When I was growing up in Western Pennsylvania, I lived for our two local amusement parks: Kennywood Park and Idlewild Park (the third oldest amusement park in the United States.) My parents usually took me to each park once a summer, and it was the best day of the year as far as I was concerned. Their wooden roller coasters and preserved historical decor, coupled with modern-day (in this case, it was the 1970's and 80's) rides, made it a special experience. So, when I took my kids for the first time to New Hampshire's Canobie Lake Park, I was thrilled to discover a must-do historical park for families that shares similarities to the parks of my childhood.
This post contains affiliate links, which means I receive a small commission, at no extra cost to you, if you make a purchase using this link. Please see my disclaimer.
Similar to the parks I loved of my upbringing, Canobie Lake Park has historical significance. Dating back to 1902, when it first opened as a trolly park, it still contains a gorgeous three-level antique carousel from 1906. Along the outer sides of the carousel, there are still viewing stations that once showed “moving pictures” from the days of Charlie Chaplin.
Canobie Lake Park also still maintains the Yankee Cannonball, a wooden roller coaster from the 1930's. Also from the 1930s are the good old-fashioned bumper cars kids still love today.
The historical amusements join together with plenty of modern-day rides, games, and numerous spots for eating and snacks. Some of the snack spots are obvious by the giant version of whatever it is they are selling.
It also sits on beautiful Canobie Lake, where you can take a ferry boat ride as part of your admission. And, did I mention it has a water park?
If you still aren't convinced, here are nine reasons Canobie Lake Park is a must-do New England stop for families.
Located in Salem, NH, just 45 minutes to an hour from Boston (depending on where you are departing from), Canobie Lake Park is an easy day trip. You can easily drive up, enjoy a full day at the park or spend the day at the waterpark, and return back to Boston by early evening.
However, there is so much to do in this park that depending on your kids' ages, it would be hard to do everything in just one visit. Now that it has an expanded waterpark, that alone is at least a half-day experience, and it is great for families.
I can't stress this enough. I was so impressed on my recent visit with the care of the park. From its' cleanliness to its rides and buildings looking well-maintained to its manicured landscape, it is clear Canobie Lake Park is being well cared for. I can't even complain about the restrooms.
Current park pricing is $42 for adults on Saturdays/Sundays ($39 Monday-Friday). Kids under 48″ tall and adults over 60 years old are $29. Kids ages three and under are FREE.
This price includes your park entrance to the theme park AND the water park, Castaway Island, as well as a 20-minute scenic Blue Heron Lake Cruise on Canobie Lake if you choose. Given that the park has more than 85 rides, and Castaway Island has a slide area, a tidal river, and a comprehensive play area with mini slides and climbing structures, I think this is an incredible value for the price, making it a must-do summer stop for families.
The park is still family-owned, and it shows. It is thoughtfully family-friendly, from the youngest guests to the oldest. Not only does it have rides for all ages, but several of the games give you a prize, just for playing.
If you have ever tried to play an amusement park game with a child under age 10, you know how nice this is! Most of the time these games are a racket.
But, you can't convince a kindergartner of that. When they lose, the disappointment is real.
But here, you can rest assured with certain games (like the fishing game or even the ring toss game) your money spent will produce a toy that will put a smile on your little one's face. Clearly, the owners have thought this through – happy kids are happy parents!
Canobie Lake Park also has lots of live entertainment and several of their own characters the children delight in meeting. You can also hop on a Sky Ride (think ski lift) for a leisurely ride with a birds-eye view of the park.
When I was growing up, our school picnics were at our local amusement park, Kennywood. Canobie Lake Park is a similarly a great place for a family reunion or school outing. On top of what the park has to offer, it has a large picnic table area ideal for gathering together as a group. The park offers catering services to large groups as well, making it an ideal location for a large group event.
Canobie Lake Park even offers programs to schools and camps to make their experience educational. They go so far as to work with the school's curriculum. Now, that is something this mama can get behind!
Nothing gets this New England lady as excited as free parking. Not only is parking difficult to find where I live, but it is insanely expensive. Free parking is a rarity, and something worth noting. Because the truth is, they could charge for parking to add to their coffers as many businesses do. But to date, they choose not to. This adds to the value of the ticket price, making it more affordable and accessible for families.
I am also quite accustomed to parking at Disney, where I have had to “tram in” from the lot to the entrance or walk a mile. At Canobie Lake Park, the lot is manageable so even if you have to walk, it is not far at all. Or, if you are so inclined, you can purchase one of the limited paid spots for rockstar parking right near the entrance for $15 a day.
