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.
Wilderness Territory Waterpark Resort at Wisconsin Dells
Near Madison, Wis. (55 miles)
The Wilderness Territory's most popular ride is the Hurricane: Riders experience the eye of the storm as they rapidly descend through a four-story funnel. Flashes of lightning, rumbling thunder, and drifting fog convey the sense of a full-blown natural disaster.
Details 511 E. Adams St., Wisconsin Dells, Wis., 800/867-9453, wildernessresort.com. Kids eat free with adult purchase.
Other Wilderness locations A new, 150-acre Wilderness resort in Sevierville, Tenn.
Parks nearby Other water parks in Wisconsin Dells: Mt. Olympus Water & Theme Park and Noah's Ark.
Kalahari Resort, Sandusky, Ohio
Near Toledo (60 miles)
Kalahari doubled the size of the park in December 2007. The highlight is the Swahili Swirl. In a four-person inner tube, you'll be ejected from a steep tube slide into a 60-foot-diameter bowl; it's a dizzying three times around before you're sucked down the drain and dropped into a 50-foot-long landing pool. It's like a really fun toilet bowl. To mellow out, relax under the 40,000-square-foot clear Texlon roof, which houses tropical plants and allows guests to catch sun year-round.
Details 7000 Kalahari Dr., Sandusky, 877/525-2427, kalahariresort.com. Look for "Beat the Clock" lodging specials on the website.
Other Kalahari locations Wisconsin Dells Wis. And a new water-park resort is under development in Fredericksburg, Va.
Geauga Lake's Wildwater Kingdom, Geauga Lake, Ohio
Near Cleveland (25 miles)
Older children and teens flock to the 60-foot-tall, 253-foot-long Liquid Lightning tornado slide. The ride launches you—at speeds of up to 24 mph—from a tube slide into a giant funnel, before spitting you into the calm waters of the finishing pool. Tamer settings include the Splash Landing family activity center, with waterslides, soaker hoses, bubbling geysers, and a raining umbrella, and Coral Cove, an activity pool with three basketball hoops and huge climbable animals.
Details 1100 Squires Rd., Aurora, Ohio, 330/562-8303, wildwaterfun.com.
Aquatica by SeaWorld, Orlando
Near Tampa (85 miles)
The signature experience here is the Dolphin Plunge, 250 feet of clear underwater tubes that plunge riders into a lagoon populated by charismatic black-and-white Commerson's dolphins. For a split second, you'll feel as if you're swimming with them. Aquatica's attractions include something for everyone: 36 slides, six rivers and lagoons, and more than 80,000 square feet of white-sand beaches.
Details 5800 Water Play Way, Orlando, 888/800-5447, aquaticabyseaworld.com.
Daytona Lagoon, Daytona Beach, Fla.
Near Orlando (55 miles)
Daytona Lagoon's most hair-raising experience is Blackbeard's Revenge. After you climb the 62-foot tower and mount an inner tube, you'll take a 15 mph, six-story tumble down a twisting, pitch-black tunnel slide. Don't miss the brand-new Kraken's Conquest, either: It's a four-lane, 55-foot-long ProRacer-series speed slide. Friends and families can challenge each other to high-speed, watery showdowns.
Details 601 Earl St., Daytona Beach, 386/254-5020, daytonalagoon.com. The park offers a different special each day; for example, every Thursday you can get unlimited use of miniature golf, the carousel, and the rock-climbing wall from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. for $10.
Splash Island at Cypress Gardens, Winter Haven, Fla.
Near St. Petersburg, Fla. (74 miles)
At the interactive water-play area, the towering Tikki Head—basically a massive, dressed-up bucket—dumps more than 300 gallons of water over bathers every few minutes. The variety in the surrounding Cypress Gardens theme park is impressive, too, with a concert venue, picturesque gardens, and numerous animal exhibits.
Details 6000 Cypress Gardens Blvd., Winter Haven, 863/324-2111, cypressgardens.com/splashisland.
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).
Splashtown Waterpark, San Antonio
Near Austin, Tex. (80 miles)
The 20-acre Splashtown features more than 50 rides and attractions, from simple wave pools to true screamers, such as the five-story Hydras tube-slide tower and the aptly named Wedgie, a precipitous speed slide that tugs on your trunks like an 8th-grade bully as it fires you into the pool below.
Details 3600 N. I-35, San Antonio, 210/227-1400, splashtownsa.com. Special events include magic shows and "dive-in" movie screenings. Parking is free.
Parks nearby Other area parks include Schlitterbahn in New Braunfels, Texas. If you find yourself in Dallas, Bahama Beach is an option.
Six Flags White Water, Atlanta
Near Athens, Ga. (73 miles)
The nine-story Cliffhanger is one of the world's tallest free falls. It's so high that just peeking over the top might be thrill enough. But the signature ride is the Tornado, an intense four-person inner-tube nosedive of greater than 50 vertical feet—all while 5,000 gallons of water swirls around you.
Details 250 Cobb Pkwy N., Marietta, Ga., 770/948-9290, sixflags.com/whitewater.
Other Six Flags locations Six Flags has many Hurricane Harbor water parks adjacent to existing amusement parks; locations include Gurnee/Chicago, Ill.; Arlington, Tex. Eureka, Mo.; Jackson, N.J.; Valencia/Los Angeles, Calif.; Agawam, Mass.; and Largo, Md.