What Ever Happened to the Amusement Park Called “Canyon Land Park”, Near Fort Payne, Alabama?

During the early 1970’s up until circa 1983, there was an amusement park called Canyon Land, just a few miles outside of my hometown of Fort Payne, Alabama on Lookout Mountain. In ‘70’s fashion, very comparable to the Dharma Initiative on LOST, Canyon Land could best be described as “1977 carnival meets small zoo”. One of the rides was a ski lift that took people over an actual canyon, Little River Canyon.

Being that I was born in 1981 and the park closed a few years later, my descriptions aren’t based on me being there during its prime. But my parents did go on dates there as teenagers.

Fortunately in 1993 (7th grade) my church youth minister Eddie McPherson was able to rent the shut down amusement park for $4 for the Halloween season. Our youth group put on an evangelical version of a “spook house” called Hell House. We used the old roller coaster carts and its track to manually push the guests through a “no flashlights allowed tour of hell” which ended with a bright room featuring Jesus (played by my dad) who invited them to Heaven.

It was a lot of fun for a 12 year old kid to explore that old place. The grass was taller than I was, where the parking lot used to be. Much of the place had basically been frozen in time as it evidently was abruptly shut down. In a room that stored all the old ski lift chairs, I found a completely intact Mellow Yellow can from 1979 (which I still have in my old bedroom at my parents’ house.

The urban legend is that the man who ran the place just let all the zoo animals go free into the woods. Therefore, to this day, jaguars and monkeys and all kinds of exotic animals can still be spotted on a lucky day. That would be fun to believe.

Because I helped resurrect Canyon Land for a few weeks in 1993, I tend to imagine what current lively buildings and attractions would be like if they became old an abandoned. Like Starbuck’s, for example. Twenty years from now, will all those Seattle-esque building be defunct? Like the old Food World building that remained years after the Super Wal-Mart came to town.

Not so much a ghost town. But a ghost attraction. Once filled with people laughing and buying ice cream. Now, only visited by raccoons.

Canyon Land is so forsaken that not even the Internet really acknowledges it. No Wikipedia entry. The best Google was able to do was take me to Ebay where someone is trying to sell Canyon Land postcards and tickets from 1970.

http://cgi.ebay.com/Fort-Payne-Alabama-Canyon-Land-Park-Card-Tickets-1970_W0QQitemZ310185209860QQcmdZViewItemQQssPageNameZRSS:B:SRCH:US:101?rvr_id=

Also, for anyone who would like to purchase Canyon Land, it’s currently for sale. For the low, low price of $2.4 million.  http://www.mycampgroundsforsale.com/park_detail.asp?ID=11

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52 thoughts on “What Ever Happened to the Amusement Park Called “Canyon Land Park”, Near Fort Payne, Alabama?

  1. I just found the leftovers of Canyonland Park. What memories I have of this place! Couldn’t see much of the old park because it was fenced in. Very bittersweet. Found 3 of the old lift chairs down the road, mounted in front of an antique store in Lickskillet, AL. Wonder how much they want for them?

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  2. So you have any idea who it was that your church contacted to rent the facility? This place was apecial to my parents and I am planning my own wedding and one of our most memorable dates when we first started dating was hiking at Eberhart Point which is just minutes from the park so I would love to be able to rent it for the wedding. Any information you can give me would be great, thank you so much!

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    • The facility is currently up for sale (for $4 million, I think) so I would think at this point it’s virtually impossible to go on the land unless you go through the realtor :(

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      • Hello:). My parents have a Canyon Land Park brochure and a small Canyon Land matchbox with the matches included.

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  3. I found this post while doing some family tree research. My grandfather was the Park Director of Canyon Land, and is shown holding the first white tiger cub born in captivity (they named him King Solomon) in some old newspaper articles from 1974. I’ve also heard the stories of him releasing the animals into the wild when the park was shut down, but no family members have verified this :)

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  4. The old chairlift chairs are located at F&G Lumber in Sylvania, AL. It is a large sawmill near the school. The chairs are for sale for $50 each. I bought one and brought it backt to my house at Dogtown. Going to refinish it and make a swing for my yard.

