Headless Horseman Hayrides and Haunted Houses is the #1 Halloween Attraction in the Northeast (5 stars PLUS)

It’s remarkable how many Halloween attractions find a way to call themselves #1. They’re #1 in a voter poll or some journalist a long time ago put them as #1 regionally. But the Headless Horseman Hayrides and Haunted Houses, really might be the #1 attraction in America. Based in eastern New York, certainly it is the best Halloween attraction of the 56 that I have reviewed in the US Northeast.

Just about every other Halloween attraction is an afterthought or semi-pro side project by a nutso hobbyist. There are places that are primarily farms, that add a haunted hay ride. There are places that are primarily amusement parks, that add a haunted house. At Headless Horseman, whose name is too long and one should not be castigated for shortening it, they go full on Halloween theme park, putting money and theatrical production value into every aspect. The park has a large midway with food, gift shops, a magic show on stage, a haunted hayride, and 7 other attractions. They also have three “escape rooms”, where you get locked into a room and solve puzzles to escape.

Visitor management is good at the park. It’s the first time I’ve ever been impressed with parking attendants at a Haunted attraction. While you are free to roam the midway, visiting gift shops and buying food, once you are on the hay ride you get sent sequentially to all of the other attractions, with the last two a bit confusing to locate, but you will find them. This minimizes confusion as to where to go next, and whether you’ve seen everything. So use the bathroom beforehand, but with a Screampass ticket, which lets you bypass lines, you can get in and out in 90 minutes, plus whatever time you spend eating and shopping at the midway, hanging out with friends, and seeing the illusionist show. Parking is free, you can’t bring in a camera, and it’s best to leave your bags in your car. Thankfully, smoking is not allowed anywhere on the property.

As with any attraction, arrive early if you can to beat the line, or with your VIP, take your time strolling the midway. It’s an open central courtyard that is well-lit. Like at an amusement park, the buildings are small but purpose-built wooden structures, not tents or plywood shacks. However, despite being manicured, it retains an outdoorsy feel with a few trees, dirt pathways, and gravel. At the midway you can buy a wide variety of gifts, including costuming, little statues, t-shirts, glassware, mugs, skulls, candles, and you can even buy a metallic “Halloween tree”, like an orange Christmas tree, to decorate with ornaments. At The Evil Eatery, buy BBQ chicken wraps, hot dogs, fried Oreos, fried twinkies, a brisket sandwich, and more. At the Croaked Crow cafe, find donuts, cookies, brownies, popcorn, cupcakes, apple crisp, and candied apples. Take your photo with a life-sized mannequin of The Headless Horseman on his horse, the ground littered with skulls.

A deli counter take-a-number system would have these people buying food and gifts during this line-waiting time.

Your journey through the set order of attractions begins with the hayride. Guests sit facing outwards, on the left facing left, or on the right facing right, with your legs hanging off of the side. This gives you the best view. (If facing inwards, you can’t see behind you, and your view ahead, as you sit, would be obscured by the visitors facing opposite you.) Guests also sit on the floor in the middle of the hayride, taking up all the space and thus preventing actors from coming up onto the ride. I was glad to see some actual hay sprinkled on the ride, a tip of the hat to the farming origin of hayrides that Halloween attractions, even farms, often forget. You watch an entertaining safety video and then are off. You get pulled by a real tractor, and have a guide sitting on your ride to explain what is coming up.

Because a hayride covers so much ground, it’s expensive to construct the dioramas and even small villages that visitors will encounter. Everywhere, Headless Horseman spares no expense. They skip the inauthentic looking plywood that is found elsewhere at Halloween attractions, instead building purpose-built structures (or facades) from real structural lumber. They’re not real houses that you would live in, but they are movie set quality houses. You pass a haunted post office and village, and meet a police officer looking for a murder suspect. The creatures you pass, made of wood and plastic, are sometimes not just scary but beautiful, true works of art. They are well enough lit that you can admire them, but not too brightly lit. You’ll pass through a fog area with lanterns, a haunted fishing village with underwater scenes highlighted by blue waving light, a butcher shop, a water wheel, and Crow Hollow, another “village”.

They blow up a car!

You’ll see great special effects such as an explosion of fire, flying sparks, and a chainsaw guy flying past on a zipline. Being outdoors at night in the woods is wonderfully spooky even when there’s no decoration, and on the hayride there’s space between dioramas just to breathe in the night air and enjoy nature. If it’s not cloudy you’ll see stars. Actors have real dialogue and play out mini-scenes, which is more intellectually engaging than just shouting and trying to startle you. For example, a team of haunted women do a spooky chant of a nursery rhyme. Stunningly — why didn’t I think of this? — someone got the idea to include magic illusions on the ride. You’ll see actors get “stabbed” all the way through, and another one gets “burned alive” in a box.

