"The Enchanted Forest" Of Oregon

by AnomalousArtist

Nestled in a thick forest in a small community south of Salem, Oregon lies a small, quiet and infamous land of magic and mystery: The Enchanted Forest!

Oregon, the state I was born and raised in, has a lot of character. Whenever I return I'm reminded of this fact; when I meet people who live or dwelled in Oregon for any length of time I find instant kinship. There's an earnest, dreamy, kind aspect to the personality of many Oregonians I've known over the years that I've come to find much more charming in retrospect, having lived in Los Angeles for over twenty years.

One such earnest "dreamer" was Roger Tofte, a man who decided one day to build his own "Disneyland" in his backyard, or the equivalent, and did so for the simple "Oregon-like" reason it never occurred to him he could NOT do such a thing. Tofte eventually constructed a small, iconic and often bizarre park in the hills of Turner, Oregon that has gone on to become a beloved institution of entertainment for kids and grown-up kids both local and remote. The weird and wonderful "Enchanted Forest," perched teasingly by the freeway leading into and out of Salem, is one of the biggest tourist draws of the state and continues to serve, humbly and sincerely, a need for families to have a place to go together, play and dream.

The world has changed in drastic ways since the gates of the Enchanted Forest first opened in the early 1970s, but--thankfully, as of this writing anyway--the park has maintained its simple, quirky charm and shows no sign of slowing down.

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1) It all starts with a dream, and a dreamer

Roger Tofte, the "Uncle Walt" of the Enchanted Forest, was a native of Astoria, Oregon.  As often happens, there was the occasional, obligatory "Tofte family road trip."  Trips to Mt. Rushmore and the Oregon Caves inspired young master Tofte to envision a similar attraction in his back yard that he could charge admission to, and the seeds of the Enchanted Forest were planted.

A trip to Disneyland with his own young family some years later sealed Tofte's fate.  Why, he wondered, were there all sorts of tourist stops along the routes in California to help families break the monotony of driving for long stretches but none in Oregon?  And couldn't there also be a place of QUALITY for families to visit?



Tofte envisioned a park with designated walking paths for strolls through the woods but this evolved into what would eventually become "Storybook Lane." 

Using money from a watch-repairing business and making good use of that wonderful Oregon mix of naiveté and derring-do, Tofte began crafting his vision of a story-book inspired cousin of Disneyland in some unwanted, hilly land he purchased near what would eventually become the busy I-5 freeway leading into and out of Oregon's capital.

2) What IS an "Enchanted Forest?"

As children I, my sister and our friends had been watching with great curiosity as a yellow thatched-roof-style building appeared on the highway we sometimes drove on just outside of our home town.  What on earth was going on in the woods, we wondered? In August of 1971 our curiosities were sated; The Enchanted Forest was open, officially.

Originally the park was just a small trail through the woods dotted with small "homes" of storybook characters like Little Red Riding Hood, The Three Little Pigs and the dwarves' cottage from Snow White.  There was a small, lovely concrete castle and a fun Alice In Wonderland play land with a tunnel that actually went underground.  There was a beautiful and somewhat creepy Dwarves' mine with glowing, phosphorscent gem effects evocative of the long-gone Disney's rainbow caverns mine train ride.


More memorably, and evoking the weird and rather frightening world of the Enchanted Forest most of us first-generation kids remember it for, at the end of the trail was a giant witch head that you could walk into (through the mouth of the witch!) and slide out of on a metal slide out her ear and down her stringy black hair.

There was also a house we were informed belonged to the "Crooked Man," but judging from the state of the wacky, psychedelic interior of the house, it appeared the crookedness was probably more inside the man's brain than his body, and perhaps chemically induced...!

One thing is for sure, at a dollar for adults and 50 cents for kids, the park was enchanting indeed; providing a lush, natural background for kids to run around in, images of childhood fantasy to be inspired by and a quiet environment for adults to relax and dine, it was destined to become a hit.

Tofte was also smart about one thing in particular; to this day the park only runs in spring, summer and early fall when rain-drenched Oregon is more likely to have sunny days, a key factor that led to failure of the legendary "Pixieland" theme park near the Oregon Coast around the same time the Enchanted Forest was just starting out. 

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3) It gets better



Admittedly, there wasn't much to the Enchanted Forest when it first opened--once you'd wandered around and borne witness to such unique sights as the giant, hairy and terrifying spider accosting a traumatized Miss Muffet a couple times there wasn't much more to see.


Those of us who were the perfect age for such things in the early 70s remember waiting eagerly for news of the new developments going on at the park; they would always block off sections and give you peep holes to peek in and see a sneak preview of what was brewing behind the walls, much as Disneyland has done in the past. 

