20 Best Small Amusement Parks for Families in the USA

Jocelyn Murray July 5, 2011 2 Comments

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Small amusement parks are big on fun for families. They can have many advantages over the larger commercialized theme parks: being smaller, they are easier to navigate; they are often less expensive with lower admission fees and food prices; they are less crowded with shorter waits and lines; they are clean and very family-friendly (often gearing towards younger children, 12 and under), and more. Listed alphabetically, the following are among the best small amusement parks in the USA, and make wonderful outings for families.

Adventure CityAnaheim, California

Adventure City Drop Zone

Adventure City Drop Zone

A lovely little park for families with younger children, Adventure City in Anaheim, California is clean, very well designed, easy to maneuver with short lines, and has a friendly staff. All the rides and attractions are perfect for children, from the park’s centerpiece vintage carousel, many kiddie rides, two roller coasters, to the arcade, petting farm, and children’s theater. It offers free parking and $14.95 admission fee (as of 2011), with food and beverages that are reasonably priced. Be sure to try the mouth-watering pizza that is freshly made-to-order. You can also host parties in the park’s Party Station or Party Tree House which are big hits for birthdays. For more information visit http://www.adventurecity.com

Beech Bend ParkBowling Green, Kentucky

Bench Bend Park - Wild Mouse Ride

Bench Bend Park - Wild Mouse Ride

Named the 5th Friendliest Park by Amusement Today’s Golden Ticket Awards, Beech Bend Park is affordable family fun with free parking, free soft drinks, and $29.99/$25.99 (adult/child under 54”) admission fees as of 2011 that include the Splash Lagoon Water Park (in season). It has dozens of rides and water slides, miniature golf, go-carts, games, a petting farm and live shows and entertainment to thrill the whole family. The park is clean, well maintained and easy to navigate with several restaurants and concession stands offering good food and treats. Birthday party packages are available for those who wish to host events here as well. This little park is a welcome treat the whole family will enjoy. For more information visit http://www.beechbend.com

Canobie Lake ParkSalem, New Hampshire

Canobie Lake Park - Xtreme Frisbee

Canobie Lake Park - Xtreme Frisbee

A traditional family amusement park with history, Canobie Lake Park in Salem, New Hampshire has been around for over 100 years. It features over 85 rides, games, live entertainment, and attractions with thrill rides, family rides, kids rides, and water rides that the whole family will relish. As of 2011, admission tickets are $32/$23 (adult/child under 48”), free for children ages 3 and under, and free parking. There are numerous gift shops, a variety of restaurants, and a staff that is friendly and helpful. The waits are short and there are plenty of shaded areas, which is very nice during the summer months. This park has a loyal following and has charmed both children and parents alike with its traditional appeal for decades. For more information visit http://www.canobie.com

DelGrosso’s Amusement ParkTipton, Pennsylvania

Delgrosso's Amusement Park - Sea Dragon

Delgrosso's Amusement Park - Sea Dragon

With a nice variety of entertainment options in a clean, friendly environment, DelGrosso’s Amusement Park in Tipton, Pennsylvania is perfect for the entire family. It has over 30 rides that include an adjoining water park, speedway go-karts, miniature golf course and lots of family-friendly rides. The 1920s vintage carousel has a nostalgic charm with its 36 hand-carved horses. There is also an arcade, lots of games, clean restrooms, and a delicious assortment of freshly made food that is very reasonably priced. There is free parking and free admission (for those who prefer not to go on rides), and all day ride passes that can be purchased for $15.95 (as of 2011). Individual ride tickets can also be purchased. Free concerts during the summer are a delightful bonus. For more information visit http://www.delgrossos.com/dap.html

