Every year in September, visitors to the NC High Country have a rare opportunity to explore the child-like dreamland of a Wizard of Oz theme park.
Tucked away in the small town of Beech Mountain NC, the Land of Oz welcomes guests with costumed characters, vibrantly colored plants, delicious treats, and beautiful views of the surrounding Appalachian Mountains.
Autumn at Oz is the largest Wizard of Oz festival in the country, with a yellow brick road, flying monkeys, and actors bringing Dorothy, Scarecrow, the Tin Man, the Cowardly Lion, and other beloved characters to life.
The Land of Oz theme park is located 5,506 feet above the popular mountain town of Banner Elk, and it makes for a perfect family getaway.
Read on for our complete guide to visiting the Wizard of Oz park, and what you can expect from the September 2022 edition of Autumn at Oz.
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Autumn at Oz Info
ADDRESS: Land of Oz, 1007 Beech Mountain Parkway, Beech Mountain NC, 28604
HOURS: Fridays 11AM-4PM; Saturdays & Sundays 10AM-4PM.
DATES: September 9-11, 16-18, & 23-25, 2022
COST OF ENTRY: $55.00 + Taxes & Processing Fees. Children ages 2 & under are free. The Scenic Lift Ride is an additional $15, while the Over The Rainbow Overlook is an additional $6.
DRIVING DIRECTIONS: From downtown Banner Elk, head west on Main St E for 0.4 miles, then take a slight right onto NC-184 N/Beech Mountain Pkwy. In 3.3 miles, turn left onto Skiloft Rd, then a left onto Emerald Ct.
In 0.5 miles, turn right onto Oz Rd, and follow it for 2.1 miles. Turn right onto N Pinnacle Ridge Rd, go 0.2 miles, then turn right onto Oz Rd again. You will reach the Land of Oz North Carolina in approximately 0.6 miles.
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History of the Land of Oz Theme Park
Born in Blowing Rock NC (a town of which he eventually became Mayor), Grover Robbins Sr. was an icon in the evolution of North Carolina tourism.
It was Robbins (along with his brother, Harry) who leased a site once used for dumping trash into the John’s River Gorge and turned it into the world-renowned Blowing Rock attraction.
He later founded the Tweetsie Railroad theme park and the Hound Ears Golf & Ski Club. But his biggest project was the Beech Mountain Ski Resort, which became one of the biggest Blue Ridge Parkway resorts.
In 1966, the Robbins brothers were hoping to turn Beech Mountain into a year-round attraction. When they surveyed the land, they discovered an area that resembled the pastoral setting of the classic 1939 film, The Wizard of Oz.
They ultimately decided to create the first-ever Wizard of Oz amusement park. Grover Robbins headed up the park’s creation, working with designer Jack Pentes to create the Land of Oz.
Inspired by both the film and the original L. Frank Baum books, they used more than 44,000 bricks to create the park’s famous yellow brick road. Alec Wilder and Loonis McGlohen composed music for their live shows.
The park also featured a museum of props from the film, which included one of Dorothy’s dresses, worn by Judy Garland. There was also a hot air balloon ride for guests to enjoy.
The Land of Oz opened on June 15, 1970, followed by a ribbon-cutting ceremony that featured Hollywood legend Debbie Reynolds and her daughter, Carrie Fisher, on July 6.
In its first year, the Land of Oz NC was the top tourist attraction in the Eastern US, with a whopping 4,000 guests visiting the park on its grand opening day.
For five years, the Wizard of Oz theme park was a smash success, attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors from all over the country.
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The End of An Era
Unfortunately, Grover Robbins Sr. never got a chance to see the countless Wizard of Oz fans enjoying his wondrous vision. The innovative developer passed away from cancer just three months prior to the grand opening.
In 1975, the company that built Oz went bankrupt. In December of that year, a mysterious fire destroyed many of park’s most important buildings, including the Emerald City Amphitheater and surrounding gift shops.
Though an official cause of the fire was never determined, there was considerable speculation that unhappy employees may have played a role in it.
Much like Ghost Town In The Sky in Maggie Valley NC, the closure of Land of Oz provided an open window for theft and desecration.
Many props were stolen from the park’s museum, including Judy Garland’s original Dorothy dress.
The theme park was eventually rebuilt by one of the original investors, but it was never quite the same. With financial problems steadily mounting, the Land of Oz theme park closed in 1980.
Parts of the park were ultimately demolished from 1985 through 1988, including the rebuilt Emerald City Amphitheater stage, gift shops, and the balloon ride.
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Reopening The Land of Oz
After sitting vacant for 11 years, the Land of Oz theme park reopened for a single day in 1991 as part of Beech Mountain’s Fourth of July celebration.
Watauga High School in Boone NC also took part in the festivities. After performing a school production of The Wizard of Oz earlier that year, the student actors dressed in their costumes and performed at the park.
This successful one-day event opened the doors to the annual Autumn at Oz festivities, which began later in the decade.
The annual festival started as a reunion for the original Land of Oz employees, who refer to themselves as “The Ozzies.” But the general public soon became interested in the event as well.
In 2009, some 8,000+ people attended the event, which included musical theatre shows, a petting zoo, pony rides, vendors, the Wizard of Oz Museum, and all the Land of Oz sets and characters.
Employees had been gradually restoring the park since 1991, but they were able to rebuild much more efficiently as the park grew in popularity again and funds began coming in.
Today, Autumn at Oz is held for three weekends, with the dates for 2022 set for September 9-11, 16-18, and 23-25.
