young children. They're not trying to be the biggest or the greatest (or the most expensive), but they keep their focus on family-friendly fun. They include waterparks, pop culture destinations, enchanted forests, and even Peppa Pig Paradises. No matter your family's age range, you will leave these places smiling.


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11. Silver Dollar City

Trade out that Disney California adventure for something more low-key (and affordable) by making a trip to the famous Silver Dollar City. This Midwest amusement staple is located just outside of Branson, Missouri, creating easy access from both coasts of the USA. Complete with a waterpark, a theme park, lake cruises, and on-site accommodations (including camping), Silver Dollar City provides endless fun without the constant price tags that other theme park trips can accumulate.

10. Legoland New York

A newer edition to the big apple, Legoland New York offers a welcome oasis for the builders, makers, and engineers in the bunch. Located in Goshen, New York, this incredible park spans 150 acres with seven designated areas with a specific theme. Lego lovers old and young can will geek out. The park boasts 15,000 Lego models of all calibers and features two roller coasters and four water rides.

9. Peppa Pig Theme Park

Situated just a short drive from Legoland Florida outside of Orlando, those with toddlers and young babies will find their "pink pig heaven" (or hell, depending on how your day is going). This aims to be the first theme park a child goes to, so the Peppa Pig Theme Park is dedicated to all things pre-school. While the term "theme park" is a stretch, this park is a solid full day of fun for the littles in your group, and that's what really matters.

8. Dollywood

view of a ride at dollywood

anjanettew, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

You may not first think of kids when you think of the queen of the country's amusement haven outside Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, but Dollywood is a true family-friendly haven. Like its namesake,  is has become an American Treasure. This Smoky mountain oasis boasts a magnificent variety of thrill rides (the legendary wooden roller coaster "Thunderhead"), massive water slides, live shows, fantastic food, and has one mission in mind - "Love Every Moment."

Holiday World and Splashin' Safari

holiday world entrance

Jeremy Thompson, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

You have never thought about visiting Santa Claus, Indiana, unless you were specifically going to a combination theme and water park called Holiday World & Splashin' Safari. For a value price, you can take the whole crew for a blissful day of fun they will never forget. This park also offers free sunscreen, complimentary soft drinks, free parking, and Wi-Fi.

Holiday world is also home to one of the favorite wooden roller coasters in the world (The Voyage) and The Thunderbird, a thrill ride that launches from zero to 60 mph in a mere 3.5 seconds. Over in the Splashin' Safari World, park guests can ride top-rated waterpark rides, including the two longest water coasters.

Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park

Glenwood springs, Caverns Adventure Park

Toshihiro Matsui, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

RELATED: Discover "The Fairy Caves" at Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park

Known as America's only mountain-top theme park, Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park boasts a view-worthy Gondola Ride to the top of Iron Mountain, epic "fairy cave" tours, thrill rides, and lots of kid-friendly entertainment. As far as rides go, the park is a western-themed adventure park that offers thrill rides, family-friendly rides, the 4D Motion Theater, and kiddie rides, almost all of which offer magnificent views of the alpine landscape.

Enchanted Forest

A Pacific Northwest escape for some wholesome kid-friendly adventure, the Enchanted Forest is located outside Salem, Oregon. Nestled among thick forests, this mystical theme park features many immersive rides and attractions that the entire family is sure to enjoy.

Take a delightful stroll down Storybook Lane, Western Town, or English Village. The Ice Mountain Bobsled Roller Coaster is a hit with the older kids. At the same time, bumper cars and a semi-haunted house provide excitement for all ages. There is even an outdoor comedy theatre with theatrical presentations throughout the summer months.

Carousel Gardens Amusement Park

Carousel Gardens Amusement Park entrance

osseous, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Located at City Park in the thriving heart of New Orleans, Louisiana, Carousel Gardens is a seasonally operated theme park that makes for a great family-friendly option if you find your clan in the big easy. Equipped with 18 rides and two cafes, Carousel Gardens has a roller coaster, a Ferris wheel, a drop tower, a mini-train, and one of the oldest carousels in the USA (called "Flying Horses"). While it might not be a reason to make an entire trip to NOLA, it sure is an excellent idea for those with kids that are already in the area.

Schlitterbahn Waterpark

schlitterbahn entrance

Jason Helle from the USA, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Nestled just outside of San Antonio, Texas, there are many reasons why Schlitterbahn has been rated one of the best waterparks in the world time and time again. In fact, Schlitterbahn New Braunfels won Amusement Today's Golden Ticket Award for 22 years straight (with 39 total Golden Ticket Awards)

The park initially only had four waterslides. Since then, this famous waterpark has expanded to have three distinct water worlds for guests to explore. With over 51 attractions spanning the park's 70 acres, Schlitterbahn offers all sorts of amusement park rides, all based on the water. The park sits on the banks of the beautiful spring-fed Comal River and provides a wide variety of rides for the whole family.

The Runners-Up

  • Hershey Park in Hershey, Pennsylvania
  • Busch Gardens (key locations in Tampa Bay, Florida, and Williamsburg, Virginia)
  • King's Island in Mason, Ohio
  • Knott's Berry Farm in Buena Park, California

An avid adventurer and lover of all things outdoors and travel, Sydney Paschall has explored and discovered as many beautiful places as she can, with extra time spent in Oregon, Colorado, and driving up and down the west coast. Now based in Austin, Sydney focuses her time on writing, social justice, activism, living more mindfully, and staying active to optimize the mind, body, and soul. Instagram: @_sydshine

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