Home » The 5 BEST Water Parks in America

    The 5 BEST Water Parks in America

    Image © Schlitterbahn

    After a record-setting winter in many parts of the country, the snow has (mostly) melted away and spring has arrived. With warm weather either here for good or right around the corner, depending on your area, this is the perfect time to start thinking about the finer things in life. And for a theme park tourist, that can mean only one thing: amusement parks. In celebration of spring, let’s ignore roller coasters and focus on sun and fun while splashing around in swimsuits. Here is a list of the five best water parks in America.

    1. Schlitterbahn – Multiple Locations

    Image © Schlitterbahn

    Simply picking the best Schlitterbahn park can lead to a flame war in certain circles. While the original location in New Braunfels, Texas, is the reigning champion as Best Water Park according to Golden Tickets Award voting, there is an argument that the company offers a better park in the same state. Schlitterbahn Galveston Island is also the reigning champion as best indoor water park in the world according to the same voters. Basically, if you’re in Texas and have the opportunity, you should visit one (or more) of the Schlitterbahn parks.

    Note that if you are in Kansas, there is another Schlitterbahn option that is at least as good if not better than the ones in Texas. Schlitterbahn Kansas City unveiled a new attraction in July of 2014 that has already claimed a couple of world records.  Verrückt stands as the tallest as well as the fastest water slide in the world. Up to four people board a raft and prepare for an unprecedented plunge below. Verrückt offers a 17-story drop that is so dramatic that netting stands above the rider. Its sole purpose is to guarantee that nobody goes flying off the ride. Somehow, there is comfort in knowing that it’s there, yet the precautionary measure simultaneously adds to the fear factor of Verrückt.

    2. Noah’s Ark

    Image © Noah's Ark

    Come for the name, stay for the excess. Presumably shipwrecked in the Wisconsin Dells (you’re looking on the wrong continent, archeologists!), Noah’s Ark is THE largest water park in the United States. It’s effectively the Walt Disney World of water parks, and I say that while acknowledging that Disney has two of them in Orlando (two and a half if we count Stormalong Bay).

    You will never run out of things to do while visiting Noah’s Ark. To wit, if you rode ten different slides at the park each day for five days, you would still be missing one. With 51 such slides onsite, this park is the unquestioned champion of slide options. If you aren’t into slides, there are also a pair of wave pools as well as lazy rivers and a surfing simulator.

    Since you are reading this story, however, odds are good that you’re into the slides at Noah’s Ark. The best of them is arguably Quadzilla, which I love for the name alone. I enjoy the idea of saying, “Let’s go visit Quadzilla at Noah’s Ark.” It sounds like a coded message. In reality, it’s a water slide competition between four riders, all of whom jump head-first on their mats, trying to beat their frenemies to the water below.

    If you prefer something less adversarial, The Scorpion’s Tail figuratively and somewhat literally takes the bottom out from under you by providing a virtually vertical downward plunge. Your heart will feel five stories above your stomach when you try to catch The Scorpion’s Tail.

    3. Splashin’ Safari

    Image © Splashin' Safari

    This water park is the gift from Santa Claus, Indiana, that keeps on giving. A joint venture with Holiday World, this facility offers three of the best rides on the planet. Bakuli (it’s pronounced as “cool” in the middle, not like Scott Bakula) provides a trippy experience for families or friends. A group of four people arbitrarily spin around a dark area into the light, and once they reach a multi-colored section, they must navigate to a final drop. Bakuli isn’t as basic as some other water slide attractions, and it offers a bit of a lazy river vibe to make it more enjoyable for non-thrill riders.

    The stars of Splashin’ Safari are very much thrill rides, though. Mammoth features a six-person tube that thrusts ambitious travelers on one of the largest journeys of any water slide in the world. Boldly described as a water coaster, it employs the kind of ride lift conveyance ordinarily reserved for actual roller coasters. People careen around a third of a mile of track, some of which occurs in the dark. Its blend of methodical chaos is as measured as it is exhilarating.

    At one point, Wildebeest claimed the top spot as the longest water ride in the world before its park mate, Mammoth, usurped the title. This former winner in the category of Best New Water Park Ride is also a four-time Amusement Today champion as #1 Water Park Ride in the World. Like its counterpart, it delivers two and a half minutes of thrills over a third of a mile of track. Speeds reach 36 feet per second while groups of four tube their way through several tunnels and hills.

    4. Splash Country

    Image © Dollywood

    Dolly Parton is known for three things. One of them is her singing, and another is unprintable in a family-friendly format. The third is her evolution and elevation of the former Silver Dollar City into the cheekily named Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. After a time, she widened the appeal of her beloved park by adding Splash Country in 2001.

    The woman that the locals simply call Dolly has a mission statement about both parks. They must be family-friendly and accentuate the gorgeous Smoky Mountains whenever possible with the ride views. The area surrounding Splash Country is composed primarily of forest, and the natural terrain is incorporated into the many of the slides. If you want a more serene water park experience, Splash Country is among the best in the land.

    The park does offer its fair share of thrill rides, though. River Rush, a 2013 addition, is the most notable one. The water coaster comprises almost 1,200 feet of track, and it propels riders up and down a circuitous path through the lush trees. Personally, I’m a bigger fan of the 1,000 feet-long lazy river, Down Bound Float Trip, though. Splash Country is more about the ambience than the attractions.

    5. Water Country USA

    Image © Water Country USA

    With a name like this, how could it not make the list? When you’re visiting historic Williamsburg, this park is just down the road three miles. Like a couple of other water parks listed here, it is a sister site to an amusement park, in this case Busch Gardens Williamsburg. The best themed park on the list, it celebrates 1950s and 1960s style, which means that if your family loves Frankie and Annette movies (Google them if you’re under 35) or Teen Beach Movie (Google it if you’re over 15), this place is perfect.

    Like Splash Country, Water Country’s reputation is predicated upon its high standards more than any individual ride. Also like Splash Country, it has recently added a high profile water coaster to evolve its reputation into the thrill ride realm. Colossal Curl is an extended four-person tube ride that basically drenches everyone within two seconds of starting. After that, excitement builds for a minute or so while people wait for the inevitable: the titular Colossal Curl. Your tube goes basically straight up the wall, a breathtaking sensation, and then you spin straight down afterward.

    Realistically, the first two parks dominate the overall water park market, and if we simply did an entry for the Wisconsin Dells, it would do the same. So, the industry remains an oligopoly, but the other entries on this list prove that the gap is narrowing with each new ride invention.