All Hallow’s Eve might bring out the ghosts and goblins, but some places are better prepared for them than others.
Halloween is one of those holidays that truly sparks joy, no matter your age. You might have babies that you can dress in whatever you desire — personally I was Dian Fossey one year and my child was a gorilla. You might also go all-out with your friends and don Wizard of Oz costumes. Or perhaps you take a job as a seasonal actor hired to wreak havoc in a haunted house.
All of these things are acceptable things to do on Halloween. Let’s face it, there’s not a whole lot that you can’t do on Halloween. If anything, it’s a no holds barred type situation. Do you want to buy a voodoo doll reminiscent of your sister to see if it does anything? Head on down to New Orleans. Do you want to go on a witch hunt? Head to Salem, Massachusetts for all your witch history. Or do you want to tour a haunted penitentiary that could literally scare the crap out of you? Head to Philadelphia for that one.
Whether it’s finding witches in Salem, running for your life in Sleepy Hollow, family fun in Halloweentown, or feeling the voodoo vibes of New Orleans, there’s something for everyone this Halloween!
1. Salem, Massachusetts
Why you should go: to find the perfect hex for your ex.
It would be foolish not to mention Salem, Massachusetts as THE place to be for the month of October. As the home of the Salem Witch Trials, this spooky town is full of just as much history as ghoulish activities any time of the year. But it truly comes along during the Halloween celebration.
Pick from a number of things to do and determine the level of scariness you want. The Jonathan Corwin House (known locally as The Witch House) was once home to the judge of the same name who convicted 19 innocent people of witchcraft and, subsequently, had them hanged. Don’t say I didn’t want you — spirits have been known to inhabit the house.
If you’d rather make up some potions rather than go ghost hunting, head to Crow Haven Corner or Coven’s Cottage for all your hexing needs. Or perhaps purchase a love potion and head to the Salem Witches’ Halloween Ball during the Festival of the Dead. For a more family-friendly option, you can always trick-or-treat right in town!
2. Stanley Hotel, Estes Park, Colorado
Why you should go: to experience where Stephen King was inspired to write The Shining.
All work and no play, makes Jack a dull boy. Or does it make him a murdering psychopath who froze in a maze in the dead of winter? Regardless, you should head to Estes Park this Halloween to attend the Stanley Hotel’s annual Shining Ball this October. The exclusive party might be pricey but it’s well worth it for the experience and the characters you’ll get to meet.
There might be one too many Jack Nicholson or scary twin costumes (obviously inspired by the horror flick), but there are others that get serious with their costume planning. From good ol’ fashioned flappers, to “Eleven” from Stranger Things, or just plain frighteningly accurate depictions of the clown from IT, the party includes all costumes. Make sure to stay away from the red rum punch if you plan to drive after the party or you can always stay the night.
I highly recommend slipping away from the party at some point to walk the various halls of the hotel. Just don’t bring a tricycle since you never know what might be around the corner. Or take a nightly tour to learn the scary history of the century-old hotel.
3. Eastern State Penitentiary, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Why you should go: to scare the crap out of you to never do anything that might put you in jail.
In case movies like Get Out or A Quiet Place isn’t terrifying enough for you, head to the Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia to get your spooky fix. This abandoned penitentiary was built back in 1829 and didn’t so much as punish the inmates but reform them. Yeah, if that didn’t send your arm hairs tingling, I don’t know what will.
Eastern State Penitentiary (known as ESP locally — the creepiness doesn’t stop!) is now considered a historic site and can be toured almost any day of the year. There are day tours for those who might want to keep their poop in their bodies and night tours for the more adventurous folks. For those seeking the especially frightening nights, you can buy tickets for their annual Halloween Festival.
The Halloween Nights celebration includes four haunted houses, a self-guided walk-through tour (with narration by Steve Buscemi), live performances, and plenty of areas for drinks, dancing, and lounging. Take your pick between The Crypt, Gargoyle Gardens, or the Bloodline Lounge depending on your taste in scaries.
And if you still want some more scary encounters. Go visit the historic Gettysburg Battlefield just two hours away. Every year, there’s the Olde Getty Halloween Parade or you can simply take one of the many ghost tours on the battlefield.
4. New Orleans, Louisiana
Why you should go: for voodoo, of course!
Mardi Gras isn’t the only famous festival in The Big Easy. If you venture onto Bourbon Street anytime of year, you’ll likely see debauchery, costumes, and bare torsos and that, most definitely, gets even crazier on Halloween.
In the city that’s rich in voodoo culture, make sure to check out these shops during the daytime to get ready for a night of fun. Every October you can partake in the Voodoo Music and Arts Festival where over 65 bands rock the stage and good ol’ southern cuisine starts flowing.
