The self-proclaimed roller coaster capital of the world lives up to its title with 16 scream machines on a 365-acre Lake Erie peninsula. While rides and attractions have come and gone since the park's 1870 opening, the fun beachside vibe remains (419/627-2350; cedarpoint.com).
Big Thrill: Launch from 0 to 120 mph in less than 4 seconds, then race up a 42-story vertical hill on Top Thrill Dragster (pictured far left), only to spiral down again. It's 17 seconds of breathtaking fun.
Family Favorite: Enjoy stunning views of Lake Erie and the park from the 14-story Giant Wheel, one of the largest Ferris wheels in North America.
Travel Tip: The historic on-site Hotel Breakers offers beach access, discounted tickets and early entry into the park.
Cedar Point 
State-of-the-art roller coasters and a 20-acre water park draw visitors to this popular park 45 minutes northwest of Chicago. Cap off your day with the nighttime illuminated parade (847/249-4636; sixflags.com/greatAmerica).
Big Thrill: Imagine riding a roller coaster with no track above or below you. It's possible with X Flight, a 3,000-foot-long wing coaster that dives into five inversions.
Family Favorite: Take a ride on the grand Columbia Carousel (pictured), a double-decker classic standing 10 stories tall.
Travel TIp: Avoid sticker shock at the front gate (admission is $59.99 for adults) by purchasing tickets online for an impressive $20 discount.
Ozark culture mixes with traditional theme park fare on this scenic wooded property near Table Rock Lake. More than 100 craftspeople sell wares -- from jewelry to homemade candy -- among the park's 30 rides and attractions (800/475-9370; bransonsilverdollarcity.com).
Big Thrill: WildFire (pictured) zips brave riders through five inversions at speeds reaching 66 mph. Admire the beautiful view before plunging down the 15-story drop.
Family Favorite: Prepare to get soaked on the Lost River of the Ozarks rapids ride. Circular rafts take groups of six through torrential waters and a misty cave.
Travel Tip: When it comes to amusement park food, Silver Dollar City reigns. Swing by Sullivan's Mill for a loaf of Frank Capps' to-die-for cinnamon bread.
Silver Dollar City 
This holiday-themed park in tiny Santa Claus simply can't be beat in the water slide department. Nowhere else can you ride the world's tallest water ride (Pilgrim's Plunge) and two of the world's longest water coasters in the same day (877/463-2645; holidayworld.com).
Big Thrill: Roller coaster enthusiasts come in droves to ride The Voyage, a 1.2-mile wooden giant delivering 24 seconds of weightlessness during the nearly 3-minute ride.
Family Favorite: Splashin' Safari's two water coasters, Mammoth (pictured) and Wildebeest, are the most popular rides in the park. Arrive early for a thrilling journey without a long wait on these megaslides.
Travel Tip: Take advantage of the free unlimited soft drinks included with admission. Fill up at any self-serve drink station.
You can see the multitude of towering thrill rides — and an impressive replica of the Eiffel Tower — from miles away. Walk through the front gates and you'll find enough family rides, shops and live entertainment to easily fill two days (513/754-5700; visitkingsisland.com).
Big Thrill: Catch a breeze from 300 feet in the air on WindSeeker. This spinning swing provides views of up to 18 miles on a clear day — if you don't close your eyes.
Family Favorite: Scale replicas of 1800s locomotives transport guests to and from Soak City Waterpark on the K.I. and Miami Valley Railroad. Have the camera out during this scenic eight-minute trip.
Travel Tip: Thrill seekers love to hit the Beast and Diamondback coasters first thing in the morning. Save these rides for later in the day to avoid long lines.
Kings Island 
Families love this suburban Minneapolis park for classic favorites like the High Roller wooden coaster, but there's always something new happening, too. The 2011 addition of 17 Peanuts-themed attractions at Planet Snoopy (pictured) has been a huge hit with kids (952/445-7600; valleyfair.com).
Big Thrill: Choose to be blasted into the sky or dropped back to Earth on the 275-foot Power Tower. It's a rush you and your stomach won't soon forget.
Family Favorite: Cruise along Antique Autos' 1,100 feet of track in a replica of a 1910 Cadillac touring car. The ride is one of a handful that's been around since the park's opening in 1976.
Travel Tip: Visit the Pepsi Imax Theater on hot days to cool off, rest your legs and enjoy an intriguing documentary film.
Loosely based on Jules Verne's Around the World in 80 Days, Kansas City's premier park takes you through themed areas like Scandinavia and the Orient, providing traditional rides and attractions with a fun twist (816/454-4545; worldsoffun.com).
Big Thrill: Scream through multiple dives and loops on Patriot (pictured), a 15-story-tall inverted (hanging) coaster that reaches speeds of 65 mph.
Family Favorite: Join the Peanuts gang for Snoopy's Hot Summer Lights, an illuminated extravaganza held on nights when the park closes at 9 p.m. or later.
Travel Tip: Enter the Scandinavia Plaza at 9:30 a.m. for Fast Fun, a daily park ritual including trivia and prizes.
Worlds of Fun 
Enjoy the nostalgia wave at this charming waterfront amusement park on Lake Okoboji. We love that some things never get old here, like the giggles we get on the Tilt-A-Whirl or the tempting smell of a funnel cake (712/332-2183; arnoldspark.com).
Big Thrill: The Legend Roller Coaster started thrilling guests back in 1927, and the ride still delivers. The 13th oldest wooden coaster in the United States feels a little rickety, but that's what makes it fun.
