Looking for a place to take your little ones for gentle thrills and kid-friendly amusements? We've rounded up 15 NJ amusement parks that are perfect for the younger set. Some, like Storybook Land, are geared exclusively toward small children, while others, like Morey's Piers and Jenkinson's Boardwalk, offer a solid selection of kiddie rides in addition to bigger thrills.
We've limited our list of amusement parks to those located in New Jersey—to search for more tot-friendly spots in surrounding areas, check out the Best Amusement Parks for Preschoolers in and Near NYC.
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Little kids can ride the Big Trucks at Bowcraft.
Bowcraft – Scotch Plains
This small, old-school amusement park has been a family staple since 1946. Recent news reports say the park may soon close its doors to make way for an apartment complex, but for now it remains open for the 2017 season. There are 21 rides, most of which are tot-friendly: boats, helicopters, motorcycles, trucks, hot-air balloons, and of course a merry-go-round are just a few of the options. Older siblings in search of thrills can take a spin on the Crossbow Roller Coaster, Galleon Pirate Ship, and Muzik Express. Three food options, an arcade, and midway round out the offerings.
Casino Pier – Seaside Heights
Renovations of the historic boardwalk that sustained major damage in Superstorm Sandy are finally finished—complete with a brand-new roller coaster to replace the one that was swept into the ocean in the storm. If you and your family aren't quite ready to take the plunge on Hydrus, Casino Pier offers plenty of milder amusements as well. Kiddie rides for those 36" and over include bouncing beach buggies, NASCAR-themed race cars, and a mini coaster; kids also can ride with an adult on the brand-new, 131-foot-tall Ferris wheel. Find more family fun with mini-golf, an arcade, and the adjacent Breakwater Beach Water Park.
Clementon Park & Splash World – Clementon
This family park, located in the Delaware Valley, has been around for 110 years. It has 19 rides, 11 of which are suitable for the younger set. These include a vintage carousel, flying elephants, a mini replica of a classic steam engine, and a Ferris wheel. There are nine food options (including those in the water park), midway games, and special events like Mother Goose Day, featuring breakfast, storytime, crafts, and rides.
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Dig-a-Round is Diggerland's version of a merry-go-round.
Diggerland – West Berlin
This construction-themed amusement park is a must for Bob the Builder fans. Here, kids can operate diggers, backhoes, skid-steers, dumper trucks, and tractors, and take a spin on rides like the Dig-A-Round, the park's version of a merry-go-round, and the train-like Excavator Express. Kids must be at least 36 inches to go on most rides, though some require a minimum height of 42-inches. Young visitors will have fun in the Kid Zone, which includes a jungle gym with tube slides, mini diggers, and more; and there's also a rock wall, four-story ropes course, and arcade. Read our full review of Diggerland here.
Fantasy Island – Beach Haven
I grew up going to Fantasy Island on family vacations to Long Beach Island, and I was thrilled to bring my own kids there last year for the first time. This sweet little spot has 19 rides, many of which are good for the littles; my then-4-year-old had a blast on the Sea Dragon mini coaster, the Scrambler, and the mini Ferris wheel. Other tot-friendly amusements include spinning Tea Cups, flying Honey Bees, bumper cars, and a gorgeous Victorian carousel. There's also an old-fashioned ice cream parlor, boardwalk games, and arcade, and you can grab a bite to eat at Chef Gator's Grill.
Field Station: Dinosaurs – Leonia
Take your pint-sized paleontologist to this outdoor, dinosaur-themed adventure park to meet more than 30 animatronic dinos. Formerly located in Secaucus, Field Station: Dinosaurs is set up in a temporary location in Overpeck Park for the 2017 season; it will move to its new, permanent home deeper in the park in time for 2018. The dino herd includes familiar faves like T-Rex, Triceratops, and Apatosaurus, along with lesser-known beasts like Compsognathus and Baryonyx. The park features a discovery trail with activity stations; a giant sandpit where kids can dig for fossils; and programming that includes live musical shows and workshops with dino experts.
Gililan's Wonderland Pier – Ocean City
Ocean City, dubbed the number-one family beach community in the U.S., boasts a boardwalk that looks like a 1950s film set. It's home to several small, family-owned amusement parks, with rides and games galore. Gillian's Wonderland Pier, founded in the 1920s, offers a bunch of little kid–friendly rides—both outdoors and in, so rain doesn't have to spoil the fun. Outdoor amusements include the Wacky Worm roller coaster and Raiders, a maze filled with tunnels, bridges, and slides; the indoor fun includes a carousel, balloon race, monorail, bouncing frogs, and flying elephants.
