Best Amusement Parks Near Chicago

Raging Waves (Photo: Courtesy Raging Waves)

Back in the day, if you wanted a thrill ride in Chicago, you could just head up Western Avenue between Belmont and Addison to Riverview Park. My parents talked about it my whole childhood, about how it was the most fun — they hit roller coasters with great names like The Comet, Silver Flash and The Fireball, a fun house with a collapsing staircase called Aladdin’s Castle, a Tilt-a-Whirl and, of course, the Tunnel of Love.

Sadly, Riverview closed in 1967 after more than 60 years. These days, if you want a thrill, you have to head north about an hour to Six Flags Great America or out west to Santa’s Village, a pretty tame kids amusement park. Don’t fret, though, when you get to your destination, you will be rewarded with some of the best amusement park rides to leave you breathless.

  1. Six Flags Great America. Whether you want to take in a show, watch your kids giggle on tamer rides or lose your stomach on one of more than a dozen thrill rides, Great America has it all. For speed freaks who love getting their heart-rate up to maximum, check out the classic American Eagle, the world’s tallest and fastest wooden roller coaster that first slowly climbs 127 feet, building up the anticipation to that first drop before flying through 4,650 feet of fast-paced excitement. Need more? Raging Bull, the longest, fastest and tallest coaster in the park, climbs 20 stories to get the ride rolling and then smoothly cruises at top speeds of nearly 75 miles an hour through twists, turns and hills. Ready to tame the bull?
  2. Navy Pier Ferris Wheel. Sure, it might be slow moving, but the Ferris Wheel at Navy Pier offers some of the best views in Chicago. This iconic ride, a modern version of the original that debuted at the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago, the Ferris Wheel gives 360-degree views of the entire city and out over Lake Michigan when you’re at the peak of 150 feet high. Talk about thrilling!
  3. Santa’s Village Azoosment Park. While the most excitement for adults here is seeing the smiles on your kid’s face, Santa’s Village is a blast for the little ones. Calling it an “azoosment park,” Santa’s Village combines rides with more than 200 animals, birds and fish for a day of fun and education for the kids. For the ultimate swing session, hop on board the Viking Sea Dragon. And to take speed to the next level, new for the 2015 season, the Wildcat Roller Coaster takes kids (accompanied by an adult) on a wild ride up and above the trees and through speedy turns.
  4. Safari Land. How much can happen at an indoor amusement park? More than you know. Between the Tilt-a-Whirl, bowling and nearly 200 video games, kids will have a blast. But strap into the Tiger Terror, Illinois’ largest indoor roller coaster, and the screams become deafening, yet so worth it.
  5. Raging Waves. Talking about the best thrill rides might have you thinking only about roller coasters. Have you plowed through a tube carried by rushing waters at super fast speeds only to be shot out into a pool at the end? Yeah, you know that feeling. Get thee to Raging Waves, Illinois’ largest water park. For a super-fast thrill, dive down 38 feet on PJ’s Plummet, the park’s tallest slide at seven stories or take a shot in the dark on the enclosed Tasmanian Twisters picking up fast speeds not knowing what direction you’re headed next.