America's coolest indoor water parks

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Endless summer—that’s the promise of indoor water parks. And with it come surfing contests hundreds of miles from an ocean, waves lapping at pools the size of small lakes, and bright beach towels spread over lounge chairs as snow falls outside the windows.

The coolest indoor water parks keep kids of all ages entertained, from Idaho to Texas to New Hampshire. While some also have outdoor rides that close at summer’s end, nothing can slow down the splashing excitement inside, where air temperatures remain between the high 70s and high 80s year round.

All big indoor water parks have several pools and many slides of different heights and lengths, so we looked for those with something special or unusual. Minnesota’s Water Park of America’s 90-foot-tall Eagle’s Nest Tower anchors four wild slides—one stretching more than a mile—while in Wisconsin, the Klondike Kavern’s Hurricane shoots riders up for a moment of weightlessness.

Klondike Kavern at Wilderness Resort, Wisconsin Dells, WI

The Hurricane would knock your socks off, if you wore any. Riding in a four-person raft, you  zoom down a 45-degree angle, scoot across a funnel at 20 mph, experience weightlessness, then drop into a splash pool—all while sound effects, strobes, and fog enhance the “hurricane” effect. Guests can take advantage of the resort’s three other indoor water parks: child-focused Cubby’s Cove, Wild WaterDome with a massive wave pool, and Wild West, which offers a Black Hole thrill ride and bumper boats that look like flying saucers. Registered guests only.

Palmetto and Palm Water Parks at Dunes Village Resort, Myrtle Beach, SC

With elephant figures squirting water from their trunks and bright car-rafts for tykes traveling down the Lazy River, Palmetto caters to the younger set. Resort guests pick up speed at the Palm Water Park, though, with its raucous Wild Winding Waterslide, and they accelerate even more on the Speed Slide. Still, Palm reveals its lighter side with a yellow-and-orange Silly Submarine full of holes and spraying water. Registered guests only.

Silver Rapids Indoor Water Park at Morning Star Lodge, Kellogg, ID

So what if Idaho lies 400 miles from an ocean—that hasn’t stopped Silver Rapids from hosting surfing competitions. Guests learn and improve with stand-up surfing lessons on the standing-wave FlowRider; for extra fun or practice, rent the FlowRider after hours. The park’s clear roof lets you tan while you surf, shoot water-basketball hoops, or dodge spraying fountains. Registered guests only.

Wings & Waves at Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum, McMinnville, OR

Sure, this water park’s 10 slides, 2,000 feet of sliding surfaces, and 91,000-gallon wave pool deliver thrills, but they’re also designed to inform about the power and science of water. Kids can build “tsunami-proof” models in classrooms and test them in the wave pool. And along the climb up 111 stairs to the Boeing 747 on the roof, posters explain how the plane “landed” there. The plane is the starting point for four water slides, including one that drops six stories.

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Splash Lagoon Indoor Water Park, Erie, PA

Large murals display lush, tranquil Polynesian scenes, but don’t be fooled: the rides and slides will get your adrenaline pumping. You can reach 40 mph while sliding down the Hurricane Hole, and other ride names also go for the extreme (Cyclone, Black Hole, Shark Attack, Python Plunge, Aqua Tumbler, Big Kahuna, Maui Wowie). When speed demons want a change, the Frog Pond whirlpool features tall amphibians, giant mushrooms, lily pads, and splashing “LeapFrog” fountains created by local artists.

Schlitterbahn Indoor Water Park, Galveston, TX

The Torrent River sends inner-tubers along a quarter-mile-long, 20-foot-wide wave-filled “river” circling past the twisting-in-the-dark Guada-Loopy Tube Chutes raft trip, the Faust und Furious enclosed-tube ride, and Torrent Beach. Want more waves? Go boogie boarding on the Boogie Bahn. Want fewer? Chill near the Beached-Boat Slide in the shallow Wasserfest Kids’ Area.

Water Park of America, Bloomington, MN

Going with the flow of Minnesota’s nickname (Land of 10,000 Lakes), the St. Croix River ride carries visitors in tubes near the Lake Superior wave pool and past Lake Itasca; surfers tackle waves on the Cascade Falls FlowRider. The 90-foot-tall Eagle’s Nest Tower anchors four wild slides: the 10th Floor Body Slide is the fastest while the Eagle’s Nest Family Raft zips groups of four through more than a mile of twisted tubing while dropping 10 stories.

Kahuna Laguna at the Red Jacket Mountain View Resort, North Conway, NH

The ceiling looks like it was made of palm fronds, and such tropical decorations give the park the feel of a giant tiki hut. At the “beach,” alternating patterns of three-foot crisscrossing waves in the 67,000-gallon Wiki Wave Pool create challenges for body surfers. Want an outside view? From the top of the Slide Tower, guests look out at Mount Washington, and in winter they can scoot down the slides while watching skiers schuss down the slopes of Mount Cranmore. Registered guests only.

Kalahari Water Park at Kalahari Resort, Sandusky, OH

The resort’s African motifs extend to the water park, where rides include the Crocodile Cove (a 3,000-square-foot activity pool), Cheetah Mat Racers (a four-lane competitive slalom racing slide), Rippling Rhino (a 400-foot-long enclosed family-raft slide), Tanzanian Twister (combination flume and funnel), and the lazy Zambezi River. At 173,000 square feet, Kalahari is America’s largest indoor water park—no wonder it can hold so much of “Africa.”

Avalanche Bay, Boyne Falls, MI

When the clock tower chimes at this quirky Alpine village–like water park, the four-story Splasherhorn playhouse dumps an 800-gallon liquid “avalanche” on the “streets,” building fronts, and citizens below. The adventurous can ascend a climbing wall while water pours down from above or go boogie boarding on the Rip Zone Surf Simulator.

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