11 of the Best Outdoor Water Parks in the US

The slides at Six Flags Hurricane Harbor New Jersey keep everyone cool.
The slides at Six Flags Hurricane Harbor New Jersey keep everyone cool.

If your kids love the adventure of amusement parks but are looking for a way to cool off this summer, an outdoor water park might be just the ticket for your family. We've searched out some of the nation's best to compile this list of our favorite family-friendly water parks with relaxing pools, splash pads for toddlers, and thrilling water slides and rides for teenagers.

From New England to Orlando to California, there are plenty of water parks from which to choose. At some of these water parks, visitors can ride the ups and downs of a water coaster, slip through a trap door on a drop slide and spin around an oversized funnel slide for maximum thrills. To truly chill, just pick up a tube and float down a lazy river or rent a cabana with poolside dining.

Have your heart set on a water park vacation but don't want to risk the weather? Check out our list of the 10 Best Indoor Water Parks for Kids in the US.

Be sure to check the park's hours before going out the door as weather can force a water park to delay opening or close temporarily. Most parks in northern climates are going to be open roughly from Memorial Day through Labor Day, whereas southern parks might remain open nearly year-round. 

Chill in the shade at a cabana or the float down the lazy river at Universal's Volcano Bay.

1. Universal’s Volcano Bay — Orlando, FL

There’s no need to sweat it out in lines at Volcano Bay. Just check in to popular rides with the waterproof electronic TapuTapu wristband you receive upon entry and you'll have reserved a spot in line while you explore the rest of the park. When it’s time to hop on, the wearable vibrates to alert you. Beyond the iconic towering volcano that houses Krakatau Aqua Coaster, the big kids can enjoy thrills on rides such as drop slides, tube slides, mat racers, and a wave pool. There’s also a winding river to float down on a tube and a more active whitewater river that is navigable in just a life vest. Play areas for little kids at this Orlando water park include Tot Tiki Reef, which has its very own scaled-down slides, spray fountains, and mini volcano. For more local fun, check out our Florida Family Travel Guide.

The mega wave pool at Disney's Typhoon Lagoon in Orlando is a hit with older kids.

2. Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon Water Park — Orlando, FL

While thrill-seekers might prefer the more extreme water rides at Blizzard Beach, this tropical-themed Orlando water park may better satisfy the whole family. Relax on the sandy shores of what is touted as North America’s largest wave pool, where you can even sign up for surf lessons (yes, there are waves that big). Ketchakiddee Creek water playground features water cannons, waterfalls, and mini water slides better for little kids. Zoom down the Crush ’n’ Gusher, a 400-foot-long water coaster as a family, or the real thrill seekers can take the Humunga Kowabunga, an in-the-dark body slide with a five-story drop. There are several more raft and inner tube rides at this Disney water park, too, including a few without height restrictions.

Related: 50 Fun Things to Do in Orlando Besides Theme Parks

River water fuels the activity pools and slides for all ages at Schlitterbahn Waterpark in Texas.

3. Schlitterbahn Waterpark — New Braunfels, TX

Though this water park family has multiple locations, this Texas spot takes the cake. Located on the banks of the Comal River, the Schlitterbahn New Braunfels Waterpark uses 72-degree river water for its tube chutes, tube slides, and pools. Beyond the winding waterways, check out the park’s water coaster, surfing rides, wave rivers, and activity pools. The youngest visitors can enjoy seven kids’ areas featuring playgrounds, a zero-entry beach and shallow pool areas with mini slides. In all, there are about 45 attractions between Schlitterbahn East and Schlitterbahn West; hop on a tram to shuttle back and forth. For more Texas water park destinations, check out our Houston Water Parks Guide

Interactive play features at Six Flags Hurricane Harbor Los Angeles offer all ages fun.

4. Six Flags Hurricane Harbor Los Angeles — Valencia, CA

Set to open for the season on May 19, this California water park has something for everyone. Its shallow water playground, Castaway Cove, will keep little ones busy, while waterfalls, a tipping bucket, and mini slides make Splash Island another family favorite. The 480,000-gallon wave pool, 1,300-foot scenic lazy river, and six-lane racer slide are a bit more thrilling for families with older kids. Thrill-seekers won’t want to miss Bonzai Pipelines, a six-story free-fall drop slide, and Black Snake Summit, a group of four super-fast enclosed water slides.

5. Knott’s Soak City Water Park — Buena Park, CA

Among the attractions at this 15-acre fan favorite Cali water park are a 750,000-gallon wave pool with 4-foot waves; Aqua Launch, a trapdoor drop slide; and other body, tube, and mat slides. There is a three-story interactive play structure featuring sprayers, water guns, faucets, and a 500-gallon dumping bucket which kids will thrill to just watch or run away from as tips. Gremmie Lagoon is a water play area for the littlest ones where kids can splash and slide around a 1-foot water pool and explore a mini submarine. Knott’s Soak City has a separate entrance from the neighboring Knott’s Berry Farm Theme Park. For more California water park fun, check out our SoCal Water Parks Guide.

