By Patricia Hall, FairfaxFamilyFun.com
In southern states and other areas where it’s warm year-round, you can go to a theme park pretty much at any time. Not so in the mid-Atlantic, where chilly temperatures mean theme parks are seasonal and most shut down after summer. Even so, many open back up for the fall with special Halloween events. Although dates and hours are limited and not all rides may be operating, these now Halloween theme parks make up for it with extra attractions for fall and spooky thrills to help you get into the “spirit” of the season.
At these amusement parks, you will find great decorations and photo opportunities and along with various attractions including spooky games, trick-or-treating, haunted houses, and special shows. See our list below for information on Halloween events at theme parks in Virginia, Maryland, and especially Pennsylvania, which boasts many of these special attractions, and note age recommendations (some festivals are best for teens and adults only). All of the 10 parks listed below are within a four-hour drive or so of Washington, DC.
Kings Dominion, Doswell, VA: day and night; scary and non-scary attractions
Busch Gardens, Willamsburg, VA: day and night; scary and non-scary attractions
Six Flags, Bowie, MD: day and night; scary and non-scary attractions
Dutch Wonderland, Lancaster, PA: kid-perfect, non-scary fun on afternoons and early evenings
Hersheypark, Hershey, PA: day and evening fun in a family-friendly atmosphere
Sesame Place, Langhorne, PA: non-scary morning and afternoon fun geared to kids
Idlewild, Ligonier, PA: non-scary fun on afternoons
Knoebels, Elysburg, PA: day and evening non-scary fun
Dorney Park, Allentown, PA: day and night; scary and non-scary attractions
Kennywood, West Mifflin, PA: nighttime scary fun for teens and adults
Busch Gardens Spooktacular and Howl-o-Scream
1 Busch Gardens Blvd., Williamsburg, VA 23185
The beautiful Busch Gardens park in Williamsburg takes on a spooky look with the annual Spooktacular and Howl-O-Scream events. The Count’s Spooktacular is a non-scary daytime event geared to kids and families, and takes place on weekends in October. September 23 to October 29, 2017. During the day, guests can enjoy rides, roller coasters, attractions, and fall décor. Then, at 6 p.m. the park brings the spirit of Halloween to life, becoming home to a host of creepy creatures hungry for unsuspecting victims at Howl-O-Scream. Enter, if you dare, the elaborate haunted houses and intense, immersive themed Terror-tories ™, where even the bravest may feel uneasy. Guests also can enjoy darkly entertaining live shows and a new “escape room” experience.
- Schedule: From opening (10 am, noon, or 5 pm, depending on the date) to 5 pm for the daytime event, and 6 pm 10 or 11 pm (scary attractions begin at 6 pm) on select Thursdays and every Friday, Saturday and Sunday September 23 to October 29 (subject to change) for Howl-O-Scream
- Kids: There’s plenty to do for guests of all ages during the daytime event, when the scarier decorations are covered up; if staying past 6 pm, note that the highly elevated scare factor may not be ppropriate for young children
- Costumes: The park does not allow costumes by any guest at any time of the year, but especially not during Howl-O-Scream.
Kings Dominion Great Pumpkin Fest and Halloween Haunt
16000 Theme Park Way, Doswell, VA 23047
It’s the 50th Anniversary of “It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown,” and Kings Dominion celebrates with The Great Pumpkin Fest, weekends September 23 to October 29, 2017. The festival is all fun and no fear, with activities geared toward children and families: daytime rides in Planet Snoopy, plus live shows, a petting zoo, pumpkin painting, and other activities. At night, the park turns dark in more ways than one, with Halloween Haunt, featuring the park’s famous rides, plus nine scary mazes, six scare zones, and five frightful shows. Halloween Haunt operates September 23 to October 29.
- Schedule: Great Pumpkin Fest is September 23-October 29, noon to 5 pm; Halloween Haunt is September 23-October 29, on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays; hours vary by date
- Kids: Kid-friendly, especially in the Planet Snoopy area, during the Great Pumpkin Fest; evening Halloween Haunt is not recommended for guests under age 13
- Costumes: Costumes for kids are encouraged during the day.
