The Best Haunted Attractions

The Spookiest, Scariest Rides at Theme Parks and Amusement Parks

Haunted Mansion at Night
••• Disney

Roller coasters get most of the glory, carousels get plenty of PR spin, and whirling rides get lots of...dizzy passengers and the occasional visit from a clean-up crew. But haunted attractions, also known as spooky rides or by the industry term, “dark rides,” have been, and continue to be, an integral part of the theme park and amusement park experience as well.

Dark rides are not necessarily dark in tone or subject matter. For that matter, dark rides are not necessarily even dark in terms of their lighting. The category of rides refers to attractions in which passengers travel in vehicles through an indoor building, generally going from scene to scene. So “it's a small world,” which is perhaps the cheeriest and sunniest park ride ever created, as well as one that has especially bright lighting and colorful set design, is nonetheless a “dark” ride. For the purposes of this article, we are looking at rides that aim to pour on the psychological scares and terrorize passengers.

Herewith,...MORE in no particular order, are the best haunted attractions at North American theme parks.

  • 01 of 10
    The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror
    ••• The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. © The Walt Disney Resort

    Sure, the freefall drop tower part of the ride is thrilling, but the pre-show and effects leading up to the finale in the original version at Disney's Hollywood Studios, is downright chilling. The "fifth dimension," as the elevator cars move horizontally through a star field towards impending doom, is haunted attraction nirvana.

    Locations:

  • 02 of 10
    Harry-Potter-and-the-Forbidden-Journey.jpg
    ••• Universal Orlando. Used with permission.

    With Dementors, spiders, dragons, Death Eaters, and other nasty creatures waiting to pounce on you, the ride inside Hogwarts Castle can be quite scary. Its unique robotic arm ride system, which can twist and turn passengers with a great degree of flexibility, also makes for a thrilling ride experience. Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey is not only one of the spookiest rides, it is also one of the best theme park rides, period.

    Locations:

  • 03 of 10
    Universal Studios Hollywood Revenge of the Mummy: The Ride
    ••• Jeremy Thompson/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

    Universal identifies Revenge of the Mummy as a “psychological thrill ride.” It aims to play mind games with its riders. This attraction has it all: creepy mummies (of course), encroaching fire, marauding bugs, jet-black scenes, impending doom. If that isn’t scary enough, it is also a kick-ass roller coaster.

    Locations:

    • Universal Studios Florida, Universal Orlando, FL
    • Universal Studios Hollywood, CA

    Learn about how the Hollywood and Orlando Mummy Rides compare.

  • 04 of 10
    Haunted Mansion Disneyland
    ••• Disney

    It has all of the hallmarks of a classic haunted dark ride including dark scenes, ghosts, loud and startling noises, and set pieces that suddenly pop into view. But for all of its gotchas and gimmicks, Haunted Mansion is really more funny than scary. Younger kids may find it unsettling, but the psychological thrills are fairly mild. Regardless, it is one of the best attractions in all of parkdom.

    Locations:

    • Disneyland Park, CA
    • The Magic Kingdom, Walt Disney World, FL
    Continue to 5 of 10 below.
  • 05 of 10
    Spook-A-Rama sign at Coney Island
    ••• R. Alden Wicker/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

    While it may not have the cachet of Nathan's hot dogs, the Cyclone roller coaster, or the Wonder Wheel, the Spook-A-Rama at New York's Coney Island is nevertheless a seminal piece of living amusement park history. One of the few remaining classic haunted attractions, enthusiasts consider the Spook to be the Sistine Chapel of dark rides. Instead of the sophisticated effects found in Universal and Disney attractions, the Coney Island ride features old-school gimmicks.

    Location:

    • Coney Island, Brooklyn, ​NY
       
  • 06 of 10
    King Kong ride Universal
    ••• Universal

    Mysterious and scary things happen to the characters as you make your way through Skull Island. Then King Kong bursts onto the scene. Is he friend or foe? And what's up with those ginormous dinosaurs threatening to toss your ride vehicle into a ravine? Yikes!

    Location:

    • Islands of Adventure at Universal Orlando, FL
    • Also, there is a similar Kong experience that is part of the Studio Tour at Universal Studios Hollywood.
  • 07 of 10
    Over the entrance to the Pirates of the Caribbean ride
    ••• David/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

    It's dark, there are marauding pirates, flames of fire appear, there are cannonball explosions. But for all of its potentially scary moments,  Pirates of the Caribbean (like Disney’s Haunted Mansion) isn’t really all that frightening. Still, the classic ride remains one of the best and most beloved park attractions.

    Locations:

    • Disneyland, CA
    • The Magic Kingdom, Walt Disney World, FL
  • 08 of 10
    Knoebels
    ••• Jeremy Thompson/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

    No, not that Haunted Mansion. While the more famous Disney dark ride relies on a lot of big-budget Imagineering trickery, the Haunted Mansion at Knoebels is a retro dark ride that owes more to classic amusement parks of yore. Designed in-house and partly using sets and components from closed dark rides, the Knoebels attraction is generally regarded as one of the best modern-day examples of a traditional spooky ride.

    Location:

    • Knoebels, Elysburg, PA
    Continue to 9 of 10 below.
  • 09 of 10
    Indiana Jones Adventure
    ••• Loren Javier/Flickr/CC BY-ND 2.0

    This isn't a "haunted" attraction per se, but Indiana Jones Adventure does incorporate all kinds of dark ride gotchas, such as snakes, "poisonous" darts, and—of course—a giant, forbidden eye. There is also the matter of that giant, round, rolling boulder that seems hellbent on flattening you.

    Location:

    • Disneyland, CA
  • 10 of 10
    Ghostwood Estates, Kennywood
    ••• Martin Lewison/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

    An interactive dark ride, Ghostwood Estate arms each passenger with a blaster to shoot at haunted characters and rack up points. While there are a number of similar shoot-em-up rides, Kennywood's attraction is among the best.

    Location:

    • Kennywood, West Mifflin, PA