Near the end, you travel a Headless Horseman themed pathway, with fog effects, a 15-foot animatronic pumpkin that rises from a squat to menace you, a field of giant foam carved pumpkins, pumpkin creature statues, and The Headless Horseman, an actor on a real horse, rides out too. You enter a 2-story barn shaped like a pumpkin face, air sprays startle you, and you’ll see creepy twin children, and a hangman’s noose.

The hayride has no serious flaws, but a few ideas do come to mind. One of the actors, with a stomach wound and his intestines falling out, made a joke about having no guts, comedy that worked counter to the scary theme. Melissa T. was our guide, but she wore a mask and seemed reserved in her voice and movement. Even with a microphone it was sometimes hard to hear her, but it didn’t matter, because the patter was uninteresting and the dioramas we passed needed no explanation. Later, I noticed that a different tour guide wore no mask, and I suppose they all have varying styles. Actors stayed behind the hayride, which stopped rarely, instead of approaching. It is only so scary to have monsters threaten you from a distance.

Off the 18-minute hayride, you’re sent to a mandatory photo shoot, against a middling interesting backdrop and without any live actors. Presumably they’ll charge you, if you want a print at the photo booth in the midway. Then you get in line for the next five attractions, which are placed in a series: The Lunar Motel, Glutton’s Diner and Slaughterhouse, Horseman’s Tomb, Night Shade, and Dr. Dark’s Walk-Thru Spookarama. Walking the route will take 23 minutes, part of it spent on a less thrilling in-between space, a corn maze called Evil Reaping that connects the whole thing together.

I have noticed that found objects play a major role in Halloween destinations — one of my favorites for example is run by a building demolition expert, who takes leftovers from his job for his park. The Lunar Motel looks very much as if Headless Horseman actually purchased a motel and relocated it on site. You’ll see haunted bedrooms including an animatronic obese man, a ghoul with a cleaver, and a hoarder’s room with piles of crap. The set design is compelling and well-themed. Unlike most Halloween destinations, where the “buildings” are assembled from cheap and often unpainted and undecorated plywood, in The Lunar Motel, it really feels as if you’re in a motel. Delightfully, an actor has been sunk into a mattress as though she’s just a severed torso. Actors are mainly in masks, but they’re often interesting, such as a guy with glowing eyes and a gas mask. Unfortunately, visitors did get bunched up.

Then we entered Glutton’s Diner and Slaughterhouse, starting with a room that seems to spin around you. It’s an illusion known as the Vortex where a room-size cylinder of cloth is spun around you. It’s the only Vortex I’ve seen where the owner thoughtfully removes the stumbling hazards, a tiny step up and down into and out of the room, with ramps.

Again, the Glutton’s Diner seems to be an actual building purchased by Headless Horseman and adapted, a 1950’s style diner. You’ll find mannequins in the booths and good makeup effects in the haunted kitchen. I can’t think of any horror movie or novel that centers around a haunted kitchen, but whatever. They found this old diner and made it an attraction. It’s basically a pigpile of old dishes and kitchen cookware, plus actors to taunt you. Delightfully, they’ve included a rotating rack of meat. It’s hung from the ceiling, a circular trackway of hooks that move the meats around — you’ve seen such ceiling tracks in restaurant freezers in movies, or in dry cleaning shops to hang clean clothing for pickup. Of course, in the haunted slaughterhouse, it’s severed heads that move through the room! I’ve never seen anything like it at a Halloween attraction. You’ll see a giant meat grinder, too.

It ends in a haunted barn with barn stuff. (I guess anything can be haunted if cluttered with stuff on the walls.) There’s a spooky laboratory with flinching mannequins, and here actors improvise lines, which makes it feel theatrical. “Evil Reaping” is the haunted cornfield that is simply a walkway in-between attractions. It’s attractive, grown from real corn, but a low point. Someone put a Volkswagen Bug in the field — I guess that’s haunted. One actor wears just street clothing with a sack over his head. One archway is just made from wooden forklift pallets. That being said, the low points at Headless Horseman are like the high points at other attractions. The corn is not grown tall enough to obscure your view, which has pros and cons. It’s a lot less scary, but you can see where you’re going, and the views are nice. It’s a pleasure just to be outdoors at night under the stars. The smells are outdoorsy and uplifting, and thankfully they’ve cleared the field pathways of stumbling hazards such as rocks.

Constructions look more authentic, made with lumber, not plywood.

The Horseman’s Tomb is a church and a cemetery with mausoleums. A few actors greet you, as do graveyard sculptures and an animatronic Headless Horseman with a horse that moves. The set designs are extensive, and they seem to have purchased real cemetery statuary made of stone. As part of this attraction you’ll go underground into catacombs with stonework, candles, and a Satantic altar. It’s themed well, with fog effects, a giant spider, and you’ll see masks but sometimes good makeup such as a cult actor with a pentagram on her forehead. As with the other middling attractions, the strength is set design rather than the quality and number of actors. Some actors just let us walk past them. Back in the corn field, you’ll discover a crashed airplane with a skeleton pilot.

