Where To Visit The Best Amusement Parks In The Northeast

Amusement parks are an enormous part of the American experience. In the 1800s, workers would congregate in public parks to relax after finishing a shift or on the weekends with their families. Eventually, this model of relaxation and family entertainment would give way to a more activity-filled type of park. In the 1880s, Coney Island took center stage in the conversation surrounding theme parks and leisure fun. Located at the southern tip of Brooklyn, Coney Island became an icon of novelty entertainment and acted as a pioneer of sorts for this type of community engagement space.

Wooden roller coasters then cropped up in parks across the country. Places like Hersheypark in Hershey, Pennsylvania and Belmont Park in San Diego (originally named the Mission Beach Entertainment Center) are great examples of this history. Belmont Park's iconic woodie, the Giant Dipper, is now operated as part of the city's efforts to preserve this historic part of its shoreline and will turn 100 in just a few years, while the oldest wooden roller coaster, Comet, in Hersheypark has been delighting thrill seekers for 75 years. 

Whether you're in the mood to visit a history-infused amusement park or one that's packed full of gigantic drops and lightning-fast coasters, the Northeast is a treasure trove of fabulous theme park destinations. There's something for everyone in this part of the country, and these parks are just a sampling of the amazing places you can visit for a day of excitement and fun.

Jackson, New Jersey: Six Flags Great Adventure

Six Flags is a theme park operator with a portfolio filled with excellent places for entertainment and excitement. There are 27 total Six Flags parks across North America, but a few stand out as some of the company's most impressive. Six Flags Great Adventure in New Jersey is certainly one of them.

The park is home to one of the best roller coasters in the U.S., which was also once the tallest and fastest coaster in the world. Kingda Ka is an accelerator coaster that rockets riders up to the top of a 456-foot tower before gravity takes over, propelling the cars to a top speed of 128 mph down a twisting 90-degree plummet back to Earth. The park also features the Green Lantern stand-up coaster, an experience that's sure to be new and interesting for many visitors, as well as an impressive Superman- and Batman-themed pair of coasters. The zippy hypercoaster Nitro and the floorless Bizarro can also get your blood pumping. 

Along with its impressive coaster offerings, the park is a perfect example of an amusement park that offers a blend of rides and experiences for any kind of visitor. You'll find live shows and kiddie coasters throughout the park as well, making it a great option for both thrill seekers and their less adventurous companions alike.

Rochester, New York: Seabreeze Amusement Park

Seabreeze can be found in upstate New York, along Rochester's Lake Ontario coastline between Syracuse and Buffalo. Founded in 1879, Seabreeze Amusement Park is the fourth oldest in the United States. This is a great park for families and those looking for thrills as well. Among the park's rides are Jack Rabbit, a coaster built in 1920 and the oldest continuously operational roller coaster in the country, Whirlwind, and Sea Dragon, a classic flipping ship ride. 

The park also offers a wealth of water rides, making it a great option for a scorching summer day. The history of the park, combined with its entertaining slate of rides and attractions, makes for a great day out for both locals and out-of-towners. Beautiful itself, the community of Seabreeze is also near Ithaca, in the Finger Lakes region of New York, making the amusement park a great destination if you'd like to visit some of the Northeast's most picturesque towns.

[Featured image by Sarion via Wikimedia Commons | Cropped and scaled | CC BY-SA 4.0]

Williamsburg, Virginia: Busch Gardens Williamsburg

Busch Gardens is another franchise name in the world of amusement parks. The first park is located in Tampa, Florida, but its sister theme park can be found farther north in Williamsburg, Virginia. Both amusement parks are loaded with excellent roller coasters, a bevy of rides and attractions that cater to non-thrill seekers and younger visitors, and plenty of shows and other entertainment features. The Busch Gardens parks are built with regional themes, and the Virginia iteration of the concept is dominated by classical European architecture and section names. (Tampa's park incorporates an African theme, with areas like "Congo," "Timbuktu," and "Egypt.")

One standout attraction of the Williamsburg park has to be its Loch Ness Monster roller coaster. The coaster was opened in 1978 and is located, obviously, in the "Scotland" portion of the park. It's the only remaining coaster to feature interlocking loops, and the coaster originally ran on a station departure schedule that allowed two trains to meet each other through their respective looping movements. Loch Ness Monster is no slouch and includes a 130-foot height with a 60 mph top speed. It's also getting a refit to ring in the 2024 season, so riders are set to experience an updated ride that will include new thematic and experimental elements. 

