The Best Amusement Parks for Families in the Mid-Atlantic (and Beyond)

Best Family Theme Parks in Mid-Atlantic: Dutch Wonderland
Courtesy of Dutch Wonderland

Summer is the season for amusement parks, and thankfully, the mid-Atlantic region has many. We found 10 that are all within a day’s drive of the D.C. area, so whether your kids love Cookie Monster, construction vehicles or chocolate, there’s a nearby theme park made for them.

These amusement parks are following CDC guidelines for reopening and are ready to welcome you and your family for a safe and much-needed day (or several days) of fun.

Dutch Wonderland

Named “Best Family Park” in 2019 by Amusement Today magazine, Dutch Wonderland has been entertaining young children for nearly 60 years. Featuring more than 35 rides and attractions, including Duke’s Lagoon — a water play area with pint-sized slides, splash areas — Dutch Wonderland will keep the kids busy without leaving you feeling overwhelmed. Be sure to pay a visit to Exploration Island if you have any dinosaur lovers in your family; the Prehistoric Path is lined with 22 life-like dinosaurs, and the Dino Dig gives kids a chance to dig for fossils and artifacts in a sand pit. 2249 Lincoln Highway East, Lancaster, PA 17602

Sesame Place

The only amusement park in the U.S. dedicated entirely to the characters and stories of the award-winning “Sesame Street” television show, Sesame Place boasts rides, shows, dining experiences and, most importantly, ample opportunities to meet and take photos with Elmo and his furry friends. During the summer, check out the park’s many themed water rides and special events, including a week-long Christmas in July celebration and a birthday party to mark 41 years of this unique theme park. 100 Sesame Road, Langhorne, PA 19047

Diggerland USA

For kids fascinated by construction equipment and machines, there’s no better place than Diggerland USA in New Jersey. At “the only construction theme and water park in America,” according to the website, kids can drive, ride and operate real machines and vehicles. There are also plenty of classic amusement park rides and activities, including fruit-flinging air cannons, a zip line and a 4-story tall ropes course. Cool down at the new Main Line water park, with slides, obstacle courses, splash playgrounds and more. 100 Pinedge Drive West, Berlin, NJ 08091

Frontier Town

Just a 5-mile drive from Ocean City, Maryland, Frontier Town is a blast from the past. America’s Wild West comes to life at Western Theme Park, where kids can pan for gold, ride a river boat or try their aim at the new Shooting Gallery. There are also traditional Wild West shows, themed restaurants and old fashioned shops. Looking for more to do? Visit the destination’s water park and miniature golf attractions, or spend the night at one of nearly 600 campsites. Frontier Town has a variety of special summer events already on the calendar, including an animal-themed week, a space camp week and a week dedicated specifically to family-friendly activities. 8428 Stephen Decatur Highway, Berlin, MD 21811

Busch Gardens

Consistently voted the world’s most beautiful amusement park, Busch Gardens offers both exciting rides and nature experiences. Thrill-seeking families will stay busy riding the park’s seven world-class roller coasters, including the only double interlocking loop coaster. For a more low-key experience, try the spinning tea cups, antique carousel or scenic train ride. Whether or not you’ve already made the trip to Sesame Place, kids can find their favorite furry characters here too, as Busch Gardens also has a themed “Sesame Street” with family-friendly rides and photos opportunities. In July, the park will hold its special Summer Nights events, featuring fireworks, concerts, a laser light show and more. 1 Busch Gardens Blvd., Williamsburg, VA 23185

Water Country USA

If your kids still have energy after a trip to Busch Gardens — and we all know they will — be sure to check out Virginia’s largest water park, just 3 miles away. Water Country USA offers plenty of extreme thrills, including the state’s first water coaster and fast, twisting water slides. For younger ones, there are calmer splash areas, water playgrounds and kid-friendly slides. If you’re looking for endless summer fun, you can purchase a “2-Park 2021 Fun Card” that allows you to visit both Busch Gardens and Water Country USA multiple times all season long. 176 Water Country Parkway, Williamsburg, VA 23185

Best Family Theme Parks in Mid-Atlantic: Hersheypark
Courtesy of Hersheypark

Hersheypark

What’s better than a theme park filled not only with plenty of rides, but also chocolate? (Short answer: nothing.) This summer marks the opening of Hersheypark’s new Chocolatetown, where adrenaline junkies can ride the park’s tallest, fastest and longer roller coaster, Candymonium. There’s so much to do at Hersheypark, including an 11-acre water park, you might need two days to explore all of the amusement park attractions. Just be sure to bring your sweet tooth. 100 W. Hersheypark Drive, Hershey, PA 17033

Knoebels

America’s largest free-admission amusement park, tied for first place for Favorite Traditional Park by the National Amusement Park Historical Society, is packed with activities geared toward the whole family. Pay per ride or purchase a “Ride All Day Pass” to enjoy Knoebels’ two old-fashioned wooden roller coasters, bumper cars, giant flume and more. To beat the summer heat, be sure to check out the park’s 900,000-gallon Crystal Pool filled with mountain stream water. And if you don’t want to make the ride there and back in one day, Knoebels offers over 800 campsites for tents and campers. 391 Knoebels Blvd., Elysburg, PA 17824

Six Flags America

Conveniently located between D.C. and Baltimore, Six Flags America has over 55 exciting rides, attractions, shows and games for guests of all ages. Among them are nine thrilling roller coasters, including Maryland’s only floorless coaster, and three water rides. For younger kids there’s Looney Tunes Movie Town, a children’s area themed around the classic animated television show that includes a small-scale coaster, tower drop and spinning tea cups. Hurricane Harbor, Six Flags America’s water park, is open for the season with a variety of slides, a not-so-lazy river and a two-pool beach. 13710 Central Ave., Upper Marlboro, MD 20774

Kings Dominion

Kings Dominion is the only theme park in Virginia that offers two park experiences for the price of one: the amusement park and Soak City water park. Families can have some fun with Charlie Brown and friends at Planet Snoopy, a Peanuts-themed area featuring kid-sized coasters and other exciting rides. Over at Soak City, visit the newly redesigned Coconut Shores play area, which has a multi-level play structure, eight fun slides, a mini wave pool and other cool kid stuff. If all that splashing makes you hungry, try the new Beach Street dining experience, with multiple food trucks and live entertainment. 16000 Theme Park Way, Doswell, VA 23047

This story originally appeared in our July 2021 issue.

About Eleanor Linafelt

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