Quantcast

Canobie Lake Park | A Classic New England Amusement Park in Salem, New Hampshire

A classic New England amusement park in Salem, New Hampshire, Canobie Lake Park has been delighting visitors since 1902.

4.75 avg. rating (92% score) - 4 votes

For most New England kids, summer wasn’t complete without a much-anticipated visit to the amusement park. At one time they were plentiful, scattered throughout the region and mostly family-owned, with rides, games, attractions, and stands selling sugary, greasy (delicious) food. In recent years, however, their numbers have dwindled, until just a few remain.

My favorite, located just an hour north of Boston in Salem, New Hampshire, is Canobie Lake Park.

Canobie Lake Park | A Classic New England Amusement Park in Salem, NH

Canobie Lake Park | A Classic New England Amusement Park in Salem, NH

Aimee Seavey

A classic New England amusement park, with a midway, rides, arcade games, and concessions, Canobie Lake has been delighting visitors since 1902.

Canobie Lake Park | A Classic New England Amusement Park in Salem, NH

Get your hand stamped and hit the park!

Aimee Seavey

Its history can be summed up in one word: trolleys.

From the late 1800s to the early 1900s, trolley cars were the exciting, new way to travel, and the town of Salem found itself smack dab on the Northeast Street Railway Corporation line. Canobie Lake Park was first opened as a pleasure resort to drum up business. Back then it was more of a botanical garden, with boating, picnicking, and a penny arcade.

During the 1920s, the rise of the automobile was tough on the trolley industry. Business slowed, and then stopped by the decade’s end, and Canobie Lake Park went with it. Then, in 1932, a private citizen purchased the park and whipped it back into shape. In time, the park grew more successful, and attractions such as the Yankee Cannonball were added, along with a popular lineup of musical acts.

In 1958, three close friends from New Jersey decided to purchase Canobie Lake, and it’s still under their collective ownership today. With a commitment to classic family fun, keeping things fresh and new, and a reputation as “New England’s Best Family Value,” Canobie Lake has consistently beat the odds, and continues to grow and thrive.

Canobie Lake Park | A Classic New England Amusement Park in Salem, NH

Welcome to Canobie Lake Park, since 1902!

Aimee Seavey

They also keep enough of the classic stuff around to appease returning guests, which was the focus of my visit earlier this summer with my big sister in tow. We spent many happy summer afternoons at Canobie Lake Park as children in the 80s, and were eager to see if it still held the same magic.

Ready for a tour?

My favorite ride at Canobie is likely also yours — its signature thrill ride, the Yankee Cannonball. I’ve never found a more authentically thrilling ride than this old-fashioned gem. You can keep your corkscrews and vertical drops — nothing beats the clack-clack-clack of a coaster car as it slowly climbs the wooden track and then hurtles down the other side. My sister and I shrieked just as loudly this time around as we did back then.

It was built by the Philadelphia Toboggan Company in 1930 and brought to Canobie in 1936 from Lakeview Park in Waterbury, Connecticut, where it was called the Greyhound. Canobie didn’t start calling it the Yankee Cannonball until 1985. The ride lasts about a minute, gets a top speed of 35 mph, and the only time the park has had to close it was after Hurricane Carol in 1954.

Canobie Lake Park | A Classic New England Amusement Park in Salem, NH

The Yankee Cannonball roller coaster at Canobie Lake Park. 60 seconds of pure joy.

Aimee Seavey

Canobie Lake Park | A Classic New England Amusement Park in Salem, NH

Worth the wait every time!

Aimee Seavey

Canobie Lake Park | A Classic New England Amusement Park in Salem, NH

The “gum wall” from my childhood is now blissfully gum-free!

Aimee Seavey

I’m also a sucker for the Sky Ride, a Canobie fixture since 1986, that takes you for a chairlift ride over the northern section of the park.

Canobie Lake Park | A Classic New England Amusement Park in Salem, NH

All aboard the Sky Ride. Oddly thrilling thanks to its lack of any real safety restraints.

