10 Unexpectedly Quirky Theme Parks You Need to Visit

Affiliate Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links. There is no additional cost to you and it helps support our future adventures.

Modern-day corporate theme parks have become overcrowded and overpriced. Who wants to spend thousands of dollars to take the family to a park just to stand in line for hours?

Luckily, there are still plenty of family friendly, locally owned theme parks scattered around the country that are big on fun and low on price. These parks range from themed attractions like Paul Bunyan Land to old-fashioned parks complete with wooden roller coasters and restored steam engines brought back from the gold rush lands of Alaska.

So pack up the family and hit the road to find some fun a bit off the beaten path this summer.

Knoebels – Pennsylvania

Knoebels is a free-admission amusement park for families.
Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com

Knoebels Amusement Resort may be the ultimate budget-friendly family destination, as it charges absolutely nothing for admission. A family destination in central Pennsylvania since its opening in 1926, this affordable resort offers free parking, free admission, and free picnic tables every day of the season.

That said, some parts of the park require paid tickets, like the roller coasters. Speaking of which, Knoebels is home to the #1 rated wooden roller coaster in the world! They also offer family-friendly rides like the Antique Cars, Bumper Cars, and Giant Flume.

Don’t miss the all-you-can-eat spaghetti and fish fry nights on Wednesdays and Fridays, respectively.

Hersheypark – Pennsylvania

Hershey’s Chocolate World building near the main entrance area to Hersheypark.
Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com

Originally created as a way for employees of the Hershey’s chocolate factory to relax, Hersheypark is now a destination resort featuring traditional theme park rides and a waterpark.

Rides like the Candymonium, Cocoa Cruiser, and Jolly Rancher Remix ensure you won’t forget that you’re in a candy-themed park. Hershey’s candy mascots roam the grounds to provide the peanut butter cup photo-op you never knew you needed.

Don’t miss the desserts in the Chocolatier Restaurant, which features, you guessed it, Hershey’s-themed indulgences.

Storybook Land – New Jersey

Storybook  Land in Mays Landing N.J is all ready for the holidays
Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com

Storybook Land is a family-friendly theme park that has been delighting children since 1955. You won’t find any rides with big drops or splash zones, but what you will find is a fairytale-themed park that is both affordable and fun, and accessible for even the tiniest visitors. 

Try the construction-themed Work Zone ride, or let your kids pilot their cars on the Old Tymers track.

Don’t miss their holiday and seasonal-themed days when the park is dressed up in its finest seasonal garb.

Carousel Gardens – Louisiana

Photo Credit: New Orleans City Park Conservancy

If you’ve ever wanted to ride a 100+ year old hand carved wooden carousel then Carousel Gardens is the spot for you. For just $25, you can get unlimited rides on the historical carousel along with the other 17 rides within the park.

These include traditional favorites like the Tilt-A-Whirl, Bumper Cars, Train, and Ladybug Roller Coaster.

Don’t miss Storyland, an enchanted playground where your kid’s favorite story characters come to life.

Gilroy Gardens Family Theme Park – California

Gilroy Gardens signage outside of the theme park with green grass and trees in the background
Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com

Since 1977, Gilroy Gardens Family Theme Park has been spreading fun and the love of horticulture at this botanical-themed amusement park. Located just south of the Bay Area, Gilroy Gardens was dreamed up by the Bonfante family as a way to spread their love of trees and horticulture to a younger generation.

Today, the amusement park features traditional land and water-based rides as well as six different themed gardens spread throughout the grounds.

Don’t miss the Green Barn, an immersive learning space that combines science and nature.

Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park – Colorado

Photo Credit: Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park

What trip to a theme park is complete without riding down an alpine slide, strolling past larger-than-life trolls, and touring real-life caves (the bats here ARE NOT animatronic).

This theme park, located deep in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, uses the area’s natural caverns to create an out-of-this-world adventure.

Don’t miss the world’s only underground drop ride, which falls 110 feet deep into Iron Mountain.

Holiday World & Splashin’ Safari – Indiana

Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com

Originally known as Santa Claus Land, Holiday World began as a place for children to visit when coming to the same named Santa Claus, Indiana, hoping to catch a glimpse of Santa.

Today, the park has grown beyond Santa Claus but still stays in the holiday spirit with rides like Dasher’s Seahorses, Turkey Whirl, and Gobbler Getaway.

With the addition of the Splashin’ Safari, you can break up the day and keep cool by hitting the waterslides and wave pool.

Don’t miss the nightly holidays in the Sky drone and fireworks show.

Enchanted Forest – Oregon

Snow covered buildings at enchanted forest theme park near Salem Oregon
Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com

Anyone who has traveled along I-5 in Oregon has probably noticed the small parking lot and medieval themed sign for the Enchanted Forest. Oregonians know the magic that lies within, but I’m here to tell you that this is a place that you have to see to believe.

This family-owned, fairytale-themed park was initially built by hand, one bag of cement at a time, and has since grown to include rides like the Big Timber Log Ride, Ice Mountain Bobsled Roller Coaster, and the delightfully kitschy Challenge of Modor.

No stop to the Enchanted Forest is complete without snapping a photo inside the mouth of the giant witch that watches over the park.

Tweetsie Railroad – North Carolina

The big toy train at Tweetsie Railroad theme park for kids up in the smokey mountains with black smoke and tourist passengers having a good run time.
Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com

Tweetsie Railroad is a Wild West-themed park that goes beyond the traditional rides with family-friendly activities like gold panning and gem mining. This North Carolina theme park first opened its doors in 1957 and has been a family destination ever since.

The park is home to two historical narrow-gauge steam locomotives—Engine No. 12 from the East Tennessee and Western North Carolina Railroad and Engine No. 90, which ran from Skagway, Alaska, to Whitehorse, the capital of Yukon, Canada.

Don’t miss the Deer Park Zoo, where you can get close to family-friendly animals like emus and babydoll sheep.

Paul Bunyan Land – Minnesota

Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox
Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com

Deep in the heart of central Minnesota lies a theme park with a 26-foot-tall talking Paul Bunyan statue. If that doesn’t convince you to add this theme park to your must-visit summer designation list, then I don’t know what will.

Paul Bunyan Land is a (you guessed it) Paul Bunyan theme amusement park with traditional park rides, a replica pioneer village, and an RV-friendly campground, as the park is a bit out in the country.

Don’t miss the talking Paul Bunyan statue, where he may just know the names of each of the youngsters who visit him.

About the author
Derek Carlson
Pacific Northwest native, cross-country skier, hiker, mountain biker, wannabe fly fisherman, writer and owner of Roam the Northwest