Head to the Capital Region during the month of October and you'll encounter vivid displays of fall foliage and a wealth of Halloween-themed events to suit any age. Between the parades, haunted houses, festive train rides, corn mazes, and adult-only frights, Washington, D.C., is brimming with holiday happenings come Halloween.
In 2020, many of the city's Halloween events have been altered or canceled. Check the websites of organizers for updated information.
Each year, Smithsonian's National Zoo hosts a family-friendly Boo at the Zoo event in which kids get to dress up and trick-or-treat at more than 40 candy stations, marvel at live creepy crawlies like bats and spiders, participate in zookeeper talks, and take in the festive decorations along the "haunted" trails of the zoo. 2020's event has been turned into a special drive-through where guests can cruise down the zoo's North Road to see the supernatural sights.
In 1993, the Markoff family opened a haunted bus to fundraise for a summer camp they wanted to create. Now, they operate an entire haunted forest in Dickerson, Maryland, and it happens to be one of the area's biggest haunted attractions each year. Repeatedly called 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, overrun by the worst creatures imaginable.
Markoff’s Haunted Forest typically 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 own nonprofit, Calleva, a year-round special school that teaches leadership and responsibility through outdoor activities and supports scholarship programs for students. The 2020 season is slated to proceed as planned, with certain safety restrictions and the longest trail in its 26-year history, the organizers say.
Six Flags America hosts Halloween parties every weekend throughout September and October. Fright Fest draws swarms of zombies and ghouls to the streets of the park, and guests are encouraged to arrive in costume and take part in the apocalyptic scene. Highlights include street entertainers, rides decorated with ghostly props, and a special trick-or-treat trail for kids. It also offers teen- and adult-friendly frights like Total Damnation, a spooky attraction introduced in 2018. Here, the brave-hearted can navigate through "the pits of hell." In 2020, the event has been reimagined as HallowFest, which will include mandatory temperature checks, masks, and social distancing.
The award-winning Field of Screams "Scream Park" at OCBG Park in Olney, Maryland, comprises a Haunted Trail, Trail of Terror, Slaughter Factory, and Hades Hayride on weekends throughout October. Guests are invited to sit around one of 15 bonfires and tuck into fried Twinkies and Oreos, funnel cakes, and s'mores while socializing with other daring visitors. The 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. The organizers have laid out special requirements for the 2020 season.
The popular Kings Dominion amusement park in Doswell, Virginia, has its own version of Six Flags' Fright Night during Halloween, but it might just be more terrifying than the latter's. Featuring 10 mazes, six "scare zones," and more than 20 terrifying rides, Halloween Haunt is fun for thrill-seekers of all ages. Halloween Haunt follows Planet Snoopy's daytime Great Pumpkin Fest, featuring a hay maze, pumpkin painting, the chance to get behind the wheel of a pedal tractor, and Peanuts characters dressed up in Halloween costumes. In 2020, Halloween Haunt has been canceled.
The Death Trail is a seasonal half-mile trek through some of the scariest woods in Prince William County. Located in Dumfries, Virginia, this spooky pathway serves as an outreach program of the Montclair Tabernacle Church, spreading the messages of the Bible through a combination of terrifying entertainment and scripture reading. The 2020 season will feature a limited schedule and new health and safety measures. Tours start at sundown almost every weekend evening from October 16 to 30.
Every October, a crowd of costumed competitors gathers in Dupont Circle to race down 17th Street from JR's Bar 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 30-plus years ago has snowballed into a colossal gathering known as the 17th Street High Heel Race. The festivities used to go down on Halloween, but now, this tenth-of-a-mile sprint takes place on the Tuesday before Halloween to mitigate holiday traffic. The High Heel Race attracts a diverse crowd of drag queens and kings as well as spectators and city officials. There are no plans for a race in 2020.
If you're not traveling with younger children but still want to enjoy the National Zoo's Halloween offerings, you may prefer the annual Night of the Living Zoo over Boo at the Zoo. Taking place the Friday evening before Halloween, guests come dressed in their best costumes to enjoy a night of entertainment: palm readers, fire eaters, talking bats, illusionists, and more. The event is adults-only, with a 21-and-over age limit enforced. There is also food and alcohol vendors on-site. This year's Night of the Living Zoo has been canceled.
Halloween Eye Spy Trains at Montgomery Parks
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 are ablaze with fall colors when it comes time to board the Halloween-themed trains. The journey kicks off with the conductor passing out a special "Eye Spy" clue card upon boarding. While traveling through the forests of the parks, you can search for the sights mentioned on the card. After the ride, guests are invited to stick around for Halloween movies, snacks, and children's activities in the Train Station Party Room.
Geared toward children under 9 years old, the Halloween Eye Spy train can be booked in advance online on the Cabin John or Wheaton Regional Park website. Guests are usually asked to bring a canned food item for a local charity. The Halloween Eye Spy Trains will not be running in 2020.
Cox Farms in Centreville, Virginia, hosts the annual Fields of Fear attraction where guests can wander through more than 20 acres of frights in four unique attractions: Cornightmare features a slaughterhouse, crypt, clowns, and a jailhouse; Dark Side Hayride includes a "lost circus" and haunted sideshows; The Firegrounds and Fear Games features a bonfire, karaoke, dance party, foam sculptures, food, and live music; and The Forest comprises a coffin tunnel, castle, graveyard, and many creepy, crawly creatures. With seasonal events throughout the year, Cox Farms turns spooky on Friday and Saturday nights in October. However, it will remain closed for the 2020 season.
The grounds of Paxton Manor in Leesburg, Virginia, serve as a school campus for special needs students most of the year, but in October, this 1870s mansion hosts one of the most unique (and scariest) haunted houses in the region. Shocktober challenges guests to survive a tour of the mansion's three floors, dubbed Camp Calheim, plus a clown-filled basement. Both extremely scary and highly interactive, this haunted attraction is not recommended for children under 13 years of age. In addition to scares, Paxton Manor serves up refreshments, concessions, and live entertainment during Shocktoberfest. Proceeds from the event go to the nonprofit organization responsible for maintaining the property and school program. In 2020, the event has been made virtual. $25 will get you 10 hours of terror and walk-throughs streamed on your TV.