The Best Towns and Small Cities to Celebrate Halloween in the USA

by Bridgette Redman  |  Published October 25, 2023

In towns across America, Halloween is more than just an opportunity for children to stuff as much candy as they can fit in a bucket – it’s a time for kids and adults alike to pull out all the stops and put on a seriously spooky celebration.

Photo: Zombie Walk in the NH Pumpkin Festival / Courtesy of Lakes Region Chamber

Whether you’re wanting to race coffins or walk with zombies, we’ve found the best towns and small cities to get your spine tingling this Halloween. During our research, we looked for the destinations that offer the most unique takes on everyone’s favorite October holiday, from creepy puzzles for kids to solve to elaborate decorations that put your average Christmas lights display to shame.  The towns selected have populations smaller than 50,000 (and some smaller than 2,000) and we favored places where Halloween events are open to the public. The result is a diverse mix of celebrations: some notoriously scary and others just unadulterated fun. Destinations are ordered by geographical region moving east to west across the United States.

Laconia, New Hampshire

The city of Laconia springs to life during Halloween with a two-day pumpkin festival. One of the event’s highlights is the Zombie Walk, during which participants (often from gyms, dance studios and non-profit groups) transform themselves into the walking undead and shuffle through the streets, culminating with a Spook N’ Groove Dance Party. There’s also a Pumpkin Dump Derby, where competitors carve  pumpkins into makeshift vessels and race them on water. For thirsty revelers, a Beer Garden is on hand to serve up seasonal brews throughout the festival.

Salem, Massachusetts

Photo: Halloween Parade in Salem, Massachusetts / Courtesy of Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism via Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0 Deed)

The Salem witch trials of 1692-1693 still inspire horror, so it is unsurprising that many make the pilgrimage to the eponymous city each Halloween. Brimming over with a cauldron of history, haunts and magic, its month-long Haunted Happenings experience attracts more than a half-million visitors annually and is one of the largest Halloween celebrations anywhere in the world. Notable local attractions including the World of Wizardry, the House of the Seven Gables, the Witch Dungeon Museum, and the Witch House all take part in the event, and there’s even a Satanic Temple with original artwork by legendary artists Dali, Degas and Man Ray. Amid the horror are plenty of family activities such as the Good Witch Transformation tea time, potion party and costume ball.

Sleepy Hollow, New York

Photo: Sleepy Hollow’s Headless Horseman / Courtesy of cgc76 via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 DEED)

The town of Sleepy Hollow holds a special place in Halloween lore, thanks to Washington Irving’s famous 1820 short story “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” The annual Sleepy Hollow Haunted Hayride captures this literary legacy with a spine-chilling experience that transports visitors through the very landscapes that inspired Irving’s tale. The Headless Horseman makes frequent appearances, adding an element of suspense. The town also boasts the Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze, a display of thousands of intricately-carved pumpkins arranged in eye-catchingly creative formations. Meanwhile the Philipsburg Manor, a historic gem, transforms into the Horseman’s Hollow, an interactive haunted attraction.

Sinking Spring, Pennsylvania

Photo: A zombie frightens visitors to Shocktoberfest/ Courtesy of Shocktoberfest

Pennsylvania’s premier haunted scream park, Shocktoberfest, has been hailed by some as the scariest Halloween destination in the country – and it’s easy to see why. It features a zombie safari tour, zombie laser tag and a massacre scare zone. There is even a haunted hotel room where, if you manage to stay in it for 12 hours, you’ll earn a refund for half your entrance fee. Other highlights include a 50,000-square foot “Prison of the Dead” built in a condemned penitentiary, an escape room, games, live music and food trucks. Held in conjunction is SPOOKtoberFest, a family-friendly experience with a spooky hayride, a haunted house and carnival games.

New Hope, Pennsylvania

Scarecrow Walk in New Hope, Penn. / Courtesy of Visit Bucks County taken by Kevin Crawford

In the town of New Hope, it’s never considered too early to embrace the spirit of the spooky season, with its transformation starting in September. The Scarecrow Walk kicks off the festivities, with the streets filled with whimsical scarecrow creations and Peddler’s Village morphing into a Halloween wonderland. Elsewhere, Sesame Place, the beloved children’s amusement park, undergoes a supernatural makeover, offering delightful spooks for little ones, Sleepy Hollow Haunted Acres lets the bravest souls test their mettle amid chilling horrors, and even the railroad gets involved, whisking people off to “No Hope After Dark,” a 100-minute haunted maze adventure at a hidden location.

Rehoboth Beach, Delaware

Photo: Sea Witch Parade in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware / Courtesy of Jeffrey via Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0 DEED)

Showcasing its deep connection to the sea and vibrant community spirit, the city of Rehoboth Beach is turned into a magical seaside destination during Halloween, and at the heart of its celebrations is the enchanting three-day Sea Witch Festival. One of its standout events is the grand costume parade, where participants (and their dogs) don imaginative outfits. Families can enjoy the whimsical broom toss, while other highlights include horse shows, juggling shows, a haunted bonfire and beach party, hayrides, a Jolly Trolley Magical History Tour, magic shows, a lumberjack throw, a scarecrow trail, live music and trick-or-treating.