Aimee Seavey

Canobie Lake Park | A Classic New England Amusement Park in Salem, NH

“We could fall right out of this!” my sister kept saying. “So don’t!” I replied.

Aimee Seavey

Canobie Lake Park | A Classic New England Amusement Park in Salem, NH

A lovely birds-eye view of the Caterpillar ride and Canobie Lake (the actual body of water) from the Sky Ride.

Aimee Seavey

Canobie Lake Park | A Classic New England Amusement Park in Salem, NH

The park’s electric fountain is one of its oldest fixtures, dating back to the trolley era.

Aimee Seavey

Here's how the electric fountain looked in a vintage postcard.

Here’s how the electric fountain looked in a vintage Canobie Lake Park postcard.

Beloved, too, is the Pirate Ship, also from 1986.

Canobie Lake Park | A Classic New England Amusement Park in Salem, NH

The Pirate Ship, where my class led a rousing chorus of “Tastes Great! Less Filling!” as it swung from side to side on a middle school field trip.

Aimee Seavey

And a ride I loved as a kid, but now fear my stomach wouldn’t be able to handle, the spinning teacups — officially known as Crazy Cups.

Canobie Lake Park | A Classic New England Amusement Park in Salem, NH

Hold onto your lunch and ride the Crazy Cups. Or is it the Tilt-a-Whirl I can’t handle anymore?

Aimee Seavey

Then there’s the ferris wheel, known at Canobie as the “Giant Sky Wheel.”

Canobie Lake Park | A Classic New England Amusement Park in Salem, NH

The ferris wheel, aka the “Giant Sky Wheel” at Canobie Lake.

Aimee Seavey

Canobie Lake Park | A Classic New England Amusement Park in Salem, NH

A view of the park from the top of the ferris wheel, including a look at the Yankee Cannonball track at the top.

Aimee Seavey

Other Canobie classics?

For one, there’s the park’s Dance Hall, a unique space leftover from the days when the park used to host some of the country’s hottest musical acts. From the 1930s to the early 1950s, Canobie hosted names such as Guy Lombardo, Duke Ellington, Jerry Lee Lewis, Frank Sinatra, and later, Sonny & Cher and Aerosmith. How’s that for “big name”?

Canobie Lake Park | A Classic New England Amusement Park in Salem, NH

The Dance Hall at Canobie Lake Park.

Aimee Seavey

Canobie Lake Park | A Classic New England Amusement Park in Salem, NH

Playbills line the walls in the museum corner of the Dance Hall.

Aimee Seavey

Canobie Lake Park | A Classic New England Amusement Park in Salem, NH

The dance hall was built in 1937 by the Philadelphia Toboggan Company, the same company that built the Yankee Cannonball. Notice a familiar style in the ceiling?

Aimee Seavey

If you’re interested in learning more about Canobie’s musical heyday, there’s a great firsthand account over on the Music Museum of New England website.

Another favorite classic spot at the park is Kiddie Land, which has barely changed over the years, and where 48″ is still the gold standard.

Canobie Lake Park | A Classic New England Amusement Park in Salem, NH

Multiple kid-friendly rides help make Canobie a family favorite.

Aimee Seavey

Canobie Lake Park | A Classic New England Amusement Park in Salem, NH

Colorful kid rides that haven’t changed in decades, because they haven’t needed to!

Aimee Seavey

Canobie Lake Park | A Classic New England Amusement Park in Salem, NH

A little New England-speak represented at the water bubbler near the largest concentration of kiddie rides.

Aimee Seavey

The park’s transportation classics include the Canobie Express steam train and Blue Heron lake cruise.

Canobie Lake Park | A Classic New England Amusement Park in Salem, NH

All aboard the Canobie Express, an authentic steam train.

Aimee Seavey

Canobie Lake Park | A Classic New England Amusement Park in Salem, NH

The Blue Heron Lake Cruise, which takes you on a 20-minute ride around the lake.

