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.

beautiful landscaping surrounds the yellow brick road
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.

Alaina poses with Glenda the good witch
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.

The natural landscape of the area reminded the park designer of the Wizard of Oz (photo by Alaina O'Neal/TheSmokies.com)
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 cowardly lion dance
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, available seasonally.

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

the wizard is exposed behind a curtain
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, scarecrow, Glinda the good witch and the wicked witch of the West. 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.

the emerald city at the land of oz
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.

the over the rainbow overlook at land of oz
The Over the Rainbow Overlook was added in 2021 (photo by Alaina O’Neal/TheSmokies.com)

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.

VIP tickets are offered on select seasons (but not all) and start usually start at around $68.

Add-ons are available, like the Scenic Lift Ride or Over the Rainbow Overlook access. 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 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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East Tennessee fire updates: Wears Valley, Seymour, GSMNP [April 2022]

Last week, multiple fires were reported throughout the Smokies. Areas affected included Eastern Tennessee and Western North Carolina.

While most of these fires have since been either extinguished or largely contained, fire danger – due to dry conditions and increased winds – remains extremely high.

No burn permits have been issued throughout the region. Locals and visitors alike are being asked to refrain from any open burning as the increased winds could cause even a small fire to grow out of control quickly.

Details about last week’s fires can be found below.

helicopter assists with water drops at wears valley fire
Helicopters assist with water drops in Wears Valley on March 30, 2022 (photo by Bill Burris/TheSmokies.com)

1. The Wears Valley fire in East TN

2,498 acre Wears Valley fire at 100% containment

Last Update: April 6, 2022 6:12 pm

Sevier County officials are now saying that the Wears Valley fire (also referred to as the “Hatcher Mountain Road/Indigo Lane Fire”) is now 100% contained.

Original affected acreage projections were also reduced from over 3,700 to 2,498 burned with approximately 219 structures impacted.

On Wednesday morning, March 30, 2022, officials with the Sevier County Emergency Management Agency (EMA) reported a fire near Hatcher Mountain Road and Indigo Lane in the Wears Valley community.

What started out as a brushfire was quickly upgraded to a forest fire after multiple structure fires were reported in the area.

By 9 pm later that night, The Tennessee Department of Agriculture reported that the fire had grown to encompass 1,000 acres.

The video below was shot in the Walden’s Ridge area of Walden’s Creek overnight by local firefighter Tom Lucas. Lucas works for the Sevierville Fire Department but was volunteering for the Waldens Creek Volunteer Fire Department when he captured the footage.

Evacuations were ordered for the affected areas. Those evacuation areas grew overnight as crews continued to battle flames.

The following morning, Thursday, March 31, Sevier County Mayor Larry Waters held a press conference during which he reported that the fire had grown to 3,700 acres.

By 5:30 pm, the Sevier County EMA reported that the fire remained at 3,700 acres in size at a 30% containment. The burn acreage was later reduced to 2,498.

At the time of this writing, the fire is now reportedly 100% contained.

2. The Dupont fire in Seymour, TN (Millstone Gap Rd)

Dupont fire covers 959 acres at 100% containment

Last Update: April 7, 2022 4:38 pm

Last week, the Tennessee Department of Agriculture reported that crews were working on a fire off of Millstone Gap Road near the Blount County/Sevier County line.

Sevier County officials say that the fire was mostly located in a remote area near the county line.

The burn radius spanned nearly 959 acres and the fire, at the time of this writing, is 100% contained.

Two structures were affected.

Air support for the Thomas Divide fire
Air support efforts were able to resume at the Thomas Divide fire on March 28 after being shut down due to wind speeds (photo provided by the National Park Service)

3. The Thomas Divide Complex fires in NC

Thomas Divide fires cover 941 acres at 80% containment

Last Update: April 1, 2022 2:00 pm

Additionally, firefighters, as well as multiple agencies, are working together to extinguish the Thomas Divide Complex fire in North Carolina that broke out on Saturday, March 26. The fire is located east of Bryson City, North Carolina.

A Unified Command Center is coordinating suppression efforts.

A press release issued on March 29 from the National Park Service stated the complex was comprised of two wildfires. These include the Stone Pile fire and the Cooper Creek fire.

On March 31, park officials reported that the fire had affected approximately 941 acres and was 80% contained.

The Southern Area Gold Incident Management Team has demobilized and several team members are now assisting with fire suppression efforts in Sevier County, along with several National Park Service staff. Approximately 20 firefighters remain on site to continue monitoring the area and to make any needed site repairs from fire suppression activity. 

On April 1, Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials reopened all roads, trails and backcountry campsites following closures put in place earlier this week.

4. Small Gatlinburg, TN brush fire contained overnight

Fire extinguished

Last Update: April 1, 2022 2:00 pm

A brush fire, spanning approximately one acre, started shortly before midnight on March 30 due to downed power lines.

Later that same morning, The Sevier County EMA announced that the fire had been extinguished.

An emergency shelter was established at Gatlinburg American Legion Building 1222 E. Parkway in Gatlinburg but that shelter has since closed.

Are fires normal in the Smoky Mountains?

The largest fire in recent years is often referred to as the Gatlinburg fire of 2016.

Two boys were charged with aggravated arson. However, the charges were later dropped.

Read Also: The real story behind the Gatlinburg fires of 2016

More recently, last February, another wildfire with high winds broke out near the Parkside Resort in Pigeon Forge.

Early images of the flames appeared to be disastrous, but the fire proved to be much easier to tame than before. Firefighters received aid from heavy rains that eventually extinguished the flames.

Just last week, there was yet another small fire near the park headquarters building on March 24, 2022.

The fire was located between the ranger station and the park maintenance yard.

Pigeon Forge Fire Department and Gatlinburg Fire Department initially responded for fire suppression efforts, and later transitioned oversight to park fire crews. Firefighters had the fire fully contained within a short period of time.

We encourage visitors to be on high alert and watch out for current wind conditions when visiting the Smokies.

fire at the Thomas Divide
An early morning view on March 28 of the Thomas Divide Complex fire (photo provided by the National Park Service)

When is wildfire season in TN?

According to tn.gov, there are typically two fire seasons. The spring fire season begins in mid-February and ends in mid-May, when the forest has “greened up”.

The fall fire season begins mid-October when the leaves begin to drop and ends in mid-December.

However, it’s important to note that wildland fires can occur year-round.

What causes a wildfire?

According to the NPS, nearly 85% of wildland fires in the U.S. are caused by humans.

These can result from unattended campfires, burning of debris, equipment malfunction, discarded cigarettes or intentional acts.

Wildfires may also be caused by nature. For example, a fire can be started by an unusually long-lasting hot lightning bolt.

A large wildfire broke out in February 2022 near Parkside Resort in Pigeon Forge, TN (photo courtesy of Holly Walker)

Controlled burns in the Smoky Mountains

Fire is one of the natural processes that some plants and animals depend on. Throughout the year, the NPS may prescribe controlled burns for small sections of the park.

These fires can help restore meadow habitats and maintain the landscape of the mountains.

Additionally, they reduce heavy accumulations of dead wood and brush. The clearing of old wood and brush helps prevent future catastrophic events.

Have you ever been affected by a wildfire in the mountains? Let us know in the comments below.