Six Flags Fright Fest
13710 Central Avenue, Bowie/ Mitchellville, MD 20721
Six Flags turns “monstrous” in the fall with Fright Fest, on weekends September 23 to October 29, 2017. The park is family-friendly by day, but it turns up the terror at dusk with haunted houses, scare zones, and scary shows. During the day, the theme park is family-friendly, with a Trick or Treat Trail, a Little Monsters Kiddie Hayride, Pumpkin Patch Hay Maze, kids’ costume contests, and more. At night, the park is not for the faint of heart (thus best for brave teens and adults), with actors posing as “bloody-thirsty creatures,” multiple scare zones, and live shows such as “The Awakening” and “Dead Man’s Party.” New for 2017: ride the Wonder Woman “Lasso of Truth” swing backwards, and see the new “Cursed” show.
- Schedule: Noon to 10 pm on Saturdays and noon to 9 pm on Sundays. On Fridays, October 20 and October 27, Fright Fest also opens at 5 pm; extended hours (until 11 pm) on Oct. 21 and 28
- Kids: Kid-friendly by day, Fright Fest at night is not recommended for children under 13 (or for anyone who scares easily).
- Costumes: Only children 12 and under may wear a family friendly costume to the park. Masks are not permitted.
Dutch Wonderland Happy Hauntings
2249 Lincoln Highway East, Lancaster, PA 17602
(866) FUNatDW (1-866-386-2839)
Looking for Halloween thrills that are perfectly fun and not at all scary? Happy Hauntings at Dutch Wonderland is a fun, fall family event with themed rides, special entertainment, tasty treats, and more – three weekends of spook-tacular fun, October 14-29, 2017. Happy Hauntings has more than 30 themed rides and family-friendly attractions in a safe, non-scary environment. Admission includes a trip through the Trick-or-Treat Trail on Exploration Island, with more than 20 lifelike dinosaurs. On October 29 at 7:30 pm and October 30 at 7 pm, wear your costume and join Duke, Princess Brooke, and the Knight of Safety for a kid-friendly Halloween bash featuring music, dancing and more.
- Schedule: Saturdays (2-9pm) and Sundays (2-8pm), October 14-29
- Kids: This park is perfect for young kids (see our review from a summer visit), especially those ages 10 and under, but has enough family rides to accommodates guests of all ages.
- Costumes: Adults and children may wear Halloween costumes that are family-friendly (no masks or frightening, gory, or inappropriate costumes). Also, costumes or portions of costumes may need to be removed on some rides for safety reasons.
Hersheypark in the Dark
100 West Hersheypark Dr., Hershey, PA 17033
Halloween is sweet at Hersheypark in the Dark, weekends October 13-29, 2017. This family-friendly festival offers the usual Hersheypark fun with Halloween-themed entertainment and decorations that are not scary. Along with the theme park’s famous rides, kids 12 and younger are invited to dress up and enjoy a trick-or-treat adventure starting at Hershey’s Chocolate World Attraction and continuing through Treatville. Guests also can bring their flashlights for a tour of Creatures Of The Night at ZooAmerica, included in the admission fee to Hersheypark In The Dark.
- Schedule: Fridays 5 pm-10 pm, Saturdays 10 am-10 pm, and Sundays noon-9 pm from October 13 through October 29
- Kids: Family-friendly atmosphere with non-scary décor and special activities for kids
- Costumes: Non-scary costumes allowed.
The Count’s Halloween Spooktacular at Sesame Place
100 Sesame Rd., Langhorne, PA 19047
(866) GO-4-ELMO (866-464-3566)
Celebrate silly, not-too-spooky fun at The Count’s Halloween Spooktacular at Sesame Place, the nation’s only theme park based entirely on Sesame Street. On select dates September 22 through October 29, 2017, the park becomes a family-friendly Halloween haven with three special Halloween shows, Abby Cadabby’s Magical Halloween Maze and a fun hayride with everyone’s favorite Sesame Street friends, plus fun amusement rides. Each day, enjoy the Neighborhood Street Party Halloween Parade that features 10 fantastic floats all decked out for the season, plus trick-or-treating and dancing.
