Amusement parks are one of the most popular summer outings. More than 100 million people visited the 20 most popular North American amusement parks in 2021 with another 10 million attending the most popular water parks—and attendance is expected to rise in 2023. It’s not just visits that are up, though. Theme park prices are also high, especially for families where costs are multiplied across several people.
To determine which U.S. parks are the most affordable for families, Forbes Advisor analyzed the price of admission, food, parking and nearby lodging for the most popular amusement and water parks. Take a look at the cheapest amusement parks nationwide to plan an exciting day out while meeting your budget’s bottom line.
Water parks dominate the list of cheapest parks for families, accounting for eight of the top 10 most affordable parks nationwide. On average, the admission cost of a water park is half that of an amusement park. Though water parks tend to be smaller, there’s still more than enough to fill a day (or more!) when visiting with your family.
1. Six Flags Hurricane Harbor Phoenix
Six Flags Hurricane Harbor Phoenix is the cheapest water park in the United States for a family to visit. A family of four would spend just under $300 for a day at the park, including four admissions, four all-day dining passes and parking for one car. Families with young children may save even more.
Airbnbs in the area have a median nightly price of $255.67 over the summer for properties that sleep four to eight people, ranking 15th on our list for lodging. If you need less space or can secure cheaper lodging through hotel free night certificates, this park could be a great pick.
2. Six Flags Hurricane Harbor Splashtown
Houston’s Six Flags Hurricane Harbor Splashtown ties for the lowest one-day admission price at U.S. water parks, charging $34.99 for entry. Relatively inexpensive parking and dining plans are also available. In fact, for day-trippers, this Texas park actually comes in cheaper than Hurricane Harbor Phoenix—though the higher cost of nearby lodging pushes the park to number two on our list.
3. Six Flags White Water Atlanta
Similar to other Six Flags-branded locations, admission to Six Flags White Water Atlanta is only $34.99 per person, making this another cheap water park option for families. Though overnight stays are more expensive here, it might make sense for guests who also want to visit Six Flags Over Georgia, a more traditional theme park only 20 miles away.
A part of the SeaWorld family, the Aquatica park in Orlando ranks fourth on our list of most affordable water parks. Here, admission is more expensive than the Six Flags water parks but cheap lodging helps bring the cost down for traveling families. An overnight trip to this water park would cost $655.63 for a family of four (including four one-day admission passes, four dining passes, one day’s parking and one night of lodging at a family-sized Airbnb).
5. Adventure Island
An hour away from theme park central, Adventure Island in Tampa Bay, Florida is an affordable water park option for families. At around $655, the cost for an overnight visit here is nearly identical to a trip to Aquatica, so park goers can choose which location is a better fit for their interest or overall travel plans.
When it comes to a day at the park, sometimes you’re looking for traditional thrills. These cheap amusement parks have classic rides plus new, inventive rides sure to excite. Best of all, they cost well under the nationwide average admission of $113 and offer all the fun at a better price for families.
In the small town of Hershey, Pennsylvania, you’ll find the cheapest theme park in America. The estimated daily spend for a family of four is $400.56, which covers one-day admission tickets, dining passes and parking.
Compared to other locations on our list, you’ll also note that the Hershey area has affordable lodging. The median nightly price for an Airbnb sleeping four to eight people is approximately $190 in the middle of summer. It’s also an easy drive for anyone living in the northeast or mid-Atlantic, helping families avoid the cost of airfare.
2. Kings Island
Kings Island in Cincinnati is an exceptional value for families. Admission is reasonable and includes access to Soak City Water Park for a two-in-one experience. Overnight lodging bumps the total experience cost a bit: families should budget about $670 for a one-day visit to the park with an overnight stay.
3. Six Flags Great America
For an easy side trip from Chicago, plan a day at Six Flags Great America, which is one of the most affordable amusement parks. The low cost of a dining pass at $20.99 helps keep your price down, though general admission and parking are also competitively priced. As you may expect for Chicagoland, overnight stays can be more expensive here.
4. Cedar Point
At only $54.99 for admission, Cedar Point is a fun, cheap amusement park. A day at the park would cost a family of four $371.07 for admission, dining and parking—even cheaper than Hersheypark. However, lodging expenses drop Cedar Point to number four on our list. To save even more, stay in Toledo instead, which is only an hour away and one of the most affordable cities for family vacations.
5. Six Flags Great Adventure
Another cheap theme park is Six Flags Great Adventure in New Jersey, where admission and a dining pass adds up to $75.98 per person. If you live within day-tripping distance, which includes both New York City and Philadelphia, you can keep costs down to a total of $341.43 for a family of four. The median cost of a summer Airbnb sleeping four to eight adds another $350 to your trip cost.
— For more details about the study and ways to save money on your next family theme park adventure, visit Forbes Advisor.