Visit this Wizard of Oz-themed Park Hidden in the Blue Ridge Mountains

By Land of Oz / BT Editor
August 11, 2023
Oz Kansas 2019
Guests visit "Kansas" at the Land of Oz - courtesy of the Land of Oz

Most people with travel plans to North Carolina this fall have the incredible, sunset-colored foliage and fresh mountain air on their minds—but, this year, travelers to the state might want to add something a little more whimsical to their itinerary. A unique theme park exists in Beech Mountain, North Carolina inspired by the classic movie The Wizard of Oz. This year, the Land of Oz celebrates its 30th anniversary with the Autumn at Oz festival.

The Land of Oz isn't your typical theme park. After a successful opening in the 1970s, the park unfortunately fell into troubles in the 1980s. During that time, much of the original theme park was demolished due to decay or vandalism—however, the most emblematic features were preserved, including the Gale farmhouse, barn, and yellow brick road. A reunion of the park’s original employees, the “Ozzies”, in 1988 sparked the idea of public visits. This led to the inception of the Autumn at Oz Festival in 1993, an annual event in September that drew thousands of nostalgic visitors. Currently, while Land of Oz is not a fully functioning theme park, it offers many public events that celebrate the magic and legacy of all things Oz!

Celebrate Autumn at Oz

Skipping down the Yellow Brick Road - courtesy of the Land of Oz

Autumn at Oz is a one-of-a-kind event that combines your typical festival atmosphere with an interactive, immersive theatrical experience. Guests walk onto the Gale’s Kansas farm, visit Aunt Em and Uncle Henry’s Home, escape into our newly renovated Tornado Storm Cellar, and walk out on the Yellow Brick Road into the world of Oz. Along the way, you meet all your favorite characters, see them sing and dance, and enjoy the natural scenery of this magical place that sits over one mile high atop Beech Mountain. The stunning Blue Ridge Mountains provide a picturesque background for an unforgettable adventure Over The Rainbow.

Inside the park, the Judy Garland Over the Rainbow Observation Deck (the second highest elevation along the East Coast) boasts one of the most beautiful views in the South East granting a hundred miles radius view of North Carolina, Kentucky, West Virginia, Virginia, and Tennessee. One can also find food & craft vendors, official Land of Oz souvenirs and Wizard of Oz Memorabilia for sale, face painting & much more! At Oz, you don’t just watch it – you live it!

Guests wander through the Land of Oz - courtesy fo the Land of Oz

Sean Barrett, Artistic Director of the Land of Oz Theme Park, describes the excitement leading up to this year's event: "We are thrilled to be celebrating 30 years of the Autumn at Oz Festival! We've come a long way over the years with renovations and adding to this event each year. Now with 8 theatrical vignette shows, food and craft vendors, character meet-n-greets, and a few surprises along the way, Oz has grown into something extremely special and magical. If you haven't come in recent years, now is the time! We cannot wait to skip down the Yellow Brick Road with everyone while celebrating this milestone year."

Stay nearby in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains

With a convenient location near Boone, North Carolina and close access to the Blue Ridge Parkway, visitors will find they have a number of amazing options when it comes to lodging. Everything from affordable hotel chains and local inns, to quaint bed and breakfasts and cozy cabins can be found. Plenty of hiking trails and outdoor activities abound to make your trip magical.

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3 Ultra-Affordable Destinations for a Family Vacation