Aimee Seavey

And for timeless fun, there’s the carousel, mirror maze, bumper cars, and antique cars.

Canobie Lake Park | A Classic New England Amusement Park in Salem, NH

The carousel at Canobie dates back to 1902, and features a 1917 Wurlitzer Military Band Organ.

Aimee Seavey

Canobie Lake Park | A Classic New England Amusement Park in Salem, NH

The Mirror (Tiki) Maze. My stepdad once got stuck inside the maze and came out sweating and covered in candy apple. He hasn’t ventured into another one since.

Aimee Seavey

Canobie Lake Park | A Classic New England Amusement Park in Salem, NH

The park’s bumper cars, Dodgem, are an oldie but a goodie, dating back to the 1930s. Who doesn’t love ramming into friends and family with permission?

Aimee Seavey

Canobie Lake Park | A Classic New England Amusement Park in Salem, NH

Trundling along in the park’s Antique Cars.

Aimee Seavey

New(er) rides are also constantly cropping up at the park, replacing old ones (like the Matterhorn) or taking the place of outdated attractions (like the swimming pool).

Canobie Lake Park | A Classic New England Amusement Park in Salem, NH

The park’s newest coaster, Untamed, has a 72-foot drop at 97 degrees (yikes!).

Aimee Seavey

Canobie Lake Park | A Classic New England Amusement Park in Salem, NH

Davinci’s Dream has been at the park since 2003.

Aimee Seavey

Canobie Lake Park | A Classic New England Amusement Park in Salem, NH

Is any ride more lovely to watch than a chair swing ride?

Aimee Seavey

Canobie Lake Park | A Classic New England Amusement Park in Salem, NH

It’s new-meets-old in this colonial-inspired section of Canobie, built in the late 90s. It’s also where you can sniff out an order of fried clams.

Aimee Seavey

Canobie Lake Park | A Classic New England Amusement Park in Salem, NH

The big splash at the Boston Tea Party ride. Watch where you stand!

Aimee Seavey

Fan of arcades and games? You’ve still come to the right place. Step right up, little lady…

Canobie Lake Park | A Classic New England Amusement Park in Salem, NH

Arcade fan? They’ve got plenty of games, too.

Aimee Seavey

Canobie Lake Park | A Classic New England Amusement Park in Salem, NH

Crane Lane. Big Choice. $1 for 1 Play.

Aimee Seavey

Canobie Lake Park | A Classic New England Amusement Park in Salem, NH

Feeling lucky?

Aimee Seavey

My favorite, it must be said, is Skee Ball.

Canobie Lake Park | A Classic New England Amusement Park in Salem, NH

Everyone’s favorite — Skee Ball!

Aimee Seavey

In one corner of the park, over near the Mine of Lost Souls, there’s a Skee Ball spot that still has the lever you pull after feeding in the quarter. The balls whir and smack down into the well, and when you sink one into the hole, the score numbers flip like the numbers on an old alarm clock.

It was blissfully non-digital, even if a few quarters got stuck and one of the helpful game attendants had to come over each time and help us out.

Canobie Lake Park | A Classic New England Amusement Park in Salem, NH

Sights like this change machine are a fond and friendly reminder of childhood.

Aimee Seavey

My sister is pretty good at Skee Ball, and we quickly used up all our quarters.

Canobie Lake Park | A Classic New England Amusement Park in Salem, NH

In this Skee Ball spot, you get the feeling that only the prizes have changed in the the past few decades.

Aimee Seavey

Canobie Lake Park | A Classic New England Amusement Park in Salem, NH

Check out those old-fashioned score displays!

Aimee Seavey

Then it was time for lunch. There are endless snack options throughout the park — fried dough, popcorn, ice cream, cotton candy, candy apples, Italian ice — but just as many places to get a more substantial meal. We headed to the “International Food Festival,” which is a strange name for a food court that offers mostly pizza, hamburgers, hot dogs, and ice cream, but if you’re in the mood for something more unique (grilled cheese, fried clams, tacos, buffalo tenders), you’ll find it somewhere in the park.

