For a memorable family outing jam-packed with exhilarating rides, indulgent snacks, and giggle-inducing character interactions, head to a theme park. We have some great choices here in New England and rounded up our eight favorites for families with kids ranging from toddlers to teens. Some are close enough for a daycation while others are better suited for a weekend getaway; regardless, they all make for a quick escape from the every day blahs. For even more local thrills, explore our theme and water park guides for Boston and Connecticut, and if you have a few extra days for fun and relaxation, check out our Best Amusement Parks Near NYC.
Before you hop in the car, make sure to check the parks' official websites to confirm hours, as they change by season and also may vary due to weather. And check for prices, too. Many offer online-only ticket specials that you can take advantage of from home. Some parks offer two-day tickets, and if you plan to visit a particular park more than once, consider buying season passes.
Canobie Lake Park has more than 85 lakeside rides and attractions. Photo courtesy of the park.
1. Canobie Lake Park—Salem, NH
Canobie Lake Park has more than 85 rides, games, live entertainment, and attractions. There are rides for everyone, ranging from roller coasters for maximum thrill seekers (think 72 feet into the air and a drop that's beyond vertical at 97 degrees) to gentle rides for the young ones and fun family rides. The park hosts a wide variety of spectacular live entertainment throughout the summer, plus fireworks shows around the Fourth of July and SCREEEMFEST in October. The attractions in Castaway Island keep visitors cool during the dog days of summer. The park is open weekends in May, daily from Memorial Day weekend to early September, and weekends in September and October for the Halloween season.
2. Santa's Village—Jefferson, NH
Even when it's hot outside, it's very "cool" in this Christmas-themed park. Go "snow" tubing down a giant slide and bounce up and down the Chimney Drop, or enjoy up-close encounters with reindeer (you can feed them), or spend the day lounging in the "polar cap"- decorated water park. Santa's Village opens Memorial Day weekend and is open on weekends in June, September, October, and November.The fun happens daily in July and August. Hours vary and the weather can affect activities, so check the park calendar before you go.
3. Edaville Family Theme Park—Carver, MA
Situated among South Shore cranberry bogs, this growing theme park offers multi-season fun that's particularly appealing to younger kids. Thomas Land, with rides modeled after the island of Sodor, and Dino Land, featuring life-sized, roaring dinosaurs, are included in admission to an amusement park area that includes rides, bumper cars, mini coasters, and more. It's open on weekends in April, September, and October, and daily by the second week of June through the end of August. Starting in mid-November, Edaville turns into a winter wonderland, illuminated with a "Festival of Lights" and seasonal rides.
Six Flags has rides ranging from "mild" to "max" on the thrill meter; these soaring balloons are on the milder side. Photo courtesy of the author
4. Six Flags New England—Agawam, MA
Located just outside of Springfield, Six Flags New England (pictured) has rides that range from “Mild” to “Max” on the “Thrill Meter” and is best for teens and tweens. Concerts, character meet-and-greets, dance parties, parades, and shows round out the entertainment options. Six Flags is also home to New England's largest water park, Hurricane Harbor, with everything from one of the largest wave pools in the country to multi-passenger rafting adventures. The Six Flags season is April through October (weekends only in September and October).
Story Land has plenty of water rides to help you cool off in the summertime. Photo courtesy of the park
5. Quassy Amusement Park—Middlebury, CT
For more than 100 years, Quassy has been a family-favorite, uniting generations and making summer a little extra fun. Whether you're looking for quintessential kiddie rides (like a choo-choo, carousel, or frog hopper), thrill rides for older children, or a water park that can the entire family can enjoy, Quassy has you covered. Park operations are in full swing between Memorial Day and Labor Day, with a few weekends before and after those dates. The water park closes at 7 p.m. every day, while the park remains open until 8 p.m., or 10 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.
6. Story Land—Glen, NH
Tucked away in the Mount Washington Valley of New Hampshire, Story Land is a bit of a hike from Boston, but it's the perfect theme park for parents and little ones to enjoy together. And with so much to do in the area, you can make your trip a multi-day family getaway. Rides like the Swan Boats, Antique Cars, and Bamboo Shoots are designed for kid-parent bonding and are among my family's favorites. The Little Dreamers' Nursery Rhyme area is a big hit with preschoolers who revel in literally stepping into their favorite stories, and there are lots of opportunities to meet storybook characters around the park. Story Land is open Memorial Day weekend through early October (weekends only in September and October).
7. Lake Compounce—Bristol, CT
Lake Compounce is a fun place for the whole family, even if you're not usually an amusement park enthusiast. The rides range from sweet kiddie rides to intense thrill rides, including a new triple launch coaster. The park's Antique Carousel, built in 1898, is one of America's oldest. For visitors who prefer to keep their feet on the ground, Dino Expedition features lifelike dinos and a fossil digging area. Water rides in Crocodile Cove keep you cool on hot days, and you can make the fun last around the clock by staying at Bear Creek Campground. The regular operating season is May - September, plus select times during the holiday season for Holiday Lights.
Photo courtesy of York's Wild Kingdom
8. York's Wild Kingdom—York Beach, ME
A mix of family rides, paddle boats, miniature golf course, a zoo, and The Butterfly Kingdom guarantee a day (or more) of fun in York Beach. Visit with lions and tigers, watch in wonder as countless butterflies flutter in a 5,500-square-foot exhibit, and venture on more than 20 rides, including a Ferris wheel, a scrambler, a Wacky Mouse Roller Coaster, and bumper cars. When you need a restful break from all the excitement, step onto the nearby sand and dip your toes in the refreshing ocean. The park opens Memorial Day weekend and closes Labor Day weekend. Check the website for hours and special events.
Note: Six Flags New England offers some helpful tips for visiting with a family; many are practical suggestions that apply to any theme park visit.
Originally published August 2011 and updated April 2013 & June 2014; revised June 2016