- Schedule: Saturdays and Sundays, 10 am to 6 pm, September 22-October 29
- Kids: This family-oriented event is geared toward young kids
- Costumes: Kids can come in costume.
2574 U.S. 30, Ligonier, PA 15658
It’s the Idlewild you know and love with a fun, family-oriented Happy Halloween Twist: This park, about an hour east of Pittsburgh, hosts a special Halloween session just for kids on weekends October 7-29, 2017. Attractions include trick-or-treating through Story Book Forest with Mother Goose and friends, live entertainment, costumed characters, themed rides and attractions, a hay bale maze and more.
- Schedule: Saturdays and Sundays, October 7-290; gates and Story Book Forest open at 11:30 am, rides and attractions operate noon to 6 pm
- Kids: Perfect for kids since the event is aimed exclusively at them and the theme is fun, not fright.
- Costumes: Non-scary, family-friendly costumes allowed.
Hallow Fun at Knoebels
391 Knoebels Blvd., Rt. 487, Elysburg, PA 17824
America’s largest free-admission amusement park (also with free parking), Knoebels Amusement Resort has been in operation for more than 90 years (Travel Channel has named it a top 10 family-friendly amusement park). The park, about an hour north of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, has a couple of wooden roller coasters including the world’s only wooden bobsled rollercoaster, plus more than four dozen other thrill, family, and kiddie rides. Guests pay per individual rides (reasonably priced) or buy an all-ride pass. On Hallo-Fun Weekends, October 5-29, 2017, Knoebels transforms into a spooktacular place for ghosts and ghouls of all ages with themed games and rides There are “gentle haunts” and scary attractions and treats to suit everyone’s taste. Other attractions include character breakfast buffets and treat stops for kids age 12 and under in costume.
- Schedule: Open on weekends only; hours vary by date
- Kids: Family-friendly venue with mostly non-scary fun
- Costumes: Children and adults may wear costumes during the Hallo-Fun event if they are family-friendly (no offensive, overly gruesome or violent costumes), and no masks for adults
Dorney Park Great Pumpkin Fest and Halloween Haunt
4000 Dorney Park Rd, Allentown, PA 18104
Family-friendly by day, frightful by night, Dorney Park provides Halloween fun for all ages. During the day, enjoy the friendly fun of PEANUTS cartoon characters. During The Great Pumpkin Fest, weekends September 16-October 29, 2017, scare-free activities include pumpkin painting and mask making, a petting zoo, and family rides in Planet Snoopy, plus live shows including dancing and a costume contest. When night falls, Halloween Haunt brings on the scares, with four scare zones, seven mazes, a dozen rides, and live shows with terrifying themes October 6 through October 29, 2017.
- Schedule: The Great Pumpkin Fest is Saturdays and Sundays in September; Halloween Haunt is on October weekends (Fridays through Sundays); see the hours online
- Kids: Very kid-friendly during the day for The Great Pumpkin Fest; evenings after 6 pm are scary and not recommended for young children.
- Costumes: Kids are allowed to wear non-scary costumes during the day.
Kennywood Phantom Fright Nights
4800 Kennywood Boulevard, West Mifflin, PA 15122
As the leaves turn and the days shorten, a darkness begins to fall over Kennywood. The forces that power one of the world’s fiercest coasters, The Phantom’s Revenge, grow stronger: Phantom Fright Nights returns for its 16th year of frights, September 29 to October 29, 2017! Kennywood goes for frightful fun each Halloween with “intense spectacles of sheer terror” – The Squishy Tongue of Terror! awaits you at Noah’s Ark, a new threat emerges in BioFear, the Friday the 13th 4-D Experience returns, and more, including the Villa of the Vampire and the Voodoo Bayou. For non-scary, kid-friendly fun, enjoy Happy Hauntings during the day, with mild, spooky decor.
- Schedule: Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, September 29-October 29, hours vary by date
- Kids: Happy Hauntings is kid-friendly; the aim of Phantom Fright Nights is to scare guests and is recommended for ages 13 and up only
- Costumes: No costumes or theatrical make-up allowed at Fright Nights
Photos provided by the respective theme parks and used with permission.