Cheap flights and hotels are important to keeping a travel budget in line, but activities and food—especially with the whole family in tow—can quickly eat away at any well-planned vacation. If you want to be sure you'll have your pick of affordable entertainment that won't break the bank, head to one of the below cities. All three are full of free or nearly-free activities for the whole family. Raleigh, North Carolina Raleigh's historic neighborhoods, world-class museums, Southern diners, outdoor green spaces, performing arts venues, and local shops all work together to create a dynamic downtown and city. Tons of free (or nearly free) experiences and attractions make a trip Raleigh, North Carolina easy to plan. Explore what the Raleigh area has to offer without breaking the bank! Explore the ideas below, or see the complete guide of Things to Do in Downtown Raleigh. Hunt for murals and public art – The expansive public art scene in Raleigh is quickly proving that beautiful and awe-inspiring art can easily be found both inside and outside of the area's awesome museums and galleries. Slip on your walking shoes and hit the streets to find more than 140 pieces of public art (just downtown) that make for perfect photo ops about hunting for murals! Note: Some murals are located downtown, and others are around the county in nearby towns.North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences – Delight, entertain and educate with fascinating exhibits, both featured and permanent, about the natural world. The museum's four floors are divided into two parts—the Nature Exploration Center (where you'll find the Terror of the South) and the Nature Research Center, an unmistakable architectural icon that opened to much fanfare a decade ago. Exhibits range from detailed dioramas to actual ecosystems with living animals—all of which can be explored through various self-guided tours.Historic Oakwood – Tour Historic Oakwood for a wonderful array of late 19th- and early 20th-century Victorian-inspired homes featuring a diversity of architectural styles. The homes, some with the most beautiful gardens, have been lovingly restored to exude old-world charm and splendor. You can explore this 30-block neighborhood by car or on foot. For a self-guided tour brochure, visit the Raleigh, N.C., Visitor Information Center.First Friday – Art lovers rejoice! First Friday draws thousands downtown for a free, self-guided tour of cutting-edge cultural hot spots—local art galleries, art studios, alternative art venues and museums. Tour stops can feature music, a variety of creative works, wine samples, hors d'oeuvres and more. Local tip: Look for the First Friday flags to easily locate participating venues or pick up a detailed map/guide.Videri Chocolate Factory – A chocolate lover's paradise! Visit the cozy, fully-operational, bean-to-bar chocolate factory and retail space located in the Warehouse District of downtown (a must-stop on any visit for chocolate and coffee lovers). Don't forget to take the free, self-guided tour of the chocolate-making process and get a sample of some of Videri's classic bars.North Carolina Museum of Art – One of the most visited attractions in the entire state (and ranked by Insider as one of the top 25 museums in the country!), the North Carolina Museum of Art and its permanent galleries are open to the public free of charge. You would also be wise to stroll through the Ann and Jim Goodnight Museum Park, with its monumental public art installations and miles of multi-use trails weaving throughout.State Farmers Market, Raleigh – One of the best and most modern markets in the U.S., boasting 75 acres of indoor and outdoor vendor space. Shop and sample some of the freshest fruits, vegetables, meats and gift products from across the state year-round. Also check out the specialty gifts shops, plus the ever-popular State Farmers Market Restaurant (don't miss the biscuits!)Pullen Park – Entertaining families since 1887, Pullen Park—nestled between downtown Raleigh and the main campus of North Carolina State University—was established as N.C.'s first state park (and it's the fifth oldest amusement park in the U.S.). Admission and access to the playgrounds, grassy and tree-shaded areas, picnic shelters, grills and tables are all free. Families can also enjoy amusement rides, including a historic carousel first built in 1911, for a small fee.Historic Yates Mill County Park – At 174 acres, this wildlife refuge and environmental research center has it all—hiking trails, a 24-acre pond and Historic Yates Mill, Wake County's last remaining gristmill (fully restored and operable!). Tour the mill to learn about the “farm-to-fork” process, witness the corn grinding process and purchase bags of ground yellow and white cornmeal. Admission is free, but the mill tour (available to the public March through November) costs $3 to $5.Neuse River Greenway Trail – A 27.5-mile paved, uninterrupted greenway that stretches from Falls Lake in North Raleigh to the Wake County line in southeast Raleigh is a year-round haven for outdoor recreation. With views of historic sites as well as winding boardwalk areas and suspension bridges crossing over wetlands, the trail is open to joggers, walkers, runners, cyclists, roller-bladers and others. Many consider this trail to be the gem of the 100-plus-mile Capital Area Greenway System. Local tip: Read up on what you need to know about the trail with this handy guide. Jacksonville, Florida Jacksonville, Florida by Lance Asper - Unsplash For the ninth year in a row, Visit Jacksonville invites families to discover all the family fun the city has to offer at its top attractions during Kids Free November. The best part? Free or discounted admission is available for children under the age of 12 with general adult admission throughout the month. “Traditionally, the last few months of the year are time for families to enjoy each other's company,” says Katie Mitura, Chief Marketing Officer of Visit Jacksonville. “Kids Free November is the perfect opportunity for families of all sizes to visit Jacksonville to make memories while also