13 Thrilling Water Parks Where You Can Beat the Summer Heat

Beat the heat at the best outdoor water parks from coast to coast.
Aquazoid Amped at Water Country USA (Photo: Water Country USA)
Aquazoid Amped at Water Country USA (Photo: Water Country USA)

Nothing says summer vacation fun like cooling off at an outdoor water park. Whether you’re lazing around the pool, dropping through slides, or bobbing on the waves, the best water parks in the U.S. are loaded with enough water slides, splash pads, and dump buckets to thrill everyone in the family.

The Best Water Parks in the U.S.

From the Disney and Universal Studios water parks in Orlando to the steepest, tallest, and fastest water slides and coasters in the Midwest, here are the most thrilling outdoor water parks across the country. 

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1. Schlitterbahn New Braunfels

New Braunfels, Texas

Schlitterbahn water park in New Braunfels (Photo: Schlitterbahn )
Schlitterbahn water park in New Braunfels (Photo: Schlitterbahn )

Recognized as the best water park in the world for more than two decades by the theme park industry’s Golden Ticket Award, Schlitterbahn New Braunfels is located about thirty miles from San Antonio on the banks of the spring-fed Comal River. This outdoor water park embraces its natural landscaping with hundred-year-old oak, cedar, and cypress trees throughout its 70 acres.

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Schlitterbahn New Braunfels has a staggering variety of river rides, water slides, and experiences ranging from mild to wild for a total of 51 attractions. Each section of the park contains a swim-up bar, children’s area, and a unique signature attraction. And one of its signature attractions, The Falls, consistently ranks among the best water park ride in the entire country.

Schlitterbahn also has a second location in Texas on Galveston Island just outside Houston.

2. Aquatica Orlando

Orlando, Florida

Aerial view of Aquatica Orlando (Photo: SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment)
Aerial view of Aquatica Orlando (Photo: SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment)

Aquatica Orlando, owned by SeaWorld, is the first outdoor water park to combine live animals and traditional water park rides and attractions. The Reef Plunge body slide opened in March 2022 and shoots guests past dolphins, leopard sharks, sardines, and other cold-water fish on the way to the splashdown. Reef Plunge is a revamped and reimagined take on Aquatica’s original signature ride, Dolphin Plunge.

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Aquatica’s is also home to Ihu’s Breakaway Falls, one of Orlando’s tallest, steepest, multi-drop towers; Riptide Race, the first dueling racing raft ride in Florida; and a total of 47 attractions such as slides, rivers, and lagoons, plus 84,000 square feet of white sand beaches. 

Aquatica Orlando is also the first outdoor water park in the world to be designated as a Certified Autism Center. SeaWorld operates a second Aquatica location, Aquatica San Antonio, in Texas.

3. Disney’s Blizzard Beach 

Walt Disney World, Orlando, Florida

Disney's Blizzard Beach at Walt Disney World Resort (Photo: Kent Phillips)
Disney’s Blizzard Beach at Walt Disney World Resort (Photo: Kent Phillips)

It should come as no surprise that the Most Magical Place on Earth has two of the best water parks in the U.S. in addition to its four Orlando theme parks. One of these two Disney water parks is Blizzard Beach, an outdoor water park with the clever and creative theme of a melting ski resort. 

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Centered around the spectacular Mt. Gushmore, you’ll find slalom courses, toboggan runs, and the 120-foot-high Summit Plummet that plunges riders at more than 50 miles per hour from the top of a “ski jump” tower. 

Note: While Blizzard Beach remains closed at this time due to ongoing pandemic-related restrictions, its sister park Typhoon Lagoon has reopened.

4. Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon 

Walt Disney World, Orlando, Florida

Disney's Typhoon Lagoon water park in Orlando (Photo: Kent Phillips)
Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon water park in Orlando (Photo: Kent Phillips)

The second of Disney’s Orlando water parks, Typhoon Lagoon, is home to the Crush ‘n’ Gusher, the first-ever water coaster thrill ride in the Orlando area. Families will also thrill to the Miss Adventure Falls white-water raft ride, North America’s largest wave pool (big enough to offer surfing lessons), and the long and windy Castaway Creek lazy river.

