As the famous song suggests, one needs to travel over the rainbow to reach the Wonderful World of Oz. In actuality, you only need to travel to the top of the 5,600 feet tall Beech Mountain, located in the mountains of North Carolina, each Autumn to experience the Land of Oz theme park and the Autumn at Oz Festival!
The Land of Oz, North Carolina’s only theme park, is open seasonly each Autumn for three consecutive weekends. Here, guests can experience the iconic characters and wander down the yellow brick road through the dreamworld captured in the novel by L. Frank Baum and the iconic movie, the Wizard of Oz.
The Land of Oz theme park exists today, in its current form, due to the efforts of Charlotte, North Carolina based artist and designer Jack Pentes and Robbins Brothers builders – Grover, Harry, and Spencer. Jack and his design team poured through Baum’s novel and viewed the 1939 movie staring Judy Garland in an effort to provide guests his version of Oz.
History of the Land of Oz Theme Park
The Land of Oz Early Years
In 1962, the Robbins Brothers purchased a vast tract of land at the top of Beech Mountain. The Robbinses were also the owners of the Tweetsie Railroad and the Hound Ears Resort. In 1965 the Robbinses joined other investors to form the Carolina Caribbean Corporation who planned a 10,000-acre resort with homesites for 9,000 families, an eight-slope ski resort, a golf course, summer recreation, and a theme park.
Opening in the summer of 1970, after a rapid one year of construction, by their company the Carolina Caribbean Corporation, the 16-acre Oz themed park was originally built as a permanent theme park delivering a top-quality guest experience that would draw guests to the mountains in the off-season (non-winter seasons). During its first year, the Land of Oz hosted over 400,000 guests and received accolades by the Washington Post where they stated, at the time, it was the “number one tourist attraction.”
Pentes vision – an enchanted place that would allow guests to escape the harsh realities of 1960’s America – grew out of the gnarled beech trees that are located atop Beech Mountain and are prevalent in the Oz novel and the MGM 1939 film. Pentes teamed up with two other fellow Charlotteans, composer Loonis McGlohon and choreographer Alice Lamar.
The original Land of Oz theme park had hot air balloons, the magical cyclone, flying monkeys, with Oz-themed songs all while guests walked along the 55,000 Yellow Brick Road. Guests could visit the Kansas farmhouse and barn, Munchkinland, the Wicked Witch’s Castle, all culminating at the Emerald City.
The Wizard of Oz themed park was so successful it grabbed the attention of the Walt Disney Company. So much that they sent a small team to the Land of Oz to see how a theme park with only one ride could be so successful and popular with guests and fans of the book and movie.
Unfortunately, in 1975 the Carolina Caribbean Company went bankrupt due to unsuccessful investments outside of the Land of Oz theme park. In December of 1975, the original Emerald City Amphitheater stage was a victim of arson, causing it to burn completely down. In an insult to injury, the same night as the fire, the theme park’s museum was burglarized. Original artifacts, costumes and props, from the 1939 MGM film – including a dress worn by Judy Garland in the movie – were stolen.
To date, none of the artifacts in the museum were recovered and the amphitheater was never rebuilt.
The Tumultuous Years at the Land of Oz
After the crippling events in 1975, it would seem the future of the Land of Oz theme park was doomed and inconceivable it would open to guests in 1976. However, that year the park was purchased by Atlanta, Georgia based TriSouth. With a new owner and new capital investment, the park rebuilt the Emerald City area of the park in a mind-blowing three months duration allowing the park to open in June of 1976.
Sadly, the new energy and capital expenditure injected into the park in 1976 would flame-out quickly. From 1977 through 1980 the once beautifully themed Oz park would begin to fall into disrepair. Necessary annual preventative maintenance, which every theme park requires, and annual investment to maintain the park was not performed by its new owners. As a result, money intended for these purposes were channeled into other non-Land of Oz investments making the park look run down and lackluster.
In August of 1980, Jack Pentes was brought back to the theme park to evaluate the disrepair and to assist in determining how the North Carolina theme park could regain its previous glory and luster that many equated with the themeing and detail of Disneyland.