taking advantage of admission or tickets specials. It's the chance to save money and do more at many of our local favorites and must-sees.” Autobahn Indoor Speedway is offering an hour of unlimited arcade access with any race purchase, and Community First Igloo is offering free skate rental with the purchase of public skating admission. iFLY Jacksonville is having a BOGO special on First Time Flyer packages. Free admission specials are also being offered at Catty Shack Wildlife Sanctuary, Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens, Durkeeville Historical Society, Jacksonville Arboretum and Botanical Gardens, Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens, Museum of Contemporary Art, and the Museum of Science & History. In addition to being Kids Free November, there will be special events free to the public on select dates. On November 11th is the Veterans Day Parade, and on November 26th is the Light Boat Parade. Deck the Chairs will also be free, with opening night on November 22nd. Jacksonville is also home to many free and low-cost family attractions including the Beaches Museum and History Park, Riverside Arts Market, Downtown Art Walk, Jacksonville Farmers Market and Fort Caroline National Memorial. Other participating attractions in Kids Free November include Explore Jax Core, FSCJ Artist Series performances at Jacksonville Performing Arts Center, the Jacksonville Icemen, King Pins Bowling Center, Sweet Pete's, and more. For more information about and details about participants visit Clarksville, Tennessee A mural in Clarksville, Tennessee by Elmer Cañas - Unsplash A successful vacation with kids means keeping them engaged during your getaway. A blend of fun activities, recreation, creativity, and favorite foods, along with some disguised education, will ensure great memories for the whole family for years to come. Clarksville, Tennessee offers a variety of fun for kids of all ages, no matter their interests. Give them the opportunity to invest in your family's adventure by letting them choose some favorites among these options. For toddlers and young kids: Mochas & Minis Indoor Play & Cafe is a place where adults can sip on a coffee or refresher while the kids run free. The indoor playground is designed specifically for ages 8 and under with separate spaces for toddlers and older kids. Reservations are recommended.The Customs House Museum & Cultural Center is full of areas for kids to enjoy. The lower level includes a bubble cave, model trains, and Explorers Landing complete with age-appropriate activities to teach children about community, urban development, and local wildlife.Downtown Commons is an urban park and gathering place in Historic Downtown Clarksville where kids can run and play on the grassy lawn, build forts with the Imagination Playground, and have picnics with food from downtown shops.Stroll along the Cumberland River at Liberty Park, visit the ducks at the fishing pond, or release some energy at the community-built playground.Downtown Clarksville is full of public art. A favorite of these in the hot summer months is the Children's Fountain on Strawberry Alley.The Wade Bourne Nature Center located inside Rotary Park is a 4,200-square-foot facility that educates children on natural history with hands-on activities and events throughout the summer. The center includes indoor exhibits, demonstration gardens, and pollinator and butterfly gardens. A new aquarium will open inside the center in late July. Children will also enjoy the nature-inspired playground.Let the kids cool off at the Heritage Park All-Inclusive Playground & Splash Pad. For bigger kids and teens: If your kids have their own phones, let them download the Visit Clarksville App to take any of 18 themed Challenge Trails. Check in at the required number of places and earn custom-designed pins for each trail.There is certainly no shortage of activities for the competitive kid at The City Forum which has it all under one roof – go-karts, mini golf, bowling, laser tag, arcade games, and more.D&D Blacklight Mini Golf, Sky Zone Clarksville, and The Flip'n Axe are all unique indoor recreation experiences.Looking to spend some time in the great outdoors? A Dunbar Cave State Park cave tour is a great combination of recreation, education, and history. The cave stays at a constant temperature of 58 degrees making it a great place to escape the summer heat while still being outdoors. There are several tour options available to visitors. For those who want to be in the water this summer, Float Ya Boat allows families to spend an afternoon floating down the Red River.Take a break from the heat and get out on the ice! Ford Ice Center hosts public skates each weekend.Every kid loves a selfie! Grab a phone and document all the unique stops along the Public Art Trail. For anyone feeling creative, ArtLink hosts workshops throughout the summer teaching everything from stained glass to painting. For anyone visiting on the first Thursday of the month, be sure to head to the Downtown Artists Co-op for the First Thursday Art Walk.Rent a bike or take a walk at the Clarksville Greenway, a scenic 9-mile paved walking trail. In addition to activities, Clarksville has plenty of dining options to satisfy everyone—including picky eaters. These locations are sure to have something to satisfy everyone's craving. Wolf Down at Downtown Commons, Miss Lucille's Café, and Wicked Good Sandwiches focus more on sandwiches, while Dock 17, Johnny's Big Burger and Joe's Garage are great places to grab a burger. The Thirsty Goat serves pizzas and doubles as a coffee shop and beer garden with expansive outdoor seating.Cool down with a cold treat this summer. Golly G's and Frozen Fuel serve handmade ice cream, while La Michoacana Delicias sells Mexican popsicles. Café 931's acai bowls are both tasty and filling.Enjoy a tea party at Pinky's Up Afternoon Tea or Miss Ashley's Tearoom & Cafe, or grab donuts at Parlor Doughnuts.Does everyone want something different? Check out the Chow Down with the Clarksville Food Trucks events every Saturday to dine with local food and dessert trucks.