First up came "Tofteville," clearly inspired by Disney's old west-themed "Frontierland" and even "Main St. USA" but with the usual, quirky "Tofte twists."  There was a hall you could walk down with cushions in it to give you the feeling that you'd had a few too many shots of moonshine at the local saloon.  There was also a sadistic-looking old-time dentist's display. Inside, a patient clearly had not received any Novocain before the procedure and was screaming for mercy on the audio loop coming out of the window. The figure of a dentist used his *foot against the patient's head* to brace himself as he yanked on the hysterical man's skull to remove the offending tooth.

I was particularly disturbed by images in the local jail; there were mannequins in shackles in the small displayed room and one of them was wearing a mask for a face.  I found out years later the mask that had given me so many nightmares as a child was the face of Tor Johnson, a famous wrestler from the 50's who worked with legendary bad filmmaker Ed Wood (Johnny Depp played him in a movie in the 90s).  The Tor Johnson mask was popular at the time and Tofte, like many Oregonians, was used to making do with what was available.  It worked; I'm scarred for life to this day by the memory of the gape-mouthed, eyeless horror that was this specter in the Tofteville jail!

4) Speaking of scary...

One of the most highly anticipated and successful additions to the Enchanted Forest was a haunted house that is still rated one of the best in the country today.  We watched for months, with a mixture of anticipation and dread, as the gray turrets of the house rose like a sentinel above the thick pine trees on the north side of the Enchanted Forest hill. 

The haunted house opened its doors with a creepy squeak in spring of 1975 and a new Enchanted Forest star was born.  The attraction was so popular the park made it the first "separate admission" addition; no one seemed to mind being separated from another 50 cents for the privilege of being scared out of one's wits in the twisty, dark, black-lit halls of the house.  The attraction was decidedly grim in parts, at odds with the more whimsical fare just outside the walkway, and Tofte and Co made no bones about the house being Not For Sensitive Children.  This only made it more enticing to some of us, of course.

The Haunted House is littered with figures, some animatronic and aided by projections.  This made it even more eerie when it turned out that one of the first figures you encountered turned out to be *real.*  For the first year or two a person dressed in black could be found scaring the daylights out of kids and adults alike, but legend has it that all came to an end when someone took a swing at the unwitting ghoul.

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5) And more and more and more...

Long after I grew too old to get excited about the Enchanted Forest they kept adding things to the park and occasionally I would go back with friends and check to see how things were going. 

In time a fast-moving "mini Matterhorn" bobsled ride was added, an ambitious "Old World Village" out of a Renaissance Fair dream was built and included four-and-twenty singing blackbirds and a scary blue fairy slinking out of a dark closet to poke in on an alarmed Pinocchio and dad, carnival rides were installed and there is an electronic water and light show.  Live, gently satirical performances written and directed by members of the Tofte family and starring storybook characters  continue to entertain and enthrall and most recently (2008) a high-tech, trackless fantasy ride with dragons and other not-so-fair folk was added.

6) The story keeps going...

By and large it seems the Enchanted Forest has had a merry run for most of the time it has existed; there were problems when there was a gas crisis in the mid-70s and families weren't traveling as much, there have been personal health problems in the Tofte family and of course it's up to continuing generations to keep the torch burning.  With changes in how families entertain themselves and spiking economy and cultural issues it will be interesting to see if Oregon's beloved institution can maintain its sense of sincerity and quaintness and still stay afloat. 

Regardless, the park has entertained thousands of grateful people over the years and the validation of Mr. Tofte's original dream has been surpassed; if you ever find your way up the 5 freeway to Oregon and need a little fantasy--especially if you remember a time when fairy tales could be a little creepy and not necessarily happy in their endings--check out the thatched roof cottage on the eastern side of the freeway as you're heading into Salem and try to spend an hour or two in a charming forest attraction truly full of "enchantment." 

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Updated: 05/25/2013, AnomalousArtist
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AnomalousArtist on 03/10/2015

Fantasy is where you find it! Thanks for the comment :)

paperfacets on 01/09/2015

Building a castle or decorating your backyard is a dream to fulfill. Most end up with a simple house, some leave a legacy. Hwy 5 has this nice rest stop for the curious. We all can not create a Mount Rushmore, this shady place is just as good.

AnomalousArtist on 09/17/2013

That is true! A friend of mine is biking down the Oregon coast as we speak and seeing the state at her prettiest time of year, I'm so jealous! :)

WriterArtist on 09/11/2013

I have always preferred the quiet countryside to the busy streets of a metropolis. Oregon's enchanted forest is a respite from the humdrum life - a beautiful place for a vacation.

AnomalousArtist on 05/27/2013

Hopefully you'd like it! Some friends of mine seek out "roadside attractions" and said this was one of the best ones they've been to in the country! :)

katiem2 on 05/27/2013

What an interesting place, a must see going on my list of travels.

AnomalousArtist on 05/26/2013

Yeah, that "innocence" has become part of the charm! :)

EliasZanetti on 05/26/2013

That place looks fantastic. I'm pretty sure that back in the 70s it would have a great effect on kids so I'm glad that it managed to survive to this day keeping intact its own character despite the rapid changes of modern societies.

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