We went with personal cheese pizzas, and they were just the ticket.

Canobie Lake Park | A Classic New England Amusement Park in Salem, NH

Hungry? There are plenty of snack and lunch options to be had.

Aimee Seavey

Canobie Lake Park | A Classic New England Amusement Park in Salem, NH

You can’t go wrong with a personal pizza.

Aimee Seavey

Canobie Lake Park | A Classic New England Amusement Park in Salem, NH

Colorful condiments, ready for pumping.

Aimee Seavey

In the fall, Canobie turns spooky with ScrEEEamfest (on our list of the Best Halloween Events in New England). Held during the weekends after dark, there are haunted houses, a Monster Parade, petting zoo, and other ghoulish attractions with varying levels of fright.

When I visited, they were busy turning the park’s old roller rink into one of the houses for this year’s event. So if you like thrills AND chills, you won’t want to miss it!

Canobie Lake Park | A Classic New England Amusement Park in Salem, NH

The park’s former roller rink gets spooky for ScrEEEmfest in the fall.

Aimee Seavey

There’s so much to see at Canobie I’d never be able to show you all of it, but basically, if you’re like me and you grew up looking forward to an annual visit, going back is a joyful trip down memory lane, made sweeter with the passage of time.

I suspect it’s the same with all classic amusement parks. Feeling like a kid again is pretty darn irresistible.

Canobie Lake Park | A Classic New England Amusement Park in Salem, NH

Checking the time near the Yankee Cannonball.

Aimee Seavey

http://www.nightmarenewengland.com/

A tree-lined path near the Policy Pond Log Flume.

Aimee Seavey

Canobie Lake Park | A Classic New England Amusement Park in Salem, NH

Watching passersby in line for the Policy Pond Log Flume.

Aimee Seavey

And even if the park’s resident peacocks no longer have free reign of the place (“They would wander into neighbors’ yards and we’d get phone calls,” I was told.), you can still admire them near the Boston Tea Party ride.

Canobie Lake Park Peacock | A Classic New England Amusement Park in Salem, NH

One of the park’s resident peacocks, sitting pretty.

Aimee Seavey

Thanks for a fun day, Canobie! I might not be a kid anymore, begging for Skee Ball quarters and crossing my fingers that I make the 48 inches, but it was a treat to see and experience so many of my favorites, and watch so many other New England kids forming their own magical memories.

I’ll most certainly be back.

Canobie Lake Park | A Classic New England Amusement Park in Salem, NH

Until next year, Canobie Lake!

Aimee Seavey

Have you ever been to Canobie Lake Park?

Which classic New England amusement park was your childhood favorite? Whalom Park? Riverside Amusement Park? Lake Compounce? Rocky Point? Story Land? Edaville USA? York’s Wild Kingdom? Share your memories in the comments!

Canobie Lake Park. 85 N. Policy St., Salem, NH. 603-893-3506; canobie.com

Comments
  • Why would you be happy about the gum wall being cleaned? That was decades of kids and adults alike making a mark on a wall.

    Cleaning that wall is like erasing ancient graffiti. It’s a shame.

    Reply
  • Deborah

    The highlight of my youth was spending time at the skating rink. We trained at Skateland in Haverhill, MA when we were small kids, but as teens we gathered at Canobie Lake’s rink for dates and to hang out with friends. The Swamp ride was a covert way to lean into your crush. Always had a great time!

    Reply
  • Monique

    Getting a trip to Canobie was the highlight of our LIVES, growing up in Manchester, NH in the 70’s. There’s so much to do in New England, we also loved the big fairs in the fall. I’ve never seen their equal.

    Reply
  • Thanks for the tour! I haven’t been back there in years. Great pictures and writing.

    Reply

Leave a Comment

Enter Your Log In Credentials