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On select nights, Typhoon Lagoon hosts an after-hours Disney H2O Glow event with a DJ dance party, included snacks, and lower wait times for rides and slides.

5. Holiday World’s Splashin’ Safari

Santa Claus, Indiana

Mammoth water coaster at Holiday World's Splashin' Safari (Photo: Holiday World)
Mammoth water coaster at Holiday World’s Splashin’ Safari outdoor water park (Photo: Holiday World)

Holiday World’s Splashin’ Safari outdoor water park in Santa Claus, Indiana, consistently pushes the envelope with innovative attractions, including three separate and distinct water coasters. Cheetah Chase is the water park’s newest ride and also the world’s first launched water coaster. It joins Splashin’ Safari’s other long-standing coasters Wildebeest and Mammoth.

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Wildebeest consistently tops the list of best water park rides from theme park industry awards, and Mammoth is certified by Guinness World Records as the longest water coaster in the world. Other Splashin’ Safari attractions include the Kima Bay monkey-themed water play area and Safari Sam’s SplashLand for little swimmers, perfect for vacations with toddlers

6. Universal’s Volcano Bay Water Theme Park

Universal Orlando Resort, Orlando, Florida

Universal's Volcano Bay water park (Photo: Universal Orlando Resort)
Universal’s Volcano Bay water park (Photo: Universal Orlando Resort)

Volcano Bay is such an impressive outdoor water park that Universal bills it as its third theme park alongside Universal Studios Florida and Universal’s Islands of Adventure. At the heart of this water park is the Krakatau Aqua Coaster, which whisks you through a 200-foot-tall volcano that gushes water by day and fiery “lava” at night. 

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One of the park’s coolest innovations is its TapuTapu wearable wristband, which allows you to explore the island or soak in a pool while virtually waiting in line for rides and slides. There’s also a lagoon called Waturi Beach where waves lap along a sandy beach, and plenty of drop slides, raft rides, water play areas, and a rapid roaring river that’s anything but lazy.

7. Knott’s Soak City Waterpark

Buena Park, California

Knott's Soak City Waterpark in California (Photo: Knott's Soak City)
Knott’s Soak City Waterpark in California (Photo: Knott’s Soak City)

Open from May through September, Knott’s Soak City is the way to stay cool in Southern California. It’s right next door to the popular Knott’s Berry Farm theme park, but separately ticketed. Catch a ride down any of 23 different slides or take a relaxing trip down one of the longest lazy rivers in the country. The 15-acre outdoor water park has a dedicated place for the younger kids as well as high-speed thrill slides like The Wedge.

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The outdoor water park’s wave pool, Tidal Wave Bay, boasts four-foot crests that are perfect for bodysurfing. And the impressive Shore Break has four different Aqua Launch chambers that send riders on a seven-story freefall plunge through a number of loops and drops.

8. Noah’s Ark Water Park

Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin

Noah's Ark Water Park in Wisconsin Dells (Photo: Noah's Ark)
Noah’s Ark Water Park in Wisconsin Dells (Photo: Noah’s Ark)

The small town of Wisconsin Dells launched the indoor water park concept in the late 1980s, and now this water park mecca is one of the most popular family vacation spots in the U.S. year-round because it’s home to one of the best outdoor water parks in the whole country too.

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Boasting more than 50 water slides and dozens of attractions across its 70 acres, Noah’s Ark water park in the Dells is the largest outdoor water park in the Dells. Notable rides include the Black Anaconda water coaster that reaches speeds of 30 miles per hour; Scorpion’s Tail, America’s first looping, near vertical waterslide; and the Surfing Safari surf simulator.

9. Dollywood’s Splash Country

Pigeon Forge, Tennessee

River Rush Drop at 9 Dollywood's Splash Country (Photo: Dollywood)
River Rush Drop at 9 Dollywood’s Splash Country (Photo: Dollywood)

Sitting on 35 acres in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains, Dollywood’s Splash Country family water park is home to popular rides like TailSpin Racer, a six-lane mat-style slide; River Rush, the only water coaster in Tennessee; and Fire Tower Falls, the state’s tallest twin speed slides. Splash Country operates May through September, and is adjacent to the Dollywood theme park.

