Outdoor water parks worth the drive from Chicago

Summer break may be coming to a close soon, but there’s still plenty of time to hit the road for a day trip or mini vacation. If your family loves to splash, slide or surf, you’ll want to make the trek to these fun water parks, where both kids and parents will have a blast.

Magic Waters

Distance from Chicago: 85 miles, Rockford

Reason to go: Worried about bringing both your hard-to-impress preteen and your active toddler along? This park has got you covered. There’s something for everyone, from thrill rides to kids play areas, along with plenty of family attractions. Adventure seekers won’t want to miss the Double Dare Drop, a pair of body slides that plunge you 75 feet down in a near-vertical drop. Littles can hang at Tiki Island, featuring 12,000 square feet of slides, waterfalls and endless opportunities to splash and play. When you’re ready to take it easy, the whole family can chill out on innertubes and catch some rays on the Splash Magic River.

Need to know: Six Flags now owns Magic Waters, so Six Flags members can get free admission to the waterpark (along with dozens of other theme and water parks across the country!).

Deep River Waterpark

Distance from Chicago: 77 miles, Crown Point, IN

Reason to go: Slide lovers, this is the place for you. Epic free falls, twists and turns and tube rides through the darkness await visitors at Deep River on attractions like The Kraken Racer and The Storm. Big groups can enjoy a little friendly competition at the Water Wars challenge game (slingshot water balloons, anyone?). There are also two relaxing lazy rivers, body slides, a massive wave pool and areas for little kids to climb, slide and play.

Need to know: The fun still continues during the winter! From November to February, Deep River becomes a huge ice skating rink, thanks to refrigeration underneath the attractions.

Mystic Waters

Distance from Chicago: 20 miles, Des Plaines

Reason to go: Mystic Waters is part of the Des Plaines Park District, but it’s still an impressive destination for families who don’t want a long road trip. Activities here include 37-foot slides, a zero-depth leisure pool with fountains and jet sprays and a lazy river for tubing. Littles can stay safe and have a blast at Beluga Beach, a splash pad with non-slip surfaces and zero free-standing water that’s perfect for non-swimmers.

Need to know: Feel free to bring your own lunch here, but there’s a $5 fee for coolers. Admission is discounted from 6 p.m. to close and kids under two are always free!

Raging Waves

Distance from Chicago: 48 miles

Reason to go: Regarded as the “largest water park in Illinois,” Raging Waves has so many attractions, you won’t know where to begin. If you’re in a daring mood, climb aboard a raft and ride The Boomerang, a slide that shoots you 40 feet straight into a giant tunnel. The best part? Three other people can join you on the thrill ride, so you won’t be screaming alone. Not a fan of rides? The Great Barrier Reef wave pool allows for body surfing and tube riding that still packs plenty of punch. And make sure to bring the toddlers to check out Quokka-Nut Island, the all-new interactive kid’s area, featuring slides, play features and a zero-depth pool.

Need to know: Outside food and drinks aren’t allowed (with the exception of factory-sealed water bottles), but the park does have restaurants and food carts to fill those hungry, post-pool bellies.

Noah’s Ark

Distance from Chicago: 198 miles, Wisconsin Dells, WI

Reason to go: Wisconsin Dells is known as the “Water Park Capital of the World,” but with so many heart-pounding attractions, Noah’s Ark stands out among the crowd. If your teens have ever wanted to learn how to surf, they can grab a board and ride Surfing Safari, which emulates ocean-like waves. Adventure-seekers will love riding Raja, where riders race each other through over 300 feet of twists and turns on side-by-side tubes before plunging 37 feet into a King Cobra’s mouth. Kiddie areas, a toddler zone and endless rides will keep your family occupied all day long.

Need to know: Noah’s Ark isn’t your average waterpark. If you’re in need of a break from the sun, there’s a 4-D movie theater, mini golf and multiple restaurants to choose from. Oh, and parents, there are a few bar areas scattered throughout the park, too!


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