8 Excellent Small Theme Parks With Affordable Tickets

by  Zachary Laks | Nov 6, 2018
Coast Rider at Knotts Berry Farm
Coast Rider at Knotts Berry Farm / Photo courtesy of the park

Vintage theme parks evoke a sense of nostalgia. Even better? They cost considerably less than the bigger, busier parks. These charming attractions harken to a bygone era of simpler, less high-tech joys. Picture walking through a crowd where handmade caramel apples and fudge are being made, while screams from roller coasters fill the air. These smaller, less commercialized theme parks won’t make you compromise thrills for bills.

Elysburg, Pennsylvania


Admission: Free

The country’s largest free admission park, Knoebels, is much more than just a bargain. The park emanates an old-world charm that harkens back to the simpler times of country living, while making space for incredible rides. Knoebels celebrated a triumphant triple crown at this year’s Golden Ticket Awards with top wins for best food, best carousel, and best wooden coaster (Phoenix), which is only $3 to ride. 

How to get there: Worth the trip, Knoebels is set remotely in central Pennsylvania. The park is about an hour and a half drive from Harrisburg, and a three-hour drive from New York City.

Buena Park, California

Knott's Berry Farm

Admission: From $48, with weekdays and off-peak weeks less expensive.

A refreshing change of pace from some of California’s all-consuming parks, Knott’s Berry Farm embodies the warmth and charm of an old-world farm village while still packing plenty of excitment throughout. New this year is Hangtime, the first and only dive coaster in California that zips through a compact track of twists, turns, and inversions at speeds up to 57 miles per hour. No trip to the park is complete without a visit to Mrs. Knott's Chicken Dinner Restaurant. Operating since 1934, the restaurant offers a step back in time to when the property was used as an actual boysenberry farm. These days you’ll find the boysenberries are still around, best appreciated in their homemade pies and craft cocktails.

How to get there: You’ll need a car to get to Knott’s Berry Farm but it’s not too far from the main attractions in L.A. It’s about a 35 minute drive from LAX airport and the same from downtown.

Salem, New Hampshire

Canobie Lake Park

Admission: $39 at the gate for adults and $29 for seniors and children under 48″. Admission is $26 for everybody after 5 p.m. Children 3 and under are free.

Canobie Lake Park has been a classic New England family draw since 1902 when it was founded as a trolley park. Then the precursors to today’s amusement parks, trolley parks offered a gathering place at the end of the line for recreation and fun. Canobie has grown to meet the demand of family fun through the decades, now operating over 50 rides including three roller coasters. Expect a clean park that is well maintained, short waits for rides, and plenty of good theme park food.

How to get there: The park is about an hour and a half north drive from Boston, while only thirty minutes from Manchester, New Hampshire.

Branson, Missouri

Silver Dollar City

Admission: Adult (12-61) $65, Child (4-11) $53, Senior (62+) $63

Distinct for its brilliant commitment to theme, Silver Dollar City recreates the industrious Ozarks of the 1880s. Craftsmen fill the park’s many shops and stalls with old-time whimsy and continuous demonstrations. Here, blacksmiths create unconventional cookware, candles are hand-poured, chocolates are custom crafted, and leather is worked into fashion accessories. For those seeking adventure, Silver Dollar City does not disappoint. The park’s newest coaster, Time Traveler, is a record breaker and a head-turner as it free spins riders throughout three wild inversions.

How to get there: About a twenty minute drive from Branson, MO, Silver Dollar City is best visited by car. The most accessible airport near Branson is Springfield, about a fifty minute drive north.

Santa Claus, Indiana

Holiday World

Admission: $49.99 for General Admission and $39.99 for Under 54″/ Senior (60+) Admission. Children ages two and younger get in free.

Holiday World knows how to make the best of every day, using the wonder of Christmas, Halloween, Thanksgiving, and the Fourth of July to mark distinctly themed areas throughout its 125 acre oasis. There’s incredible value with an unusual list of freebies including free soft drinks (Gatorade, lemonade, iced tea, coffee, and water), free sunscreen kiosks, and most importantly, free parking. The waterpark is the main attraction throughout the summer months, especially with Mammoth, the world’s longest water coaster that takes riders through a three minute splash course.

How to get there: Your best bet on getting to Holiday World is a car. The ride to the parks is about an hour from Evansville, Indiana and an hour and fifteen minutes from Louisville, Kentucky.

Cascade, Colorado

Santa’s Workshop

Admission: $24.00 per person for ages 3–59. Under 3 and 60 or older are free.

The North Pole by way of Colorado, Santa’s Workshop brings the joy of Christmas from May through the December. The family centric park features more than 25 rides, all geared towards the younger set. Shows throughout the day keep all ages entertained, while the main attraction remains a visit to Santa’s house to make early requests prior to his annual visit. 

How to get there: The park sits in at the Northern end of Pikes Peak, about a twenty minute drive outside of Colorado Springs. Parking is free at Santa's Workshop.

Bristol, Connecticut

Lake Compounce

Admission: Regular Admission $45.99 (52"& Taller), Junior Admission $32.99 (Under 52"), ages 3 & under free, Senior Admission $21.99 (60 years & older)

Lake Compounce is perhaps most sought out for its rollicking Boulder Dash roller coaster. A one-of-a-kind chaotic journey into the depths of the woods, Boulder Dash races at breakneck speeds while tightly huging a hillside. With its impressive airtime, distance, and all-around thrill factor, Boulder Dash has been named the wooden coaster of the year in 2004, four years after it opened, and then reigned supreme as number one from 2013 to 2016. Bringing a more modern ride to the park, Phobia Phear Coaster is New England’s first triple-launch steel coaster that rockets up 150 feet where a numbing cobra roll awaits.  

How to get there: Lake Compounce is a twenty five drive from Hartford, CT.

Hershey, Pennsylvania


Admission: Regular Ages 9-54 $39.95, Junior & Senior Ages 3-8 / 55+ $29.95

A park as sweet as its namesake, Hershey Park has perfected the theme park experience for all ages.  From its remarkably Sky Rush coaster to its more formidable family thrills like its winning Laff Trakk coaster, Herhseypark is all-encompassing. The park recently announced a mega expansion over the course of the next two years, which will include a new main entry gate and a towering giga coaster expected by 2020.

How to get there: Hersheypark is a 20-minute drive outside of Harrisburg, PA and two hours west of Philadelphia.

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