Get Spooky in These Halloweentowns Around the U.S.
All the Jack-O-Lanterns you could ever ask for.
New Year’s Eve is for grown-ups. Valentine’s Day is for high schoolers. But Halloween is for everybody.
You can celebrate it at all ages and in all places, whether you're trick-or-treating in something your grandma sewed, toilet papering your algebra teacher’s house, or realizing how little money your algebra teacher must have been making and penitently volunteering to organize the local hayride. Eventually you can sew costumes for your grandkids and haunt your enemies as a ghost. Halloween is forever.
Regardless of which phase of the Halloween life cycle you're in, nothing beats a good old-fashioned small-town Halloween festival. For all the corn mazes, apple bobbing, pumpkin carving, and costume contests you can handle, head to one of these small towns across the US.
St. Helens, Oregon
You’ve almost certainly seen, heard of, and/or wished you could go to Halloweentown. Well, let your inner child rejoice: you really can visit. The 1998 Disney classic was filmed in St. Helens, Oregon, just 30 minutes outside Portland. Each year, the town brings the movie back to life with a nearly 1.5 month-long Halloween festival that even includes the lighting of the film’s iconic giant pumpkin. Enormous gourds aside, they really go all out: you’ll find haunted houses and hotels, a Sand Island pumpkin hunt, and walking tours of spots where they filmed both Halloweentown and Twilight.
Manitou Springs, Colorado
The Emma Crawford Festival is known for a very particular tradition: coffin racing. In the late 1800s, a tuberculosis-ridden Emma Crawford came to Manitou Springs in the hope that healing properties of the town’s mineral springs would save her. They did not. But before she died, she fell so in love with the town that she requested her husband bury her atop a mountain there. He complied.
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 195 yards through town, heat by heat. There are awards for the three fastest times, Best Entourage, Best Coffin, and Best Emma. The race is $75 to enter per team. Because of Covid-19, the races won't resume until 2022, but in the meantime, you can check out coffin race footage for yourself. The annual parade, skeleton-decorating competition, and brew fest are all still a go.
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 years. Hosted by “the foremost authorities on the spirit world,” the month-long Festival of the Dead celebrates all things death, magic, and the occult. There’s a psychic fair and witches' market, nightly seances, a magic circle, and even a grand Witches’ Ball (which very much gives Hocus Pocus vibes) with live performances from DJs, ritual drummers, and ceremonial dancers, as well as a costume contest with awards up to $1,000 cold hard cash.
Pigeon Forge, Tennessee
Halloween in Pigeon Ford, Tennessee, is about as big as Dolly Parton’s hair—which is to say, very. There are events like spooky rollercoaster rides, fright nights, and kid-friendly costume parties, but the true pièce de résistance is the Dollywood Harvest Festival. The park’s Great Pumpkin LumiNights surrounds guests with thousands of intricately carved Jack-O-Lanterns, there’s fall food like pumpkin funnel cakes and caramel apple sundaes, and, as usual, rides, upbeat music, and views of the Great Smoky Mountains abound. (The park also hosts a Southern Gospel Jubilee around this time of year? The duality of Dolly.)
Providence, Rhode Island
There are more than 5,000 carved pumpkins at the Jack-O-Lantern Spectacular—some weighing over 2,000 pounds!—as well as a zip line you can ride over the whole party, which looks especially fun after dark. The festivities take place at Roger Williams Park Zoo—rain or shine—which means good family fun all around. This year, they’re celebrating the last 150 years in music, playing hits from the 1860s through today (hopefully, they will not snub the Monster Mash) while guests explore scores of musician-themed Jack-O-Lanterns. As a heads up, you’ll need to grab tickets in advance online.
‘Neewollah,’ if you’ve not gotten there already, is ‘Halloween’ spelled backward. Will there be carnival rides, live music, and performances of The Wizard of Oz? Ya! Parades? Three! A very important chili cook-off? Most definitely, and desserts can be entered also. From October 22-30th, Neewollah is also special because of its Medallion Hunt—each day, a new clue is posted online, prompting Independence residents to turn the entire town upside down in a bid to find the hidden medallion before anyone else (the cash prize of up to $500 doesn’t hurt, either).
The Sycamore Pumpkin Festival began with a single resident wanting to liven up his neighborhood in the 1950s, and today, it’s the biggest city-wide event of the year. More than 1,000 pumpkins are entered for display, plus there are two carnivals, three craft shows, and a grand parade on Sunday. The Sycamore Pumpkin Festival has a different theme each year. This year, to celebrate the event’s 60th anniversary, it is Old Fashioned Pumpkin Festival. Catch it from October 27-31st.
Anoka Halloween is legendary. Indeed, this charming town just north of Minneapolis bills itself the Halloween Capital of the World. In 1920, Anoka threw a big parade and bonfire to give teenagers an alternative to terrorizing the town with Halloween pranks. The plan was a success, and now, buoyed by 100 years of Halloween tradition, the moment October arrives, Anoka absolutely balls out.
There’s all the Halloween-fest staples, of course: costume contests, movie nights, a pumpkin-weighing contest, a medallion hunt like the one in Independence, Kansas, a big parade that often sees a cool 30,000 attendees, a post-parade bonfire, and—most importantly—a fucking light-up pumpkin on top of city hall.
Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania
This year from October 14-16, more than 70 pumpkins—the real big kind—will be masterfully hand-carved before awed spectators (you) during The Great Pumpkin Carve, then filled with candles. This would be a sufficient draw on its own, but because by law every Halloween event must include a pumpkin patch, hayrides, food and drink vendors, and live music, The Great Pumpkin Carve also has those things, plus a large Haunted Trail for the kids. Tickets are $15 for adults and $5 for kids; ages 6 and under get in free.