Dutch Wonderland Family Fun ParkLancaster, Pennsylvania

Dutch Wonderland - Water Fun

Dutch Wonderland - Water Fun

Located in the timeless beauty of Lancaster, Pennsylvania’s Amish country, Dutch Wonderland Family Fun Park has been voted “One of the Top 5 Best Kids’ Parks in the World” by Amusement Today magazine many times with good reason. This kingdom for kids is a 48 acre playground with over 30 kid-friendly rides, including coasters, a water-play area, live entertainment with special shows and attractions, games, numerous eateries and food stands, and related properties including Old Mill Stream Campground, Wonderland Mini-Golf, and The Gift House at Kitchen Kettle Village. The park is home to Princess Brooke, Duke the Dragon and several Knights. As of 2011, it offers free parking and admission tickets for $33.99 that include unlimited rides, entertainment, and a round of mini-golf at Wonderland Mini-Golf. For more information visit http://www.dutchwonderland.com

Family Kingdom Amusement ParkMyrtle Beach, South Carolina

Family Kingdom Amusement Park - Water Ride

Family Kingdom Amusement Park - Water Ride

The seaside allure of Family Kingdom Amusement Park in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina is a wonderful escape for families. This family owned park features more than 30 rides and attractions including a Ferris wheel which boasts stunning ocean and beach views, the renowned Swamp Fox wooden roller coaster, a log-flume ride, mini bumper cars, go karts and more. It also offers midway games, 6500 square feet of arcade games, live entertainment with magicians, jugglers, clowns, performing dogs, stilt walkers, face painters and balloon sculptors, and delicious park treats such as corndogs, burgers, cotton candy, funnel cakes and more. Family Kingdom Water Park is conveniently located across the street. As of 2011 admission is free. All day unlimited ride wristbands for adults and children can be purchased for $24.50 (plus tax). Individual ride tickets are also available. There is also best value amusement park and water park combo pass available for $35.00 (plus tax). For more information visit http://www.familykingdomfun.com

Funtown USASaco, Maine

Funtown USA - Galaxi Coaster

Funtown USA - Galaxi Coaster

Funtown USA is the leader in Northern New England’s family amusement since 1967. Located in Saco, Maine, this family-owned and operated amusement park attracts families with its wonderful assortment of kiddie rides, thrill rides and family rides, classic midway games, state-of-the-art video arcades, gift shops, and variety of classic amusement park food including burgers, fries, pizza, cotton candy, fried dough, candied apples, ice cream and more. The Splashtown USA waterpark adjoins Funtown and offers more family fun. As of 2011, parking is free with Funtown USA passes available for $28/$20 (48” and taller/under 48”) which allow unlimited use of all rides and two rides on the Grand Prix Racers. Combination passes (rides and water park) are also available, and allow unlimited use of all rides, slides and pools, with two rides on the Grand Prix Racers fo$35/$26 (48” and taller/under 48”). This 82-acre park with its attractively manicured grounds provides something for everyone. For more information visit http://www.funtownusa.com/

Gilroy Gardens Family Theme ParkGilroy, California

Gilroy Gardens - Gardens Railroad

Gilroy Gardens - Gardens Railroad

With its amazing Circus Trees and majestic gardens, Gilroy Gardens Family Theme Park in Gilroy, California is a beautiful oasis for families to enjoy. This horticulturally based theme park’s main attractions are the Circus Trees – an unusual collection of spliced and grafted tree curiosities that are over 50 years old. The park features over forty family-friendly rides, attractions, water play areas, educational exhibits, live entertainment, theme gardens, food concessions, shops and more, and has a tranquility imbued by its lush landscaping. As of 2011, parking is $10 and front gate admission (for a Lotsa Card) is $44.99/$34.99 (adult/child 3-10 and senior 62+) which also qualifies as a season pass. Single day admission tickets can be purchased online for a special reduced rate (not available at front gate) through their website for $29.99 (all ages) and does not include the season (Lotsa Card) pass. For more information visit http://www.gilroygardens.org/

