Your Guide to Halloween Events in U.S. Theme Parks (2021)
As the leaves turn and temperatures drop every autumn, the thrills at amusement parks aren’t limited to roller coasters and hair-raising rides. Some of the country’s most celebrated theme parks morph into Halloween haunts, complete with mazes, scare zones and chilling attractions.
In the spirit of the spooky season, find out where you can enjoy Halloween frights and delights at amusement parks across the United States.
Unless otherwise noted, visitors are not permitted to wear costumes and masks at these Halloween attractions. And depending on the location of each haunted house, face coverings may be required to slow the spread of COVID-19. Before heading out, check with each theme park about potential mask requirements, safety measures and vaccine policies.
HALLOWEEN HORROR NIGHTS AT UNIVERSAL STUDIOS
Universal Studies Harry Potter castle ride/Photo courtesy of NBC/Universal
Best for: Universal Studios’ Halloween Horror Nights are not recommended for children younger than 13.
Universal Pictures produced some of the most riveting horror movies of all time, including Dracula, Frankenstein and The Mummy — so it’s no surprise the studio offers plenty of terrifying fun with Halloween Horror Nights at its theme parks in Los Angeles and Orlando, Florida.
Universal’s Orlando outpost offers 10 haunted houses (including attractions inspired by The Haunting of Hill House, Beetlejuice and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre), live entertainment and five scare zones — outdoor themed areas where costumed actors try to scare guests. In addition, the Hollywood theme park is hosting frightful attractions inspired by The Exorcist, Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers and AMC’s The Walking Dead TV show.
HALLOWEEKENDS AT CEDAR POINT AMUSEMENT PARK
Photo courtesy of Cedar Point
Best for: HalloWeekends offers a mix of family-friendly and spine-tingling fun for adults.
Adults and children will find plenty to love at the popular HalloWeekends event at Cedar Point amusement park in Sandusky, Ohio.
By day, the family-friendly Tricks And Treats Fall Fest includes trick-or-treating, seasonal snacks ranging from candy corn cupcakes to pumpkin bread pudding, corn and hay mazes, arts and crafts, spooky selfie stations and more. Note that guests age 13 and older are not permitted to wear costumes inside the park, but kids 12 and under are encouraged to do so.
But when the sun goes down, the Haunt at HalloWeekends takes over. The event’s many attractions include outdoor scare zones, frightening mazes, haunted roller coaster rides, live music, dance parties, fortune tellers and other spine-tingling offerings.
KNOTT’S SCARY FARM AT KNOTT’S BERRY FARM
Knott’s Scary Farm at Knott’s Berry Farm opened in Buena Park, California near Anaheim, in 1973 — and today is believed to be the oldest Halloween theme park attraction in the United States.
Each year, more than 1,000 creatures hide in the fog throughout the park, waiting to scare unsuspecting victims — essentially turning the park into one giant scare zone. Other frightful attractions include haunted mazes, live performances (including an adult puppet show), a creepy magic show and more — all laced with sinister scenes of abandoned amusement parks, creepy carnivals, mythical monsters and haunted hospitals.
HOWL-O-WEEN AT GREAT WOLF LODGE
Photo courtesy of Great Wolf Lodge
Best for: Howl-o-Ween is a fun Halloween attraction for families.
If some of the other theme parks on this list seem a little far afield, keep an eye out for Howl-o-Ween festivities at Great Wolf Lodge indoor water parks throughout the United States and Canada. Each water park offers various family-friendly activities suitable for children and adults, including Halloween-themed yoga classes, arts and crafts, trick-or-treating, dance parties and story time.
TIP: Visitors are encouraged to dress up in costume for the Howl-o-Ween activities.
HOWL-O-SCREAM AT BUSCH GARDENS TAMPA
Photo courtesy of Busch Gardens Tampa
Best for: Because it involves some violence, gore and blood, Howl-o-Scream is geared toward adults 18 and older.
Most of the haunted attractions on this list are generally appropriate for teenagers and up — but not the Howl-o-Scream at Busch Garden Tampa.
Because it involves some violence, blood and gore, this attraction is recommended for adults 18 and older. Howl-o-Scream hosts five haunted houses, including three new ones in 2021. It has eight scare zones and one that remains unmarked — keeping visitors on their toes throughout the park. You will also find adrenaline-pumping thrill rides and live music headlined by a covers band called The Rolling Bones, among other scary experiences.
And while most of the fun is geared toward adults, kids aren’t completely left out: Sesame Street Kids’ Weekends take place throughout October. The daytime festival offers trick-or-treat stations, a live Halloween show, a meet-and-greet with popular characters, dance parties, an Elmo-themed climbing area, kid-friendly rides and more.
HALLOWEEN TIME AT THE DISNEYLAND RESORT
Best for: Both Disney attractions are appropriate for all ages.
Each year, Disney’s theme parks in California and Florida get in on the seasonal fun with family-friendly attractions that are appropriate for all ages and star some of the studio’s most beloved characters.
Disney After Hours Boo Bash at Disney World in Florida is already sold out for the season — but families will have plenty of fun visiting Halloween Time at the Disneyland Resort in California. (Keep in mind that reservations must be made in advance.)
At Disneyland itself, families can mingle with their favorite characters in costumes, experience the Haunted Mansion Holiday decorated by Jack Skellington himself, join the Main Street Pumpkin Festival and watch the frightful Halloween Screams display.
And at Disney California Adventure Park, the fun includes an adventure inspired by the Guardians of the Galaxy movies. Costumed characters from the Cars movies — Mater, Lightning McQueen and others – also make Halloween-inspired performances. Visitors can also join the Oogie Boogie Bash (happening on select nights throughout the season) for interactive stage shows and trick-or-treating with Disney characters.
—Written by Matt Wastradowsk
—Top photo courtesy of Knotts Scary Farm