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6 Lost Attractions in the Smoky Mountains That Will Make You Nostalgic

Scenes from magic world

Magic World was a feature attraction in Pigeon Forge in the 70s and 80s (scans from an old Magic World brochure, photoshopped together by TheSmokies.com staff)

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Remembering attractions that no longer exist in Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg and Maggie Valley

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: 

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Ogles Waterpark in Pigeon Forge
Amanda Giasson rides one of the slides at Ogle’s Waterpark, Pigeon Forge circa mid-1990s (submitted photo by Amanda Giasson)

1. Ogle’s Waterpark (Pigeon Forge)

For about three decades, Ogle’s Waterpark was the summer staple of the Smokies. It rested along the main strip of the Parkway, separated from the busy road by only a chain-link fence and some concrete. During 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 the birthplace of seasonal romance and pushing the limits of how much heat you could take before dipping into the cool, chemical waters. 

However, in 2002, the increasingly outdated Ogles Waterpark closed for good, and the land was demolished to make way for Waldens Landing in 2003. Today, Dollywood’s Splash Country and Soaky Mountain Waterpark dominate the waterpark scene. Paula Deen’s Lumberjack Feud now sits where Ogle’s used to be. 

scenes from porpoise island
Visitors to Porpoise Island were welcomed with authentic island greetings (photo from an old Porpoise Island Brochure, courtesy of OldGatlinburg.net)

2. Porpoise Island (Pigeon Forge) 

You might think it is odd that East Tennessee would be home to a Hawaiian-themed dolphin attraction. And you’d also 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 traveled in from Hawaii, and the porpoises came from Mississippi. They also brought in exotic deer from “all over the world.” It was open from 1972 through 1984 in the heart of Pigeon Forge. 

Porpoise Island likely fell victim to its insanely expensive upkeep. For instance, each season the Polynesian performers had to be housed. Additionally, 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. 

ufo from magic world in pigeon forge
The UFO at Magic World in Pigeon Forge, TN (image courtesy of oldgatlinburg.net)

3. Magic World (Pigeon Forge)

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 surely a place of wonder.  But it also had some features that could be more problematic by today’s standards. For example, it featured a Confederate Critter Show, which had Chuck E. Cheese-style animatronics singing mountain ballads. Magic World was open from 1971 to 1996.

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. 

The human pyramid (image from the Tommy Bartlett’s Water Circus souvenir program)
The human pyramid (image from the Tommy Bartlett’s Water Circus souvenir program)

4. Tommy Bartlett’s Water Circus (Pigeon Forge) 

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. 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. Reportedly, Tommy Bartlett directed and oversaw the acts himself. 

remnants of the old chair lift at fun mountain
The old, rusting lift can be seen from a paid parking lot in Gatlinburg (photo by Marie Graichen/TheSmokies.com)

5. Fun Mountain (Gatlinburg)

In 1993, Fun Mountain, located at the entrance of the strip in Gatlinburg, was set to open and lay its claim to the area amusement park business. Unfortunately, this ill-fated theme park closed its doors just seven short years later in 2000. We are still unsure of why Fun Mountain failed where other, similar attractions (like Anakeesta) succeeded. Some say it was poor marketing (I don’t personally remember seeing a single ad for Fun Mountain), and others say it was a matter of finances or even poor planning. Regardless, it’s still a fun one to remember as you can still spot remnants of this defunct attraction throughout downtown Gatlinburg.

actors at Ghost town in the sky
In its heyday, Ghost Town featured live actor shootouts in the streets. Today, the only battles at Ghost Town are of the legal variety (photo courtesy of Gary and Carol Cox)

6. Ghost Town in the Sky (Maggie Valley)

This ghost story starts in the bright and optimistic sunshine of opportunity and capitalism. Virginia businessman R.B. Coburn originally 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. 

By the late 80s, there was a serious decline in interest for the Wild West. Several attempts were made to spice things up. They reintroduced 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 also dried up. It finally closed around 2002. Ownership exchanged hands a few times, and it was briefly resurrected in 2007. About $49 million was invested in the park. However, the Great Recession of the late 2000s proved to be too much to overcome. The park has attempted comebacks over the years, however, none came to fruition.