Dr. Dark’s Walk-Thru Spookarama is a clown town, a circus sideshow. The makeup in this area is good, but it’s too brightly lit. It’s a tent that is half performers and half freak show. Much of this is filler with some theatricality, and actors have lines of dialogue. Floors move in a small funhouse corridor, and there’s a room of lost souls that is just basic plywood. Guests do get bunched up, unfortunately, meaning that actors can’t just scare every person: this would give away the surprise to those right behind. Thus they only interact with every few people. This dilutes the benefit of having actors.

The Nightshade Nursery and Greenhouse seems to be an actual greenhouse, purchased and relocated here. It’s also too brightly lit to be scary, with uninteresting camouflage netting and dried or fake plants. They do have a giant animatronic plant and a back yard with strange plant abominations. You’ll also pass through a cold haunt, an air-conditioned winter horror wonderland. (I wonder if this is why the owner said that there were 10 attractions, not 9, at Headless Horseman Hayrides and Haunted Houses. This one is not one of the 9 attractions on their website.) One giant creature is made solely of teeth!

Then you emerge back into the midway. From the start of the hayride, including the corn fields but not including waiting in line, you’ve spent a delightful 50 minutes. That is longer but a bit less densely packed than my favorite Halloween attraction in New England, The Haunted Graveyard, which is at Lake Compounce, an amusement park in Connecticut.

In addition to its vendors, the midway has an outdoor space just for gathering and enjoying being outdoors at night. They have swings that you can swing on, picnic tables, and chairs. Campfires with seating and s’mores would be welcome.

With a bit of confusion — some signage is needed, or a staffer to point — you head next into Blood Thirsty, a standalone attraction that comes directly after the long sequence of attractions following the hayride. Like the other standalone attraction, Two Ravens Manor, production value and set design is higher. This is no plywood shack but a real, constructed building of brick and stone. The theme is infection, and it’s eerie and original. You’ll see mannequin babies attached to the laboratory walls with glowing eyes and tubes in their mouths. There are steampunk-looking gears with a wonderful surprise, a nurse with good makeup, and vinyl siding sprayed with gore. One mannequin screams silently underwater, and they’ve got an infinity mirror! It’s two mirrors set up to make a short corridor seem to stretch on forever.

This is quite the creepy attraction, with two little haunted girls, and an actor walking like a zombie. There’s some good makeup on actors here. The high point is a room whose walls are filled with mannequins lit as though in a giant vat of water. The low point is the squeeze corridor. That’s when the left and right walls inflate and your body and face must squeeze through them. I always wonder how often these are cleaned, or whose face was just before mine. The attraction is too bright in sections. There’s a short maze of mirrors, with mannequins set up cleverly, and apes in cages animatronically shaking and screaming.

The last attraction that you’ll visit is Two Ravens Manor, which you may also get confused locating. (Mainly I wanted to know what my options were, whether I had missed anything walking the courtyard, and where I was supposed to go next.) You line up in an outdoor courtyard with purpose-built buildings, and a fountain with a frog, and enter a wooden two-story building.

Two Ravens Manor had the best actor makeup at Headless Horseman. As usual at Headless Horseman, the set design is immersive and well-themed, allowing suspension of disbelief. It really looks like an old manor! You’ll find lots of crap on the walls, including stuffed mounted deer and bear heads. Wonderfully, a baby carriage falls towards you and a tiny doll attacks you with a dagger. Then you’ll pass into a haunted library room, an evil laboratory, with more junk on the walls. I’m skeptical that clutter equates to spooky, but it sets the scene. It draws you in. They’ve got another infinity mirror, I just love those, and then the vinyl siding becomes a Victorian street scene, a haunted ship whose walls move as though the ship is swaying, and then you pass into a haunted bayou with an animatronic snake, pirates, and an evil palm reader. (To me, palm readers are con artists, so they’re all evil.) You’ll also find a “laser lake”, a fog-filled room with a plane of laser light making a “water surface” that monsters can pop up from underneath. The room needed more fog at the time I came through.

With a Screampass to bypass lines, it’s taken you perhaps 90 minutes to see all of the attractions. Then you are free to head home or enjoy the midway, or buy some food. A fire pit is needed to warm hands. Then take in the illusionist show. It’s a stage show with regional-level magic tricks including an appearing woman. Illusionist Ryan Dutcher has a good stage presence, with humor and humility — the magician as your friend, not the magician as God On Stage. He praises the crew behind the show and tells the audience to “Hang onto your imagination and your sense of wonder.” I’m told that at times he escapes from a straitjacket hanging 20 feet in the air from a construction worker’s backhoe.

