Halloween is truly at its best in the United States, where most of the population gets enthusiastically behind costume parties, carving pumpkins into jack o'lanterns, lawn decorations and of course the treasured trick-or-treat tradition. The holiday also tends to mark the beginning of the fall and winter festive season, making it an exciting time for most people.
There is, however, a more serious side of Halloween which goes beyond the candy and crazy costumes. It has roots as All Hallow’s Eve, and perhaps even earlier as the Celtic harvest festival Samhain. Halloween has long served as a time to remember the dead, and some people view it as a night when spirits, ghosts and other entities are that little bit closer to our side of the veil.
Whatever your views on Halloween, delving into the spooky side of things can be a whole lot of fun. For this special Halloween feature, Airport Rentals has put together a list of the five best places for an unforgettable Halloween road trip, full of frights and creepy destinations. Rent a car
and be on your way to the best Halloween adventure yet!
1 . Pennsylvania
Creepily close to the name of Dracula’s home region in Romania, this state already has a slightly spooky vibe. It’s also located in the northeast United States, an area very full of history both Native American and colonial, giving it an edge in the ghosts department.
There are also very specific reasons that Pennsylvania is an ideal Halloween road trip destination. Pick up a car rental in Philadelphia
and you could visit some of these creepy locations:
The Eastern State Penitentiary is a landmark of Philadelphia and a downright spooky place. Operational between 1829 and 1971, it housed Al Capone, Willie Sutton and other notorious criminals. It is now a museum and historic site, and looks haunted enough on its own without the annual “Terror Behind the Walls” Halloween Haunted House event. Several paranormal investigations, some televised, have been performed here.
Also in Philadelphia is the Mütter Museum, a completely fascinating and slightly disturbing storehouse of many different anatomical oddities. It makes a great Halloween destination, allowing visitors to browse skulls, skeletons, preserved body parts, diseased organs and more. Interestingly, the autopsy of the “Original Siamese Twins,” Chang and Eng Bunker, was performed onsite and there are many artifacts pertaining to the two including a “death cast.”
Gettysburg near the state’s southern border is a major Civil War historical site, and known as one of the most haunted towns in the country. It was the site of a huge battle during the war, a turning point in the Confederacy’s defeat, so it’s no wonder there may be unsettled spirits hanging around. The whole town is saturated with history and haunts, and there are plenty of tour providers.
Pennsylvania has plenty more spots commonly regarded as mysterious or haunted, some related to the Civil War and some not, and the freedom of a car rental means that you can visit any which take your fancy. These might include Fort Mifflin in Philadelphia, the Sachs Covered Bridge in Adams County, the “Seven Gates of Hell” in York which was supposedly the site of an asylum which burnt down, the Dixmont State Hospital near Pittsburgh and many, many more.
2 . West Virginia
A state that often flies under the radar, West Virginia is a great and affordable place to embark on a Halloween road trip adventure. It has one particular ex-asylum which really takes the haunted cake, but there are plenty of other old and abandoned places to visit too. Grab a car rental in Charleston
and get on the road to explore them all!
In Weston, 1.5 hours’ drive from Charleston, lies the creepy location to rule them all: the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum. This National Historic Landmark certainly looks the part, imposing and built with hand-cut stone in 1858, and it has a dark past which includes mistreatment of patients with lobotomies, overcrowding, cages and poor sanitation, rich pickings to fuel the rumours of hauntings and unrest. It was closed in 1994 and now you can take a tour, either heritage-based or ghost-focused, and participate in special Halloween and fall activities like haunted night tours, treasure hunts and hayrides. As a bonus, swing by nearby Phillippi where a farmer and amateur scientist purchased two female bodies from the asylum in 1888 to practice his embalming skills. They are still on display in the Barbour County Historical Museum.
Abandoned amusement parks are perfect nightmare fodder, and West Virginia has one of its very own in the state’s southern reaches. Lake Shawnee Amusement Park was closed more than 50 years ago, with just a few rusty shells of rides remaining. Some people say the land it was built on was cursed after a skirmish between a white settler and the local Native American Shawnee tribe resulted in the death of three of the settler’s children and several of the tribe’s warriors. Several people were also killed at the park while it operated, and it is now frequented by paranormal investigators. Visitors can take a tour of the abandoned park.