Hendersonville, North Carolina

Photo: Kids enjoy Hendersonville Halloween celebrations. / Courtesy of Henderson Country Tourism Development Authority.

Halloween in Hendersonville is a spirited affair combining family-friendly charm with spooky fun. Families gather for pumpkin carving contests and trick-or-treating in historic neighborhoods adorned with elaborately decorated homes. Costumed kids can fill their snack buckets at the Treat Street Carnival or the Hendersonville Farmer’s Market. For those seeking a more spine-tingling experience, ghost tours through the town’s historic districts reveal tales of the supernatural and eerie local legends. There’s also a Haunted Farm where you can get in shape for the zombie apocalypse by joining the Trick or Trail 5K or Spooky One Mile run.

St. Augustine, Florida

Photo: Full moon over St. Augustine’s Halloween celebrations / Courtesy of FloridasHistoricCoast.com

In a city that boasts of being spooky all year round, the resident ghosts blend in with the influx of pirates, ghost hunters and costumed visitors come Halloween. St. Augustine boasts a rich historical backdrop, blending eerie traditions and festivities. The coastal city’s cobbled streets and historic buildings set the stage for ghostly tours and haunted excursions. St. Augustine’s famous lighthouse becomes a beacon of the supernatural, hosting ghost-hunting events and tours and the Alligator Farm transforms into a “Fright Nite” destination. Other events include a Hocus Pocus-themed beauty event, a crop maze and a Jail Break 5K costume run.

Romeo, Michigan

Photo: Romeo’s Halloween displays / Courtesy of Terror on Tilson Street

This small Midwestern town of Romeo is renowned for its enchanting Halloween celebrations, with “Terror on Tilson Street” the pièce de résistance. Each year, the town  draws thousands of visitors as local residents decorate their historic homes along Tilson Street, turning it into a mesmerizing spectacle. Elaborate and macabre decorations, including intricate pumpkin carvings, ghoulish animatronics, and hauntingly beautiful light displays, adorn the houses. In 2021, the town added “Screech Fest” to the festivities – a play on their annual summer festival, “Peach Fest” – centered around the library’s story book trail and the Masonic Lodge’s haunted house.

Anoka, Minnesota

This city’s history of Halloween celebrations dates back to 1920 when it organized one of the very first Halloween parades in the United States. Ever since, Anoka has been at the forefront of embracing the spirit of All Hallows’ Eve. The focal point of the festivities is unquestionably the Grand Day Parade, but throughout October, Anoka also hosts a multitude of events, from pumpkin carving contests to costume parties. The city’s devotion to the holiday extends to community causes, with events like “Feed My Starving Children” and “Orange Tie Ball” raising funds for local charities.

Cynthiana, Kentucky

The city of Cynthiana truly embraces its status as the home of the hugely popular “Walking Dead” TV show, with everywhere from the opera house to local restaurants to government buildings sponsoring Halloween events. The fun starts in September, with an Evil Queen pageant at the old jail before October kicks in with the start of nightly ghost walks. “Witches Night Out” adds a touch of whimsical spookiness to the festivities, with witches and warlocks taking to the streets. A particularly captivating sight is the 500 skeletons adorning store windows, creating a macabre yet playful display.

Pigeon Forge, Tennessee

Photo: Dollywood Harvest Festival / Courtesy of The Dollywood Company

In the mountain town of Pigeon Forge, the spirit of Halloween burns brightly with the Dollywood Harvest Festival, a month-long event that transforms the famed theme park into a spooky wonderland and spreads throughout the town. Rocky Top Mountain Coaster becomes haunted with goblins, ghouls and ghosts.  A highlight is the Great Pumpkin Luminights, which sees the park adorned with thousands of jack-o’-lanterns, including a Hoot Owl Hollow, a hideaway for a giant owl. There are fright nights and trick-or-treat events downtown while the Crave Golf Club hosts 13 nights of fright at their Craveyard Bash.

Independence, Kansas

The city of Independence hosts Neewollah festival, which lays claim to being Kansas’s largest Halloween celebration. For nine days, the town bursts into a whirlwind of festivities, combining old-world charm and contemporary entertainment. The Neewollah celebration, which is ‘Halloween’ spelled backward, has captivated residents and visitors for decades. A grand parade takes center stage, featuring floats, marching bands, and a carnival atmosphere. Festival-goers can groove to the beats of nationally acclaimed musicians, while foodies indulge in delectable treats from a diverse array of food vendors. There’s also an arts and crafts show offering a treasure trove of handcrafted items from local artisans.

Muskogee, Oklahoma

Muskogee, Oklahoma, takes Halloween to a whole new level with its month-long celebration at the Castle of Muskogee. The castle, usually a charming Renaissance festival venue, transforms into a realm of fright and fantasy. This haunting extravaganza features a diverse range of attractions, from a chilling walk through a medieval torture chamber to encounters with creepy creatures and live-action horror scenarios. Families and thrill-seekers flock to Muskogee to immerse themselves in this unique Halloween experience. With its elaborately decorated grounds, themed areas, and enthusiastic actors, the Castle of Muskogee promises an unforgettable journey into the eerie and macabre.