But the precipice of Halloween weekend is always the Krewe of Boo celebration which includes a Halloween parade, a second line (of course), a glitzy ball, and even a zombie “run” (I mean, how quickly can they run, right?). You can also attend the LGBTQ+ friendly Halloween celebration and the famed Lazarus Ball which gives proceeds to the Lazarus Project: a non-profit organization dedicated to helping the opioid crisis in Wilkes county.
5. Sleepy Hollow, New York
Why you should go: for one of the largest Jack-‘O-Lantern displays.
Not everyone wants to be scared out of their pants on Halloween especially those with smaller kids who might not be ready for those types of frights. Or, maybe you’re just like me and a huge scaredy cat. If that sounds like you, then head to Sleepy Hollow, New York where the famed Headless Horseman legend originated.
You can take a tour of the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery where the man behind the legend (Washington Irving) rests today. You can also visit his estate and take a tour behind the mind of this epic storyteller. Stick around for the Tarrytown Halloween Parade and the Great Jack-‘O-Lantern Blaze where the Van Cortlandt Manor transforms into a sea of orange glow every Halloween. You might also get a glimpse of the Headless Horseman himself – just make sure to steer clear out of his way.
6. Guthrie, Oklahoma
Why you should go: for the eerie lights and mysterious noises throughout the town’s buildings.
Guthrie might not be the first thing that pops into your head when you think of Halloween destinations, but that shouldn’t discount it. Guthrie is one of the oldest towns in the state of Oklahoma and, by far, the most haunted.
There are at least four haunted places (if not many more) in town but pop into any of the bars downtown and chat up some locals. I’m sure they’ve got some stories to tell. Make sure one of those places is the Blue Bell Saloon. The once well-known brothel is now known as the place for endless ghostly activity and been investigated by paranormal aficionados from across the country. Madame Lizzy and many of her clients are still seen and heard throughout the saloon.
For a more modern spook, head to the Guthrie Scaregrounds to visit some of the best known haunted houses in the country.
7. Burkittsville, Maryland
Why you should go: it’s where the Blair Witch Project was filmed.
Although the Blair Witch is a fictional character, it doesn’t make her any less scary. The film that blasted the town of Burkittsville, Maryland to fame became a cult classic and is still the reason many people venture to the area around Halloween. Try your luck by romping around the Black Hills Forest where the bulk of the film was shot. For extra points, head out there after the sun goes down and see what sounds and sights you might encounter.
For some more fictional horror, you can also head to Coffin Rock in that same forest. It’s where the faux-tale of the disappearance of eight-year-old Robin Weaver culminates. After she’s abducted by the so-called Blair Witch, a search party heads out to find the young girl. Although Robin eventually returns, the search party is nowhere to be seen until their disembodied corpses are found scattered on a large, flat rock — hence the name “Coffin Rock”.
But please stop stealing the town’s sign — they’ve had to replace it several times. Blair Witch Project, Coffin Rock.
8. St. Helen’s, Oregon
View this post on Instagram
Why you should go: family-friendly activities all month long.
The town of St. Helen’s gets its name from the view of the mountain that’s of the same name. However, this small town in Oregon also goes by another name: Halloweentown. That’s due to the fact the 1998 film (unsurprisingly called Halloweentown) was filmed here. And just like that film’s characters where monsters, vampires, and witches all live in harmony, so do the current residents.
They welcome visitors to come no matter the time of year but Halloween is especially a good time. If you’re a fan of the Twilight series, the movies were partially filmed here. You can finally found out if you are officially Team Edward or Team Jacob (but, let’s face it, we’re all Team Edward). If you visit, you might be standing in the exact spot where Robert Pattison once stood! Eeekk!
Stick around for the costume contests, trick-or-treating, and the annual display of scarecrows across the town!
9. Anoka, Minnesota
View this post on Instagram
Why you should go: it’s the Halloween Capital of the World — why would you not go?
The town of Anoka, Minnesota claims to be the birthplace of Halloween in the United States. At a time where there were more tricks than treats, children constantly pranked their parents and elders of the town. Apparently, the townsfolk got tired of the pranks and wanted to divert the kids’ attentions away from them. So they held a celebration for Halloween and the rest is, literally, history.
Nowadays, the town’s celebration is one of the largest in the country complete with a house decorating contest, scarecrow contest, and a giant jack-‘o-lantern roundabout permanently installed. Plus, the celebration is so huge that there are three (that’s right, three!) parades: one grand daytime parade, one parade for just little feet (aka children), and one at nighttime. If you can only go to one place for Halloween, I’d choose here.
Get epic travel ideas delivered to your inbox with Weekend Wanderer, our newsletter inspiring more than 10,000 readers every week.