The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited national park in the country, with an estimated 12.5 million visitors annually.
So it’s no surprise that entrepreneurs come to the area with high hopes of building the next big attraction to entice visitors on their way to the mountains. But around these parts, attractions can come and go in the blink of an eye. Let’s look back to some of the most popular lost attractions of the Smokies:
5. Ogle’s Waterpark in Pigeon Forge, TN
For about three decades, Ogle’s Waterpark was the summer staple of the Smokies, resting along the main strip of the Parkway. It was separated from the busy road by only a chain-link fence and some concrete.
In its peak, Ogle’s Waterpark was the largest waterpark in the area with six giant water slides, a wave pool, a kid’s play area and snack stations throughout the park.
It had fully enclosed tunnel slides that were revolutionary for their time.
It was summer personified – the birthplace of seasonal romance and pushing the limits of how much heat you could take before dipping into the cool, chemical waters.
Ogle’s was the king of summer in the Smokies.
What happened to Ogle’s Waterpark?
Ogle’s closed in 2002 for good, and the land was demolished to make way for Waldens Landing in 2003.
4. Porpoise Island in Pigeon Forge, TN
You might think it is odd that East Tennessee would be home to a Hawaiian-themed dolphin attraction. And you’d be right.
But then again, if you drive down the main Pigeon Forge strip today, you’d see a giant Titanic replica, King Kong climbing the Empire State building, and buildings that appear to have been ripped up from the ground and dropped upside-down – so who are we to judge?
Porpoise Island had dolphin shows, sea lions, an exotic deer ranch and a Bird Vaudeville Theatre. Performers travelled in from Hawaii, and the porpoises came from Mississippi. The brought in exotic deer from “all over the world.”
It was open from 1972 through 1984 in the heart of Pigeon Forge.
What happened to Porpoise Island?
Porpoise Island likely fell victim its insanely expensive upkeep.
Each season the Polynesian performers had to be housed, and the animals – along with their trainers and caregivers – had to be brought in from warmer climates.
Porpoise Island also only operated for about three months out of the year, making it a logistical nightmare.
The Island in Pigeon Forge now sits in its place.
3. Magic World in Pigeon Forge, TN
Magic World was a relic of its own time, nestled between a car museum and the Twin Water Ski-Doo. If you never had the chance to see it, imagine being on the set of a late 50s sci-fi movie.
It had a random assortment of features, including magic shows by Merlin the Magician, Dinosaur Valley, a 100-foot volcano, a haunted castle and a UFO that played videos inside the spaceship,
For children of the 70s and 80s, Magic World was a place of wonder.
But it also had some features that could be more problematic by today’s standards, including a Confederate Critter Show, which had Chuck E. Cheese-style animatronics singing Confederate mountain ballads.
Magic World was open from 1971 to 1996.
What happened to Magic World?
Magic World reportedly met its demise over a dispute about the cost of land.
Today, a handful of scenes remain from Magic World that have been integrated into the mini golf course at Professor Hacker’s Lost Treasure Golf.
2. Tommy Bartlett’s Water Circus in Pigeon Forge, TN
After 26 years of running a water circus in Wisconsin Dells, Tommy Bartlett set his sights on Pigeon Forge for a second location, but this act would be short-lived.
The company purchased 110 acres of farmland and built a 20-foot dam that would hold 8.5 million gallons of water to form the man-made lake. The show ran for four years, from 1978 until 1982.
Though the stint was brief, the show has been fondly remembered by those lucky enough to catch it.
The water circus featured a range of acts, including a water-skiing clown named Aqua, trapeze acts from helicopters and even a contortionist.
Water skiers from all over the country would come to perform at the water circus in Pigeon Forge. Tommy Bartlett himself was said to personally direct and oversee the acts.
What happened to Tommy Bartlett’s Water Circus?
Reportedly, the company sold the attraction in Pigeon Forge to finance Tommy Bartlett’s Robot World, which inevitably became The Tommy Bartlett Exploratory. The Exploratory is still open in Wisconsin Dells.
The Tommy Bartlett Show, a water skiing circus act, ran for nearly 70 years in Wisconsin Dells, but is reportedly permanently closed after financial hardships from 2020.
As for the land in Pigeon Forge, the canopy is still rusting in place on Sugar Hollow Road. The lake has been filled, and Life Changers International Church sits nearby.
1. Ghost Town in the Sky in Maggie Valley, NC
This ghost story starts in the bright and optimistic sunshine of opportunity and capitalism. Virginia businessman R.B. Coburn brought the vision to Maggie Valley for an amusement park themed after the Wild West.
Ghost Town in the Sky had stores, a saloon and a church. Tourists came from all over to ride the rides and see the shows, which included shootouts in the streets, can-can dancers and mountain music.
Ghost Town in the Sky opened in 1961 and quickly became one of the premier attractions in North Carolina.
The park eventually added a two-seat chair lift, which was the second longest in the U.S. at the time.
What happened to The Ghost Town in the Sky?
By the late 80s, there was a serious decline in interest for the Wild West.
Several attempts were made to spice things up, including the introduction of the Red Devil Roller Coaster, but all attempts fell short.
By the late 90s, many of the rides were either frequently shut down or completely closed. Attendance fell off, and money to maintain the park dried up.
It finally closed around 2002. Ownership has exchanged hands a few times, and it was briefly resurrected in 2007. About $49 million was invested into the park, but the Great Recession of the late 2000s proved to be too much to overcome.
The park has attempted comebacks over the years, but currently the property is back up for sale. This Ghost Town in the Sky might have been doomed to live up to its name from the very start.