One of the things I love about this park is that it is very easy to navigate. It is not so overwhelming that you don't know where to go and it is not that far to get from one side to the other.
But that doesn't mean it is skimpy on rides. Quite the opposite. It has rides that will delight the youngest to the oldest and adults too! Take the Untamed ride, for instance. This crazy ride literally goes vertically up and vertically down, then does a loop. Or the Xtreme Frisbee, where you swing and spin at the same time! Not my thing, but for thrill-seeking roller coaster fanatics, this has your name all over it!
I am more about the family rides, like the Canobie 500 or the swing ride, Davinci's Dream, because it reminds me of my favorite rides from my childhood-home parks.
Canobie Lake Park also pays homage to its New England home, with the Boston Harbor Patrol ride, a Red Sox pitching game, and the crowd-pleasing Boston Tea Party, where you are guaranteed to get soaked. In fact, you don't even have to be on the ride to get soaked. Guests stand along the edge waiting for the giant splash wave that comes far into the viewing area, soaking bystanders. A must-do for families on a hot day!
There are numerous mini versions of the big rides that are perfect for preschool-aged kids. Enough, in fact, they could only do those rides and have a fairly full day of excitement.
Find the complete list of attractions.
At Canobie Lake Park, The Boston Tea Party ride is a big hit, even if you aren't actually ON the ride!
The park has well thought out amenities making a park visit easier. My favorite amenities include:
There are rental lockers located near the entrance and in the waterpark area. This is key, so if you need to bring in a bag with towels and pool clothes, you can secure them while you enjoy the park or water park. It also allows for you to enjoy your day baggage free.
There are also several water bottle refill stations, something this mama appreciates as water is $3 a bottle in the park. Throughout the park, there are water fountains.
Guests can rent single strollers for $8 and double strollers for $12. So, if you don't want to bring your own or if your younger one gets tired, you don't have to worry if your original plan for hoofing it for the day falls through. There are also diaper changing stations in all the restrooms.
The park also offers a parent swap for parents who want to ride something their kids' can't. One parent enjoys the ride, while the other stays with the child, then they can swap allowing the other parent to jump on the ride without having to wait in line again.
In 2019, Canobie Lake Park introduced a cashless payment system, called Canobie Club, where you can pick up a waterproof wrist band tied to your credit card, so you don't have to carry your wallet in the park.
Call me crazy, but one week this summer I took my kids to Canobie Lake Park twice – in the same week. Why? Well, for one thing, it is fun and we didn't get to do everything on the first visit. Second, we didn't get to do the Castaway Island. And, I've got to be honest, it is really well done.
Now, before I oversell it, it is not anything as big as a Disney water park where you could spend an entire day. And, when this part of the park gets crowded, it is really congested (as in, you don't want to be in the water with all those people.) But, this did not happen until much later in the day. So, if you get there early and go there first, you can enjoy the first part of your day here.
My favorite thing about Castaway Island is that it is manageable. It probably helps that we scored lounge chairs, otherwise, I may not have enjoyed it as much.
But, my kids had an amazing time freely running through Castaway Island's Rain Fortress (which boasts over 180 ways to get wet.) Depending on the ages of your kids, you can enjoy a nice frozen drink from the Monkey Bar while your kids explore the play zone independently. Smaller kids should be carefully supervised, though.
Once my kids tired of that, we took them over to the Tidal River and River Slides. For toddlers, there is a simple Lil' Squirts Play Pad perfect for this size, and they have free life vests to use.
If you are so inclined, you can rent cabanas to enjoy the day. There is a shop in case you forgot a swimsuit, towel or any other amenity you need. There are bathrooms, changing rooms, lockers, and even an amusement park game. For drinks, there are stands that sell them, and a Dole Whip, as well as a couple of lunch options. Overall, it was a great way to spend our morning, then head out to the park for the afternoon.
There is still a bit of summertime left, and Canobie Lake Park remains open daily until Labor Day. It then remains open on weekends only through October. Check their calendar for special events.
Canobie Lake Park is a fantastic way to spend a family day together. Simple, thoughtful, and full of activities to create great memories, I love sharing an old-fashioned Americana amusement park tradition with my kids. Do you have memories of Canobie Lake Park or have a favorite family amusement park in your area? Tell me about it – comment below ↓.
Help spread the word. You're awesome for doing it!