North Carolina Theme Parks and Amusement Parks

Where to Find Roller Coasters, Rides, and Fun

The Hurricane at the North Carolina State Fair
The Hurricane at the North Carolina State Fair. Brian Vetter/Getty Images

The popular Carowinds Park is the one major amusement park in North Carolina, which is actually located on the border of both North and South Carolina, but there are also a number of smaller parks and places to find fun in the state if you're looking for a family day-trip to take during your summer vacation.

Although there used to be more amusement parks across the state, especially in the mid-1900s when these parks first came into major popularity, many of the old parks have closed down due to a lack of customer interest.

Before we get to North Carolina parks that are open, here are some resources to find nearby fun places and make travel plans including North Carolina water parksSouth Carolina theme parks, and even some Tennessee theme parks and water parks.

  • 01 of 08

    A Brief History of North Carolina Amusement Parks

    There used to be a few more parks, including two Lakewood Parks. One, which opened in 1910 and closed in 1933, was located in Charlotte and featured the Scenic Railway wooden coaster while the other, located in Durham, operated from 1902 through 1935 and featured its own wooden coaster.

    Meanwhile, Cherokee used to be home to parks other than Santa Land (which still operates) including Frontier Land, which operated from 1962 to 1982. Additionally, Jubilee Park was open from 1977 through 2004 in Carolina Beach.

    Although these parks have closed, along with a few ghost towns that are now truly abandoned, there are still seven great parks to check out, listed below in alphabetical order.

  • 02 of 08
    Carolina Cobra rollercoaster
    Carolina Cobra rollercoaster at Carowinds. Mike Liu/Flickr

    If you're looking for a traditional yet exciting theme park, Carowinds is North Carolina's biggest and best attraction. This huge theme park has one of the largest collection of roller coasters in the world, including the incredibly tall and fast Fury 325, the hyper-coaster Intimidator, and the inverted coaster Afterburn.

    You can read more about each of these rides in our guide "Carowinds' Roller Coaster Reviews," which also features the Carolina Harbor water park that is included in admission price when visiting Carowinds.

  • 03 of 08
    Carolina Beach Ferris Wheel
    Courtesy of Wilmington and Beaches CVB

    There are a few rides and activities, such as a Ferris wheel and mini-golf, along the classic seaside boardwalk, but it's nowhere near as large as Carowinds. Still, the Carolina Beach Boardwalk in Carolina Beach is perfect for a day spent on the water while relaxing with some traditional carnival-style games.

    Guests can enjoy boardwalk foods like hot dogs and giant pretzels, try their hand at a few carnival games like ring toss, or just enjoy all the sights and sounds of this popular tourist destination throughout the summer.

  • 04 of 08
    Frankie's Fun Park
    Frankie's Fun Park

    The family fun center includes go-karts, an arcade, and a few rides such as bumper boats, the Sidewinder pendulum ride, and the spinning WindStarz as well as "the best mini-golf in Raleigh."

    Other fun attractions include the Dark Ride XD, the Fun House obstacle course, laser tag, a batting cage, the Drop Zone, the Spider Web, and a number of great restaurants and snack shops to satisfy your hunger during an active day at this amusement park.

    Continue to 5 of 8 below.
  • 05 of 08
    Galaxy Fun Park
    Galaxy Fun Park

    The Galaxy Fun Park is another family-fun center with go-karts, bumper cars, trampolines, laser tag, and a ropes course located in Raleigh, NC. Keep in mind that Galaxy Fun Park does not allow open-toed shoes including flip flops, sandals, or heels due to the nature of activities offered at this amusement center.

  • 06 of 08
    Santa's Land
    Santa's Land

    This small Christmas-themed amusement park and zoo includes the Rudicoaster roller coaster, a Ferris wheel, a carousel, and a few other rides while animal exhibits include deer, monkeys, bears, exotic birds, and kangaroos. Even though the park is only open during the summer, Santa is on hand to greet kids and take note of their off-season holiday wish lists.

  • 07 of 08
    Tweetsie Railroad
    Tweetsie Railroad

    The train-themed park features a three-mile ride through the North Carolina mountains on an authentic narrow-gauge, coal-fired steam train. Other attractions include covered wagon rides, a carousel, a chairlift ride up to Miner’s Mountain, a small zoo, gold panning and gem mining, a Ferris wheel, and other spinning rides.

  • 08 of 08
    WagonMaster Adventure Ranch
    WagonMaster Adventure Ranch

    This small family fun park includes mini-golf, wagon rides, gold panning, live animals, skeet shooting, and a bouncy castle as well as camping and RV sites on-premise for overnight accommodations. Nearby, the Smokey Mountains are full of creeks and rivers that are great for summer swimming and fly fishing.