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Busch Gardens
Photograph: Courtesy Busch Gardens/Scott K. Brown Tempesto at Busch Gardens

The 15 best amusement parks in America

Get your fill of death drops, classic coasters and other wild rides at the best amusement parks in America, to visit with friends and family

By Meaghan Agnew
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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. When you’re tired of napping on the best beaches in the USA and seek thrills that are bit wilder than the ones found at the best water parks in the USA, grab your friends and family and visit the best amusement parks in America, filled with classic coasters, unforgettable death drops and other wild rides. When the weather gets cooler, you’ll want to visit the best indoor amusemet parks in America instead.

Best amusement parks in America

Six Flags Discovery Kingdom
Photograph: Greg Grudt/Mathew Imaging

11. Six Flags Discovery Kingdom, Sacramento, CA

Further proof that Six Flags does it better. Many of the coasters here are record-breakers for height, speed and/or sheer number of drops and loops. Medusa is both the longest and highest coaster in Northern California and includes one of the tallest loops in the world, while the suspended coaster Kong somehow manages to flip you upside down twice in two seconds. One of the newer coasters, Superman Ultimate Flight, manages to reach 62 miles per hour in just a few seconds—and that’s before you start in on the non-inverting loop. You get the idea. 

Must-ride: The Wonder Woman Lasso of Truth, a colossal pendulum ride that simultaneously takes riders up while rotating them counterclockwise (translation: don’t eat lunch beforehand).

King's Dominion
Photograph: Courtesy King's Dominion/Matthew Owen

12. King’s Dominion, Doswell, VA

The fortysomething King’s Dominion began building its coaster reputation in the aughts, leading to the 2010 introduction of the Intimidator 305, a 305-foot-tall giga-coaster in the vein of Cedar Point’s Millennium Force. But the park is chock-full of adult rides whose names underscore their thrill factor: the Ricochet, the Hurler, the Berzerker. Animatronic dinosaurs and a Peanuts-themed kids area (with three new rides this year) mean you can easily distract the tykes while you head back for repeat runs.

Must-ride: Sure, the Intimidator is intimidating and all, but we like the decades-old Grizzly, a massive wooden coaster buried in deep forest brush, the design of which recalls the late, lamented Coney Island Wildcat.

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Six Flags Great Adventure
Photograph: Courtesy Six Flags Great Adventure

13. Six Flags Great Adventure, Jackson, NJ

The name doesn’t deceive: Six Flags Great Adventure is all about intrepid exploration. Start with the Green Lantern, a stand-up monstrosity that begins with a 144-foot drop before immediately segueing into a 121-foot loop. Once you’ve (somewhat) regained your balance, move on to the Nitro, a “hypercoaster” that begins with a 215-foot drop and culminates in a 540-degree helix spiral (we got sick just typing that).

Must-ride: The seven-story El Diablo coaster. The sicko ride has you pendulum-ing back and forth until you finally land upside down, then rocketing through a total of six complete loops.

California's Great America

14. California’s Great America, Santa Clara, CA

Folks usually travel to the Bay Area for adulting, not rollercoastering. But tucked away in Santa Clara is California’s Great America, a coaster-centric park that never gets as crowded as some of the state’s flashier counterparts. The park’s suspended coaster, Flight Deck, takes riders through a 360-degree loop, two 270-degree turns and a zero gravity roll—all at 50 miles per hour. Gold Striker is both the tallest and the fastest wooden coaster in Northern California (speeds hit almost 54 miles per hour). Then there’s the Tiki Whirl, fashioned after an old-fashioned Tilt a Whirl—except passengers face outward, which doubles the dizzying effect. And included in the price of admission is access to the attached waterpark Boomerang Bay—a welcome relief from the sweat-inducing thrill rides.

Must-ride: The new Patriot Floorless Coaster, the park’s first floorless coaster (in which your legs dangle inches above the tracks), starts by raising riders nine stories high before unceremoniously dropping them into a 360-degree loop at 45 miles per hour.

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Valleyfair
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Beatnik Photos

15. Valleyfair, Shakopee, MN

How to explain the Steel Venom? Technically called a twist impulse coaster, essentially it’s a vertical corkscrew spin that can reach speeds of up to 68 miles per hour. Once you’ve regained your balance, you can hit the more sedate High Roller, the park’s first coaster and a classic woodie in every sense (simple, charming, effective). But then it’s back to heart-in-your-throat thrills: Wild Thing includes a 200-foot drop and the longest low-gravity section in the world. 

Must-ride: The new North Star is simple but effective, swinging riders at 40 miles per hour while suspending them 235 feet in the air.

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