Where to Celebrate Halloween in Washington: Haunted Houses, Scavenger Hunts, and More

Get spooky in a dark forest, look for ghosts at the National Portrait Gallery, and carve pumpkins at Helix Lounge.

By: Laura Wainman

Haunted Houses and Forests

Every Washingtonian knows the can’t-miss destination of the season is Markoff’s Haunted Forest, entering its 20th season this year. Scream your lungs out on the haunted zipline or hayride, navigate the winding trails of homemade frights on the 170-acre farm, and take aim in the walking dead shooting gallery. Come in costume, as nightly prizes are awarded to the best dressed. The ghouls pop up at dusk and disappear back into the forest at midnight on October 18, 19, 20, 25, 26, 27, 28, 30, and 31. Attractions are priced individually, and tickets are $3, or you can buy a pack of ten for $25.

Indulge in three frights for the price of one at the Nightmare Screamplex in Boyds. Navigate the Nightmare Forest, Lost Asylum, and Field of Terror as you try to escape with your life (or at least your dignity) intact. Roast s’mores on the bonfires or have a tarot reading while you wait for the frightfests to start. For those with little ones in tow, November 2 is family night. See the full schedule online.

At Cox Farms’ Fields of Fear, wander 20-plus acres of scares in the Cornightmare and take a ride on the Dark Side Hayride. For a less heart-racing experience, try the giant torchlight slide or warm up with a cup of spiced cider or hot cocoa. Avoid the frighteningly long lines and pre-purchase your tickets online.

Boogey over to the Track of Terror at Laurel Park on October 26 for an outrageous night of dancing, drinking, and scares. Sip seasonal favorite Sam Adams Octoberfest before you strut your costumed stuff on the dance floor and compete to win more than $1,000 in prizes. And don’t forget to check out the two haunted houses set up in secret hallways of the race track. Save $5 on tickets (regularly $25) if you buy them online. Check out LivingSocial Adventures’ VIP package for information on an open bar and VIP parking.

Leave your fears at home as you battle attacking zombies, decaying bodies, and mad scientists at Hallow Inc.’s Warehouse Project: 4.1. The 37,000-square-foot attraction is based on a government study of radioactive fallout from the 1950s. The good news is you can give your car a night off, as this urban haunted house is accessible via White Flint Metro. Get the full backstory (and your $30 tickets) online. The Warehouse Project opens at 7 PM, and runs through November 3.

Scream for a cause at the 23rd annual Vampire Manor in Bel Alton. Admission to the fright house is $10 ($5 for kids under 12) and benefits charities including the Charles County Dive Rescue, the Bel Alton VFD, and local high school drama programs, which provide many of the actors. Get tickets online.

Tours, Exhibitions, and More

For those who prefer ghouls with a rich historical ancestry, join the six generations of dearly departed Martha Washington descendants at Tudor Place’s History Haunt. Explore five acres of ghostly gardens followed by a refreshing spirit of another kind. The haunting jaunts are offered every half hour from 6 to 8 PM on October 26, and the evening is strictly 21 and up. Tickets are $15; register online through Eventbrite.

Run for your lives, or at least for 3.2 miles, at the Blood and Guts 5K obstacle run. Try to evade the zombies, monsters, and goblins that invade the course on November 4 at Pev’s Paintball Park in Aldie all while navigating obstacles including the blood and guts pit, the tire gauntlet, and hay pits. And don’t miss the haunted theme park, Terrorville, open from 7 to 11 PM Friday and Saturday through October 28. Take your best shot in zombie paintball or laser tag and try to survive the Walk of Terror. Bonus: A portion of proceeds from both events will benefit local charities and Loudoun, Prince William, and Fairfax county schools. Register for the 5K online and get full details on Terrorville through the website.

Join the experts at Watson Adventures as they combine a love of sorcery and art to create three wickedly fun scavenger hunts. On October 20 from 2 to 4, engage the family in the Wizard School Scavenger Hunt at the National Gallery of Art to track down a powerful sorceress, a Snape-like potions master, flying owls, and more. Tickets are $17.50 for youth (7 to 17) and $19.50 for adults. Or ditch the kids October 26 to 28 as you embark with only a flashlight on a tour of ghost-plagued buildings near Lafayette Park. Keep your eyes peeled for the spirits of Abe Lincoln, Dolley Madison, or even the suicidal Mrs. Henry Adams. Admission is $22.50 per person. And lastly, explore the dark side of art at the National Gallery on October 27 from 2 to 4:30 as you search for skeletons, severed heads, and cold-blooded killers in the galleries. $23.50.

Everyone loves a good haunting, so explore the haunted past of the National Building Museum on lantern-lit tours, said to be led by the ghost of Mary Surratt. See if you can spot a footless figure, a limping visitor, and a grumpy horseman. Tours are given from 8 to 9 PM on select Saturdays, Sundays, Mondays, and Wednesdays through November 4. Register for tickets ($20) through the museum’s website.

Honor the dead at the Torpedo Factory Art Center’s Dia de los Muertos exhibition. The fourth annual celebration features altar installations and Day of the Dead-inspired artwork from local artists. See the art from October 29 to November 4 and celebrate the winners at the costume and dance party on November 2 from 8 to 11 PM. Enjoy live music from the Torches and learn to make your own mini altars. Tickets for the party are $15 in advance, $20 at the door, $10 for students and $35 for two.

Bring your fiercest self to DuPont Circle on October 30 for the annual Drag Queen Race. Starting at 9 PM, costumed drag queens will run from P to S streets in their most outrageous getups and heels. An informal block party typically follows.

Sharpen your carving skills and get ready to perform at Helix Lounge’s eighth annual Halloween pumpkin carving contest. On October 25, a carving station will be set up on the outdoor patio with 30 pre-scooped pumpkins and carving tools. Pumpkins are distributed on a first come, first served basis starting at 6. Winners will be announced at 8 PM in the categories of Most Political Pumpkin (a $50 Helix Lounge gift certificate) and Most Ghoulish Gourd (a one-night weekend stay at Hotel Helix). Indulge with pumpkin martinis ($7), Starr Hill Pumpkin Porters ($6), and half-price burgers through 9 PM.

Treat yourself at LivingSocial’s Seven Deadly Sins party on October 27. There are seven “temptation” rooms featuring a burlesque show, a cash machine, and a dance cage. Each room boasts its own sin-themed cocktail (Sloshed Sloth anyone?). Purchase tickets ($59) through LivingSocial, and remember a VIP ticket ($89) allows you early access, three full-size drinks, and an extra turn in the cash machine and spin on the prize wheel.