Holiday WorldSanta Claus, Indiana

Holiday World - Hollow Swings

Holiday World - Hollow Swings

Adjoining Splashin’ Safari – one of the top water parks in America, Holiday World in Santa Claus, Indiana is a family owned and operated theme park that offers plenty of fun for the whole family. The attractions are themed to various holidays including Fourth of July, Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas. With over 30 family and kiddie rides, four roller coasters, live entertainment (including gospel and pop to country music and high-dive thrills, children’s shows and more), free unlimited soft drinks (carbonated beverages, pink lemonade, fruit punch, orange Gatorade, sweetened iced tea, coffee and ice water), plenty of good food and shops, this small amusement park is a big hit with its friendly staff, short waits, and cheerful atmosphere. As of 2011, there is free parking and admission tickets are available for $38.95/$30.95 (over and under 54″) which includes both parks (Holiday World and Splashin’ Safari) for one price. Lauded for its clean, affordable fun, this gem of a park is a long-time favorite of many. For more information visit http://www.holidayworld.com/

Kennywood ParkWest Mifflin, Pennsylvania

Kennywood Park - Racer Roller Coaster

Kennywood Park - Racer Roller Coaster

Voted by members of the National Amusement Park Historical Association (NAPHA) as one of the favorite traditional amusement parks, Kennywood in West Mifflin, Pennsylvania has a history and charm that has appealed to families since it first opened in 1898. This fabulous park has 32 rides including 6 coasters. Kiddieland has an additional 14 rides and games dedicated to families with young children, including one kiddie coaster, a merry-go-round, a kiddie ferris wheel and plenty more. The live entertainment includes fantastic shows by Cirque Rocks featuring acrobats performing thrilling acts. Admission tickets as of 2011 are $36.99/$23.99 (regular admission over/under 46”). There is plentiful parking and lots of great food, especially the Potato Patch fries. Families are welcome to bring picnic baskets with their own food if they prefer. For more information visit http://www.kennywood.com

KnoebelsElysburg, Pennsylvania

Knoebels Park - Ferris Wheel

Knoebels Park - Ferris Wheel

Knoebels in Elysburg, Pennsylvania is a charming park with a laid-back feel that has been entertaining families for 85 years. With its many thrill, kiddie and family rides, classic wooden rollercoasters, good food, short waits and more, this park has a well-deserved loyal following. It offers free parking, free admission, free entertainment, individual ride rates, as well as pay-one-price rates for those who wish to have unlimited passes for all the rides. The Haunted Mansion is reputed to be among the best anywhere, and the food has earned “Best Park Food” from Amusement Today magazine for 13 straight years (as of 2011). There is also a water park with fountains, slides, pool and more, all making for great affordable family fun. For more information visit http://www.knoebels.com

Lake CompounceBristol, Connecticut

Lake Compounce - Boulder Dash

Lake Compounce - Boulder Dash

Set among the picturesque trees and waters of the lake, Lake Compounce in Bristol, Connecticut is the oldest amusement park in the USA, dating back to 1846. This 427-acre family theme park includes a 20-acre lake and more than 50 rides and attractions. It is home to Boulder Dash – the world’s #1 wooden roller coaster; an antique 1911 carousel; the Giant Ferris Wheel; the popular Flying Scooters; Splash Harbor – the adjoining water park with water slides, tube rides, wave pool and lazy river; lots of classic rides, thrill rides and kiddie rides (Circus World Kiddieland enchants children), and more. This lovely park has beautiful, clean grounds, shows and live entertainment (Friday evening summer concerts by the lake gazebo are lots of fun), plenty of dining and snack areas, and offers unlimited free soda all day. As of 2011 there is paid parking, and regular admission is $35.99/$25.99 plus tax (52” and over/under 52”). Children age 3 and under are free. For more information visit http://www.lakecompounce.com

