WATER PARKS OF AMERICA
Top U.S. Water Parks
We've found 15 water parks packed with waterslides, inner tube rides, and raging rapids that satisfy water babies of all ages. Best of all, they are close to major cities, meaning you won't have to go far to make a splash.
Water World, Denver
Near Boulder (30 miles)
The 67-acre Water World's calling card is the Voyage to the Center of the Earth. Brave riders hop onto inner tubes and journey into the dark—where they're confronted by large, animatronic dinosaurs, including a 15-foot T. rex. If you're scared of the dark, but not much else, the TurboRacer might be more your style: Jump headfirst onto toboggan mats and race your friends down four stories, eventually launching—at more than 20 mph—onto a straightaway to the finish line. Each rider's time is recorded, so you can tell if you're the fastest waterstud in Denver.
Details 1800 W. 89th Ave., Federal Heights, Colo., 303/427-7873, waterworldcolorado.com. Families can bring a picnic into the park; parking is free.
Gulf Islands Waterpark, Gulfport, Miss.
Near New Orleans (77 miles)
The most popular ride here is the Horn Island Blaster water roller coaster. The attraction ferries two riders at a time through more than 500 feet of twists and turns, including some thrilling uphill blasts at angles greater than 45 degrees. Families with young children might opt instead for the Ship Island Wreck, a slide for kids as young as 2.
Details 13100 16th St. Gulfport, 866/485-3386, gulfislandswaterpark.com.
Water Park of America, Bloomington, Minn.
Near Minneapolis/St. Paul (13 miles)
Given that it's adjacent to the gargantuan Mall of America, it's no wonder that the Water Park of America is a year-round attraction. The highlight is its mile-long indoor Whitewater Family Raft Ride, which propels riders over a river suspended 10 stories above the cars and trucks zipping along Interstate 494. Other standouts include an immense video arcade and the Trillium Spa— the latter for those who would prefer to skip the action.
Details 1700 American Blvd. E., Bloomington, 952/698-8888, waterparkofamerica.com. The Radisson, which connects to the park, offers packages that include tickets.
Splish Splash, Long Island, N.Y.
Near New York City (73 miles)
The most popular offerings pitch you into darkness to up the thrill factor: Dragon's Den, Barrier Reef, Hollywood Stunt Rider, and the super popular Alien Invasion. The last ride begins by blasting your four-person raft down a steep slide before spinning it out of control and launching it into a dark pool. For raw intensity, try the Cliff Diver—you'll drop eight stories in three seconds. 'Nuff said.
Details 2549 Splish Splash Dr., Calverton, N.Y., 631/727-3600, splishsplashlongisland.com.
Mountain Creek Waterpark, Vernon, N.J.
Near Trenton, N.J. (89 miles)
Vertigo, a fully enclosed water coaster, cannons riders around tight curves in total darkness. Passengers on the park's signature ride, High Anxiety, drop four stories in the dark before entering into a funnel at breakneck speed.
Details 200 Rte. 94, Vernon, N.J., 973/864-8444, mountaincreekwaterpark.com. Season-pass benefits include two bring-a-friend-for-free days and free parking.
Raging Waters, San Jose, Calif.
Near San Francisco (50 miles)
The 23-acre Raging Waters includes the winding, 60-foot-long Blue Thunder/White Lightning tunnel slide, and the newest attention-grabber, Dragon's Den, which catapults a two-person tube through darkness before a sudden, gut-wrenching drop into calmer waters.
Details 2333 S. White Rd., San Jose, 408/238-9900, rwsplash.com.
Other Raging Waters locations San Dimas (near L.A.) and Sacramento, Calif. (season passes are good for all three parks).
Wet 'n Wild Emerald Pointe, Greensboro, N.C.
Near Raleigh, N.C. (78 miles)
Wet 'n Wild is well-known for its speed chutes like Daredevil Drop, with a hair-raising 76-foot plunge, and Double Barrel Blast, a ride which ends abruptly in midair—launching you from a four-foot edge before you hit the pool. Contrary to its name, Wet 'n Wild also lets you skip the water altogether: The Skycoaster combines the thrills of bungee-jumping and hang gliding, allowing up to three people at a time to experience the sensation of flying without getting even a little soggy.
Details 3910 S. Holden Rd., Greensboro, 336/852-9721, emeraldpointe.com. Wet 'n Wild offers various promotions throughout the summer, from Girl Scout Day (June 20) and Home Educator's Day (August 20).