Best Outdoor Water Park (2015)


Nothing says "summer" like splashing in the sunshine – it's no wonder water parks have become such a popular option for traveling families (or those looking for a stay-cation). According to the World Waterpark Association, there are more than 1,200 water parks in the United States, and 10Best teamed up with our readers to find the best in the nation.

  • Wilderness Resort

    Wilderness Resort
    Wisconsin Dells, Wis.

    Indoor, outdoor and exclusive, this expansive park (parks, really) doesn’t do day passes – only guests of the Wilderness Resort at Wisconsin Dells can splash and play. Outdoor offerings include Lost World, where guests meet the challenging drop slides and mat racers head-on and New Frontier, where a pool, slides and zero-entry offerings create an ideal atmosphere for families with young children.
    Photo courtesy of Wisconsin Dells

  • Splashin' Safari

    Splashin' Safari
    Santa Claus, Ind.

    It may be in Santa Claus, Ind., but Splashin’ Safari’s about as far from the North Pole as you can get, offering myriad thrills to cool guests off in the summer heat. Families who thrill-ride together will revel catching actual air on Mammoth – a water coaster so massive its seven-story bulk takes up more than three acres! Multiple drops employ cutting edge technology, lifting up to six passengers to plunge again and again and again.
    Photo courtesy of Holiday World & Splashin' Safari

  • Schlitterbahn New Braunfels

    Schlitterbahn New Braunfels
    New Braunfels, Texas

    Seventy acres of watery thrills await at this Schlitterbahn outpost on the banks of the Comal River, not the least of which is the Master Blaster. At six stories tall and more than a thousand feet in length, this uphill water coaster has earned many a top honor among those in the know. Water jets propel riders amid twists and turns, but they need no help with that first three-story plunge from the Blastenhoff Tower. Nervous nellies need not apply.
    Photo courtesy of Schlitterbahn Waterparks and Resorts

  • Aquatica Orlando

    Aquatica Orlando

    To make a splash in America’s theme park capital, it’s go big or go home. Lucky for water park fans, the minds behind SeaWorld built Aquatica, a beautiful park that combines epic fun with captivating live animals. Take the Dolphin Plunge and plummet into an oasis populated by majestic Commerson’s dolphins or brave the tallest, steepest tower in town – Ihu’s Breakaway Falls – where riders know they’re in for a free fall, but never know who among them will break away first!
    Photo courtesy of Aquatica, SeaWorld's Waterpark

  • Water World

    Water World

    For those who like their attractions BIG, Water World’s a definite contender. At roughly 70 acres, it’s one of the nation’s largest – with wave pools, towering slides, interactive offerings and winding rivers from mild to wild. While rides like the Funhouse Express Gondola take guests high above the winding slides for a birds-eye view reminiscent of winter’s ski lifts, the new Warp Speed allows riders to cool down with a journey through an interstellar wormhole that’s both game and ride in one.
    Photo courtesy of Water World

  • Aquatica San Antonio

    Aquatica San Antonio
    San Antonio

    Are stingray touch tanks too tame for your tots? The encounters enjoyed at this Texas park take place in waist-deep water where families can touch, feed and marvel at beautiful cownose rays in a safe (but thrilling!) environment. Animal lovers will also enjoy Aquatica’s newest attraction, Roa’s Aviary, where hundreds of beautiful birds hop, soar and perch as guests float or wade below. And of course, more than a dozen other attractions round out thrilling, chilling, water park menu.
    Photo courtesy of Aquatica, SeaWorld's Waterpark

  • Noah's Ark

    Noah's Ark
    Wisconsin Dells, Wis.

    An apt name for a water park of Biblical proportions, Noah’s Ark is the apex: America’s largest. Enjoy body boarding on the Surfin’ Safari, spooky thrills (four choices in all) on the deep, dark Black Thunder slide, or test your waterslide mettle on the hair-raising Point of No Return, with its no-joke, near-vertical plunge. Take the whole family on a Time Warp, where a four-person raft sucks riders into the unknown. Bonus: it’s the world’s largest water-bowl ride to boot.
    Photo courtesy of Wisconsin Dells

  • Water Country USA

    Water Country USA
    Williamsburg, Va.

    Welcome to Virginia’s largest water park, where little ones enjoy colorful oases like the Critter Corral and the space-themed H2O UFO interactive water playground while the big kids (adults included) feed their need for speed on serious drop slides like Vanish Point. Excitement builds as riders step into the skybox. When the floor drops out, the high-adrenaline fun begins in earnest. On Jet Scream, single riders soar on 400-foot flumes, reaching speeds of 25 miles per hour!
    Photo courtesy of Water Country USA

  • Wet 'n Wild Emerald Pointe

    Wet 'n Wild Emerald Pointe
    Greensboro, N.C.

    The ride names here conjure intrigue – and endorphin-infused dread. Can your crew handle the Double Barrel Blast? Escape the Dragon’s Den or Dr. Von Dark’s Tunnel of Terror? Destroy the competition on the Riptide Racer? Step right up and try, but don’t forget to sample the thrills available on the Daredevil Drop, a 76-foot plummet that terrifies and delights riders with its freefall sensation before delivering them gently to a smooth, satisfying landing.
    Photo courtesy of Thinkstock

  • Dollywood's Splash Country

    Dollywood's Splash Country
    Pigeon Forge, Tenn.

    Dolly’s Smoky Mountain oasis offers up more than 24 slides and thrill rides for all ages. The littlest guests enjoy loads of interactive play time in places like the Cascades – a lagoon-style pool where hidden misters, bubblers and secret slides make for fun discovery. Thrill seekers, on the other hand, revel on rides like the RiverRush. It’s four stories of family fun on a water coaster with multiple drops, twists, turns – and even more laughs, screams and smiles.
    Photo courtesy of Dollywood's Splash Country

After four weeks of intense voting, Wilderness Resort in Wisconsin Dells, the "Waterpark Capital of the World," took home the title of Best Outdoor Water Park.

The top 10 winners in the category Best Outdoor Water Park are as follows:

  1. Wilderness Resort - Wisconsin Dells, Wis.
  2. Splashin' Safari - Santa Claus, Ind.
  3. Schlitterbahn New Braunfels - New Braunfels, Texas
  4. Aquatica Orlando - Orlando
  5. Water World - Denver
  6. Aquatica San Antonio - San Antonio
  7. Noah's Ark - Wisconsin Dells, Wis.
  8. Water Country USA - Williamsburg, Va.
  9. Wet 'n Wild Emerald Pointe - Greensboro, N.C.
  10. Dollywood's Splash Country - Pigeon Forge, Tenn.

A panel of experts picked the initial 20 nominees, and the top 10 winners were determined by popular vote. Experts Joanne DiBona (Scenic Photos), Eileen Ogintz (Taking the Kids) and Dave Parfitt ( were chosen based on their extensive knowledge of American water parks.

Other nominees for Best Outdoor Water Park included Adventure Island, Aquatica San Diego, Disney's Blizzard Beach, Disney's Typhoon Lagoon, Knott's Soak City Orange County, Raging Waters San Dimas, Schlitterbahn Galveston Island, Six Flags Hurricane Harbor, Soak City and White Water in Branson.

10Best and USA TODAY extend their congratulations to all the winners.


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Joanne and Tony DiBona

Joanne and Tony DiBona

Joanne and Tony DiBona

Eileen Ogintz

Eileen Ogintz

Eileen Ogintz

Dave Parfitt

Dave Parfitt

Dave Parfitt