Disney fans might seem like the most die-hard theme park fanatics out there—but they’ve got nothing on the dedicated devotees of North Carolina’s Land of Oz, who have virtually resurrected the once-abandoned theme park from the dead.
The Wizard of Oz is of course a nostalgic and well-known story popular in itself, but a lot of the park’s appeal comes from the fact that it’s rarely open to visitors.
Until recently, the only chance to get inside Oz was during the fall, during its annual Autumn at Oz festival. But, this summer, the park will be open for a few days in June and July for a special Journey with Dorothy tour. Tickets are on sale now, and if years past tell us anything, they’re going to sell like hotcakes.
The Journey with Dorothy tour doesn’t just get you access to the elusive Land of Oz. You’ll get to take a shuttle or chairlift ($10 extra, but totally worth it) to the mountaintop park, where Dorothy will meet you and the rest of the tour group. From there, she’ll take you on a journey down the Yellow Brick Road, letting you actually live out the experience of exploring Oz.
Expect audience participation and lots of chances to engage with the tour as you search for the Wonderful Wizard himself.
If you’re not able to score a ticket to the Journey with Dorothy, you can always plan to hit up Autumn at Oz. The park’s signature fall event takes guests through the story—from the tornado in Kansas, over the rainbow, and to Oz, where you’ll meet munchkins, flying monkeys, and Toto.
It’s a full-on festival with food, crafts, meet-and-greets, costumes and props from the theme park and the 1939 film, shows, pony rides, face painting, and more.
The legend of Land of Oz
The history of the park is actually quite interesting. It was only open for a decade and had no real rides, but it remains, to this day, the stuff of legend.
It started off as a ski resort called Beech Mountain, and the Land of Oz was only meant as a way to operate the property during the summer. Ray Bolger, who played the Scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz film, broke ground on the park in 1968.
Construction was designed to work with the woodland, and houses for the characters, a stage, and shops were placed throughout the forest, along with a yellow brick road. It opened in 1970—Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher cut the ribbon—and was an immediate hit.
But, a series of tragedies kept Oz from lasting long. Grover Robbins, the man who was the heart and soul of the project, died shortly before it opened, and that was just the start of the bad luck.
In 1975, part of the park was set on fire, destroying huge swaths of the attraction. Also, the museum was robbed of many of its Wizard of Oz props and costumes, including near-priceless originals from the movie.
Management decided to give it another go, but the changes to the park led to a drop in attendance. By 1980, the park was closed for good. But it wasn’t long before people began to reminisce about the glory days of Oz. In 1994, original cast members from the park held a reunion, which turned into the Autumn at Oz festival.
If your summer road trip plans take you through North Carolina this June or July, Land of Oz is definitely worth a visit. But you might want to hurry up and get your tickets before they sell out.