Busch Gardens Williamsburg also features Apollo's Chariot, which features a drop from 210 feet, Pantheon, a multi-launch coaster with intense speed, and DarKoaster, North America's first indoor straddle roller coaster.

[Featured image by Cjh1452000 via Wikimedia Commons | Cropped and scaled |CC BY-SA 4.0]

West Mifflin, Pennsylvania: Kennywood

Kennywood is a historic amusement park located in the Pittsburg suburb of West Mifflin. The park has been open since 1898 and sports more than 40 rides and attractions today. Kennywood plays host to a number of children's rides, like Diesel Drivers, Harold's Helicopter Tour, and Dizzy Dynamo. This makes it a great place to introduce children to the wonders of theme parks without having to wait until they're tall enough to ride smaller roller coasters. However, you'll find a number of these tamer coasters as well, including Jack Rabbit, a historic coaster built in 1920.

For thrill-seeking guests, Kennywood provides no shortage of high-speed roller coasters. Phantom's Revenge is one of the best anywhere in the United States and offers a surprise second drop that's even higher than the first. Utilizing the natural slope of Kennywood's geography, the cars fly headlong into a ravine for the additional height. The track provides serious thrills, and the coaster tops out at a truly spectacular 85 mph. In addition, riders looking for great thrills can tackle Sky Rocket, a launch coaster, and Steel Curtain, Pennsylvania's tallest roller coaster.

Agawam, Massachusetts: Six Flags New England

Six Flags New England is located in the Springfield, Massachusetts suburb of Agawam, just across the Connecticut River that cuts through the center of the city. It's complete with all the hallmarks of a Six Flags location, including fantastic roller coasters, a quality lineup of kiddie rides, and other entertainment options. Catwoman's Whip offers a great starting point for new roller coaster riders, while Flashback brings something unique to the table that may surprise coaster aficionados. As the ride starts, you'll be flung in reverse from the loading bay up a steep hill. After, the car comes soaring through the station and around the track, topping out at 47 mph. It hits two loops and eventually rises up a second hill. However, after you reach the top here, you'll be sent back through the track's run backward! 

Six Flags New England is also home to coasters like Wicked Cyclone and Batman: The Dark Knight, each featuring a dazzling series of inversions. However, the true king of this park is Superman: The Ride, with its gigantic lift hill and immaculate track layout that delivers mega G-forces, a 221-foot drop, and a top speed of 77 mph.

Bristol, Connecticut: Lake Compounce

Lake Compounce brings an element of history to your theme park adventure. It's the oldest continuously operating amusement park in North America. The facilities were founded here in 1846, and the park has been growing ever since. The park began life as a "picnic park" after an electricity demonstration brought thousands of people to the lake. It then added a band gazebo, bowling facilities, and a hand-powered swing.

Today, Lake Compounce is home to numerous roller coasters. In 1996, the theme park was purchased by Kennywood's ownership group, as hard times began to threaten the continued existence of this piece of vintage Americana. From Boulder Dash, an acclaimed wooden coaster, to Phobia Phear Coaster, a triple-launch roller coaster, the park offers great thrill rides for even the most daring visitors. Lake Compounce also features a series of water slides and rides like Mammoth Falls and Storm Surge.

As a unique bonus, the park is located in Bristol, Connecticut, which is the home of ESPN. It's typical for park visitors to spot celebrity TV personalities and athletes spending a day out with their families at Lake Compounce. While visiting ESPN for interviews or appearing on segments surrounding major sporting events, these adrenaline-seeking athletes tend to gravitate to the park's thrill-filled offerings. 

Allentown, Pennsylvania: Dorney Park & Wildwater Kingdom

Allentown is just an hour or so north of Philadelphia, making it a great stopover for visitors exploring the historic U.S. destination. In Allentown, Dorney Park & Wildwater Kingdom does exactly what it purports; it's both a waterpark and a traditional theme park, complete with rollercoasters, shows, and other entertainment. There are over 100 rides and attractions at the park, and the entire campus covers around 200 acres, making it a sizeable addition to the Allentown community.

New for 2024, the park will feature Iron Menace, the first dive coaster in the Northeast. It will suspend riders at its 160-foot drop height before entering a 95-degree dive to reach a top speed of 64 mph. Another staple of the park is Steel Force, one of the longest roller coasters in the world at 5,600 feet and a perennial favorite among riders. This coaster alone acts as a major draw for coaster enthusiasts. Dorney Park & Wildwater Kingdom is a fantastic family and thrill-seeker park that offers something for everyone.

