My oh my, how time flies! It seems like it was just getting warm enough for us to finally wear short sleeves after that arctic-like winter we endured. Now in just another week or so it will already be summer! That means families are already hitting the highways of America for that annual vacation, whether it be Yellowstone to see the mighty eruptions of Old Faithful, the warm sands of the beautiful beaches which stretch from coast to coast, or even Walt Disney World, everyone’s favorite destination of all.
Summertime is our season of choice to hit up as many of the regional theme parks as we can, and there are a lot to choose from. Millions of other vacationers have the same idea, and many a fond memory can be attributed to a lazy summer day at the local amusement park or carnival. You can grab a snow cone, cool off in the waterpark, and feel the breeze blow over your feet on the wave swinger.
Dozens of parks dot the U.S. from one end to the other, so even the seasoned traveler can always find something new. Many parks fly under the radar, so to speak, and although they may not have the number or rollercoasters as the bigger parks like Cedar Point, they are still a great place to spend time with family and friends. Below we’ve gathered a list of parks around the region that we’ve found to be great destinations!
Carowinds, Charlotte – This humongous park lies on the border of North and South Carolina (the state line actually splits the main park road in two like State Street in Bristol!), and is just a short three hour drive from Johnson City. The rollercoaster mecca is best known as the home of Fury 325, the tallest coaster in the Southeast standing at—you guessed it—325 feet! Other amazing coasters include the NASCAR themed Intimidator and the intense inverted coaster known as Afterburn. Carowinds isn’t just about the thrill rides, however. This year saw the expansion of the Camp Snoopy kids area with six new attractions that the entire family can enjoy together! It’s owned and operated by Cedar Fair, so get a Platinum Pass if you think you’ll hit another one of their parks as it is definitely worth the money. www.carowinds.com
Kings Island, Cincinnati – We’ve covered this park in our past travels, and it continues to be one of our favorites! Although it is a bit farther away (about five to six hours depending on that Kentucky traffic), it is definitely worth the trip. This park is almost very much about the rollercoasters, with the legendary lineup including Banshee, longest inverted coaster in the world, and the Beast, famous for its legendary night rides, and also the longest wooden coaster on the planet. The Racer is a classic ride which sparked the modern coaster frenzy when it opened with the park in 1972. Also included with admission is Soak City, a thirty-three area waterpark filled with dozens of slides for all ages! The nearby Great Wolf Lodge helps make this park a nice weekend getaway. Remember that Platinum Pass we mentioned a minute ago? It works here at Kings Island too! www.visitkingsisland.com
Six Flags Over Georgia, Atlanta – Within sight of the mini-Manhattan that downtown Atlanta has become, the second Six Flags park sits on the banks of the Chattahoochee River. 2018 is an exciting year for this park, as they just welcomed the addition of Twisted Cyclone, an inversion-filled rollercoaster by Rocky Mountain Coasters. This acclaimed coaster manufacturer also created Dollywood’s record-breaking thrill ride, Lightning Rod, and while Twisted Cyclone is steel instead of wood, it is just as wild of a ride. The park features ten rollercoasters spread out over almost three hundred picturesque acres. www.sixflags.com/overgeorgia
Beech Bend, Bowling Green – Family-owned and operated, this charming park not too far from Mammoth Cave National Park offers activities the entire family can enjoy. The main attraction is the Kentucky Rumbler, a fantastic wooden coaster reminiscent of Thunderhead at Dollywood. The park has an included waterpark, nearby campground, and even a drag-racing strip where races are held on a weekly basis. www.beechbend.com
Kentucky Kingdom, Louisville – Formerly a Six Flags park, this Kentucky icon has seen a stellar comeback since its closure during the chain’s financial hardships in the mid 2000s. Today the park independently operated and has dozens of attractions from thrill rides to waterslides. Lightning Run and Storm Chaser are the park’s two signature coasters, featuring loads of airtime along their twisty layouts. This year the park has an amazing offer for out-of-state visitors: get a single day admission and get the entire next day free along with free drinks! This is a steal and really makes the case to visit this season. shop.kentuckykingdom.com
Wild Adventures, Valdosta – Coasters and tigers and bears, oh my! This sprawling park covers almost two hundred acres in south Georgia near the Florida border. What started out as a small petting zoo has morphed into a full-blown safari! Fields full of elephants sit next to rides such as Cheetah, a thrilling wood coaster the entire family can enjoy. Family is the focus for this park, with the majority of coasters and other attractions being accessible for all ages. They also have a special for second day admission free! www.wildadventures.com
Several other parks include Kings Dominion in Richmond, Virginia, Busch Gardens Williamsburg, Lake Winnepesauka in Chattanooga, and Silver Dollar City in Branson, Missouri. We’ll have some more in-depth articles on regional parks as we head out on our adventures throughout the summer, so stay tuned!