Do you remember any of these old attractions? Are there any that we missed? If so, let us know in the comments. Click here to view the web story version of this article.

24 thoughts on “6 Lost Attractions in the Smoky Mountains That Will Make You Nostalgic”

  1. I remember 1 trip to Ghost Town when I was about 8 years old. Mom has a picture of me being pulled up the kingdom on one of the rail cars we ride in when I was just under 2 yrs old. I wish someone would open it back up

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  2. I remember them all. I went to all but the water show. Even got to take my son to magic world their last year open. My mom has pics of me and my brother inside jaws mouth anon King Kongs hand. Was a great place.Frontierland was another good one near ghost town. Good memories..

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  3. I remember my trip to ghost town I was 12 me and my cousins and my sister had the best time of or lives I wish it was still open to take my grandkids

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  4. I’ve watch Pigeon Forge grow from one hotel the Green Valley restaurant that served “family style” and a place called Fairyland. Ghost Town and Frontierland were fabulous! I sure miss them all!

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  5. Ghost town was a blast ,the gun fights so cool,, and the soon girls were great,and their’s new talks about trying to open back up.. Magic world was great, I remember high divers one year, a one foot platform seventy feet high and sitting there looking up, it was high. Hated to see it go. I think I remember a water skiing squirrel and a seal. All cool. I never got to see the water show, always wanted to go. I will always remember driving in and looking up at the kids waiting in line of the tall water slides, every time wishing I was there. I don’t miss that big blue concrete one at the end of Pigeon Forge, it was a near death trap.lol. Miss Hillbilly Village, I remember it when I was little and I’m fifty now. Sweet Fanny Adams Just closed and I said every time I would go and now it’s to late. In the fifty years I’ve been going there have been dozens of attractions that have come and gone. So try them all while u can.

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  6. Went to ghost town when I was around 10 and rode the incline railway I was scared to death and then again when I was a teenager I went to ghost town and rode the chairlift that was all right had a great time I miss it I liked the Red Devil roller coaster

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  7. Tommy Bartlett Water Circus was open from 1984-1988. I know because I lived in Pigeon Forge and used to ride my bike to see my friends that worked there when I was 17 years of age.

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  8. I remember ghost town. Got to go when I was two and Shaun at the age of twelve. Wish someone would open it back up. I remember magic kingdom and several other attractions that aren’t there anymore but I can’t remember the names. I also remember the land of oz. It’s still open during the fall but I haven’t been since I was a kid. Those were the good ole days

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  9. Back in the early ’70s my sister-in-law was the main cancan girl there. I used to take my kids there being a local. I work there and the ’70s. It was fun it was a family. Robert Bradley who is the Apache kid and I are still really good friends. I love the movie Ghost Town you’ll have to see it.

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  10. I remember taking my kids to ghost town we had a great time I think we have pictures in my album of the fun we had I agree to venture

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  11. Barely remember Magic World as a young kid. I do remember wanting to go back when I was a little older but never got the chance. But spent many days baking in the sun at Ogles Water Park. In was heaven on earth for a kid my age in the mid 80s.

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  12. Ted, people have no idea what I’m talking about when I speak of Watterboggin.. Concrete waterslide or should I say Watterboggin???

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  13. The Drive-in at the end of the strip. I remember seeing “Walking Tall”. We stayed at “The Norma Dan Motel”, which is still there, reinvented of course.
    We couldn’t make our trip start in Pigeon Forge without seeing the chocolate milk drinking bear in Sevierville on the parkway going into Pigeon Forge.

    Reply
  14. I use to work at Porpoise Island during my high school days in 76. It was so much fun and had great friends with the kids who came over from Hawaii. I remember all those attractions. Went to school with Bartlett girls at Gatlinburg Pittman HS.

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  15. I wish I could have seen ghost town. What child or adult for that fact never wanted to be a cowboy. I would personally love it. Also maybe a dinosaur land. Kids and adults would love it. I have been going for years to pigeon forge and would love to see some new shows and attractions. I know there is new stuff every year but these just sound fun for even the older generation.

    Reply

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