Stargaze in the World's Largest Accessible Dark Sky Preserve

For the thirteenth year in a row, astronauts, aurora chasers, and space enthusiasts from across North America will gather in the Canadian Rockies for the Jasper Dark Sky Festival. Happening this year from October 13th to 22nd, this one-of-a-kind annual event promises cosmic concerts, fascinating speakers, and supernova-sized experiences. Located within the world's largest accessible dark sky preserve, stargazers will find plenty to dazzle their telescopes at the 2023 festival. But science enthusiasts of all types will also find events to light up their frontal lobe. The Jasper Dark Sky Festival invites everyone to immerse themselves in the wonder of the universe with an array of things to do for all ages. Listen to Amazing Speakers The night sky over Jasper, Alberta, Canada by Joshua Woronecki - Unsplash Renowned speakers like retired astronaut Marc Garneau, award-winning spaceflight history writer Emily Carney and NASA scientist Dr. Kartik Sheth will gather to share their knowledge and insights about everything from space funerals to cosmic weather trackers. Attendees will have the chance to ask questions, get inspired, and connect with like-minded enthusiasts in small group settings. Attend Interactive and Family-friendly Events The festival puts on mesmerizing events and performances - courtesy of Jasper Dark Sky Festival If sitting through seminars isn't quite the adventure you had in mind, the festival has plenty of interactive and fun ways to experience the beauty of the stars. With a lineup that includes everything from concerts, hikes, telescope viewing opportunities, and more, there are more than enough ways to entertain every traveler in your group. Events include: Drone Light Show: Now with two hundred choreographed drones to light up the sky, this jaw-dropping audience-favourite show must be seen to be believed.Stargazing Sessions: With guides on hand from the Jasper Planetarium, experience the thrill of observing distant galaxies through the biggest telescopes in the Rockies.Kid-Friendly Activities: The festival caters to all ages, with activities designed to spark curiosity and wonder in young minds. Kids can enjoy rocketry demonstrations, geocaching adventures, and interactive exhibits from TELUS World of Science – Edmonton.Animals of the Night Hike: Join a local guide for a family-friendly night hike up Pyramid Beach.Cosmic Concerts: Feel the vastness of the universe as talented musicians take the stage at Symphony Under the Stars, hosted at the luxurious Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge. Hear the drumbeat of the mountains at pahkisimon, an Indigenous sunset ceremony at Annette Lake. Rock out to the fun, futuristic songs performed by Jay Ingram and the Dark Sky Band.Night Sky Photography: Calling all astrophotography enthusiasts! Beginners to advanced levels can learn from local experts and capture the beauty of Jasper's dark skies.And more: The ever-popular Science for Breakfast series will be joined by new events: Talk Nerdy to Me, the Science of Brewing, and more. A full list of events is available on the website. — For more information, ticket purchases, and a detailed schedule of events, please visit the official Jasper Dark Sky Festival and discover the magic that lies above!


