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The best USA theme parks you've never heard of

Published July 7th, 2014

This isn’t a blog about Disneyland, Walt Disney World, Universal Studios or SeaWorld, because unless you had a really deprived childhood, chances are you’ve heard about these heavy hitters of the USA theme park universe. This article is for the unsung attractions, the underrated rides and the overlooked entertainment where you’ll have a super-awesome time, even if Mickey, Minnie and Goofy aren’t there to pose for selfies with you.  Here’s our pick of the best USA theme parks you’ve never heard of – hold on to your corn dogs!

 

Superman:Ultimate Flight ride at Six Flags Great America Image: Six Flags

 

Six Flags Great America - Gurnee, Illinois

One of the Six Flags theme parks (there’s 18 across North America), Six Flags Great America is located between Chicago and Milwaukee at the aptly named Gurnee. Apt, we say, because gurning is what you’ll be doing on the 14 rollercoasters in this massive theme park and water park. Rides are the main attraction here with two record-breaking coasters: X Flight – one of the first wing coasters in the US and American Eagle, the world’s fastest, highest and longest twin-racing wooden coaster.

 

Must-do: The new triple-threat ride Goliath – the tallest and steepest drop and the fastest wooden rollercoaster in the world. With an inverted Zero-G stall and a 180-degree Zero-G roll, do this one on an empty stomach only.

 

Big Bear Plunge at Dollywood Image: Dollywood

 

Dollywood - Great Smoky Mountains, Tennessee

There’s just so much that’s awesome about Dollywood. For starters, it’s Dolly Parton. Secondly, it’s in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, the state where the first lady of country and the theme park’s co-owner hails from. Finally, it’s actually a theme park and a water park with onsite Dollywood Cabins. You can check out Dolly’s Home on Wheels tour bus, get splash happy on the Big Bear Plunge whitewater ride and chow down at Aunt Granny’s All-You-Care-To-Eat Buffet.

 

Must-do: America’s first dual-launch forward and backward family coaster – Fire Chaser Express. Note: there's no Islands In The Stream ride. Yet.

 

 

Kings Island - Mason, Ohio

Billed as the largest amusement and water park in the Midwest, Ohio’s Kings Island packs a lot into its 147-hectare area. There’s 15 rollercoasters, the Soak City Waterpark and 18 Peanuts-themed attractions at Planet Snoopy to release your inner kid. And Palmersaurus? Pfft. Dinosaurs Alive! has over 65 life-size prehistoric dinos in the world’s largest animatronic dinosaur park, plus you can toast s’mores while hanging out in the Jurassic forest until midnight with Dinos After Dark in summer.

 

Must-do: The brand-new Banshee ride is the world’s longest inverted rollercoaster with seven inversions at almost 110kph. Save the famous blueberry and vanilla ice-cream cones for later.

 

Great Bear coaster at Hersheypark Image: Hersheypark

 

Hersheypark – Derry Township, Pennsylvania

Hello? You had us at Hershey. Yep, the world-famous choc drop has its own theme park complete with life-size Hershey’s product characters. You can party with Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, the Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Bar and a Hershey’s Kiss. Hershey’s Chocolate World is next door where you can cover yourself in chocolate and get wrapped in foil. OK, maybe not, but you can make your own ultimate candy bar. Did we mention over 65 rides and attractions? Hit up the candy bar later. Chocolate!

 

Must-do: Hersheypark is the place to celebrate Halloween. The theme park goes off with trick or treating adventures for the under-12 set in Treatville. Make like a grade schooler now!

 

Knott’s Berry Farm – Buena Park, California

Golly gosh. Knott’s Berry Farm sounds all kinds of wholesome doesn’t it? Like warm apple pie. And then the subversive minds-that-be throw in five thrill rides, two water rides and 10 rollercoasters including the Silver Bullet – the longest inverted rollercoaster on the West Coast. It’s enough to make you bring up all that boysenberry pie you ate in the pie-eating comp. And then there’s the famous Knott’s Scary Farm where the entire park transforms into a spooky space for Halloween.

 

Must-do: It’s hokey and a little cheesy, but the Ghost Town theme area is based on real Wild West ghost towns and there’s real old-school crafts and historic artifacts in the museum too.

 

Cassandra Laffey

Consumed with unrequited wanderlust, I get my fix in 24/7 cities and hippie retreats. I'm still looking for the ultimate combo of secluded beach and major metropolis, and my happy place is a 5-star hotel room all to myself - sigh.