pumpkin head in halloween parade

These Small Towns Are Going All in on Halloween

From Oregon to Massachusetts, it's raining pumpkins.

Thanksgiving is for family. Black Friday is for shopping. But out of all the holidays we celebrate each fall, Halloween is the only one where you can truly let loose.

You can celebrate Halloween at all ages and in all places, whether you’re trick-or-treating in a costume your grandma made, decorating your house to terrify your neighborhood, or spending the weekend away in a creepy historical hotel. Or maybe you’re hitting the pickleball court in a full vampire getup, lighting some candles for an at-home seance, or dodging giant pumpkins and skeleton displays in search of a coveted medallion (more on that later). On Halloween, anything goes.

Regardless of how you choose to celebrate, nothing beats a good old-fashioned small-town Halloween festival. They’ve got costume parades and pumpkin carving, fun runs and seasonal snacks. Heck, some of these parties even have movie star meet and greets, over-the-top light shows, and macabre backstories. For all the wicked fun you can handle this Halloween, head to one of these small towns across the US.

costumed runners coffin racing
I Love Manitou Springs

Manitou Springs, Colorado
October 28, 2023
The Emma Crawford Festival is known for a very particular tradition: coffin racing. There’s actually a story behind the event. In the late 1800s, Emma Crawford died of tuberculosis in Manitou Springs, and was buried atop a nearby mountain as she’d requested in her final days. But decades later, spring flooding unearthed her coffin and sent it luging down the mountainside and into town. Her remains were gone, but for a few bones. Today, Manitou Springs residents honor her by forming teams of five—four coffin pushers (“pushers”) and one coffin driver (“Emma”)—and racing coffins through town, heat by heat. There are awards for the three fastest times, Best Entourage, Best Coffin, and Best Emma—and the fastest team has the option to represent Manitou Springs in the upcoming Frozen Dead Guys Days in Nederland, Colorado where the winners will take home the coveted Coffin Cup.

If you want to try your luck at the Emma Crawford Race, there’s a $100 entry fee per team, but spectating is free. You can also sign up to walk behind the racers in the parade (also free), and be sure to stick around for the awards ceremony and afterparty in Soda Springs Park featuring live tunes from the Sweet Lillies.

Laconia, New Hampshire
October 27–28, 2023
The crispness of fall simply goes harder in New Hampshire, which makes it a perfect destination for Halloween. To really lean into that autumnal feeling, however, we’d recommend checking out the New Hampshire Pumpkin Festival. Each October, the city of Laconia spends one magical day doing all the Halloween-y things. They’ve got pumpkin displays, carnival games, live music, costume parades and contests, seasonal movies, a craft show, food trucks, a Jack-o-lantern lighting, and even a zombie walk. As part of the festival, you can also hop on the Pumpkin Express Train for a scenic 45-minute journey.

giant pumpkin

Pigeon Forge, Tennessee
September 20–October 30, 2023
Halloween in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, is about as big as Dolly Parton’s hair—which is to say, very. There are attractions like Rocky Top Mountain Coaster's Coasts & Goblins, Fright Nights from Ripley’s Haunted Adventure, and a kid-friendly trick-or-treat event, but the true pièce de résistance is the Dollywood Harvest Festival. You can still enjoy all the usual rides and music that Dollywood has to offer, but with the addition of all kinds of pumpkins (some truly massive) and fall-themed foods like pumpkin spice churros and apple pie milkshakes. After dark, check out the park’s Great Pumpkin LumiNights, where thousands of carved pumpkins and giant pumpkin sculptures light up the park.

halloween parade
Spirit of Halloween

St. Helens, Oregon
September 16 –October 31, 2023
If you’ve ever seen, heard of, or wished you could climb inside the 1998 Disney classic Halloweentown, here’s your chance to fulfill a childhood dream by visiting the real Halloweentown. The movie was filmed in St. Helens, Oregon, just 30 minutes outside Portland. Each year, the town goes all out with a six-week-long Halloween festival that even includes the lighting of the film’s iconic giant pumpkin. Enormous gourds aside, there’s plenty to see and do here. You’ll find the Haunted Hot Rods car show, Witches Beer Fest, and spirited dance numbers by the Caldron Sisters—not to mention performances, trick-or-treat parades, and even Witches on the Water, where crowds gather to watch witches drift down the river on stand-up paddle boards.