Head to Kentucky for this Enchanting Waterfall Trail

The Kentucky Wildlands Waterfall Trail highlights 17 of some of the most unique and accessible waterfalls across southern and eastern Kentucky. The trail not only provides logistical information like length, difficulty and how to access each trail, it also highlights waterfalls with special features, including the tallest waterfall, an ADA-accessible waterfall and family-friendly falls and trails. With more than 14,000 square miles and 800+ waterfalls in this part of Kentucky alone, the trail makes it easy for people to explore the ancient forests, mountains and unspoiled terrain of The Kentucky Wildlands—those who do will be rewarded with breathtaking waterfall views. The Kentucky Wildlands Waterfall Trail illustrated map - courtesy of The Kentucky Wildlands “We are incredibly excited to debut this trail so that those unfamiliar with the area can better understand and navigate the diverse beauty of the Wildlands,” said Tammie Nazario, Director of The Kentucky Wildlands. “We want to encourage people to discover the natural wonders here, which include an abundance of beautiful waterfalls, and we hope this easy-to-follow guide inspires them to plan a trip to experience some of the many we have to offer.” No two falls are alike on The Kentucky Wildlands Waterfall Trail. Featured waterfalls include Cumberland Falls, also known as the “Niagara of the South,” the 113-foot Yahoo Falls, and Creation Falls, which has a plunge pool great for wading. The trail incorporates everything from wheelchair- and stroller-accessible hikes like the one to Flat Lick Falls to more challenging routes such as the rocky climb to Eagle Falls. The entire waterfall trail can be found online. The trail is displayed on an illustrated map that gives visitors a glimpse of what each of the 17 falls looks like and where it's located within The Kentucky Wildlands. Visitors can download a waterfall guide as well as access photos of the falls, important details and insider tips on the website. Below are a just a few of the featured waterfalls on the trail. Pine Island Double Falls (London) Within the Daniel Boone National Forest lies a rare double waterfall, Pine Island Double Falls, where two powerful blue cascades meet in the middle and plunge into a pristine aquamarine pool below. You can access this impressive hidden gem via a 1.4-mile trek that follows a creek and features numerous natural wonders, such as caves, gorges, canyons and rock formations. As with most waterfalls, the best time to visit is right after a heavy rainfall. Dog Slaughter Falls (Corbin) Dog Slaughter Falls in Kentucky by Joshua Michaels - Unsplash Dense stands of hemlock and rhododendron and massive boulders line the one-mile path to stunning Dog Slaughter Falls. A second path to the falls, twice as long as the first, is easily accessible and both are considered only moderately challenging, making them good options for families, as well as nature lovers. Upon arriving you can take in the falls from many vantage points surrounding the blue plunge pool, which also makes a gorgeous swimming hole. Creation Falls (Wolfe County) Venture into the rugged Red River Gorge to Creation Falls with its family-friendly plunge pool that’s great for wading. The 1.4 mile out-and-back Rock Bridge Trail is considered moderately challenging and is one of the most visually stunning trails in the Gorge. Along the way to the arch (rock bridge) for which the trail is named, you’ll come upon magnificent Creation Falls. If you start the loop going clockwise, you’ll descend first into the woods to a scenic creek. Bad Branch Falls (Letcher County) On the south side of Pine Mountain lies Bad Branch State Nature Preserve, home to Bad Branch, a designated Kentucky Wild River and Bad Branch Falls. Impressive year-round, the 60-foot waterfall lies at the end of a moderate one-mile well-maintained trail that takes you through old timber roads, a shady gorge, and hemlock forest surrounded by sandstone cliffs. Climb over boulders, enjoy the spray and watch for rainbows in the water at the foot of the falls. Cumberland Falls (Whitley and McCreary County) Cumberland Falls in Kentucky by Lauren Barton - Unsplash Roaring Cumberland Falls at 68 feet tall and 125 feet wide certainly lives up to its “Niagara of the South” moniker. 3,600 cubic feet of water spills over sandstone cliffs into the gorge below every second to create an awe-inspiring sight and sound. View these majestic falls from above or below in Cumberland Falls State Resort Park. Visit during a full moon for the chance to witness a rare moonbow, one of only two that occur in the world. Princess Falls (McCreary County) The section of the Sheltowee Trace Trail that leads to Princess Falls takes you along Lick Creek as it parallels the Cumberland River. You’ll spot many small waterfalls and interesting rock formations worth exploring along this relatively flat and easy trail, making it ideal for young hikers. Using the trailhead from the upper tier of the parking lot avoids much of the muddier trail conditions. These photogenic falls are named after Cherokee Princess Cornblossom. Anglin Falls (Rockcastle) Streams trickling over rock cliffs, lush greenery and wildflowers line the way to jaw-dropping Anglin Falls, located in the wooded ravine of John B. Stephenson Memorial Forest State Park. The short 1.7-mile out-and-back hike up to Anglin Falls is mostly uphill and offers views of limestone outcroppings and small caves with a few challenging spots. It’s considered a moderate route, though, taking less than an hour to complete with benches for resting along the way.


