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3 amusement parks that are fun for the whole family

There’s no shortage of places to find roller coasters, waterparks and other family-friendly attractions in Mississippi River Country.

Six Flags Great America Hurricane Harbor
Credit: Six Flags Hurricane Harbor

Whether you’re visiting the Midwest’s largest amusement park or hopping on a rollercoaster in the heart of the Smoky Mountains, you’ll find plenty of family fun throughout Mississippi River Country. Here are some great amusement parks you shouldn’t miss.

Six Flags Great America

One of the most popular theme parks in North America and the largest theme park in the Midwest, Six Flags Great America is a 300-acre (121 hectare) theme park in Gurnee, Illinois, about 45 miles (72km) north of downtown Chicago. Opened in 1976, Great America is home to 17 thrilling roller coasters and the 20-acre (8 hectare) Hurricane Harbor water park, and the park is open from early spring through fall (it’s also open for special celebrations around Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas).

What else to explore: Navy Pier, Chicago’s most-visited tourist attraction, is home to 50 acres (20 hectares) of shops, restaurants and attractions, including the illuminated Centennial Wheel, a ferris wheel that reaches nearly 200 feet high and is an iconic part of the city’s skyline.


Y’all come on down to Dollywood, an amusement park owned by legendary entertainer Dolly Parton in the scenic Smoky Mountains of southeastern Tennessee. The park welcomes nearly 3 million guests in a typical season (mid-March to Christmas) and is home to 50 rides and attractions, as well as Dollywood’s Splash Country, a water park. In addition to the rides, Dollywood also features traditional crafts and music of the Smoky Mountains and hosts several concerts throughout the year, including appearances by Dolly herself.

What else to explore: Just down the road from Dollywood is Anakeesta, a unique outdoor theme park where visitors can walk more than 800 feet of skybridges 50 feet in the air, explore an interactive challenge course or just take in the views of surrounding states at AnaVista Tower.

Mall of America

It’s not just shops that draw visitors to America’s largest indoor shopping center—though there are plenty of those where you can while away the hours—the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota also has its very own indoor theme park right on site. Nickelodeon Universe is home to 27 rides and attractions, from roller coasters to ziplines to mini golf courses. Kids can also meet some of their favorite characters from Dora the Explorer, Paw Patrol and other shows and movies.

What else to explore: Head to the Twin Cities suburb of Shakopee—not far from Bloomington, where the Mall of America is located—and you’ll find Valleyfair, a fun family attraction that boasts 75 rides and attractions, including eight roller coasters and a waterpark.