There’s something about an old attraction that is really fascinating.
Many entrepreneurs bring their visions to the mountains, and sometimes only a handful of businesses survive. While some are left to rust and be reclaimed by the mountains, others rise from the ashes and offer folks like me a rare glimpse into the past.
And sometimes, if you’re really lucky, that rare glimpse can be a fully immersive experience.
That’s exactly what the Land of Oz offers with its annual Autumn at Oz festival in September. The dates for this year’s festival are Sept. 8-10, Sept. 15-17 and Sept. 22-24, 2023.
Tickets commonly sell out quickly, so be sure to make your plans in advance as much as possible.
What is the Land of Oz?
The Land of Oz is a privately owned theme park in North Carolina that is open only on special occasions.
The park is located within the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains and offers an immersive experience inside the Land of Oz.
Can you visit the Land of Oz?
Yes, but only for private tours and the Autumn at Oz festival, which is the largest Oz festival in the world.
The festival features arts and craft vendors, food vendors and most notably, a walk-through of the park, which includes live musical performances along the way.
Land of Oz also offers private guided tours, which are available seasonally.
What is the Autumn at Oz festival like?
In all honesty, I wasn’t completely sure what to expect when I bought my tickets for the Autumn at Oz event. But, I was pleasantly surprised.
After your shuttle bus arrives at the top of the mountain, the musical journey begins in Kansas, just like the story and movie.
While characters are staged throughout your walk-through adventure, you can stroll through leisurely at your own pace. As the tornado experience arrives in Kansas, you make your way through the storm cellar and then come out on the other side in Oz.
Along the way, you meet your favorite characters including the Cowardly Lion, Scarecrow, the Tin Man, Glinda the Good Witch and the Wicked Witch of the West. Ultimately, you end up in Emerald City.
Is Autumn at Oz worth it?
Overall, yes, I thought so. I was really blown away by the live performances, singing, dancing and costumes. It is clear that the current ownership is investing back into the park to make this event a high-quality, memorable experience for the guests.
And even if you’re not the biggest Oz fan, the attraction is located in a gorgeous setting with beautiful scenic views that will pull on your nostalgia-loving heartstrings.
I loved walking along the yellow brick road and thinking about everything the theme park has endured over the years and how lucky I was to be able to experience it.
How long does it take to go through the Land of Oz?
While you may have timed entry, the rest of the event is a self-paced experience. I’d allow for at least half a day at the event. You don’t want to rush through it.
Does the Land of Oz have rides?
The attraction does have a scenic chair lift. But otherwise, the event does not feature any rides. Overall, it’s more about the photo opportunities, performances, the chance to see your favorite characters and enjoying the nostalgia of Oz.
The fascinating history behind the Land of Oz
The Land of Oz was originally built by the Carolina Caribbean Corporation. The Robbins Brothers hired Charlotte-based designer Jack Pentes to bring tourists to the mountains in the summer and fall.
Pentes said the area reminded him of The Wizard of Oz, and the rest, as they say, is history.
The park officially opened in 1970. Pentes hoped to have Judy Garland at the ribbon-cutting ceremony, but she, unfortunately, passed away prior to the opening.
So, he designed an overlook in her memory and had a sculptor create a bronze likeness of the actress as Dorothy.
In its first season, the Land of Oz welcomed 400,000 guests and was named “The Number One Tourist Attraction” by the Washington Post.
The theme park had one ride, a ski lift that was designed to look like a hot air balloon. Guests could visit a real-life Land of Oz, yellow brick road, and all.
Why did the Wizard of Oz theme park close?
By 1975, Carolina Caribbean went bankrupt due to other failed investments.
That December, the Emerald City Amphitheater stage was set on fire.
Many of the attraction’s prized possessions were stolen, including props, costumes and even the Judy Garland bronze bust.
These items have never been recovered.
Despite all odds, the park reopened in 1976 but was poorly maintained. Character houses and Emerald City were in bad enough shape that they had to be demolished, and the Balloon Ride was dismantled.
The Land of Oz ultimately shuttered in 1980.
The resurgence of the Land of Oz
In 1988, a group of the original employees held a small reunion at what remained of the park.
This was enough to spark interest in the old theme park, and in 1991, Oz hosted a special one-day event.
A couple of years later, the event was moved to the fall. Today, that event is known as Autumn at Oz.
Can you dress as a character at the Land of Oz?
Yes, dressing up in character is encouraged at the park.
When I was there, I saw several folks dressed up in costume. But, keep in mind that the weather can be much cooler when you reach higher elevations.
For this reason, try to incorporate a jacket when planning your outfit.
How much does the Land of Oz cost?
Prices and availability vary by season at the Land of Oz.
However, at the time of this writing, general admission is $55 to enjoy the park during the Autumn at Oz festival.
Add-ons are available, like Over the Rainbow observation deck access. It offers beautiful views of the Blue Ridge Mountains at 5,506 feet above elevation.
Of course, prices are subject to change. Be sure to visit their website for the most up-to-date information on pricing and events.
Why is the Land of Oz abandoned?
This is a frequently asked question. However, the short answer is that it’s not. Still, the Land of Oz is open only for events or on special occasions.
During the rest of the year, it is under 24-hour surveillance and heavily monitored by park management.
Where is the Autumn of Oz located?
The festival at Land of Oz is located at 2669 Beech Mountain Parkway in North Carolina.
Beech Mountain, not far from Banner Elk, is best known for the Beech Mountain Resort, which offers skiing in the Blue Ridge Mountains during the winter season.
The Land of Oz is about a 3-hour drive from the heart of the Great Smoky Mountains. Because of the uneven paths and walkways and stairs, the area is not currently wheelchair or stroller-friendly.
For more information about the seasonal events at the Land of Oz, please visit their website.
Did you know about the Land of Oz? Have you ever visited? Let us know in the comments below!
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