Cruise Through Detroit's Greenways and Bike Paths

Detroit is known for its automobiles—they're a core part of the Motor City nickname that the city takes pride in. Millions of cars have been assembled under the parentage of Detroit's “Big Three” manufacturers, and America's motor vehicle fascination can trace its supply right to the metro Detroit region. But in today's Detroit, the automobile takes second fiddle compared to the bicycle. Because with acclaimed greenways and innovative bike share companies, the Motor City is increasingly driven by pedals. Just take a look at Detroit's premier greenways – the International Riverwalk, Dequindre Cut and Southwest Greenway – all of which are full of bicycles and other pedal-powered vehicles. Experience Motor City by Trail View from Belle Island near Detroit by Walter Martin - Unsplash “I've done it myself, biking up the Riverwalk and taking in the scenery,” Visit Detroit CEO & President Claude Molinari said. “And what we're hearing from parents, workers, just general bike enthusiasts is that these trails are a lifeline for the interconnectivity of Detroit. Our region is just getting started providing some of the nation's best bike paths to provide equitable access between our city, our neighborhoods and our economy.” The International Riverwalk is the nation's top-ranked riverwalk, tracing the banks of the Detroit River it shares with Canada – including historic Belle Isle, an island park located between the United States and Canada. The Dequindre Cut is a 2.5-mile path converted from an abandoned railroad line, one of the first greenways opened in Detroit. Additionally, the Southwest Greenway opened in May 2023 after sponsorship from the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy. It connects Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Centennial Park, a community space set to open in 2024, with Michigan Central Station, newly renovated and home to Ford Motor Company's electric vehicle (EV) research teams. All of Detroit's modes of transportation are connected via these greenways, making the transportation arteries increasingly important. A row of bikes in Detroit by Sadie Coulter - Unsplash Together, the three established trails provide more than 6.5 miles of bikeable paths that create equitable access to hundreds of shops, offices and restaurants in Detroit. It's never been easier for Detroiters to trade in their car keys for a bike helmet, not only helping the environment by lowering personal emissions but also saving money in an increasingly difficult economy. These bike paths are only expanding, as the 27.5-mile Joe Louis Greenway project is rapidly growing thanks to its award-winning Framework Plan. This path will connect and expand Detroit's existing trails, as well as link them to pathways in nearby Dearborn, Hamtramck and Highland Park. The under-construction Gordie Howe Bridge will also connect to the Joe Louis Greenway in 2025, with bike access linking the United States and Canada at one of the two nations' busiest intersections. Pickup Bikes On-Demand Buildings in Detroit by Alex Brisbey - Unsplash Even the very access to bikes has seen innovation in Detroit, as local rental company MoGo provides a comprehensive bikeshare service similar to Spin scooters. These MoGo bikes allow anyone to rent a bike on-demand, getting Detroiters where they need to be, when they need to be there. Detroit's past might've been tied to the gas-powered automobile, but its future is tied to sustainable multimodal transportation. With increasing options for Detroiters to skip the gas station and bike to work, eat or play, the city has never been more interconnected than today. And with so many projects underway, the current state of transportation pales in comparison to the future.