Pentes and his team provided new concepts for a massive overhaul of the theme park. Included in those designs were new attractions which would be added every season through 1987. As a result of the theme parks necessary complete overhauling and financial investment required, it did not open to guests in 1981 due to the $3 million investment required to get the theme park running once again.
The Land of Oz Later Years to Present Day
The late 1980’s and early 1990’s were transitional years for the Land of Oz theme park. Using Jack Pentes’ concepts to refocus and redevelop the theme park, it was decided to develop the adjacent land around the theme park into an exclusive gated community, now known as Emerald Mountain.
By the late 1980’s the park’s original iconic features – such as the Yellow Brick Road, the character houses, and Emerald City – were in such disrepair they had to be demolished. Also, at that time the park’s only ride – the Balloon Ride – was dismantled.
To say the first two decades of the Land of Oz theme park were a roller coaster ride is an understatement. In 1988, a reunion of some of the original theme park characters and park employees was held at what was left of the park – essentially demolished relics and vision boards of new concepts for the future.
In 1990, the property and theme park were purchased by the Emerald Mountain development corporation, where on 450 acres of the property they created homesites that can be seen today sprinkling the mountainside around the ski resort and theme park.
Amazingly, the 1988 reunion reinvigorated interest from fans and previous guests to the extent that in July of 1991, the Land of Oz reopened for a single, one-day event. In 1993, the single, one-day yearly event was moved to the fall and became what is now known as ‘Autumn at Oz’.
Since the early 1990’s, a resurgence and new energy has been injected back into the Land of Oz theme park. Today, each year the Autumn at Oz Festival has grown extremely popular with returning and new guests visiting each year. The Autumn at Oz Festival is now held across multiple weekends in September to handle the influx of crowds visiting from all over North Carolina region and beyond.
Experiencing the Land of Oz Theme Park
Though small, experiencing the Land of Oz theme park and Autumn at Oz Festival take guests through the story of a Kansas farm girl’s dream of traveling to far away places all while crossing paths with unique characters in an enchanted dream-like land.
Upon reaching the top of Beech Mountain, where the theme park is located, you enter through a small wooded area filled with local beech trees, real rock formations, and a pathway with epic overlook views of the surrounding mountains and ski resort. Here, at the entry court you have the opportunity to briefly learn of the history of the Land of Oz theme park.
As you make your way through the wooded entry area you are transported to the small, Kansas Gale Family farm. At the edge of the farm Professor Marvel greets you as he stands willingly next to his traveling wagon. You see the Gale Family farm house and their red barn where sounds of farm animals and Dorothy’s brothers – played by costumed face characters – are ‘working’ or attempting to work doing their daily chores. Par the course, Dorothy dressed in her quintessential white and blue checked dress seem’s to take the brunt of her brother’s antics.
Prior to groups of guests being allowed to enter the Gale Family farm house to take shelter of the impending storm that’s brewing, guests are treated to a brief stage show starring Dorothy, Toto, and her pesky brothers. There, is when Dorothy flees the family farm singing the famed ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’ song prior to her crossing paths with Professor Marvel.
Using his mystical, and questionable powers, Professor Marvel tells Dorothy of her future travels. Just then, a great storm is about to hit the farm and guests are ushered into the farm house and cellar for safety. After the storm, guests along with Dorothy are transported to the enchanted world of Oz.
From the disheveled farm house, guests can make their way walking along the Yellow Brick Road through the enchanted environment where you can meet and take your picture with the host of face characters dressed in spot-on costumes from the Wizard of Oz including: the Wicked Witch of the West, the good witch, a Tin Man, a Scarecrow, a Cowardly Lion, and the mayor of Muchkinland.
Along the way you may find your way walking through the dark forest where the Wicked Witch of the West, the Winged Monkeys, and a guard of Oz reside. As you pass by waterfalls and uniquely flowered landscapes the Yellow Brick Road will lead you to the gates of Emerald City where you are greeted by smartly dressed Guardian of the Gates.