Lake Winnepesaukah Amusement ParkChattanooga, Tennessee

Lake Winnepesaukah Amusement Park - Roller Coaster

Lake Winnepesaukah Amusement Park - Roller Coaster

Infused with the charm of days gone by, Lake Winnepesaukah Amusement Park in Chattanooga, Tennessee is an exciting playground for the whole family. From its antique carousel with ornately hand-carved horses and chariots, to the Boat Chute log flume ride, Cannon Ball Roller Coaster, grand Wave Swinger, the Bumble Bees, Kiddie Boats and so much more, the wide variety of its many rides and attractions are sure to entertain family members of all ages. There is a 2,500 square foot gift shop with fun souvenir items, good food, live entertainment, midway and arcade games, an 18-hole mini-golf course set back in the shade of Lake Winnepesaukah’s trees, and the Stay & Play Hideaway – an interactive play area for guests of all ages that includes misters, water elements and more. This clean and affordably priced park features free parking (as of 2011) with a gate admission fee of $5.00. Unlimited ride passes are available for $21.00. For more information visit http://www.lakewinnie.com/

LegolandCarlsbad, California

Legoland Pirate Shores

Legoland - Pirate Shores

Legoland in Carlsbad, California is a beautifully landscaped park that offers interactive attractions, family rides, shows, restaurants, shopping and features specifically geared for families with children ages 2 to 12. Although admission tickets are $69/59 (adult/child) as of 2011, the wonderful experience here is well worth the price. This park has an open relaxed feel that is enchanting for visitors. It is clean, colorful, has short lines/waits, is well-maintained and lots of fun. There is plenty of paid parking right by the entrance. The Miniland USA is an exclusive area in the heart of the park showcasing stunning reproductions of American landmarks built with remarkable detail from seven different geographical areas of the country. Children and parents alike will be enthralled with all the wonderful rides and attractions. Be sure to try the Granny’s Apple Fries which are a signature dessert item served with cinnamon, sugar and sweet vanilla cream sauce. For more information visit http://california.legoland.com

Little Amerricka Amusement ParkMarshall, Wisconsin

Little Amerricka Amusement Park - View from Monorail

Little Amerricka Amusement Park - View from Monorail

Tucked away in Marshall, Wisconsin, Little Amerricka Amusement Park enchants families with its friendly service, affordability, good food, cleanliness, and overall charm. There are 26 rides and attractions including a two-mile long Whiskey River Railway that takes you through a countryside filled with crossing gates, tunnels, pine trees, and animals including llamas, donkeys and zebras. More features include an 18-Hole Miniature Golf course, Haunted House, Bumper Cars, a Monorail (with great views of the park), Go Karts, Parachute Tower, Little Dipper roller coaster, lots of classic kids’ rides and more. As of 2011, there is free parking, free admission, and unlimited ride wristbands that can be purchased according to the rider’s height, and range in price from $10.95 to $21.95. For more information visit http://www.littleamerricka.com/

Michigan’s Adventure Amusement ParkMuskegon, Michigan

Michigan's Adventure Amusement Park - ThunderHawk

Michigan's Adventure Amusement Park - ThunderHawk

Michigan’s Adventure Amusement Park in Muskegon, Michigan is a regular stomping ground for loyal visitors. With its short waits, very clean grounds and facilities, midway games and gift shops, this park is wonderful for families with children of all ages. As of 2011, it offers plenty of paid parking and a $26.00 admission fee that includes unlimited rides to both Michigan’s Adventure and the adjoining WildWater Adventure water park. Hungry thrill seekers can feast on the very affordable Backyard BBQ – an all you can eat picnic buffet – at a great price. There is also plenty of reasonably priced food, treats and beverages at restaurants and concession stands throughout the park. The park has a great balance between child/family rides and thrill rides, making it popular across a variety of age groups. It is well-run, easy to maneuver, and certain to make instant fans of first-time visitors. For more information visit http://www.miadventure.com/

