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This is a view of the 2020 The Great Jack O'Lantern Blaze at Van Cortlandt Manor in Croton-on-Hudson, NY on September 17, 2020.
Photograph: Historic Hudson Valley

11 outrageous Halloween events in the USA

Over-the-top and super scary, these Halloween events in the USA aren’t for the casual witch

Written by
Emilee Lindner
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America runs on pumpkins—really, really large pumpkins. This country has a reputation for going big (it’s basically written in the Constitution), so when it comes to Halloween events, the USA gets seriously spooky. Whether you’re staring wide-eyed at a monstrous orange gourd in the middle of a charming town or crying your eyes out inside a haunted house so extreme it requires a background check, nothing about Halloween is underplayed in this country.

From stories-high witch balloons to coffin races and seven thousand jack-o-lanterns, these outrageous October events pull out all the tricks and treats—here’s where to see the best of them all this Halloween.

RECOMMENDED: book a night at one of the most haunted hotels in the U.S.

Halloween events in the USA

Oh, you carved a pumpkin? That's cute, but it's not cutting it. The volunteers at The Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze carved seven thousand of them. Every year, gourd gobblers travel to the Van Cortlandt Manor on the Hudson River (20 minutes north of the small New York town once terrorized by the Headless Horseman) to get a glimpse at larger-than-life pumpkin displays. Journey through a tunnel of jack-o-lanterns, marvel at a moving pumpkin windmill, and creep yourself out at a cemetery with pumpkin tombstones and pumpkin-headed characters. With twinkling lights and a cup full of chili, this is one pumpkin-fueled autumnal experience.

No, McKamey Manor is not your average haunted house. In fact, the attraction (with locations in Summertown, Tennessee as well as Huntsville, Alabama) is so scary that guests are required to sign a 40-page waiver, get a background check, and also get a doctor’s physical before even stepping foot inside the house. They call it an “extreme” attraction that tests each participant’s physical and mental limits with torturous scares. During the six-hour-plus tour, actors have been known to slap, bind, drag, and waterboard their guests). The attraction is completely free as volunteers ask for donations instead. Payment in dog food has been accepted.

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In St. Hellens, Oregon, immerse yourself in Halloweentown. Every October, the charming town transforms into the Disney Channel classic for a month-long extravaganza complete with a haunted hotel, spooky scavenger hunt, and a gargantuan pumpkin in the town plaza. St. Helens is also home to Bella Swan’s house from Twilight, where you can stay in Bella’s actual bedroom from the movie—before she turns into a vampire and births a vampire baby, that is. It’s a Halloween double whammy!

4. Salem, MA: Festival of the Dead

In Salem, the witchiest center of the country, the Festival of the Dead celebrates death itself all month long. From evenings with psychic mediums who communicate with the spirit world to livelier events that explore the many mysteries of the afterlife, this festival offers an outlet for celebrating passed loved ones. However, the Witches Ball, at the heart of the festival, shows a different side of a normally macabre topic —the party includes a DJ, costumes, selfies, and more. Who wouldn’t want to honor the dead with a sinful night out?

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If there was a Halloween version of the competitive neighborhood light displays in Christmas Vacation, it would look something like Terror on Tillson Street. This two-block street in the small town of Romeo (outside of Detroit) hosts an estimated 80,000 visitors a year for its frighteningly extravagant decorations. There’s a killer-clown house, a ghostly pirate ship, even a hockey rink full of skeleton skaters. The residents say each year gets more elaborate, so even if you saw it last year, this Halloween will be a treat.

Not many people would want to invite The Walking Dead to their hometown—what with its drooling zombies and constant killing—but the Thriller Parade in Lexington provides a more jubilant zombie walk for the masses. Set to the soundtrack of Michael Jackson’s iconic “Thriller,” several hundred zombies “dance, dawdle, and drag” themselves down Lexington’s Main Street. Kids and adults alike dress up, and grotesque costumes are outright encouraged.

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If trick-or-treating around the neighborhood isn’t exciting enough for you, step up your game and go door-to-door (or basket-to-basket) to over 20 hot air balloons. The Spooktacular Hot Air Balloon Festival in Scottsdale passes out 4,000 pounds of candy every year and offers balloon rides, nightly costume contests, and fireworks. The 2021 event is canceled due to COVID but will be back in 2022—we have a feeling it’s worth the wait.

Imagine this: a 20-foot neon green witch face floats over a beach town in Delaware, and somehow it doesn’t terrify children. In fact, it only incites joyful cackles from the crowd. The original Sally the Sea Witch retired in 2019 after 25 years presiding over the annual Sea Witch parade, but this year, Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade artist Ken Moody created an exact replica. During the festival, approximately 180,000 people convene in costume to watch the balloon—red eyes, crooked nose, and all. Other events include a broom throwing contest, hayrides, a dog costume parade, and a scarecrow show.

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What started as an unfortunate story turned into a hilariously creative tradition held every year in the town of Manitou Springs, Colorado. Legend has it that, after being buried atop a mountain, Emma Crawford and her coffin were washed away by a landslide. What did the town do? In honor of her life, it now holds coffin races in her name. Each team meticulously decorates a coffin, places one “Emma” inside, and cruises down the street as they attempt to beat each other’s times. Of course, if you’re more of a glue-gunner than a runner, there are also prizes for the best coffin designs (some of which are delightfully over-the-top).

Evil demons, rattling skeletons, and… kitty costumes? The Village Halloween Parade checks every Halloween activity off your bucket list: the weird, the horrifying, and the cute! Over two million people—adults and children alike—line the streets of New York’s Greenwich Village each year to see mammoth puppets, marching bands, and creative costumes at the largest public Halloween celebration in the U.S. And, after the little ones go home to feast on their fresh stash of candy, grown-ups can stick around for the afterparty.

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Halloween gets a Mardi Gras twist with the Krewe of Boo. This parade has been spooking its way through the French Quarter since 2007. Floats with giant paper mache creatures toss out candy, voodoo doll pins, and yes, plenty of beads (this is New Orleans, after all). The festivities kick off with The New Orleans Zombie Run—be sure to dress up like the living dead so you can escape the Big Easy Rollergirls as they hunt down zombies on skates.

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