13 Thrilling Outdoor Water Parks Where You Can Beat the Summer Heat

Beat the heat at the best outdoor water parks from coast to coast.
Universals Volcano Bay
Universal's Volcano Bay (Photo: Universal Orlando)

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

The Best Outdoor 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 )
Float gently along Schlitterbahn New Braunfels’ Cliffhanger Tube Chute before taking a dramatic drop (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 30 miles from San Antonio on the banks of the Comal River, not far from some of the top family resorts in Texas. This outdoor water park embraces its natural landscaping with 100-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 rides in the country.

2. Aquatica Orlando

Orlando, Florida

Giant water slide at Aquatica Orlando (Photo: SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment)
Ihu’s Breakaway Falls, one of Orlando’s tallest, steepest multi-drop towers (Photo: SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment)

Aquatica Orlando is the first outdoor water park to combine live animals and traditional water park rides and attractions. The Reef Plunge body slide 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 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 84,000 square feet of white sand beaches. Aquatica Orlando is also the first outdoor water park to be designated as a Certified Autism Center

3. Disney’s Blizzard Beach 

Walt Disney World, Orlando, Florida

Disney’s Blizzard Beach Water Park
Centered around the spectacular Mt. Gushmore, you’ll find slalom courses, toboggan runs, and the 120-foot-high Summit Plummet (Photo: Courtney Kiefer)

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 Disney water parks is Blizzard Beach, an outdoor water park with the clever and creative theme of a melting ski resort (and, naturally, some theming to the Disney film Frozen too).

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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. Over the past few years, the two Disney water parks (the other is Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon) have operated on an alternating basis, so that only one is open at a time. Check Disney World park calendar to see which park will be open during your vacation window.

4. Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon 

Walt Disney World, Orlando, Florida

Lazy river at the Typhoon Lagoon water park (Photo: Walt Disney World)
The Castaway Creek lazy river at Typhoon Lagoon (Photo: Disney)

The second of Disney’s Orlando water parks, Typhoon Lagoon, is home to the Crush ‘n’ Gusher, the first-ever water coaster in the Orlando area. Families will also like the Miss Adventure Falls white-water raft ride, North America’s largest wave pool, and the Castaway Creek lazy river. On select nights during some seasons, Typhoon Lagoon hosts an after-hours Disney H2O Glow event with a DJ dance party, including snacks, and lower wait times.

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5. Holiday World’s Splashin’ Safari

Santa Claus, Indiana

Mammoth water coaster at Holiday World's Splashin' Safari (Photo: Holiday World)
Mammoth is Splashin’ Safari’s seven-story water coaster, and is a true thrill ride (Photo: Holiday World)

Holiday World’s Splashin’ Safari outdoor water park in Santa Claus, Indiana, consistently pushes the envelope with innovative attractions. The Cheetah Chase water coaster 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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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 in Orlando
The Krakatau Aqua Coaster at Universal’s Volcano Bay water park blasts riders through a 200-foot-tall volcano that gushes water by day and fiery “lava” at night (Photo: Universal Orlando Resort)

In Orlando, Volcano Bay is such an impressive outdoor water park that Universal sometimes bills it as its third Florida theme park alongside Universal Studios Florida and 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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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)
The Wedge at Knott’s Berry Farm’s Soak City is a high-speed thrill, but there are plenty of options for younger kids as well (Photo: Knott’s Soak City)

Right next door to the popular Knott’s Berry Farm theme park, but separately ticketed, Knott’s Soak City is the way to stay cool in Southern California. Catch a ride down any of 23 different slides or take a relaxing trip down one of the longest lazy rivers in the country. With high-speed thrill slides like six-person open-air raft ride The Wedge, the 15-acre area is one of the best outdoor water parks in the U.S. for older kids and teens, but it also has a dedicated place for the younger kids as well.

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8. Noah’s Ark Water Park

Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin

Noah's Ark Water Park in Wisconsin Dells (Photo: Noah's Ark)
Wisconsin Dells has some of the country’s most popular outdoor water parks, including Noah’s Ark Water Park where the king cobra-themed Raja reaches speeds up to 32 miles per hour before dropping riders 37 feet (Photo: Noah’s Ark)

The 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. Boasting more than 50 water slides and dozens of attractions, Noah’s Ark in the Dells is the largest outdoor waterpark in the Dells.

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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

Dollywood Water Park Ride
Dollywood’s Splash Country Fire Tower Falls, the state’s tallest twin speed slides (Photo: Dollywood Parks & Resorts)

Adjacent to the Dollywood theme park, Dollywood’s Splash Country 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. 

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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; the Downbound Float Trip lazy river; and an interactive children’s play area. It’s typically open from mid-May to early September each year.

10. Cowabunga Bay Water Park

Henderson, Nevada

Cowabunga Bay water park near Las Vegas (Photo: Cowabunga Bay)
Near Las Vegas, Cowabunga Bay has popular slides including Wild Surf, Point Panic, and Rock-A-Hoola bowl (Photo: Cowabunga Bay)

Head to Cowabunga Bay outdoor waterpark, not far from surprisingly kid-friendly Las Vegas, to 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. 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. 

11. Water Country USA

Williamsburg, Virginia

Aquazoid Amped at Water Country USA (Photo: Water Country USA)
Aquazoid Amped is an 864-foot fully enclosed slide featuring special effects, sudden splashes, and pulse-pounding music (Photo: Water Country USA)

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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One of Water Country’s newer attractions, Aquazoid Amped, is an 864-foot fully enclosed slide featuring special effects, sudden splashes, and pulse-pounding music. Another new slide is called Riptide Race, a 520-foot side-by-side two-person racing slide experience through twist and tunnels. 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’s Lagoon at Cedar Fair Shores is fun for younger kids, and older kids can brave Point Plummet (Photo: Cedar Point)

Cedar Point Shores is the water park associated with Ohio’s Cedar Point amusement park. 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. Other attractions include the six-lane mat slide Riptide Raceway, the Cedar Creek lazy river, and the Breakwater Bay wave pool. 

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13. Water World

Federal Heights, Colorado

Voyage to the Center of the Earth raft ride (Photo: Water World)
Water World features 52 attractions, including the Voyage to the Center of the Earth raft ride with animatronic dinosaurs, Thunder Bay wave pool, and Foothill Falls tandem racer (Photo: Water World)

Ten miles north of Denver is Water World, a community park that rivals the largest private outdoor water parks in the country. Water World features more than 50 attractions (some are gentle, others thrill rides), including the Voyage to the Center of the Earth raft ride with animatronic dinosaurs. 

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Other 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. And the park’s Alpine Springs Express Gondola evokes Colorado’s best family ski resorts by taking guests high above the park.

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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, FamilyVacationist, 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.