Your walking tour of the Land of Oz culminates in Emerald City with an indoor show where Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Cowardly Lion, Toto, and the Tin Man meet the cranky and off-putting Wizard of Oz. As you know, however, once the ‘curtain is pulled back’, great things are awarded to the travelers with the Good Witch of the East making a final appearance where she tells Dorothy how she can get back to her family in Kansas- simply by clicking her Ruby Red slippers together.
The Emerald City area of the theme park has a small retail area where you can purchase Land of Oz themed merchandise from clothing, to keepsakes, and memorabilia. Also, a few small concession booths are available where you can purchase drinks and snacks, which are located next to Oz themed craft booths.
From the Emerald City area of the theme park you can either take the free shuttle back down to the Beech Mountain ski village area or if you purchased the Scenic Lift Ride add-on tickets, you can make your way to the front of the park for your return to the bottom the mountain via the ski lift.
Visiting the Land of Oz Theme Park
How To Get to the Land of Oz Theme Park
The Land of Oz theme park is approximately 82 miles – a 2 hour drive – from downtown Asheville, North Carolina. From Asheville, take Interstate 40 East to Exit 72 (the Old Fort Exit). From there take US Highway 70 north to US Highway 221, then NC 105 north to NC 184 North. Once you’ve arrived in the town of Beech Mountain and follow the signs for Land of Oz Parking – located at the Beech Mountain Ski Resort. Other travel distances from the theme park are:
- From Charlotte, NC – 126 miles (2 hr 40 min drive)
- From Knoxville, TN – 149 miles (2 hr 50 min drive)
- From Roanoke, VA – 185 miles (2 hr 40 min drive)
- From Columbia, SC – 212 miles (4 hr 10 min drive)
Land of Oz Tickets
Due to its popularity, tickets for the Autumn at Oz Festival go on sale in June of the same year of the event. Typically, the Autumn at Oz takes place the last three weekends of September. In 2022, those dates were September: 9-11th, 16-18th, and 23-25th. General admission to the theme park is $55.00 and children 2 & under are free. It’s best to pre-order your tickets when they go on sale online at the end of June.
For those guests who do not purchase the Scenic Lift Ride, free shuttle buses are provided to and from the Beech Mountain ski village and parking area to the top of Beech Mountain and the main entrance to the theme park.
Additional add-ons to your General Admission ticket include two options:
- Scenic (ski) Lift Ride: taking guests from the Beech Mountain ski village and parking area up to the theme park: $15.00 per person
- Over the Rainbow Observation Deck: situated at 5,506 feet and adjacent to the main entrance of the them park atop Beech Mountain, the deck offers panoramic views, outdoor seating, and bar with drinks for purchase: $6.00 per person
Land of Oz Pro Tips
Upon arriving to the Beech Mountain Ski Resort and village area – adjacent to the parking area serving the Land of Oz theme park – you will be required to check-in for your visit. Be sure to either bring a paper copy of all your tickets purchased online or electronic copies of your tickets using your smartphone – both provided at the time of purchase of your tickets.
Consider purchasing the add-on Scenic Lift Ride. This slow-moving, quiet and gentle ride up the mountain affords you panoramic views of the surrounding area, Beech Mountain, and the mountains beyond in Western North Carolina.
We suggest you take a warm jacket, especially if you are visiting the theme park in the morning hours. Temperatures on top of Beech Mountain can be crisp even in September as you are above 5,500 feet in elevation. Cool breezes can sweep up the mountain making for a chilly morning.
Restrooms and a restaurant were open in the ski village at the bottom of the mountain, near the theme park check in area adjacent to the parking area. In the ski village, there were a few local craft vendors with various wares and goods for sale as well as a bustling kettle corn vendor selling large bags of their sweet treat.
Allow enough driving time from your starting point to Beech Mountain. The final roads that lead you to and from Beech Mountain are two-lane state roads. Traffic on the day of our visit through Beech Mountain and the adjacent Banner Elk, North Carolina was backed up for several hundred yards.
There are local restaurants (no chain restaurants) and local stores in the small towns of Beech Mountain and the adjacent Banner Elk, NC. If you’re looking to spend the night in this area consider staying at the Best Western in Banner Elk, NC or at several other chain hotels in nearby Boone, NC (approximately 24 miles / 45 minute drive).