Head to Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. during the month of October for some harvest and Halloween fun. From family-friendly fun to frights only the bravest should dare witness, the Capital Region is bustling with plenty of things to do this holiday season.
Each October, autumn brings cooler temperatures and a bright display of changing leaves but you'll need to arrive early in the month if you hope to catch the peak of fall foliage season, which tapers off around the 15th to 20th. Regardless, events celebrating the fall harvest and Halloween make the Capital Region a great destination no matter when in October you arrive.
Throughout the month, you can get spooked at a haunted house, celebrate at a community parade, romp around a pumpkin patch, get lost in a corn maze, or go on a ghost tour of the city. Don't miss the chance to put on your Halloween costume and check out these great Halloween events, attractions, and activities on your trip to D.C.
Each year, Smithsonian's National Zoo in Washington, D.C. hosts a Halloween celebration called "Boo at the Zoo," where guests can visit bats, spiders, owls, and other animals while trick-or-treating. At Boo at the Zoo, held over one selected weekend, you'll enjoy animal encounters, keeper talks, festive decorations, and haunted trails all while costumed volunteers will hand out candy at more than 40 treat stations.
If you're not traveling with younger children in tow but still want to enjoy the at Smithsonian's National Zoo, you can stop by the annual Night of the Living Zoo event on the Friday evening before Halloween. Wear your best costume to enjoy the zoo by moonlight and experience bone-chilling and mind-boggling performance art including palm readers, fire eaters, talking bats, and illusionists. The event is adults-only, so you must be 21 or over to enter. There will also be food and alcohol vendors on-site during the Night of the Living Zoo.
Every October, a crowd of costumed competitors gathers in Dupont Circle in D.C. to race down 17th Street from JR's to Annie's Paramount Steakhouse wearing high heels. What started as a couple of drag queen friends drunkenly racing from one bar to the next on Halloween over 30 years ago has now expanded into a huge event known as the 17th Street High Heel Race.
Although it used to take place on Halloween, this tenth-of-a-mile sprint was moved to the Tuesday before Halloween several years ago to mitigate traffic on the holiday. The High Heel Race attracts a diverse crowd of drag queens and kings as well as spectators and city officials.
This event started as a haunted bus the Markoff family opened in 1993 to raise money for a summer camp they wanted to create. Now, Markoff's Haunted Forest in Dickerson, Maryland, is one of the area's best and biggest haunted attractions each year.
Rated multiple times by ABC Channel 7 as the best Halloween attraction in the Capital Region, Markoff's Haunted Forest offers guests the option of exploring two Haunted Trails through the woods—the original and a newer option with even bigger scenes and frights—or getting dropped on the far side of the farm in The Town, which has been overrun by the worst creatures imaginable for the event.
Markoff’s Haunted Forest opens in early October and closes out its season on Halloween night. Proceeds from ticket sales benefit several local charities in addition to the Markoff's non-profit, Calleva, a year-round special school that teaches leadership and responsibility through outdoor activities and supports scholarship programs for students.
The official Six Flags theme park of Baltimore and D.C., Six Flags America, hosts its annual Halloween event, Fright Fest, on select nights in September and October each year. Each night of Fright Fest, zombies and ghouls overrun the streets of the park, and guests are encouraged to arrive in costume to take part in the fun.
The event features street entertainers, your favorite rides decorated with ghostly props, and a special trick-or-treat trail just for kids. Fright Fest also offers entertainment and attractions more suitable for teenagers and adults, including a new haunted attraction that debuted in 2018, Total Damnation, which takes the brave-hearted through "the pits of hell."
The award-winning Field of Screams "scream park" at OCBG Park in Olney, Maryland, offers guests haunted attractions such as Haunted Trail, Trail of Terror, Slaughter Factory, and Hades Hayride. Guests are also invited to sit around one of 15 bonfires in the scream park, where they can enjoy fried Twinkies and Oreos, funnel cakes, and s'mores while socializing with other terrified visitors.
Field of Screams is not recommended for children under the age of 13. Tickets can be purchased in advance, but separate tickets are required for each attraction.
On weekends in October, two parks in Montgomery County, Maryland, offer families the chance to ride on special Halloween Eye Spy trains: Cabin John Regional Park in Rockville and Wheaton Regional Park in Wheaton. At both events, the miniature trains and the woods surrounding their routes are transformed into a Halloween-themed search-and-find adventure for adults and kids alike.
Your family's adventure will start with the conductor handing you a special "Eye Spy" clue card before you board the train. While traveling through the forests of the parks, you and your family will then search for the "Halloween friends" mentioned on the card. After the ride, guests are invited to enjoy Halloween movies, snacks, and children's activities in the Train Station Party Room.
Geared toward children under 9 years old, but also suitable for the whole family, the Halloween Eye Spy train reservations can be booked in advance online at either the Cabin John or the Wheaton Regional Park website, but you will still need to arrive at least 15 minutes before your scheduled departure time to guarantee your seat. The event usually asks families to bring a canned food item for a local charity.
Take a frightening nighttime adventure through Cox Farms in Centreville, Virginia, which hosts the annual Fields of Fear attraction. During Fields of Fear, guests can wander through over 20 acres of frights in four unique attractions: Cornightmare features a slaughterhouse, crypt, clowns, and a jailhouse; Dark Side Hayride, which features a "lost circus" and haunted sideshows; The Firegrounds and Fear Games, which features a bonfire, karaoke, dance party, foam sculptures, food, and live music; and The Forest: Back 40, which features a coffin tunnel, castle, graveyard, and tons of creepy, crawly creatures.
The popular Kings Dominion amusement park in Doswell, Virginia, has its own version of Six Flags' Fright Night each Halloween season, but it might just be more terrifying than its predecessor's. Featuring 10 mazes, six scare zones, and more than 20 terrifying rides, Halloween Haunt at Kings Dominion is sure to be a hit among thrill-seekers in your family.
While the attractions of The Haunt bring out the scares at night, families and children can enjoy the Planet Snoopy attractions during the day, featuring Halloween family-favorite activities, including a hay maze, pumpkin painting, the chance to get behind the wheel of a pedal tractor, live entertainment and more.
The grounds of Paxton Manor in Leesburg, Virginia, serve as a school campus for special needs students most of the year, but during the months of October and November, this 1870s mansion hosts one of the most unique haunted houses in the region.
On weekends throughout the month, Shocktober challenges guests to survive a haunted tour of the mansion's three floors termed Camp Calheim (and clown-filled basement). Both extremely scary and highly interactive, this haunted attraction is not recommended for children under 13 years of age.
There will also be refreshments, concessions, and other live entertainment on site, including several special events, throughout Shocktoberfest, and proceeds from the event go to benefit the non-profit organization responsible for maintaining the property and school program.
Face your biggest fears at "The Death Trail: Phobias," an annual half-mile trek through some of the scariest woods in Prince William County. Located in Dumfries, Virginia, The Death Trail serves as an outreach program of the Montclair Tabernacle Church and spreads the messages of the Bible through a combination of terrifying entertainment and reading scripture. There is also a special kid's night which invites children 11 and under to walk a less-scary version of the trail while trick-or-treating.
The Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum's annex located in Chantilly, Virginia, hosts its annual Air & Scare event in October. You and your family can join creepy space aliens, mysterious astronauts, and ghostly pilots for safe, indoor trick-or-treating. Visitors will enjoy story times, face-painting stations, hands-on activities, karaoke, simulation games, and robotics demonstrations in addition to the center's usual exhibits and galleries.