Family Favorite: Savor the beautiful lake views from the Ferris wheel. Take a spin during the day and then again at night for a change of scenery.
Travel Tip: Don't let a cool or cloudy day scare you away from the park. In fact, it's the best time to visit. One of our writers rode the Legend 26 times on a drizzly day because there were no lines!
Arnolds Park 
Michigan's largest amusement and water park features more than 60 rides and attractions, including seven roller coasters and more than a dozen water slides. It also offers one of the most reasonable ticket prices for such a big park (231/766-3377; miadventure.com).
Big Thrill: Annually ranked one of the best wooden roller coasters in the world, Shivering Timbers never lets up on its 1-mile journey, reaching top speeds of 65 mph while delivering plenty of weightless moments along the way.
Family Favorite: Take a relaxing break on the Swan Boats, but try not to paddle yourself into the spray of a water fountain— unless you're looking for a refreshing cooldown.
Travel Tip: After getting soaked on one of the park's many water rides, hit the Flying Trapeze swing ride for a soaring spin cycle.
Michigan's Adventure 
An area loosely themed to resemble the 1904 World's Fair welcomes guests to this sprawling park 30 minutes from downtown St. Louis. From the fair, branch off into an eclectic mix of themed areas, including the whimsical Bugs Bunny National Park and the action-packed DC Comics Plaza (636/938-5300; sixflags.com/stLouis).
Big Thrill: Watch the floor drop underneath you, then plummet down the Bonzai Pipeline slide at Hurricane Harbor water park. The clear tubes allow spectators to catch every terrifying moment.
Family Favorite: The park's first roller coaster, River King Mine Train (pictured), provides just enough speed and quick turns to excite the whole clan.
Travel Tip: You'll want to catch at least one of the quality shows while you're in the park. Stop by Guest Relations or any of the show venues to pick up a schedule.
Six Flags St. Louis 
It's hard to miss this colorful indoor park when you visit Bloomington's Mall of America. A variety of innovative rides and attractions offers more entertainment than you ever thought could fit into 7 acres (952/883-8800; nickelodeonuniverse.com).
Big Thrill: Climb into a shell and grab your wings on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Shell Shock (pictured), a partially self-controlled flight that swoops and dives over the park.
Family Favorite: You'll have a run-in with Minnesota's legendary Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox before careening down a 40-foot drop on the Log Chute.
Travel Tip: If you're only here for a few rides and not the entire day, purchase a point pass instead of a wristband to save some dough.
Nickelodeon Universe 
Built as a private beach resort in 1892, Bay Beach continues to be a family destination offering 18 rides and a dance hall along the shores of Green Bay. We love that most rides cost just 25 to 50 cents, although a spin on the roller coaster is well worth "splurging" a buck (920/448-3365; baybeach.org).
Big Thrill: The Zippin Pippin roller coaster (pictured) is Bay Beach's biggest ride — and also its biggest success story. The park enjoyed a nearly 50 percent increase in revenue the year after it was installed in 2010.
Family Favorite: Enjoy a game of bumper tag on classic Bumper Cars.
Travel Tip: It's not just the rides that are affordable here. Dig into nachos, snow cones, cotton candy and more from one of the concession stands— all for $1.50 or less.
Bay Beach 
Fifteen minutes east of Des Moines, Adventureland boasts beautiful landscaping and friendly employees as well as more than 100 rides, shows and attractions. A recent water park expansion added 13 slides, lazy river and swim-up bar (515/266-2121; adventurelandpark.com).
Big Thrill: A burst of energy launches riders 200 feet into the air on Space Shot (pictured), Adventureland's tallest attraction. Enjoy the view as a cushion of air gently brings you back to Earth.
Family Favorite: Glide across the treetops on Sky Ride, a ski lift-style attraction purchased from the World's Fair in 1975.
Travel Tip: Arrive early and head straight for Adventure Bay water park, because it gets crowded in the afternoon, especially on summer weekends.
Opened in 1926, Indiana Beach continues to be a Midwest Coney Island with its classic carnivallike atmosphere along Lake Shafer. This vibe hasn't changed (and that's a good thing) despite the addition of more modern attractions, including zip lines and a high ropes course (574/583-4141; indianabeach.com).
Big Thrill: As if a vertical plunge wasn't enough, the Steel Hawg roller coaster's first drop is 111 degrees— the steepest in the United States.
Family Favorite: Catch the wind and steer your plane over the waters of Lake Shafer on Air Crow, a swing ride that lets you choose your thrill level.
Travel Tip: Don't miss the Water Thrill Show and Dive Spectacular, a three-times-daily performance including a flaming high dive and gravity-defying acrobatics on the lake.
Indiana Beach 
No matter the weather, this impressive Dells resort keeps the fun going with outdoor and indoor amusement parks and water parks. Stay on site at the Hotel Rome for all-inclusive access to the parks' towering roller coasters, water slides and go-kart tracks (608/254-8560; mtolympuspark.com).
Big Thrill: You won't find a taller and faster coaster in the Dells than Hades (pictured), a 160-foot-tall wooden giant that dives into the world's longest underground coaster tunnel at speeds reaching 70 mph.
Family Favorite: The Lost City of Atlantis water complex includes seven family-friendly slides and a geyser that blasts water more than 120 feet into the sky.
Travel Tip: If you're staying on-site, you can also enjoy free championship golf and no cover charge to the nearby WETT Nightclub.