For the 2022 event, there will be a new Emerald City Layout, a Vignette Show at the Witch’s Castle (for the first time since 1980), and a restoration of the Tornado to its original 1970s psychedelic glory!
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The Autumn at Oz Experience
After checking in and receiving wrist bands, excited Land of Oz visitors are taken to the theme park on a shuttle bus or scenic ski lift.
Girls clad in blue and white plaid dresses and ruby red slippers wander the park, some of them even carrying plush Toto dogs.
Children stare in delight at the friendly characters who stand along the vibrant yellow brick road. The road leads guests through The Wizard of Oz story, perfectly narrating and illustrating each major section.
Right before entering the park’s main section, guests will come to the breathtaking Judy Garland Memorial Overlook, where a white gazebo overlooks the surrounding Blue Ridge Mountains.
Jack Pentes originally wanted Judy Garland to be at the park’s grand opening in 1970, but she sadly passed on earlier that year. When news of her death broke, he immediately began designing this overlook in her honor.
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The first stop after the overlook is a pitch-perfect recreation of Dorothy’s Kansas farmhouse.
The white house with a wrap-around porch and brown rocking chairs is seemingly straight out of the movie.
A white mailbox painted with the last name “Gale” stands in the front yard, in addition to various farm tools.
A classic red barn with white shutters and door frames sits next to the house, overlooking the street, where hay bales abound.
There are food vendors outside the house selling kettle corn, jams, and other foods in white tents. Visitors can see movie reenactments in this section.
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Dorothy’s Uncle Henry guides visitors inside the house, which is filled with rooms identical to those in the film. While walking through the halls, you’ll see Dorothy’s bedroom, a living room, and a kitchen.
The loving Auntie Em is also in the house, hurriedly preparing for the quickly approaching cyclone.
She urges guests to take cover in the downstairs tornado shelter. The shelter itself is dark, with neon drawings lining the walls.
When you emerge from the shelter, you’ll see the same rooms you toured before. But the tornado has ripped through the home, and the damage is evident.
Pictures hang crooked on the walls, furniture is toppled over onto the floors, and the floor is slanted at a 15º angle.
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Meeting the Witches
When you walk outside, you enter the mythical Land of Oz.
The Wicked Witch of the West stands on the porch, clad in her pointy black hat and clutching her broom.
The Wicked Witch of the East’s legs jut out from beneath the porch, clothed in striped tights and the famous ruby red slippers.
Vibrant red, purple, pink, yellow, and blue flowers line the yard, guiding the pathway to the Yellow Brick Road.
Guests will soon meet Glinda the Good Witch, who stands on a pink platform with bubbles floating all around her.
Her light pink gown and silver, star-lined crown perfectly match that of the film.
She waves at each guest, warmly embracing the kids who run to her for hugs, kindly smiling for photos, and having conversations with each star-struck child.
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Other Residents of Oz
You’ll soon reach the Munchkin Village, which comes complete with tiny, vibrantly colored houses.
One munchkin stands atop a bright blue platform and holds the Wicked Witch of the East’s death certificate on a large paper scroll.
A little further down the Yellow Brick Road is the Scarecrow. He stands in a white gazebo, surrounded by apple trees, hay bales, and tall yellow sunflowers. The scarecrow goofily poses for selfies with guests.
Continuing on, you’ll meet Tin Man, standing in another gazebo. He also smiles for selfies with guests, and talks about how pleased he is to finally have a heart.
Next, the Yellow Brick Road goes down a slight hill, where views of the surrounding Blue Ridge Mountains abound.
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The Cowardly Lion stands atop a short stone staircase, with Dorothy’s red ribbon tied in his mane.
“Another one of the mythical things called ‘selfies,” the Lion jokes as he poses for pictures with a guest.
Further down the pathway are a patch of vibrantly colored mushrooms and a perfectly blue pond.
A badly mangled wooden sign announcing the entrance to the Haunted Forest and Witch’s Castle is posted just down the hill. In hand-painted letters, the sign reads, “I’d turn back if I were you…”
The road leads visitors through a mossy green forest, where the Witch’s castle resides.
Flying Monkeys roam throughout the forest, posing for guests who dare to ask for a picture. At the castle, guests will find the famous crystal ball and field of red poppies.
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The Emerald City
Red flowers line the yellow brick road, and trees with faces soon emerge. The path leads directly to the giant green gates that guard the Emerald City.
A black sign with green lettering hangs on the door: “Please ring bell.”
A young girl dressed as Dorothy tentatively walks to the door, with encouragement from her parents. When she rings the bell that hangs next to the gates, a guard opens the door.
He jokingly says that he doesn’t let just anybody into the city, but he’s “been expecting Dorothy.” With that, the young girl proudly leads all the guests through the gates.
As we walk, the guard smiles and greets each person warmly. Inside, a green and silver sign announces our entrance into The Emerald City.
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A woman dressed in a glittery green costume tells us the live show will begin momentarily, gesturing toward the Emerald City amphitheater, which is lined with folding chairs.
There’s also a gift shop, which houses a large purple, yellow, and blue hot air balloon.
The stunning Over The Rainbow Overlook is nearby. After paying a $6 admission fee, guests can climb several wooden staircases to a jaw-dropping view of the surrounding Appalachian hills.
The sidewalk leading to the overlook pathway is covered in glitter, fitting with the overall magical atmosphere of the Emerald City.
After having an incredible day in this wonderfully otherworldly land, guests may return to the parking lot on a shuttle bus or scenic ski lift. –by Maggie Watts; lead photo courtesy of The Land of Oz