And that’s not all. 2023 marks the 25th anniversary of this festival’s titular film, and the town is honoring the event by partnering with official Disney fan club D23 on a very special ticketed celebration. Highlights include a meet and greet with the actors complete with paid photos and autographs, a big-screen showing of the film inside one of the original filming locations, and tours of Halloween City Hall. Make sure to grab tickets and parking passes before it sells out.

costumed people dancing
Festival of the Dead

Salem, Massachusetts
October 1–31, 2023
Salem is inarguably America’s most infamous Halloween destination, and every year, the residents make damn sure to remind us why they’ve held a firm grip on that title for the past 300-odd years. Hosted by “the foremost authorities on the spirit world,” the month-long Festival of the Dead celebrates all things witchy, occult, and supernatural. There’s a psychic fair and witches' market, graveyard magic demos, an authentic Salem Séance, lessons in conjuring spirits, a “Dinner with the Dead,” a three-course high tea and even a grand Witches’ Ball (which very much gives Hocus Pocus vibes).

Independence, Kansas
October 20–28, 2023
Before you go getting all creeped out, Neewollah’s unusual name is just “Halloween” spelled backward. The coolest thing about the festival is that it’s actually been happening for more than a 100 years, kicking off with the first event in 1919. At this point, it appears that the family-friendly celebration is taking a “more is more” mentality that feels very cohesive with Halloween’s “eat all the candy” mentality. There’s a whole carnival setup with games and rides. Plus not one, not two, but three costume parades, naturally. And of course there’s also a barbecue cook-off, beauty pageant, food vendors, performances, a musical, corn hole tournament, dessert contest, races, and even a medallion hunt.

What’s a medallion hunt? Glad you asked. Each day, a new clue is posted online, prompting Independence residents to turn the town upside down in a bid to find a hidden medallion. Once found, the medallion can be exchanged for a prize of up to $500.

elvis pumpkin with sign
Sycamore Pumpkin Festival

Sycamore, Illinois
October 25–29, 2023
It all started with Mr. Pumpkin, a Sycamore resident who earned his esteemed title by displaying decorated pumpkins on his lawn in the ‘50s. Inspired by the town’s appreciation for his handiwork, Mr. Pumpkin eventually turned his seasonal interest into an official festival in the ‘60s. And today, it’s the biggest citywide event of the year. Each year, talented festival-goers enter more than 1,000 decorated pumpkins for display and competition, and everyone gets together to admire and celebrate over the course of multiple days. Activities include fun runs, separate teen and kiddie carnivals, luncheons, a historic homes tour, trick-or-treating, craft shows, a pie-eating contest, and more—and it all wraps up with a massive parade. The event has a different theme every year; this year it’s Pumpkins of History (your guess is as good as ours).

person carving pumpkin
Anoka Halloween Inc.

Anoka, Minnesota
September 4–October 31, 2023
Discover why this charming city just north of Minneapolis has declared itself the “Halloween Capital of the World.” Like many Halloween festivals, Anoka’s celebration began as an attempt to give local teens an appealing alternative to pranking their neighbors—the difference being that this fair city believes it was the first in the country to enact the clever diversionary ploy. Regardless, that first festival was a success, and now, buoyed by 100-ish years of tradition, Anoka goes HAM every weekend in October. We’re talking all kinds of contests (costume, pumpkin carving, corn hole), plus a friendly football game called the Pumpkin Bowl and their very own medallion hunt. There’s also a haunted house, beer and wine tastings, a few parades (including the after-dark Light Up the Night Parade), movie nights, an official halloween store, and ghost tours.

intricately carved pumpkins on hay bales
The Chadds Ford Historical Society

Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania
October 19–21, 2023
Every October, more than 70 ginormous pumpkins are masterfully hand-carved before awed spectators in Chadds Ford, then illuminated and showcased for all to fawn over. This would be a sufficient draw on its own, but there’s more to look forward to if you’re gearing up to go. Other attractions like a haunted trail, raffles, and live music from Kenny Thompson & Friends plus food, local beer. and wine for purchase round out the bill.

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