Embark on your own spirit-spotting quest in Point Pleasant, on the western border of West Virginia. This town is renowned as the dwelling place of the mysterious Mothman, a tall winged creature with glowing red eyes made popular by urban legend. He is an established part of local folklore with many sightings in 1966. Few sightings were reported after the collapse of the Silver Bridge in 1967 during which 46 people died, so it is believed the two are connected. If you’re headed north to see the Trans-Allegheny Asylum, you could instead take your search to Darkish Knob near Parsons, whose ghosts date back to the years of the Underground Railroad which took southern slaves to freedom. One young girl in particular is thought to have died on the hill during her escape when her horse fell off a cliff, and remains a presence in the area to this day.
3 . California
With less Civil War-era history and fewer backroads, California’s spookiness is mostly of the cosmopolitan, 20th century variety - but there is still plenty of it! In October, the weather is starting to cool down but far from chilly, so you can combine a spooky road trip with some fun in the sun with a car rental from LAX
or San Francisco
Hotels tend to feature heavily in California’s ghostlore, many of which you can even stay in for an extra-exciting Halloween road trip.
Alcatraz is perhaps the most famous spot on this list, fascinating for its history as well as its ghost stories. The island prison has been home to many hardened prisoners, many dying or being killed there. Visitors can learn more on a museum tour. Also in San Francisco (Berkeley) is the Claremont Hotel, situated on the site of a home which burnt down and is rumoured to be home to a child ghost who died there. A fantastic place to rest your head!
Just a little south of San Francisco is San Jose, where paranormal hunters will find the Winchester Mystery House. This sprawling mansion began as a project for Sarah Winchester, a grieving widow, and is full of curious architectural features like doors and stairs that end in dead ends, internal windows and more. Legend has it that she spent decades constantly having the house worked on and extended to appease the spirits of people who had been killed by the rifles her husband’s business produced. The eccentric layout was supposed to confuse and discomfit evil spirits, but the house is purportedly quite haunted nevertheless. There are daily tours as well as special events.
Los Angeles isn’t all bright lights and celebrities - it has some hidden pockets of spookiness too, although they are perhaps a little more glamorous than some other haunted places! Even Disneyland has its ghost stories and sightings - and if you are into animals, the Los Angeles Pet Cemetery is supposed to have the spirits of a few dogs running around. The grand old Queen Mary ocean liner, permanently docked at Long Beach, has a rich maritime history and has picked up a few spirits and spooks in her time. She now operates as a hotel, museum and restaurant venue, and rumours swirl in particular around Cabin B340 where someone was allegedly murdered, and the engine room where a young sailor was accidentally killed. Ghost ship?
South in San Diego, the Whaley House is the centrepoint for all things creepy. This handsome two-storey brick home in Old Town was built in 1856 on top of a cemetery, and has been in a state of unrest ever since. It has, in fact, been touted as the country’s most haunted house, and has a storied history including the sad death of a baby and a suicide by one of the Whaley family members. Paranormal investigators love this place, and Halloween road trippers will too - there is a museum onsite.
4 . Nebraska and surrounding states
Ghost towns are a spook-lover’s delight, and the western midwest region that includes Nebraska and its neighbouring states like Wyoming, Iowa, Colorado, Missouri and Kansas is chock full of them. In fact, there are too many of these creepy dead and abandoned settlements to mention even a small percentage of them! Although some do not have any specific haunting tales attached, the atmosphere is plenty spooky enough for Halloween.
Roscoe in Nebraska started as a crossing point for the South Platte River, but has long since declined. In fact it is not truly a ghost town, but certainly looks like one despite the 62 or so residents, and is chock full of abandoned buildings. There are some amazing photo opportunities for those who like the desolate ghost town vibe, including a spectacular farm building that could be the setting of any horror movie.
South Pass City in Wyoming is another abandoned gold rush town, probably the most famous one in the state. Established in 1867 and quickly booming, it declined quickly and became a small backwater, eventually a permanent ghost town. It was purchased by the state in 1966 to preserve the history, and is a great spot to visit as it is close to other heritage sites including the Oregon Trail.
