North Carolina

Land of Oz in NC: What it’s like to visit the once-closed theme park

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.

The landscape of Beech Mountain, North Carolina inspired the vision for the Land of Oz theme park in 1970 (photo by Alaina O’Neal/TheSmokies.com)

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.

Just like you can explore Harry Potter world at Universal Studios, or the Star Wars universe at Disney.

In North Carolina, you can walk down the yellow brick road and explore the Land of Oz.

Why is the Land of Oz abandoned?

This is a frequently asked question. However, the short answer is, 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.

The Yellow Brick Road at the Land of Oz
Land of Oz was a fully functioning theme park in the 1970s, and today it is open to the public on special occasions (photo by Alaina O’Neal/TheSmokies.com)

The fascinating history behind the Land of Oz

The Land of Oz was 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.

Waterfall at the Land of Oz
The natural landscape of the area reminded the park designer of the Wizard of Oz (photo by Alaina O’Neal/TheSmokies.com)

But then the park experienced hardships

By 1975, Carolina Caribbean went bankrupt due to other failed investments.

That December, the Emerald City Amipitheater stage was set on fire.

Many of the attraction’s prized possessions were stolen, including props, costumes and even the Judy Garland bronze bust.

To date, 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.

Dorothy and the lion at the Land of Oz
Throughout your visit to the Land of Oz, you’ll meet characters from the story as they perform songs (photo by Alaina O’Neal/TheSmokies.com)

The resurgence of the Land of Oz

In 1988, a group of 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 visit the Land of Oz?

Yes, but only for private tours and the Autumn at Oz festival.

The festival features arts and craft vendors, food vendors, pony rides 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 in 2021, were offered between June and August. Dates for 2022 have not yet been announced.

Read Also: When will Ghost Town in the Sky reopen: The latest 2021 update

The journey ends at Emerald City, where the characters finally meet the man behind the curtain (photo by Alaina O’Neal/TheSmokies.com)

Is the Land of Oz worth it?

In all honesty, I wasn’t completely sure what to expect when I bought my tickets for the Autumn at Oz event this year. But, I was pleasantly surprised.

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 comes, 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 and scarecrow. And you ultimately end up in Emerald City.

Overall, I was really blown away by the 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.

Today, the park has an Emerald City section, even though it isn’t the original (photo by Alaina O’Neal/TheSmokies.com)

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.

Read Also: Fun Mountain Gatlinburg: What remains of the abandoned park today

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.

Try to incorporate a jacket when planning your outfit.

Over the Rainbow Overlook at the Land of Oz
The Over the Rainbow Overlook is brand new in 2021 (photo by Alaina O’Neal/TheSmokies.com)

How much does the Land of Oz cost?

At the time of this writing, general admission is $55 to enjoy the park during the Autumn at Oz festival, and VIP tickets start at $68.

Add-ons are available, like the Scenic Lift Ride or Over the Rainbow Overlook access.

The Over the Rainbow Overlook is brand new in 2021. It’s only a $5 add-on and 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.

Where is the Land of Oz today?

The 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.

Read Also: Are the Blue Ridge Mountains and Smoky Mountains the same?

Because of the uneven paths and walkways, 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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