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    • That’s awesome! What a cool idea, seriously. By the way, if install TV and Internet for Boonlink, I met you. I just remember the last name, Pruitt.

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  5. This brings back memories. We used to go and have picnics on Sunday afternoons at the park. My dad when he was a little boy (way before there was even a though of a park) learned to swim in the Little River. This was nice. Thank you for reviving some long ago memories.

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  6. My family was from Rome and whenever I would visit, my aunt and uncle would take me to Canyon Land. I was trying to remember the name and couldn’t. I kept searching the internet but with no name, I couldn’t find any info. I finally called the Tourist Board in Ft. Payne to find someone that could help me remember the name! Many fond memories of going there!

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  7. Glad someone else besides me knows about Canyon Land Park. We were driving in the area in 1977 and stumbled across the place in the middle of nowhere. It was closed up. Don’t know if it was just for the season or forever but it didn’t look very well kept up so I figured it had been closed for a long time. I wondered what kind of attractions were in the park but could not get close enough to the fence to see. Hate to say it but there’s no way I’d have taken that chair lift down into that canyon. Still, I was sad to see it closed. That winding narrow 2-lane along the canyon was the scariest road I ever rode on. Afraid we were going off the edge at any moment. Thanks for posting this.

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  8. I did a search for “Canyon Land” because I found a file on it where I work. Apparently our organization briefly owned land next door to it. There is a note in the file that “The owner of Canyon Land Park died in the fall of 1973, and the bank took possession of the property.” They were going to hold on to the adjoining land in the event that the amusement park was started up again, as it would affect the price. There is also a copy of their brochure in the file. Email me, Nick, if you want a scan of the brochure.

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  9. I’m pretty sure some time after ’93 my parents somehow shortly got this place to use for their sock mill. Kelly Hosiery and/or Diversified Yarns. If its the same place, it has a putt putt golf course and somewhere in front ? Or back? There is a hill type thing that had giant rocks on it that were climb able. I found a gun there when I was a kid am now wondering why it was there.

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  10. I remember going there as a teenager with my best friend and his family. To get to the bottom of the canyon, you could either take the chairlift or hike. My friend, his older brother, and I did both, only we did the hike without their parent permission. Wow, was their dad angry when we got back!
    Problem now is that I can’t find it on Google Maps. I found the canyon, but I can’t locate the old park. Can you put a map link in your post?
    And thanks for everybody’s contribution. This really brings back memories.

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    • 12223 county road 176 Fort Payne Al. 35968 is a address right where the Canyon Land Park is at it is the buildings that shows up on map the chair lifts was took down years ago but maybe you can find it with that address it is about a mile or so past county roads 176 and 127 crossing

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      • I worked at Canyon Land Park during my college years in 1972 and 1973. I remember the white tiger cub being born. I was one of the ones to climb the tower and take pictures of the people coming up on the chair lift. Also operated the concession stand where people got off the chair lift. I was there the Sunday a man fell from one of the chairs. Billy McDow, a young man with last name of Orr, and myself went down and saved the man’s life. I have a lot of memories of the country music stars who entertained in the Canyon on Saturday nights. Wild Country played backup and sang–now the famous Alabama Band.
        Adet

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      • Hello Adet,
        My grandfather was Billy McDow. The name of the man you saved was Franklin Wooten according to the news clipping I have. He apparently tried to commit suicide (per the article) by dropping from the chair lift.

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      • Laura,
        You are correct. The man did want to commit suicide, but he was hanging from the seat and changed his mind. By time we could get a message back to the office he couldn’t hold on any longer and dropped at one of the highest points. I would love to have a copy of the article, if you can post it.