Mike Jubie, owner of Headless Horseman Hayrides and Haunted Houses, kindly allowed an interview.

Events INSIDER: You seem more of a theme park than a haunted house. Your grounds are extensive.

Mike Jubie: We’re on 65 acres of land, and use every inch of it. This property has evolved, this show has evolved, from 35 employees to 375 cast and crew, to put this production on. We’ve been named #1 in America several times by industry experts.

Events INSIDER: How many attractions do you have here?

Mike Jubie: We have 10 attractions, all-inclusive in one ticket price. Plus we have a midway. We’re more fortunate than someone that has a haunted attraction in a warehouse or a strip mall. We have mother nature on our side. We have the gift of mother nature in our midway, all through our hay ride, our corn maze. We have gift shops, food concessions, line actors, a DJ. We put on a professional show.

Events INSIDER: You’re right; the woods are naturally spooky and indoor attractions can’t compete with that. You have a magic show as well, and escape rooms.

Mike Jubie: Ryan Dutcher is our professional illusionist; he performs nightly. We do have escape rooms. We have three one-hour games in our building for escape rooms, and a mobile escape room unit that has two rooms in it.

Events INSIDER: Is there an effect that you’re most proud of?

Mike Jubie: We’ve done many professional illusions along the trail. We have a Blammo Coffin that was bought from a professional magician, a Broadway magician. We have an impaler illusion that we’ll be doing, a punch through the heart illusion. There’s a number of great actors and actresses out there. They’re the ones who sell it to our guests.

Only a fool would criticize Headless Horseman Hayrides and Haunted Houses. It is a remarkable, high budget, theatrical production, with an entire evening’s worth of attractions. If pressed, a few ideas for improvement come to mind. A deli-style take-a-number system, such as they have at Fright Kingdom in New Hampshire, would allow visitors to spend more time in the midway shopping instead of waiting in line.

It’s funny: in most of my Halloween reviews, I complain that actors have no lines. All they do is jump out and growl, trying to startle you. At Headless Horseman, actors should startle us more. Some attractions, notably the Greenhouse, Blood Thirsty, and Dr. Dark’s Walk-Thru Spookarama, are too brightly lit for anyone to be startled or afraid. At the hayride, actors hung behind the hayride, instead of going up to the sides and engaging with each visitor one-at-a-time. Headless Horseman is far beyond other attractions in their set design and special effects, but surprisingly, the average actor has less energy than elsewhere.

Perhaps it’s because it’s just a challenge to hire 375 staff and have them all be great all the time. Or perhaps by hiring aspiring stage and screen actors, for whom a theme park is a real step down, they’re missing out on the less talented but way crazier horror enthusiasts who volunteer or work for a pittance at most Halloween destinations but then go nuts to scare visitors. Absolutely nuts! I recently saw a chainsaw guy at Fear on the Farm at McCray’s Farm jump onto the hayride and attend to each guest individually, sticking his chainsaw between every pair of visitors and between the slats in the wood to get people from behind. At Headless Horseman, even the chainsaw guy at the hayride seemed content to just let us ride past, barely approaching us.

None of that really matters. When a Halloween attraction is bad, but clearly a homemade labor of love, we tend to rate it higher. Headless Horseman is so professionally produced that, even though it doesn’t deserve it, we tend to pick holes in it. That’s unfair, but it’s true that it feels less like a family and community, and more of an organization. That being said, it’s far friendlier than Six Flags where the sterile paths are all paved and you won’t see a tree all day. Headless Horseman has a real forest, dirt pathways, and they do show they have heart through the creativity and theatricality of their performances. With the caveat that Halloween attractions are different, so it’s hard to definitively call one of them #1 — elsewhere you’ll find ski lifts, woods walks, carnivals, theme park rides, zip lines, farm games, corn mazes, and more — Headless Horseman is indeed #1. It is the first and it is the best in the US Northeast region.

I’ll give Headless Horseman Hayrides and Haunted Houses my rare 5 stars PLUS, making it one of only 3 Halloween attractions I’ve given that rating to. (The others are The Haunted Graveyard in Connecticut which is more of an amusement park, and Sleepy Hollow in Massachusetts, which is more of a stage show.)

Headless Horseman Hayrides and Haunted Houses has a children’s day with pony rides, face painting, games, and a bounce house. During the Christmas holiday season they’re open for A Frosty Fest, including an enchanted forest hayride or drive-through, a magical mansion, and a 3D glasses walk-through. It’s worth the long drive from Boston if you make it a whole weekend, perhaps visiting Field of Horrors too, or using my 23 recommendations in Albany and elsewhere in Upstate New York

See headlesshorseman.com.