Attractions

8 Best Amusement Parks in the US (That Aren’t Disney)

Everyone in the world loves amusement parks, but no one loves them more or does them bigger and better than Americans. So if you’re wondering where the best amusement parks in the US are, look no further than this list!

Some of our parks have even received international renown and are visited by people from all over the world, seeking the joy and thrills that they have to offer.

Big theme parks like Disney World, Disneyland, and Universal Studios are still dominating this space; but these parks, impressive though they are, aren’t the only attractions across the states that offer dizzying roller coaster rides and heaps of fun activities. Plus, even the best Disney FastPass secrets aren’t going to save you from long lines and tough crowds.

I decided to put together this list of our current favorite amusement parks from coast to coast so you can find a park near you that offers just as much fun but without the heavy crowds.

America’s Other Favorite Pastime?

Of course, baseball is the undisputed national pastime.

But amusement parks have been around in America since the early 1800s and are practically interwoven into our culture, as evidenced by the millions of people who flock to the hundreds of amusement parks all across the country.

They embody the ultimate indulgence in child-like adventure, each offering their own take on adrenaline-inducing experiences and themed rides.

Hardcore roller coaster junkies do differentiate between amusement parks and theme parks, as the latter tends to feature fewer rides for thrill-seekers, but most people just lump them together into one category.

Thunderbolt Coaster

Whichever way you cut it, these parks make for the perfect getaway, whether it’s for a weekend-long adventure, as a brief stop on a longer trip, or a memorable day outing.

They’re also a great fit for every budget, with lots of parks both large and small offering different experiences at different pricing tiers, which really appeals to me since I love finding the most affordable ways to have fun.

And amusement parks have that in spades.

Whether you’re here looking for the most compelling attractions, the best gravity-defying rides, or the ultimate family-friendly experience, we’ve got you covered.

Browse through these 8 impressive amusement parks and see what makes each one special.

I’m sure you’ll find something that appeals to you, even if it’s just all the yummy Instagram-worthy treats!

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8 of the Best Amusement Parks in the US

1. Knoebels Amusement Resort (Elysburg, Pennsylvania)

Knoebels Coaster
Photo Credit: pennuja

I wanted to start this list off with Knoebels because it’s the largest remaining amusement park in America that has free admission.

That’s right—anyone can visit the park for free!

The coasters, kid-friendly rides, and other great attractions (including swimming pools, a golf course, and a bald eagle habitat) are all individually priced.

This is a great option if you’re looking for a budget-friendly excursion where you only have to pay for the rides you will actually take. They also offer ride-all-day passes most weekdays.

It can be mega frustrating to pay the exorbitant prices of Disney theme parks only to stand in a line for 3+ hours. But this way, you get to do what you want and only pay for the experiences you’re actually getting.

Don’t leave without getting on the Phoenix, consistently ranked as one of the top wooden coasters in the country.

Essential Information
Address: 391 Knoebels Blvd, Route 487, Elysburg, PA 17824 | 800-487-4386
Hours: Operating hours and days open depend on the season; check their calendar for updated information
Admission: Free; pay-per-ride or ride-all-day pass
Can bring food in? Yes
Website: Knoebels Amusement Resort

2. Silver Dollar City (Branson, Missouri)

Silver Dollar City
Photo Credit: bransonmo

History buffs will marvel at all the old-timey attractions and architecture at Silver Dollar City.

You can ride along on their wooden roller coaster rides and the kids are bound to enjoy the relaxing carnival rides as well.

Plus it’s a great stop if you’re planning a road trip along the Great River Road.

Shining with old country-style grace next to the scenic Ozark Mountains, this park offers a really great time whether you’re into coaster rides or not. There’s plenty to see, do and taste.

The Marvel Cave tours are a delight and there are good stage shows on offer too.

Demonstrations of blacksmithing, candy-making, pottery, woodworking, and many other crafts are also done in their respective shops, where you can buy their handcrafted goods.

There’s also plenty of mouthwatering food and treats served in unique pioneer-themed restaurants and cafĂ©s, so come hungry!

Essential Information
Address: 399 Silver Dollar City Pkwy, Branson, MO 65616 | 417-336-7100
Hours: Operating hours and days open depend on the season; check their calendar for updated information
Admission: Starts at $74 per head, but prices may vary per day; discounts available for seniors and children from 3 to 11 years old; free for children 3 and below
Can bring food in? Yes (no glass containers, no alcoholic beverages)
Website: Silver Dollar City Theme Park

3. Busch Gardens (Tampa, Florida)

Busch Gardens Tampa
Photo Credit: Jeremy Thompson

Disney World and Universal’s theme parks might be some of Florida’s biggest attractions, but you can have just as much fun for a fraction of the price and with fewer crowds at Busch Gardens in Tampa.

It was modeled after a nineteenth-century African safari and is home to over 12,000 animals in the park zoo.

The Serengeti Express Train offers a relaxing way to see all the animals if you’re not up for walking through all the enclosures, or you can get a birds-eye view of the whole park with the Skyride cable car.