Elgin, Texas 

Elgin offers an array of festive celebrations that captivate residents and visitors alike. The town’s dedication to Halloween is evident through a myriad of community events, haunted houses, and themed festivals. A notable highlight is the Boo Bash, a family-friendly extravaganza filled with costume contests, live entertainment, and plenty of treats for little ones. Elgin’s historic downtown district becomes a hotbed of activity, with storefronts decked out in spooky decorations and local businesses hosting special Halloween-themed promotions. The town’s residents embrace the season wholeheartedly, making it a welcoming and spirited destination for anyone seeking to revel in the enchantment of Halloween, Texan-style.

Manitou Springs, Colorado

A team speeds down the street in the annual Emma Crawford Coffin Races / Courtesy of Visit Manitou Springs

This spot on the list was earned by a quirky tradition – the annual Manitou Springs Coffin Races. In the late 1800s, local resident Emma Crawford died of tuberculosis and was buried on Red Mountain. Years later, her final resting place was disrupted by heavy rain. Her coffin raced down the mountainside, creating a morbid but unforgettable spectacle. Manitou Springs pays homage to this story with the Coffin Races. Teams construct coffins on wheels, don inventive costumes, and race them through the streets, competing for the fastest time. This race is the centerpiece of a Halloween festival which includes live music, costume contests, and other holiday-themed events.

Prescott, Arizona

Prescott’s town square transforms into a Halloween haven for ghoulish fun. With the Yavapai County Courthouse as the centerpiece, the annual PumpkinFest on the Square delights families with pumpkin carving, costume contests, and live music. Other kid-friendly goings on include a corn maze, spooky stories, a kid-friendly haunted house, a nature-themed Halloween celebration, a Monster Mash concert, a Costumes for Kids 5K run, Boo at the Zoo and lots of trick-or-treat events. Those looking for a scarier time can search out the spirits of the Old West during ghost tours or participate in special haunted holiday experiences at the museum, local theaters and historic buildings.

Jerome, Arizona

In the historic mining town of Jerome, Halloween serves up Old West charm and eerie excitement. Jerome’s cobblestone streets come alive with haunting but rip-roaringly fun activities. Early October witnesses an annual Ghost Walk, while the town’s century-old buildings host ghost tours, drawing on Jerome’s reputation as one of the most haunted towns in the West, a place where even the hamburger joints are reputed to be filled with spirits of the supernatural kind. This year marks the town’s 48th annual Halloween Dance/Fireman’s Ball. For those seeking a serene experience, there is Halloween Sound Healing at Down Dog Sedona. Halloween festivities include costume parades, live music, and street art installations, turning this ‘ghost town’ into a lively and thrilling destination.

Half Moon Bay, California

Photo: Great pumpkin weigh-in and contest/ By Kevin Henney courtesy of VistHalfMoonBay.com

Nestled in the heart of fertile pumpkin patches, Half Moon Bay wears the title of the “Pumpkin Capital of the World” as a badge of honor. Each October, it transforms into a lively hub of pumpkin-themed festivities. The annual Half Moon Bay Art & Pumpkin Festival is a major highlight, drawing visitors from all corners of the globe. Streets are adorned with oversized pumpkins, intricately carved creations, and vibrant decorations. Families can enjoy pumpkin-inspired food, live music, arts and crafts, and the famous pumpkin weigh-off. It’s a place where pumpkins reign supreme, and the Halloween spirit is palpable.

St. Helen’s, Oregon

Display of classic cars in Halloween decor during Halloweentown / Courtesy of Spirit of Halloweentown

The real-life home of Disney’s Halloweentown movie, St. Helen’s embraces this long-standing connection by hosting an annual Spirit of Halloween Festival. The festivities begin with the lighting of the Great Pumpkin in the town square, setting the tone for a month-long celebration. Characters from the film wander downtown, St. Helens’ riverfront serves as the backdrop for spooky boat tours, and haunted tours of historic buildings offer a glimpse into the town’s eerie past. The Halloween-themed activities, costume contests, and pumpkin carving contests engage participants of all ages, and the festival often ends with an outdoor screening of the original silver screen classic.

Hilo, Hawaii

Halloween in Hilo takes on a tropical twist, blending island culture with ghoulish traditions. The local community hosts everything from hula dancers in ghostly garb to traditional Hawaiian music with a haunting edge. The warm, tropical climate allows for outdoor festivities, like costume parades and open-air luaus with a Halloween theme. Meanwhile Hilo businesses decorate their storefronts with tropical Halloween decor, and local farmers’ markets offer seasonal treats like coconut candy and pineapple jack-o’-lanterns. Other attractions and events include the HalloQueen Boo Bash, haunted houses, a Halloween maze, scavenger hunt and dance parties.