        I remember your grandfather, Billy McDow, well. He is the one that hired me and assigned me to put bumper stickers on cars. That was a tough day–I put a box of 500 Canyon Land stickers on cars the first day. Glad I got another assignment the next day. lol
        Adet

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  11. My parents took us their when we were kids in the early 70’s good memories I live just a few miles from their now and drive by just to re-minis the past~

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  12. Here’s the coordinates for Canyon Land- 34.350968,-85.681432
    I tried to add it to google maps, but I’m not sure it worked :-P
    I found a March 27,1972 newspaper article (The Gadsden Times) of when the Country Zoo opened http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1891&dat=19720327&id=FLkfAAAAIBAJ&sjid=vdcEAAAAIBAJ&pg=862,4606839
    and an old postcard with the picture of the chairlift http://postcards.bidstart.com/CANYON-LAND-PARK-AL-Air-Trams-Old-Postcard-/19106978/a.html

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  13. I wish they would rebuild canyon land and start it back up. i use to live close to the park and would walk there as a kid i remember standing on the edge of the canyon watching the lift chairs go up and down and climb down into the canyon and swim for a while. i still go there alot and take my kids down in the canyon so they can swim there too

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  14. I can say for sure that the animals were not released. Ed Riley was the last owner, and sold the animals off to try to keep the park open. I have a picture of myself with they white lion cub. It was a great hope that the cub would be the saving point for the park. But, the cub remained white for a very short time. By the time it was a few months old, it looked like any other lion.

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  15. I was born in fortpayne alabama and grew up in sandrock a few miles away. My first and only visit to canyoland was 1969 when I was 6 years old. I got a drink from a machine and it was empty. I took it to the office where Mr Weaver ( the owner) gave me a quarter for a new one. I believe the park shut down much sooner than 1983. Upon Mr. Weaver’s death the park along with the cricket theather in collinsvill closed. This was also one of Mr. Weaver’s holdings.
    Mr Weaver lived in the big house overing looking the valey on lookout mountain. This is now called top of the mountain leesburg. I remember the house set empty for most of my teenage years until it was purchased by Mr. Curry of C&S grain.
    The park was left for many years in disrepair until the group Alabama purchased it in the late 80’s.

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  16. Does anyone remember going down to the zoo part of the park having to pass a few little motel rooms and two little houses on the left? I had good memories of Canyon Land Park as well. I do think it deserves to be recognized.

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  17. I remember going there a lot growing up,our family loved this place,they had amusement rides and then we would take the lift down to the water and swim,years later we went back the rides were gone and they had an old western town with a old western play or show,it was pretty cool.I really miss this place wish it was still around to take my kids and grandkids.

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  18. I was there as a kid, about 40 years ago. There was a mini-bike rental with a long dirt track. My brakes didn’t work and I went flying over the dirt bank and burned my leg on the muffler. I landed upright (judges would have given me 9.5’s.) Not a big deal, but the poor operator ran full speed to me (about 100 yards) to make sure I wasn’t hurt.

    By a strange coincidence, I was at Little River Canyon yesterday. I spoke with a ranger or volunteer (I didn’t pay attention to the uniform.) He said that they just recently hauled away the last of the chair lift from the old Canyon Land Park.

    The canyon is very much still a great place to visit. They just built a $6-million activity center at the end of the scenic drive. It’s a cooperative venture with Jacksonville State University. According to the same man I spoke with about Canyon Land, the new center was built by NASA. That doesn’t make any sense to me, but that’s what he said. Maybe donations from NASA employees from the nearby NASA facilities in Huntsville??? I don’t know.

    Anyway, it’s very nice. You can camp, hike, fish, swim, etc.

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    • You’re right- just 3 weeks ago, I had my 15 year class reunion at the Jacksonville State sponsored facility. That’s awesome that you rode a mini-bike there 40 years ago!

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  19. Thanks for all the post, they helped me find the spot on google. Back in the early 70’s a buddy and I found the abandoned park and lift. Being young and dumb, we dragged our kayaks down to the river, following the lift path. There was still a picnic area at the bottom. We proceeded down the amazing river to the county park, I think maybe 6 miles away. The river was at a safe level and we had a blast.

    I visit the canyon every few years to take fall color photos. Thanks again for the information.

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  20. Back in the 90s, my dad and I would camp inside the old park. My dad was good friends with the guy that took care of the place after it was closed. His name was Bill Henderson if memory serves. Great guy. I have such fond memories of our times there. We would camp, hike, and go rafting. There were several times we had to abandon the trip and find our way out of the canyon. We scared the crap out of two guys fishing one time. Turned out they knew Bill and drove us back to the park.
    On a paranormal note, Some say that the land was cursed by the owner and nothing else would ever bear the name Canyonland in that area.

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