For a memorable family outing jam-packed with fun, head to a theme park. We have some great choices here in New England, and we've rounded up our five favorites for families with kids ranging from toddlers to teens. Some are close enough to Boston for a daycation and others are better suited for a weekend getaway, but they all make for a quick escape from the every day blahs.
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.
The cheerful cedar entrance gives way to more than 85 lakeside rides and attractions. Photo courtesy of the park
1. Canobie Lake Park—Salem, MA
Canobie Lake Park has over 85 rides, games, live entertainment and attractions. There are rides for everyone, ranging from roller coasters for maximum thrill seekers 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. Thomas Land at Edaville USA—Carver, MA
A relatively new addition to Edaville USA, Thomas Land in Carver, MA is a paradise for young train enthusiasts, especially those who can't get enough of the magical Island of Sodor and its inhabitants. The setting overlooking a cranberry bog is idyllic. All the kids' favorite characters are there, ready to whisk them away on an adventure. Thomas Land is included in admission to Edaville USA, so when you've ridden all the Thomas-themed rides and seen all the sites, more fun awaits in the rest of Edaville. Opens Memorial Day weekend for weekends only through mid-June, and again in September and October; open daily during the summer through the end of August.
Rides range from "mild" to "max" on the thrill meter; these soaring balloons are on the milder side. Photo courtesy of the author
3. 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
4. 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).
5. 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.
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