LeHunt in Kansas, once centered around a United Kansas Portland Cement Company plant, is one for the paranormal lovers. It is reputedly haunted by the spirit of a factory worker who fell into a vat of concrete. Halloween visitors must see the remains of the cement plant which is slowly being taken over by nature, and pay respects to the unfortunate worker’s wheelbarrow, pick and shovel which other employees encapsulated into a wall of concrete after his death.
Independence in Colorado was supposedly so named because gold was discovered there on the fourth of July, 1879. First a camp and then a town, it followed the boom-and-bust pattern of most such towns. The town was at a high altitude, and the final nail in the coffin came in winter 1899 a storm cut access to the town and the miners had to dismantle a building to fashion makeshift skis and escape. They never returned.
St Elmo in Colorado was established in 1880 as a gold (and silver) rush town. It began to decline in the early 20th century, and it is now considered a ghost town although a few people do live there and tourists arrive in the summer - so you can stay there on your road trip! It is said to be haunted by the eccentric Annabelle Stark who lived there until the 50s, refusing to leave although the town died around her.
5 . Massachusetts
We chose this state mostly because it includes the famous Salem
of the witch trials, but there is more to haunted Massachusetts than just that. As part of the storied New England region, it has centuries of history both colonial and Native American to fuel the tales and truths that lie behind its spookiest spots.
Grab a car rental from Boston
and explore this state - if you are short on time, sticking to the coastal areas is a good way to see as much as you can!
Salem is less than an hour’s drive from Boston, with a turbulent history. It is located on the site of an ancient Native American village, was settled by Europeans in 1626 and had a strongly Puritan population. The most-told part of Salem’s history are the trials for witchcraft which began in 1692, sparked by the unusual actions of three young girls. Hundreds more people were accused in the following hysteria, many put to death. Today, you can take tours of the significant spots, visit museums and cemeteries and visit the witch trials memorial - keeping a lookout for spirits along the way. The city also really puts it on for Halloween with all kinds of fun events.
Very close to Salem is Danvers, once called Salem Village, which was home to many of the accused witches and also to John Hathorne, one of the harshest judges. The town sweeps much of its witch-related history under the rug in contrast to Salem, which makes it all the more intriguing to historians. It was also home to Danvers State Mental Hospital, an imposing-looking Victorian complex which employed some dubious practice in treatment. Tales of mistreatment would make your skin crawl, and now all that is left of the place is the Endicott Cemetery where ghosts are said to wander.
South near the border with Rhode Island is Fall River, where you can visit and stay in a bed and breakfast that is the site of the Borden family murders. In 1892, Lizzie Borden was accused of murdering her parents in the home with a hatchet. Despite strong evidence, she was eventually acquitted and moved away to escape the past. Visitors can stay or take a tour of the house, and there is also an onsite museum. Paranormal activity has been reported!
If you have the time to head west towards inland Massachusetts, stop in at North Adams in the northwest corner of the state to see the Houghton Mansion. This tragic place has featured on many ghost hunting TV shows and is considered a hotbed of paranormal activity. Albert Charles Houghton was the mayor of the town in the late 19th century, building the house as his term ended. He and his daughter were killed in a car accident in 1914 (he died a while after the accident although expected to survive, purportedly of a broken heart) and his chauffeur committed suicide not long afterwards. Their spirits are said to hang around the house which is now a Mason lodge.
The Bridgewater Triangle in the southeast of the state is not a single destination but an area of 200 square miles which is thought to be one of the world’s most concentrated regions of paranormal reports. It includes the towns of Abington, Freetown, Rehoboth, Bridgewater, Raynham, Taunton, Brockton, Mansfield, Norton and Easton. It’s a bit of a mystery, perfect for curious spook-loving travellers. Landmarks include the Hockomock Swamp, the site of an ancient Native American burial ground and various rock formations with Native American carvings. It would seem that the spirits dwelling here are likely older than most!
The United States is a Halloween hotspot, and these are just a few of the many options to take it all in with a car rental
and a road trip. Get your ghost-hunting paraphernalia ready to go, prepare to be spooked and hit the road this October!