Hershey, Pennsylvania: Hersheypark

Hersheypark is yet another historic theme park that has continued to thrill visitors for generations. It was opened on Memorial Day in 1906 as a place for company employees and others in the Hershey community to unwind. The oldest remaining roller coaster in the park is Comet, which opened for riders in 1946. It's a wooden coaster but manages to provide a quality ride, despite its age and the limitations of woodies. Comet offers a top speed of 50 mph and rises to 96 feet before plunging back down and around the track's 3,360-foot course.

Hersheypark also offers modern coasters like Skyrush, Storm Runner, Fahrenheit, and Great Bear that provide excellent speeds, towering heights, and quality thrill factors that give roller coaster enthusiasts more than enough to line up for. The Claw takes the classic ship format to a new height by introducing a spin to the gravity-pulling sweep of the rider's car. From coasters to other entertainment formats, such as the Chocolate World addition, Hersheypark leans into its roots while providing great enjoyment for all kinds of visitors. It's an excellent park all around, and if you have a sweet tooth, then the park should definitely be on your theme park bucket list. 

Montville, Connecticut: The Dinosaur Place at Nature's Art Village

The Dinosaur Place is a unique sort of theme park. It's a 60-acre park carved out within Nature's Art Village that features dinosaur themes throughout. It's the largest of its kind in New England, offering visitors a step back in time without all the intensity and running involved with a "Jurassic Park" visit. Nature's Art Village in Montville, Connecticut is also home to a mini-golf course, the Discovery Depot, and the Genius Museum, among other features. However, the Dinosaur Place is a standout. 

The park is a great place for young ones to travelerblog the geological history of our planet, and additions like the zero-depth, dino-themed Splash Pad water park make for a great day out in the summer heat. The A-MAZE-asaurus maze is another family-fun activity that's great for exploring and learning, and there are 1.5 miles of nature trails that wind their way around the park. Along these pathways, you'll find life-sized dinosaurs to give you a sense of what these creatures might've looked like while they walked the Earth.

Sandusky, Ohio: Cedar Point

Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio is perhaps the king of coaster parks and a juggernaut of Northeast amusement parks. The park boasts 18 roller coasters that have broken world records when they opened for riders. Some have been named the fastest, longest, or tallest, and many remain in the conversation within these categories, even as others have overtaken their world-dominating stats. Steel Vengeance, for instance, was the world's first hypercoaster built with a hybrid (steel and wood) construction medium. The coaster broke 10 world records when it launched the first carload of riders in 2018.

Perhaps the most iconic of the bunch is Millenium Force, however. The ride opened in 2000 and rises 310 feet above the park before dropping riders in a magnificent descent. It was the first coaster in the world to crack the 300-foot mark and offers a top speed that rockets riders to 93 mph. 

Other breathtaking roller coasters include Valravn, the tallest, fastest, and longest dive coaster in the United States, and Raptor, a coaster with an overhead track design, feet-dangling cars, and six inversions that include a 100-foot vertical loop and a cobra roll, which is a new type of flipping maneuver. Due to the tragic accident of Top Thrill Dragster, Top Thrill 2 is slated to take its predecessor's place. Upon opening to the public, Top Thrill 2 will be the tallest and fastest triple-launch coaster in the world, a reflection of Cedar Point's record-breaking coaster ambitions.

Brooklyn, New York: Coney Island's Luna Park

Lastly, Coney Island's iconic Luna Park takes a special mention among the best amusement parks in the Northeast. Coney Island has delighted visitors for more than a century, with the original Luna Park opening in 1903. Coney Island has hosted two other icons within the theme park world, including Steeplechase Park, which was opened in 1897, and the Gravity Switchback Railway, the first roller coaster ever built, debuting in 1884.

While the tradition of amusement parks at Coney Island is a rich one, the modern incarnation of Luna Park was the next update to Coney Island in more than 40 years. It was reopened in 2010 and has welcomed hundreds of thousands of theme park enthusiasts since. The park includes a new Thunderbolt roller coaster, a classic carousel that features 50 hand-carved horses, and a retooling of the defunct Parachute Jump that now also serves as a lighted beacon for eager visitors.

In 2022, plans to add Tony's Express and Leti's Treasure to the park were announced. These bring a new, custom-built roller coaster and log flume ride, respectively, to the classic park. There's something remarkable about the refitting of a New York icon in the new Luna Park, and it simply wouldn't be right to leave this gem out of the conversation of amazing Northeastern amusement parks.