The animals aren’t the park’s only attraction. It is an amusement park after all. The rides range from tame family-friendly fun, like the Congo River Rapids, to the wild and incredibly fast Cheetah Hunt.

Having a zoo and amusement park in one probably means you and your family will be back for a second or third day, as one day might not be enough to experience everything Busch Gardens has to offer.

It’s the perfect destination if you’re looking for great rides and shows but you don’t want to deal with the immense crowds that parks like Universal’s Islands of Adventure attract.

Busch Gardens is also known for various events during the holidays, such as Mardi Gras, Cinco de Mayo, Halloween, and their grand Christmas Town.

Pro Tip: If you’re staying in or visiting the Orlando area, you can hop on the Busch Gardens shuttle for free if you have a ticket to the park. Check out the pick-up and drop-off locations on their site (this service is temporarily suspended, but it’s worth adding this to your bookmarks tab and checking back).

Essential Information
Address: 10165 N McKinley Dr, Tampa, FL 33612 | 813-884-4386
Hours: Operating hours and days open depend on the season; check their Hours page for updated information
Admission: Starts at $89.99 per head, but prices may vary per day; discounts available for military; free for children 3 and below
Can bring food in? No (except for those who have special dietary needs, food allergies, and babies who require formula; each visitor allowed one sealed water bottle)
Website: Busch Gardens

4. Cedar Point (Sandusky, Ohio)

Cedar Point
Photo Credit: bowwowbeach

If you’re a roller coaster enthusiast then you’re probably already familiar with Cedar Point, known to many as the roller coaster capital of the world.

With more than 70 rides spread throughout the park and 17 fast and furious roller coasters, including 5 of the top 50 steel coasters of 2018, thrill-seekers will get more than they bargained for.

In May 2018, the record-setting and record-breaking Steel Vengeance, billed as the world’s first hybrid (i.e., made of wood and steel) hypercoaster (i.e, higher than 200 feet), was opened to the public. It’s currently the world’s tallest and fastest hybrid coaster with the steepest drop (90 degrees), longest drop (200 feet), most inversions (four), and most airtime (27.2 seconds).

Honestly, this is more of a grown-up kid’s paradise, but if you’re looking for something the whole family can do together then you won’t be disappointed either. Ride the Cedar Point and Lake Erie Railroad and enjoy the sights while riding in an authentic coal-powered steam locomotive. Or go on a Sky Ride and enjoy the view from a gondola suspended 92 feet in the air.

Essential Information
Address: 1 Cedar Point Drive, Sandusky, OH 44870 | 419-627-2350
Hours: Operating hours and days open depend on the season; check their Park Calendar and Hours of Operation page for updated information
Admission: Starts at $49.99 per head, but prices may vary per day; discounts available for seniors and military; free for children 3 and below
Can bring food in? No (except for those who have special dietary needs, food allergies, and babies who require formula; each visitor allowed one sealed water bottle)
Website: Cedar Point

5. Six Flags Magic Mountain (Valencia, California)

Six Flags Magic Mountain
Photo Credit: Jeff Turner

When people think of amusement parks, any one of the Six Flags parks might come to mind.

They’re big, they’re flashy, and they’re stuffed with tons of exciting stuff to do.

Though none come in as big as Six Flags Magic Mountain.

The self-billed “Thrill Capital of the World” pushed Cedar Point out of the top spot for most roller coaster rides as it now boasts 18 sensational rides in total. I’d say it’s possible to get to them all in one day if you’re lucky enough to catch short lines, although the Viper is a bit of a bumpy ride (and not in a good way) so I’d avoid that one.

Other than the big rides, there’s plenty for the kids to do too. The Looney Tunes Lodge, for one, is a hit and offers some (usually much-needed) respite for moms and dads.

This park can get very busy, however.

Much more so than many of the others on this list, so you might want to pick an off-peak day if you can.

Otherwise, there are the flush pass tickets available which are great for skipping the long queues but they’re very pricey. On that point, the food at Six Flags is pretty pricey too, though it’s still less expensive than what you’ll have to pay at most Disney theme parks.

Essential Information
Address: 26101 Magic Mountain Pkwy, Valencia, CA 91355 | 661-255-4100
Hours: Operating hours and days open depend on the season; check their Park Operating Schedule for updated information
Admission: Starts at $45 per head, but prices may vary per day; discounts available for seniors and military; free for children 3 and below
Can bring food in? No (except for those who have special dietary needs, food allergies, and babies who require formula; each visitor allowed one sealed water bottle)
Website: Six Flags Magic Mountain

6. Hersheypark (Hershey, Pennsylvania)

Hersheypark
Photo Credit: jcapaldi

Who doesn’t need a little more sweetness in their life?

Hershey’s certainly brings that to town with their adorably sweet chocolate-themed park and rides that will induce a better blood rush than even the sweetest Hershey’s chocolate.

