What's The Best Amusement Park in America? The 10 Best Theme Parks To Visit This Summer

The loud chain on the roller coaster pulls you higher and higher, as the ferris wheel on the left and the parking lot on the right recede into the distance. There’s a quiet moment or two at the top, punctured only by a few anticipatory screams, as the cars slowly crest the first peak. And then, with gradually building momentum and then unfettered, ungovernable speed, you’re off: down, around, upside down, out of your seat as you climb short hills, nearly dropping into the pond below as you’re hurled around the track’s double-helix, all before screeching into the brake zone and coming to a halt in front of the station, where, for the first time in whole minutes, you can breathe again. Do you want to go to an amusement park yet?

Roller coasters, amusement parks, and summer: These are a few of our favorite things. If you know what's good for you, you're sure to be heading to get your thrill on this summer. But there are some parks that stand above the rest, acting as monuments to the drama and glory of thrill rides.

Here, we’ve chosen the best theme parks in the U.S., based on "Thrill Factor" (how many rides, how intense, how much variety) and "Backpack Holder Experience" — that is, how well the park caters (in terms of food, culture, and natural beauty) — to those who are, crazily enough, averse to being thrown side to side and inverted at 100 miles per hour.

So get ready to hurl your cheese fries, and visit these amusement parks.

10. The Adventuredome, Las Vegas, Nevada

The Adventuredome in Las Vegas contains two roller coasters and a smattering of thrill rides, including a spinning disk and a 4D Spongebob theater show, all housed within a 5-acre indoor space. The requisite comment here: Only in Las Vegas. Adventuredome is also a backpack holder’s fantasy in that you don’t actually have to do a lot of backpack-holding: Drop the thrill seekers off and walk up the Stratosphere, Las Vegas’ famous (and famously weird-looking) skyscraper, just a few blocks away.

Thrill factor: 6/10

Backpack holder experience: 8/10

9. Busch Gardens, Tampa, Florida

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What Busch Gardens Tampa lacks in beauty (as compared to its paradiscal sibling to the north, Busch Gardens Williamsburg) it makes up for in thrills. This year, the park will unveil a ride called Falcon’s Fury, the continent’s tallest free-standing drop ride (335 feet) and the first to tilt readers 90 degrees as they fall, putting them face-to-face with the ground toward which they plummet. For those who'd rather not face their mortality, the park’s cheetah exhibit, linked thematically with its roller coaster Cheetah Hunt, will give backpack holders a different, and hopefully less nauseating, thrill.

Thrill factor: 7/10

Backpack holder experience: 7/10

8. King’s Island, Mason, Ohio

Proclaiming itself the largest amusement park in the midwest, King’s Island has two of the longest roller coasters in the country: Diamondback, a 5,282-foot coaster that shoots riders across 10 acres at 80 miles per hour, and Banshee (new this year), the longest inverted roller coaster in the world. The park’s water park — also the largest in the midwest — will appeal to anyone uninterested in these twin mile-long screams.

Thrill factor: 7/10

Backpack holder experience: 7/10

7. Universal Orlando, Orlando, Florida

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In addition to the famous Incredible Hulk roller coaster — which shoots riders out of a tunnel and into a “zero-G” roll in a kind of thrill-ride adaptation of the hulk’s man-to-monster transformation — Universal Studios also offers loads of less stomach-turning attractions, including facsimiles of Hogwarts and Diagon Alley. Potter fans, this is the spot for you.

Thrill factor: 6/10

Backpack holder experience: 9/10

6. HersheyPark, Hershey, Pennsylvania

Hersheypark is really more of a Willy-Wonka-factory come to life that just happens to have roller coasters — in other words, a backpack holder’s dream. But the rides it does have are plenty enticing. Great Bear, a classic suspended coaster, drops riders 124 feet before sending them through a series of twists and corkscrews over the park’s main avenues. And, in recent years, Skyrush and Fahrenheit (which features a vertical incline), have added further steep drops and sharp turns to the park’s landscape.

Thrill factor: 7/10

Backpack holder experience: 9/10

5. Six Flags Great America, Gurnee, Illinois

Located outside of Chicago, Six Flags Great America sports a number of innovative roller coasters, including X Flight, a 3D wing coaster; Superman, a flying coaster; American Eagle, a two-track racing wooden coaster; and Vertical Velocity, a weird-looking but surely thrilling two-pronged launch coaster. If those don’t satisfy you, get in line for the park’s newest ride, Goliath, the fastest, tallest, and steepest wooden roller coaster on the planet.

Thrill factor: 9/10

Backpack holder experience: 6/10

4. Six Flags Magic Mountain, Valencia, California

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This 16-roller-coaster park in Valencia, California, near Los Angeles, has always been a favorite among thrill ride enthusiasts. In addition to its classic rides — Goliath, Batman, and an old wooden called Colossus (which you can now ride backwards) — the park also has two newer rides that experiment with multiple “dimensions.”

On Green Lantern, riders are suspended on either side of the track in seats that rotate 360 degrees as the car climbs to a height of 107 feet. Another roller coaster, X2, uses a similar technique, but with a higher incline (200 feet) and the addition of sound effects and lighting that, together, make the ride a “5D” experience.

Thrill factor: 9/10

Backpack holder experience: 6/10

3. Busch Gardens, Williamsburg, Virginia

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For 22 consecutive years, the German-inspired Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, Virginia has been named the most beautiful theme park in the United States, making it a prime destination for park visitors who aren’t necessarily crazy about rides. But those who come for thrills won’t be disappointed, either. The park’s roller coasters, while not exactly numerous, are well-selected. LochNess monster takes riders through two interlocking loops (the first of their kind) over the park’s central lake, while Apollo’s Chariot, named one of the best roller coasters in the world by TIME, contains eight “air-time hills” and an initial drop of 210 feet.

Thrill factor: 7/10

Backpack holder experience: 10/10

2. Cedar Point, Sandusky, Ohio

Cedar Point has long sat comfortably atop every thrill seeker’s bucket list. The “Roller Coaster Capital” was named Travel Channel’s best amusement park in the country, and its roller coaster Millenium Force, once the tallest and fastest in the world, tops TIME’s list of the ten best coasters in the U.S. Among its 72 rides (the most of any park in the world), it boasts 16 roller coasters, including Top Thrill Dragster, one of the world’s tallest, and Blue Streak, one of the world’s oldest (it turns 50 this year). Other classics include Raptor, a suspended coaster, and Mantis, a ride that, upon its debut, broke a number of standing-coaster records.

Thrill factor: 9/10

Backpack older experience: 6/10

1. Six Flags Great Adventure, Jackson, New Jersey

Six Flags Great Adventure and Cedar Point enjoy a sibling-like rivalry. Located in Central New Jersey (an easy day trip for NYCers), the park boasts nearly as many roller coasters as Cedar Point, and it, too, has a tendency to break records. Currently, it’s the home of the tallest roller coaster in the country, Kingda Ka.

And, this year, insanely, it’s debuting a new ride, Zumanjaro Drop of Doom, a free-standing drop attached to Kinga Ka’s nearly 456-foot incline. But it’s Great Adventure’s recently built wooden coaster, El Toro, that really rockets the park to the number-one spot. Featuring speeds, steep inclines, and hairpin turns that, frankly, don’t belong on a wooden frame, it is, in this writer’s opinion, the finest and scariest roller coaster in the country.

Thrill factor: 10/10

Backpack holder experience: 6/10

Images: Flickr/austintaceous; Flickr/progressionuk; Flickr/tonydude919; Flickr/rollercoasterphilosophy; Flickr/intamin10; Flickr/booink