Wisconsin's Noah's Ark sits on 70 acres of water park fun! Photo courtesy of Wisconsin Dells Visitor & Convention Bureau, Inc.​

6. Noah’s Ark Waterpark — Wisconsin Dells, WI

Located on 70 acres in the “water park capital of the world,” Noah’s Ark is one of the country's largest water parks. From four kiddie areas with mini slides, water cannons, and water geysers to two giant wave pools, a water coaster, and a surfing attraction, there’s something for everyone. There’s also a variety of body, tube, drop and racing slides. Raja is a six-story, side-by-side slide in the shape of a king cobra that ends with a 37-foot drop into the snake’s mouth. Attractions range from single riders to groups, making it a great family destination.

Related: Mall of America's Most Amazing Attractions for Kids

Try the slides at Water Country USA during a Virginia family getaway.

7. Water Country USA — Williamsburg, VA

Just three miles from Busch Gardens, this Virginia water park offers more than 40 rides and attractions. Little ones can enjoy plenty of themed, shallow-water playgrounds and activity pools at Water Country. In addition to tubing down the 736-foot Rambling River, visitors to Water Country can body float with a life vest down Hubba Hubba Highway, which provides a fast-moving current. There’s also a surf-boggan slide, a dual-path drop slide, a six-lane racing slide, and a wave pool. Don’t forget to check out the high-thrill Cutback Water Coaster, an all-new water propulsion coaster opening May 24.

Six Flags Hurricane Harbor New Jersey will expand its water park again this summer with a massive new activity pool

8. Six Flags Hurricane Harbor New Jersey — Jackson, NJ

Starting May 18, splash on the shores of the Blue Lagoon wave pool, or go all in with or without a raft, up to 6 feet deep at New Jersey's top water park, which seems to just keep on expanding. Six Flags Hurricane Harbor New Jersey also offers Discovery Bay, a scaled-down wave pool and slides, and a water play area with climbing ropes, blasters, and a tipping water bucket. Caribbean Cove has more than 55 interactive features for little kids to enjoy. Later this summer, after drifting down the lazy river, visitors can soak in the all-new Calypso Springs, a 100,000-gallon activity pool featuring fountains and geysers to keep everyone cool. Daredevils flock to rides such as Jurahnimo, which has a steep 76-foot drop, and Tornado, which shoots riders into an oversized funnel and then spits them out. For more places to stay cool, check out our New Jersey Water Parks Guide, including those at the Shore.

Related: Atlantis Water Park and Resort: What to Know for Families

Long Island's Splish Splash hits all the right marks with families.

9. Splish Splash — Calverton, NY

This Long Island gem has 96 acres of adventure. Group raft rides include the winding Mammoth River and in-the-dark Hollywood Stunt Rider. Dr. Von Dark’s Tunnel of Terror is also pitch black and includes 360-degree spins and a 40-foot drop. Little kids will enjoy swinging from the tentacles of a silly octopus, exploring an interactive mini pirate ship and sliding down a yellow submarine. An interactive shipwreck with climbing ropes is also fun. There’s a soaking pool to relax in and a wave pool for some extra thrills. Drop slides, enclosed slides, racer slides, plenty of tube slides, and a lazy river round out the offerings at Splish Splash. For additional New York water parks, check out our Guide to Water Parks Near NYC and Water Parks Near NYC for Toddlers.

Water Country's zero entry pool is perfect for littles, while body and raft slides amp up the thrills.

10. Water Country — Portsmouth, NH

Kids will fall for the Tahiti Tree House with tipping bucket and Pirate’s Pool & Lagoon featuring cannons, slides, and volcanoes at Water Country in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. The littlest ones will go gaga splashing around Bubble Bay’s geysers and climbing Ollie Octopus in a shallow, zero-entry pool. The New England water park’s 26 acres also include bigger thrills for bigger kids, such as a whirlpool, activity pool, and 700,000-gallon wave pool. The lazy river boasts caves, waterfalls, and fountains. A whitewater rafting group tube slide; a two-lane, head-first racing slide; and an extreme 58-foot body slide are also favorites. Water Country opens full-time on June 15. For more water park ideas, check out our New England Water Parks Guide.

Hurricane Harbor at Six Flags New England keeps everyone entertained with thrilling water rides.

11. Hurricane Harbor at Six Flags New England — Agawam, MA

This park is full of fun play structures for kids, including Hook’s Lagoon, a wooden tree house with plenty of sprayers, water cannons, and a huge tipping bucket for a full body soaking. Families can also enjoy the 500,000-gallon Commotion Ocean wave pool and Adventure River lazy river, or seek out the gentler wave pool and lazy river inside Splash Island. For something different, try Typhoon. The hybrid roller coaster and water slide attraction takes riders on an up-and-down adventure aided by water jets and conveyor belts. For additional water adventures, check out our New England Water Parks Guide.

All photos courtesy of the water parks except where noted

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