How to get soaking wet this summer

Story highlights

  • America's water parks offer thrills from New York to Florida to California
  • They're the modern equivalent of 1900s pleasure beaches, expert says
  • Water park trends include "bowl rides" and uphill water coasters

During a summer when temperatures flirt with never-before-seen highs, millions of Americans are streaming to water parks.

Not just in sunny Florida -- but stretching from Long Island, New York, to Wisconsin, to Colorado, to Texas and California -- sprawling facilities offer a wonderful oasis from this year's blistering heat.

As they've grown in numbers and size over the decades, water parks have become more than just tourist attractions. Some areas, like Federal Hills, Colorado, own them and embrace them as social anchors of the community. In traditional vacation spots like Orlando, Florida, water amusement facilities have become adventure destinations that families find themselves returning to again and again.

Water parks have become "kind of the modern day equivalent of the pleasure beaches that were popular back at the turn of the 20th century," said Martin Palicki, editor-in-chief of the trade publication inPark Magazine.

In this case, a shoreline isn't required -- just free-flowing H2O and plenty of thrills.

Related story: World's best water parks

The most popular parks tout giant high-speed "bowl rides," where brightly colored rafts filled with aquanauts plunge from perches several stories high into huge bowl-shaped tubs where riders learn the true power of centrifugal force.

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Other trends include water coaster rides that somehow force man-made rivers to flow uphill on tracks that twist and turn.

It's not all about excitement, though. Many of these parks still honor the lazy, carefree tradition of floating down a slow-moving stream in an inflated inner tube. Parents and small children can stay cool and soaking wet at interactive water playgrounds.

No matter how you like to cool off, seeking shelter from the heat has never been more fun. Because water parks tend to add rides each year, fans can expect thrills to keep on flowing.