Santa Cruz Beach BoardwalkSanta Cruz, California

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

Sitting on the sandy shores of the beautiful Pacific Ocean, Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk in Santa Cruz, California tempts families with its exciting attractions. This admission-free amusement park is a State Historic Landmark, and home to two National Historic Landmarks – the 1911 Looff Carousel and 1924 Giant Dipper wooden roller coaster. It features plenty of modern and classic rides for children of all ages, restaurants, gift shops, miniature golf, laser tag arena, video game arcades, family bowling, free live entertainment such as the Cirque Magnifique acrobats, free Friday night concerts on the Beach Bandstand during the summer months, and lots of beach to enjoy. There is a variety of delicious choices for indoor or outdoor dining with restaurants, concession stands and food carts to satisfy many cravings. As of 2011, parking is $12, and all-day unlimited rides wristbands are available for $29.95 plus tax. Tickets can also be purchased for use on individual rides. With its seamless blend of vintage and modern rides and attractions in a lively family atmosphere, Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is a cherished venue families will relish. For more information visit http://www.beachboardwalk.com/

Seabreeze Amusement ParkRochester, New York

Seabreeze Amusement Park - Revolution Ride

Seabreeze Amusement Park - Revolution Ride

Seabreeze in Rochester, New York is the fourth oldest amusement park in the country, having opened in 1879. This wonderful park is clean, safe and manageable for the whole family. Admission fees as of 2011 are $22.99/19.99 (over/under 48”) with free parking. There is a great assortment of family and kiddie rides, including the carousel with its hand carved, beautifully painted horses, train, crazy cups, flying scooters, jets, boats, kiddie swings, and lots more. Other attractions include live entertainment shows, games at the Midway of Fun, souvenir shops, plenty of food (the sugar waffles are a sweet treat), the carousel museum, and an arcade. The adjoining Raging Rivers Waterpark offers more fun and is conveniently next door. For more information visit http://www.seabreeze.com

Storybook LandEgg Harbor Township, New Jersey

Storybook Amusement Park - Christmas Time

Storybook Amusement Park - Christmas Time

Storybook Land in Egg Harbor Township, New Jersey has been capturing children’s imaginations with the timeless classics of favorite stories and nursery rhymes for over 50 years. This family owned and operated park offers a positive experience for families with younger children in a clean, idyllic and picturesque setting. There is free parking and a $21.95 admission fee (as of 2011) that includes all storybook attractions and unlimited rides. From Bubbles the Coaster, the Rockin’ Tug, the Carousel, the Balloons, Rock Spin Roll, to the Happy Dragon and more, children will be enchanted. There is also a nice gift shop, plenty of miniature themed displays for children to explore, lots of shade, a water play area – Storybook Seaport – open in the summer, and good food. Outside food and beverages are permitted as well (no alcohol or grills). For more information visit https://storybookland.com

Valleyfair Amusement ParkShakopee, Minnesota

Valleyfair Amusement Park - Rip Tide Ride

Valleyfair Amusement Park - Rip Tide Ride

Located in Shakopee, Minnesota, Valleyfair Amusement Park boasts over 75 thrilling rides and attractions, midway games, live entertainment, Imax movie theater, gift shops, and wide selection of food throughout the park. Children will be delighted with Planet Snoopy which features over 20 rides and attractions, including Snoopy’s Rocket Express, Cosmic Coaster and the Linus Launcher. There are many traditional family rides throughout the park as well, including the Carousel, Ferris Wheel and much more. The adjoining Soak City Waterpark is included in the admission price and offers 7 acres of refreshing water fun for all ages with slides, tube rides, rapids, wave pool, and the Splash Station and Giggle Run which is designed for children with its interactive water elements. Single day admission rates as of 2011 are $41.99/$9.00 (ages 3-61 and over 48”/under 48” or over 61 years). For more information visit http://www.valleyfair.com/

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avatarAbout the Author:

Jocelyn Murray is a travel writer and historical fiction novelist. She holds two university master's degrees in both English and Education, along with a bachelor's degree in Economics and European Studies. She also has a teaching credential and taught at the elementary school level.

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2 Comments to “20 Best Small Amusement Parks for Families in the USA”
  1. avatar Gregg says:

    Pretty good list, but Adventure City? There is another word for City that is generally used to describe this park.

    Should have included Castle Park in Riverside instead.

  2. avatar Darryl Garrett says:

    Wild Adventures in Valdosta Georgia is a great family owned park that also has a water park and zoo