5 Must-Visit Summer Vacation Experiences

These are the country’s best water parks, splash pads, theme parks and dude ranches

With summer upon us, 10Best set out to find America’s top summer vacation experiences, especially for families traveling with kids – theme parks, indoor and outdoor water parks, splash pads and dude ranches. They enlisted a panel of family travel experts to help us narrow down the field to 20 nominees per category, then asked their readers to vote for their favorites.

After four weeks of voting, the results are in!

Best Amusement Park: Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio

Cedar Point calls itself the Roller Coaster Capital of the World — Photo courtesy of Cedar Point

Located on a Lake Erie peninsula in Sandusky, Ohio, Cedar Point bills itself as “the roller coaster capital of the world” with 17 thrilling coasters covering 10 miles of track (out of more than 70 total rides). The 364-acre park has a history dating back to 1870, making it the second oldest continually operated amusement park on the continent, and it’s managed to maintain that classic park feel, complete with 3 miles of midway and one of the only operating D.C. Muller carousels in the world.

Best Outdoor Water Park: Splashin’ Safari in Santa Claus, Ind.

A highlight at Splashin’ Safari is a seven-story water coaster called Mammoth — Photo courtesy of Holiday World & Splashin’ Safari

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.

Best Indoor Water Park: Great Wolf Lodge (multiple locations)

Families can choose between 16 Great Wolf Lodge locations for an all-seasons vacation — Photo courtesy of Great Wolf Lodge

In the heart of these family-friendly resorts (with 16 locations from coast to coast) are large indoor water parks kept at 84 degrees. Great Wolf Lodge’s classic rides include waterslides, mat slides, wave pools, adults-only hot tubs and zero-entry pools for the little ones. After the excitement, guests can retreat to the themed suites, like the Wolf Den Suite, with its cave-themed kids’ sleeping area. Popular Great Wolf Lodge locations include Wisconsin Dells, Williamsburg, Pocono Mountains, Grand Mound and Concord.

Best Splash Pad: Seattle Center International Fountain in Seattle

The Seattle Center fountain is a perfect (and free) place to cool off on hot summer afternoons — Photo courtesy of Seattle Center

The International Fountain, a centerpiece from the World’s Fair at the Seattle Center, has been transformed into a giant splash pad where kids (and adults) can splash in the fountain bowl or venture right up to the smooth silver dome at its center.

Best Dude Ranch: Cherokee Park Ranch in Livermore, Colo.

Cherokee Park Ranch was voted the best dude ranch in the USA — Photo courtesy of Cherokee Park Ranch

One of Colorado’s first guest ranches, Cherokee Park Ranch was once a stagecoach stop between Fort Collins, Colo. and Laramie, Wyo. Today, guests enjoy a range of all-inclusive activities, from horseback riding and fishing to art classes and square dancing. Accommodations include suites in a 120-year-old lodge and six outlying cabins, each equipped with porch swings.

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