RELATED: Best Jersey Shore Beaches for Families: Sandy Hook to Cape May
Play classic games like Whac-a-Mole at Jenkinson's Boardwalk.
Jenkinson’s Boardwalk – Point Pleasant Beach
This boardwalk has it all: an aquarium, three mini-golf courses, a fun house, arcade, midway games, and lots of rides geared toward the shorties. Firetrucks, boats, airplanes, helicopters, motorcycles, trucks, trains—kids have their pick of a huge variety of amusements made just for them.
Keansburg Amusement Park – Keansburg
This family park has been in operation since the early 20th century. Here you'll find more than 20 rides for little ones, including the Jolly Caterpillar, Mini Whip, Rockin' Tug, Tea Cups, and Happy Swing. In addition to rides, there's an adjacent water park, Runaway Rapids, as well as a fishing pier, rock wall, arcades, and a free beach. Food options are plentiful, with everything from shish kabobs and BBQ to zeppoli and ice cream.
Land of Make Believe – Hope
Land of Make Believe is number one on our list of things to do with preschoolers in New Jersey (a ranking shared with Storybook Land, below). This kid-focused amusement park features a great selection of classic kiddie rides along with a water park. You can ride the Tilt-A-Whirl, Magic Dragon, and Bouncing Frogs, visit some farm animals, and then splash and slide in Pirate's Cove. Pack a cooler with food from home, or buy from one of nine lunch and snack spots on site.
Morey's Piers – Wildwood
This classic boardwalk has more than 100 rides and amusements. You'll find the bulk of the kiddie rides on Mariner's Pier and Surfside Pier, both of which offer plenty of options for those 30" and over. Check out the website's handy ride chooser to find the ones that are best for your kiddos. Morey's also has two water parks and a large variety of food options—including Breakfast in the Sky, a meal served on the giant Ferris wheel. (Not that we'd recommend attempting this with small children; eating a meal on solid ground is challenging enough!)
Playland's Castaway Cove – Ocean City
Located half a mile down the beach from Gillian's Wonderland Pier is Castaway Cove. It's in the middle of the boardwalk on 10th Street, just a block away from Manco & Manco Pizza, an iconic Jersey Shore pizzeria serving giant, cheap, cheesy slices. The park has some great small-scale rides, like bumper cars and a hand-painted merry-go-round, as well as an indoor arcade that's loaded with games. Take the kids for a spin on the 90-foot Ferris wheel, and you'll be rewarded with a spectacular view.
Six Flags – Jackson
This popular park isn't only about death-defying drops and high-intensity thrills; it also has an awesome selection of kiddie rides. Young children will also dig the Six Flags Safari, where they can visit lion cubs, parrots, goats, and a multitude of exotic animals, as well as the park's newest addition, Einstein the baby giraffe. Kid-friendly entertainment includes dance parties, animal presentations, and meet-and-greets with Bugs Bunny and the Looney Tunes gang.
Beanstalk Bounce is a gentle drop tower at Storybook Land. Photo by the author.
Storybook Land – Egg Harbor Township
This charming amusement park geared toward the 10-and-under crowd offers a magical experience for young children and parents. You can literally walk through all your favorite stories and nursery rhymes at Storybook Land, including Little Red Riding Hood, the Three Little Pigs, and Alice in Wonderland. The park's 17 sweet rides include Bubbles the Coaster, Beanstalk Bounce, Jumping Jumbos, and Turtle Twirl. Read our recent review of Storybook Land to learn more about this NJ gem.
Wild West City – Stanhope
What could be better than meandering through an entire Western frontier replica town surrounded by galloping horses, cowboys, outlaws and lawmen? Wild West City is the only western heritage theme park on the East coast, with 22 live-action shows every day, a working stage coach, a miniature train winding its way through Arapaho Territory, and a score of good guys and bad guys squaring off in the wide and gritty main street. There's also a candy shop and general store, a collection of Native American artifacts, a working blacksmith shop, pony corral rides for young guests, and a barnyard zoo. After a full day here, you’ll be ready to ride off into the sunset. Read our full review of Wild West City.
Top photo: Family Balloon Ride at Land of Make Believe. Unless otherwise noted, photos courtesy of the amusement parks.