There’s a lot to love about big-time theme parks like Disney and Universal Studios, and other popular spots like Knott’s Berry Farm and Busch Gardens. But the crowds of millions of other visitors? Not so much. 

There are lesser-known (and smaller) theme parks across the U.S. that offer hours of fun without the lines and crazy costs. Maybe you’re all about experiencing local attractions in smaller towns and cities. Or a day of entertainment that’s a little more manageable sounds more your speed. Many of them also have a long and interesting history. Here are some of the best under-the-radar theme parks for your next family getaway. 

Diggerland USA

West Berlin, New Jersey

Diggerland USA

Are your kids obsessed with construction trucks and equipment? They’re not the only ones—and they’lll be in heaven at Diggerland USA. This construction-themed amusement park turns heavy machinery into kid-friendly activities. Here, your kid can operate diggers, tractors, and trucks. They can feel what it’s like to ride in a demolition trailer. They can spin around in an excavator-themed carousel. There are also other attractions like an arcade, ropes course, and rock wall. 

Lake Compounce

Southington, Connecticut

Lake Compounce

Lake Compounce claims to be the oldest continuously operating amusement park in the United States. It all started back in 1846 when the site opened as a picnic park; over the years, it has  transformed into the theme park you see today. Highlights include the Boulder Dash wooden roller coaster, which has been voted the world’s best Amusement Today five times, and the Storm Surge water slide, an exciting newer addition best for teens or adults. During the summer, Saturday evening concerts are included with park admission.

Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park

Glenwood Springs, Colorado


Situated 7,100 feet above sea level, Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park likes to call itself America’s only mountain-top theme park. As you enjoy the park’s many different attractions, you’ll be treated to excellent views of the surrounding valley and mountains. If you’re a thrill seeker, go for the Giant Canyon Swing, which takes you back and forth over the cliffside. If you’re in the mood for something not as wild but still tons of fun, consider a show in the 4D motion theater. Be sure to pay a visit to the park’s iconic, towering trolls, too. Because of the park’s location, it’s not uncommon for some rides to be closed due to the weather, so be sure to check the status page on the park’s website before your visit to avoid disappointment.

Enchanted Forest

Turner, Oregon

Enchanted Forest

First opened back in 1971, Enchanted Forest is a family-owned theme park that has gained attention and plenty of fans with its home-spun quirkiness. There are rides for children of different ages, including a bobsled roller coaster, carousel, log ride, and bumper boats. Want to pretend like you’re back in the Old West? Over to Tofteville Western Town for you. Rather wander the streets of old Europe? There’s a little Old European Village with its own quaint attractions. Another highlight is the Comedy Theatre, where you can catch a musical comedy based on classic fairy tales. Don’t leave before taking a picture inside the mouth of the park’s iconic Snow White Witch’s head!

Rush Mountain Adventure Park

Keystone, South Dakota

Rush Mountain Adventure Park

If you’re making a family trip to see Mount Rushmore, you’re only about a 20-minute drive from Rush Mountain Adventure Park. One of the best things to do here is tour Rushmore Cave, the attraction that started the whole park. As you wander the underground passageways, you’ll get the chance to see stunning cave formations. When your cave tour is over, ride the Rushmore Mountain Coaster, which gives you the option to control your own speed up to 30 miles per hour. Other on-site attractions include a zipline that goes 630 feet down the mountainside, an above-ground obstacle course, gemstone mining, and an immersive, interactive laser-gun ride.

Dutch Wonderland

Lancaster, Pennsylvania

Dutch wonderland ride

Dutch Wonderland has been making kids smile for 60 years, and despite its long history, it’s not some old relic. It recently  won Amusement Today’s Golden Ticket Award for Best Family Park for three years in a row. Billing itself as a Kingdom for Kids, Dutch Wonderland has more than 30 rides and attractions along with live entertainment and a relaxation lagoon area. The roller coasters are a big hit with families: There’s a more intense, classic wooden coaster as well as a more relaxed, mini steel model. If your kids are into dinosaurs, then you have to take them along the Prehistoric Path, which winds among 22 life-like dinos.

Gilroy Gardens Family Theme Park

Gilroy, California

Gilroy Gardens
Gilroy Gardens

The theme at Gilroy Gardens is horticulture, making it a perfect destination for nature-loving families traveling up the coast of California. Fittingly, the park’s attractions are set amongst over 10,000 trees; when you’re not spinning, soaring, or sliding on one of the rides, you can take it easy in one of the six gardens. Each has its own theme from the Rainbow Garden that’s bursting with color to the Monarch Garden, a 60-foot-tall, semitropical greenhouse. A can’t-miss attraction is the Circus Trees, more than 20 intricately shaped trees that look like fantastical works of art.

Wet ‘n’ Wild Hawaii

Kapolei, Hawaii

Wet N Wild Big-Kahuna

Hawaii may be surrounded by water, but there’s only one major water park in the whole state. Located on Oahu, Wet ‘n’ Wild Hawaii has places where little kids can have a blast, like the 8,000-square-foot Lil Kahuna Beach with buckets, fountains, and slides. There are also attractions for teens who want some thrills— like the Tornado tube ride, which shoots you through a tunnel 50 feet in the air onto the water. For another special experience, book a luau where you can enjoy entertainment from a Polynesian champion fire-knife dancer.

Arnolds Park Amusement Park

Arnolds Park, Iowa

Arnolds Park Amusement Park

The Arnolds Park Amusement Park legacy is a long one, with a history dating back to the 1800s. Over the decades, the park has continued to expand and develop, eventually introducing steamboats to entertain its growing number of visitors. These days, your family can spend the day jumping among 25 rides, including coasters, bumper cars, and a log flume. Keep an eye on the park’s event calendar—they often host concerts and open-air movie screenings.

Tropic Falls at OWA

Foley, Alabama

Indoor Water Park & Outdoor Wave Pool - Tropic Falls at OWA

You never have to worry about bad weather ruining your fun at Tropic Falls at OWA; this destination boasts the largest indoor water park in the region. Tropic Falls has a mixture of attractions from a lazy river to speedy slides to a surf simulator. If all of that isn’t enough for you, head over to the 520-acre theme park, which has 23 attractions of its own to explore. Here you’ll find all the classic rides you loved as a kid like a flying carousel, coasters, and spinning teacups alongside other contraptions that are sure to make your little one beam with joy, including an interactive ride that mimics flying like a butterfly.

Fun Spot America Theme Parks, Atlanta 

Fayetteville, Georgia

Fun Spot America? Arieforce-Image-2

Fun Spot America has a couple of locations in Florida, but we’re focused on the Atlanta one since it’s less visited than the others. Fun Spot may be smaller than the nearby Six Flags, but it doesn’t play when it comes to its rides. Its newly opened Arieforce One Roller Coaster offers the largest zero-G stall in the country, a 146-foot drop, and a top speed of 64 miles per hour. If that’s not your jam, there are plenty of other rides of varying intensities to pick from.

Cindy Brzostowski is a freelance writer covering food, travel, and other lifestyle topics.