29 Eerie Photos Of River Country, Disney World’s Mysteriously Abandoned Water Park

Published May 18, 2024

River Country mysteriously shut down in 2001 — and instead of demolishing the once beloved water park, Disney abandoned it, allowing it to rot in plain sight for nearly two decades.

Over 20 years ago, Disney World permanently closed the gates of one of its previously most popular theme parks: Disney’s River Country. Instead of demolishing the park, however, Disney abandoned it completely, allowing it to be reclaimed by nature — a rather odd choice for a park known for its immaculate appearance.

Over the years, many urban explorers have illegally entered Disney’s River Country in hopes of documenting the disrepair and perhaps understanding why the park closed in the first place.

Using a drone camera, photographer Seph Lawless captured exclusive, never-before-seen images of the abandoned park in 2016 — and they’re rather haunting.

Disney's River Country
Abandoned Log Flume Ride
Abandoned River Country From Bay Lake
Disney Park That Was Closed In 2001
29 Eerie Photos Of River Country, Disney World’s Mysteriously Abandoned Water Park
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A Pioneer In Water Park Design

When Disney's River Country opened its gates on June 20, 1976, it stood out from the other water parks of its time, partly thanks to its immersive themed design.

Built to resemble an old-fashioned swimming hole, the park was inspired by the works of Mark Twain — particularly Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn and their depictions of the 19th-century American South.

One of the main selling points of River Country was the way in which it utilized one of Disney's natural assets: Bay Lake. The water park's filtration system drew water directly from the lake, creating a more natural swimming experience than the chlorinated pools typical of water parks.

At the time, this was a novel concept and helped to solidify River Country as not just a standout attraction for Disney, but a pioneer in the space.

Of course, it wouldn't have been nearly as remarkable if it didn't have the proper attractions.

Memorable Attractions And Rustic Charm

The naturalistic design of Disney's River Country spilled over into its rides and attractions. Notable among these were the "Whoop 'n' Holler Hollow" — two water slides that propelled guests into the park's lagoon — the "White Water Rapids," which was similar to a lazy river, and the "Bay Cove" area, a half-acre pool with a sandy bottom, tire swings, and a barrel bridge.

The park, like many other Walt Disney parks, sought to appeal to the widest possible audience, offering experiences for thrill-seekers and the more faint of heart alike.

Disney River Country

Wikimedia CommonsSlides at Disney's River Country circa 1981.

Its appeal lingered for nearly two decades and even saw a slight resurgence in the 1990s thanks to the park's "All-American Water Party" events, featuring themed games, food, and live music. That said, in hindsight, these events seem like an attempt to lure people back to the park as guests flocked to newer, more enticing water parks.

Looking back, it's possible that when Disney opened Typhoon Lagoon in 1989 and Blizzard Beach in 1995, it marked the beginning of the end for River Country.

Amoebas In The Water At Disney's River Country

As Disney World continued to expand, River Country increasingly became a relic of the past. Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach offered more thrilling modern attractions that sharply contrasted with River Country's more old-timey design.

Moreover, technological advances further illustrated how, frankly, outdated River Country was. Its once-innovative water-filtration system struggled to meet continually evolving health and safety expectations.

So, when River Country closed for its regular seasonal break in 2001, it never reopened. For four years, Disney declined to explain why — though rumors flew that it was due to a slew of tragedies that occurred there.

For example, Yesterdayland cites a 1980 Associated Press article which reported: "A rare but deadly disease caused by an amoeba found in Florida fresh-water lakes has claimed its fourth victim — a New York youngster who spent his vacation swimming at Walt Disney World's River Country."

River Country In 1977

Wikimedia CommonsGuests at River Country in 1977.

The article states that this 11-year-old boy died of "amoebic meningoencephalitis" — an infection that attacks the nervous system and brain — after visiting the park. The infection had reportedly killed three other people in Florida that season.

A state epidemiologist said the child died "after the amoeba entered his nose, went through the nasal passage, and attacked the nervous system, including the brain."

Disney officials at the time refused to take any responsibility for the deaths, saying they were "of course concerned" but did not "know of any action that could be taken" in response. Public health representatives determined that Disney was ultimately not responsible, as the amoeba could "breed in almost any freshwater lake during hot weather."

Still, the water park stayed open for 21 years after that report. In that time, two teenage boys drowned at the park, in 1982 and 1989.

Many have since suggested that it was these tragedies that led to River Country's demise. But given the timeline of events, it seems far more likely that other factors were the cause.

The Decay And Demolition Of River Country

Disney officially announced that River Country would remain permanently closed in 2005, but they did not announce any plans to revitalize the old park.

In fact, it sat vacant for years after, steadily becoming a haunting, overgrown relic of days gone by. It remained that way for more than a decade.

In August 2016, Disney officials finally acknowledged the park once again, if only to say that they would be draining the 330,000-gallon Upstream Plunge. They did not reveal any future plans for demolition of the park.

That moment would come two years later, in 2018, when Disney announced that it would be tearing down River Country at last. In its place, the company would begin construction on a new hotel: Reflections — A Disney Lakeside Lodge.

Plans for the hotel, however, were eventually scrapped as construction across all Disney resorts was put on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While the River Country site has finally been leveled, park officials have since reportedly removed equipment from the construction area.

To date, Disney has not officially provided an update on the lodge, which was originally projected to open in 2022. The site continues to sit empty, bringing a rather anti-climactic end to what had once been the company's flagship water park.

If you enjoyed this article on Disney's River Country, why not check out these 35 creepy photos of abandoned malls? Then, explore the mysterious underground tunnels beneath Disney's Magic Kingdom.

Jaclyn Anglis
Jaclyn is the senior managing editor at All That's Interesting. She holds a Master's degree in journalism from the City University of New York and a Bachelor's degree in English writing and history (double major) from DePauw University. She is interested in American history, true crime, modern history, pop culture, and science.
Maggie Donahue
Maggie Donahue is an assistant editor at All That's Interesting. She has a Master's degree in journalism from Columbia University and a Bachelor's degree in creative writing and film studies from Johns Hopkins University. Before landing at ATI, she covered arts and culture at The A.V. Club and Colorado Public Radio and also wrote for Longreads. She is interested in stories about scientific discoveries, pop culture, the weird corners of history, unexplained phenomena, nature, and the outdoors.
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Anglis, Jaclyn. "29 Eerie Photos Of River Country, Disney World’s Mysteriously Abandoned Water Park." AllThatsInteresting.com, May 18, 2024, https://allthatsinteresting.com/disney-river-country. Accessed May 24, 2024.