This is the biggest amusement park in Pennsylvania with over 70 rides in total. In 2017, Hersheypark opened its “choose-your-thrill” Hershey Triple Tower ride that lets people choose among three towers of different heights.

The tallest tower comes in at 189 feet, and each one rockets you to the top before dropping you straight back down again. Needless to say, this one isn’t for the faint of heart.

If the thrill rides start to get too much, then you could always venture over to Boardwalk, a water park open during the summer. Or you could hop on over to ZooAmerica. It’s right next door and admission is free if you already have a ticket for the amusement park.

Don’t leave without picking up a sweet treat at The Sweeterie Confectionery Kitchen (Hand-crafted fudge! Yum!) and going on the free tour at Hershey’s Chocolate World, also next door to Hersheypark.

Essential Information
Address: 100 W. Hersheypark Drive, Hershey, PA 17033 | 717-534-3900
Hours: Operating hours and days open depend on the season; check their Hours page for updated information
Admission: Starts at $54.95 per head, but prices may vary per day; discounts available for seniors and children between 3 and 8 years old; free for children 3 and below
Can bring food in? No (except for those who have special dietary needs, food allergies, and babies who require formula; each visitor allowed one sealed water bottle)
Website: Hersheypark

7. Dollywood (Pigeon Forge, Tennessee)

Dollywood
Photo Credit: frikitiki

Whether you’re into Dolly Parton’s music or not, there’s no denying that her theme park has tons of fun stuff to do.

The whole place exudes a relaxing Southern charm and a spectacular view of the Great Smoky Mountains, especially from the top of the rides (though you’ll only get to enjoy the view for a split second as you’re hurtling along).

The Wildwood Tree located in Wildwood Grove is also a must-see, especially at night when the 50-foot tree and the butterflies around it light up in a dazzling display.

This park is as unique as its owner.

One of Dollywood’s trademark attractions is the full-size steam train that runs in the park, which isn’t something you get to do just anywhere anymore.

And those who love art and crafts should definitely head over to Craftsman’s Valley for the craft exhibits and music shows.

If your group is mostly adults, you may want to taste some authentic Smoky Mountain moonshine at Old Forge Distillery, one of the best stops on the Tennessee Whiskey Trail.

Essential Information
Address: 2525 DreamMore Way, Pigeon Forge, TN 37863 | 800-365-5996
Hours: Operating hours and days open depend on the season; check their Operating Calendar for updated information
Admission: Starts at $84 per head, but prices may vary per day; discounts available for seniors, children between 4 to 9 years old, and military; free for children 4 and below
Can bring food in? No (except for babies who require formula; each visitor allowed one sealed water bottle)
Website: Dollywood

8. Knott’s Berry Farm (Buena Park, California)

Knott's Berry Farm, Buena Park, California
Photo Credit: Jeremy Thompson

Knott’s Berry Farm is probably a strange name as amusement parks go, but it actually did start as a berry stand operated by Walter Knott in the 1920s.

As the number of visitors grew, shops, restaurants, and attractions were built over the next two decades. In 1968, admission fees started to be charged to visitors.

Currently, the 160-acre amusement park is owned by Cedar Fair and offers dozens of rides, attractions, shows, and experiences throughout its 4 themed areas.

Older kids and adults will have fun riding the Silver Bullet, a 105-foot tall roller coaster that has a couple of rolls, a couple of corkscrews, and 6 inversions.

And yes, it’s as fun as it sounds.

For younger kids, Camp Snoopy is the place to be with plenty of kid-friendly rides and activities.

In the summer, you can have some water fun at Knott’s Soak City, just across from the main theme park.

And in the autumn, during the buildup to Halloween, Knott’s Berry Farm becomes Knott’s Scary Farm, So-Cal’s largest, most haunted Halloween event featuring 8 terrifying mazes, creatures lurking in Scare Zones, and various spooky shows and events.

Essential Information
Address: 8039 Beach Blvd, Buena Park, CA 90620 | 714-220-5200
Hours: Operating hours and days open depend on season; check their Calendar and Hours page for updated information
Admission: Starts at $54 per head, but prices may vary per day; discounts available for seniors, children between 3 to 11 years old, and military; free for children below 3
Can bring food in? No (except for those who have special dietary needs, food allergies, and babies who require formula; each visitor allowed one sealed water bottle)
Website: Knott’s Berry Farm

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Final Tips as You Visit the Best Amusement Parks in America

If I could leave you with one great tip for visiting any amusement park, it would be to book your tickets online.

We found that most parks have a discount for tickets purchased online that can go as high as 30%. Some even have discounts on parking and food.

Plus, buying tickets online is just easier these days, anyway, since you then avoid standing in line on the day – which is time better spent having as much fun as you can!

Finally, enjoy yourself!

It’s an amusement park after all!

There will be crowds and lines, but at the end of the day, the memories worth keeping would be of all the fun you had on the rides and the good food you had to eat.

Did we miss your favorite (non-Disney) amusement parks? If you could add a park to this list, which one would it be and why? Share it with us in the comments and we may just add that to the list!

Go Out and Explore