Acting like a kid again is never a bad idea, and these amusement parks near NYC are the perfect places to get your adrenaline pumping. Good ol’ Coney Island is right in your backyard with one of our fave Ferris wheels and the famous Cyclone wooden roller coaster, but it’s also worth venturing to New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut for a wild ride or just fun day out with family. These day trips from NYC take five hours or less, so start planning now—and get ready to hang on for dear life.
Best amusement parks near NYC
Hersheypark; Hershey, PA
Travel time: Three hours from NYC by car
Disneyland meets Candy Land at this kitschy theme park, a celebration of all things Hershey's chocolate. But it's not all sweetness: A trio of roller coasters—Fahrenheit, Great Bear and Storm Runner—provide adult thrills by dropping you 97 degrees, dangling you below the track or launching you from 0 to 72mph in two seconds (and straight up 18 stories), respectively. When you need to relax, head to the Boardwalk to lazily float along the Intercoastal Waterway or hit several other water rides. The 1933 Hotel Hershey offers choc-inspired treatments in its on-site spa. hersheypark.com
Travel time: One hour from NYC by train
At the country's only Art Deco fun park, the big draw is the 1929 wooden Dragon Coaster. But Playland has five more adult and two kiddie rides that predate 1930 too. Walk the mall (as it is now) while you can: Westchester County recently called for proposals to bring the park into the 21st century. After a dip in the bracing Long Island Sound, satisfy your shellfish cravings at Seaside Johnnies.Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/June Marie
Travel time: Two hours from NYC by bus or car
The wildest roller coaster here is named after Kingda Ka, the Bengal tiger that lives next to the ride, which is the tallest in the world (456 feet) and the fastest in North America (128mph). It's got a new rival this year: the Green Lantern, a stand-up coaster that swings riders through upside-down loops and corkscrew curls. If you prefer water in your face to wind, hit Hurricane Harbor's water park rides. For ground-level thrills, drive through Wild Safari's fields of elephants, rhinos and kangaroos.
Dorney Park & Wildwater Kingdom; Allentown, PA
Travel time: Two to three hours from NYC by bus or car
The park map here is dominated by Steel Force, a looming metal coaster that stretches for 5,600 feet—the longest on the East Coast—and takes riders on a 205-foot drop. But Dorney isn't one of those amusement parks that concentrates solely on coasters. As the name suggests, Wildwater Kingdom is almost on equal footing and features water attractions both tall (the 70-foot Aquablast) and vast (the 590,000-gallon Wave Pool). And since you're in Pennsylvania, make sure you grab a Rita's Water Ice before you leave the park (and don't make the mistake of calling it an Italian ice—you'll sound like a tourist). (610-395-3724, dorneypark.com).
Photograph: Courtesy Creative Commons/Flickr/hounddiggity
Lake Compounce; Bristol, CT
Travel time: Two and a half hours from from NYC by car
Lake Compounce's days as an amusement park date to 1846, so it makes sense that its most popular ride is a retro one: the Boulder Dash, a wooden coaster built into the side of a mountain. (It ranked No. 4 on Amusement Today's 2010 list of the top ten wooden roller coasters.) Compounce isn't all old-timey, though. New this year is the Rev-O-Lution, a spinning-platform ride that also moves up and down on a half-pipe-shaped track, ensuring maximum nausea for the weak-of-stomach. Over at the lake, seven water rides will have visitors dodging waves and sliding through darkened tunnels. (860-583-3300, lakecompounce.com).
Travel Time: One hour from NYC by subway
Right on the beach at Coney Island, this park has been open for more than half a century. Mostly geared toward children, there are a few adult rides and amazing fireworks shows on summer weekends—and who can forget the Spook-a-Rama? The indoor pitch-black ride offers a fun thrill for any horror lover, complete with zombies and demons.
Travel Time: One and a half hours from NYC by car
Despite being destroyed by Hurricane Sandy, this oceanfront amusement park has come back strong and offers everything from classic attractions for kids to rides for thrill seekers. Test out the Sky Coaster, which makes you feel like you’re skydiving as you soar over the ocean, or relax on the Sky Ride, a beachy take on a ski lift that’s known for its Jersey Shore cameo appearance.
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Hypnotica Studios Infinite
Travel Time: Two hours from NYC by car or three hours by train
Featuring four awesome roller coasters—the intimidating-sounding Ring of Fire, Thunder Drop, Hellcat and King Neptune's Revenge—there's no shortage of entertainment for even the most seasoned adrenaline junkie. But that’s not all, folks. There's also a barrage of kiddie rides and an on-site water park.
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Jeremy Thompson
Idlewild and SoakZone; Ligonier, PA
Travel Time: Five hours from NYC by car
Yes, this one’s worth that drive. The place is chock-full of amazing water slides like the Hydro Racers, where you compete against fellow riders by hurdling headfirst down the slide (no sweat). There are also water-free attractions, like the classic carnival tilt-a-whirl, and a regular schedule of fireworks, 5Ks and dance performances to top off your trip. 2574 US Hwy 30, Ligonier, PA (724-238-3666, idlewild.com)
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Jim
Find the best amusement parks in America
Is there a more iconic summer snapshot than that moment you crest the top of a roller coaster drop? Long lines and high temps be damned: Amusement parks are the season incarnate. We’ve rounded up 10 of the nation’s most mind-blowing thrill spots. Be sure to secure your personal belongings before reading.