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For families with kids of all ages, Splash Country also has a lagoon-style leisure pool called The Cascades; the Bear Mountain Fire Tower multi-level water play structure; the Mountain Waves pool; and the Downbound Float Trip lazy river. Younger swimmers also have their own interactive children’s play area.

10. Cowabunga Bay Water Park

Henderson, Nevada

Cowabunga Bay water park near Las Vegas (Photo: Cowabunga Bay)
Cowabunga Bay water park near Las Vegas (Photo: Cowabunga Bay)

Looking for a break from the Las Vegas desert heat? Head to Cowabunga Bay outdoor waterpark and take on the world’s largest manmade parabolic wave on a giant slide called Wild Surf. Or for something tamer, bob in the Surf-a-Rama wave pool surrounded by a 1950s style drive-in movie theater. 

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Other attractions at Cowabunga Bay include a fully enclosed pitch-black waterslide called Point Panic and the 300-foot-long Rock-A-Hoola bowl slide.

In addition to the Henderson location, there’s a sister water park called Cowabunga Canyon in nearby Summerlin, Nevada, about thirty minutes away. Another Cowabunga Bay water park operates in Utah as well.

11. Water Country USA

Williamsburg, Virginia

Virginia’s largest family outdoor water park, Water Country USA, features state-of-the-art rides and attractions with a retro surf theme. The Cutback Water Coaster thrill slide, one of the park’s more popular slides, combines a water jet propulsion system with a saucer feature to create a steep, smooth ride more than 800 feet long. 

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Water Country’s newest attraction, Aquazoid Amped, is an 864-foot fully enclosed slide featuring special effects, sudden splashes, pulse-pounding music, and a variety of dynamic light shows courtesy of 59 color-changing rings.

Water Country USA is not affiliated with the smaller (but still very popular) Water Country in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, which is New England’s largest outdoor water park.

12. Cedar Point Shores Waterpark

Sandusky, Ohio

Lemmy Lagoon at Cedar Point Shores (Photo: Cedar Point)
Lemmy Lagoon at Cedar Point Shores (Photo: Cedar Point)

Cedar Point Shores is the water park associated with Ohio’s Cedar Point amusement park resort, which has been thrilling families for more than 150 years. At Cedar Point Shores, kids can play with Lemmy, the mythical Lake Erie Monster; and thrill-seekers can brave Point Plummet, a six-story, four-capsule water slide. 

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Other attractions in the 18-acre outdoor water park include the six-lane mat slide Riptide Raceway, the Cedar Creek lazy river, and the Breakwater Bay wave pool. The Sandlot is a large beach perfect for building castles or spiking volleyballs.

13. Water World

Federal Heights, Colorado

Voyage to the Center of the Earth raft ride (Photo: Water World)
Voyage to the Center of the Earth raft ride (Photo: Water World)

Ten miles north of Denver is Water World, a community park that rivals the largest private water parks in the country. Water World occupies almost 70 acres and features 52 different attractions, including the Voyage to the Center of the Earth raft ride complete with animatronic dinosaurs. 

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Other notable attractions include the Thunder Bay wave pool, Foothill Falls tandem racer, the high-tech space outpost training simulator Warp Speed, the Roaring Forks Dueling Water Coaster, and Centennial Basin tube bowl. In addition to the water rides, the park’s Alpine Springs Express Gondola evokes Colorado’s best family ski resorts by taking guests high above the park in enclosed capsules.

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Dave Parfitt
Dave Parfitt is a freelance travel writer interested in illuminating transformative family travel, multi-generational travel, inclusive and accessible travel, under-the-radar destinations, and immersive, authentic experiences. Dave's work has appeared in Lonely Planet, AAA, Fox News Travel, US News & World Report, TravelAge West, USA Today, and Family Circle, to name a few. An academic with a PhD in neuroscience, Dave also works as an educational developer at a four-year college in Western New York when not in a theme park, national park, or on a cruise or road trip with his family.

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