Feeling like a zombie since lockdown? Combine eerie adventure with a leaf-peeping vacation in the Tennessee or Southwest Virginia mountains. Hit Florida beaches for a harrowing end-of-summer hurrah. Tracing through South Carolina and Georgia to Mississippi, the choices include near-to-the-city attractions in hip and happening smaller towns with a lively dining and entertainment scene. Each provides plenty of relaxation, interesting outdoor adventures and room to wander.
According to America Haunts, an industry association, “haunted attractions are popular as a way to escape everyday routines, thwart real-life anxiety, and find selfie-worthy, action-filled experiences.” This year, that escape and adrenaline rush is still important to thrill-seekers, and the best of the industry has developed strict Covid safety protocols which will evolve with state and local guidelines. For those who prefer a sedate walk, eerie tales and a tingle on the neck and arms, ghost tours are the perfect choice, with small-group limits, mask requirements and distancing.
Following are nine unique ghostly getaways offering highly rated haunted houses or open-air historic walking tours ranging from mysterious and spine-tingly to certifiably paranormal. These scenic and colorful destinations are worth a fall drive.
Americus/Sumter County, Georgia: Windsor Hotel Tours In west-central Georgia, convenient to I-75, three hours south of Atlanta and only two hours north of I-10, Americus is not only an ideal stopping point en route to Florida, it’s a top destination for its major attractions, including Andersonville National Historic Site, the most famous military prison of the Civil War and the Jimmy Carter National Historic Site.
Built in 1892 to attract Northern “snowbirds,” the massive, castle-like Windsor Hotel is a fully restored Victorian-Moorish architectural beauty with towers, turrets, balconies and a three-story, atrium lobby. The benevolent ghosts of a housekeeper and daughter who were pushed down the elevator shaft to their deaths, and that of a beloved doorman, are often detected. Have dinner at Rosemary & Thyme or a drink and appetizer at Floyd’s, the doorman’s namesake pub. Then, take a guided walking tour highlighting nearly 200 years of history and ghost stories of the area. Even on tours, the creaky Windsor Hotel elevator might start up or a bell mysteriously chime. Tour covers stories about the haunted house in Plains, the ghastly ghosts of Andersonville and the grave of Sumter County’s first sheriff, killed in 1839 and the Rylander Theatre’s “Frank the Friendly Ghost.” By appointment only, tickets must be purchased in advance, tours limited to 10 people, face masks must be worn. Tours held October 3, 10, 16-17, 23-24, 28-31. Windsor Hotel, 101 W. Lamar St., Americus GA 31709. For more information, call the Americus Visitor Center, (229) 928-6059, or click www.VisitAmericusGA.com.
If You Go: Have lunch at Koinonia Farm, the birthplace of Habitat for Humanity. For coffee drinks, light breakfast, good company and coffee by the pound, head to Café Campesino, Georgia’s first and only 100 percent fair trade, organic coffee company. Plan to visit around Oct. 3-4, when the 2020 Andersonville Camp & Battle Portrayal takes place in the Andersonville Civil War Village. Re-enactors have been invited to camp out and perform “battles” both days. For information, www.VisitAmericusGA.com.
THE MOUNTAINS: TENNESEE AND VIRGINIA
Loudon County, Tennessee: Dead Man’s Farm: Located between Knoxville and Chattanooga, Loudon County is known as the Lakeway to the Smokies, full of beautiful scenery and a multitude of outdoor water and mountain activities. Dead Man’s Farm enjoys many “Best Haunted Attraction” accolades including one from USAToday 10 Best. This year the sprawling attraction is maintaining the frightening fun while following detailed and firmly-applied Covid safety and sanitation rules for actors and guests, from makeup and costume to changes in the haunted house that offer great opportunities for surprising scares while maintaining a safe social distance.
Guests can scream their way through the revamped-every-year Haunted House/Bludgeon House Tour, with its story line of atrocities acted out in vivid detail. Avoid chainsaw-wielding clowns in a five-acre corn maze, be buried alive in a sensory coffin simulator, choose from four Face Your Fear Virtual Reality experiences and three horror-based escape rooms, from Murder Cabin Escape to Asylum to Zombie Cage. Outdoor midway entertainment also includes excitement for those more into freaky fun and less into fear, with performer photo opps. Thursdays-Sundays in October. Haunted House, $20; Haunted corn maze, $15; Fun, not frightening midway attractions, $5 each; savings packages and upgrades available.Dead Man’s Farm, 13100 W Lee Hwy, Philadelphia, TN 37846 (also named Hwy 11)(865) 408-8527 www.DeadMansFarm.com
If You Go: In a state full of fall color and made for road trips, Loudon County, in east Tennessee, is golden. With the Smoky Mountains creating a backdrop for kayaking, boating and fishing on Tellico Lake or the Tennessee River, visitors can enjoy scenic drives, stunning sunsets and trademark misty mornings. Located between Knoxville and Chattanooga, Loudon County’s Highway 321 is the most scenic and least congested route to the Smokies from I-75 and I-40 East. Lenoir City and Loudon each have unique shopping and dining spots and locals who love to show off their Southern hospitality. Near Loudon is the oldest family winery in the state, Tennessee Valley Winery. Sweetwater Valley Farm in Philadelphia demonstrates cheese and milk-making and offers tastings. www.VisitLoudonCounty.com
Wytheville, Virginia: Helheim Haunted Attraction. Head high into the Blue Ridge section of the Appalachians to Wytheville in Southwest Virginia for small town charm, wide-open outdoor pursuits and plenty of wilderness.
Housed in an old 6,000-square-foot amusement park and created by two enthusiastic veterans with 20 years of experience, Helheim Haunted Attraction promises “put the evil in Wytheville,” with a scare-you-to-death vibe with safety in mind. Temperature checks and masks or face coverings are required for staff and patrons, among other rules. Actors can take up to an hour to apply their makeup, costumes and prepare special effects, which comes across in authenticity and thrills in this post-apocalyptic-meets-Viking-themed attraction. Helheim is the Norse word for hell, or land of the dishonorable dead, but the owners are secretive about the delicious thrills in store. They do hint at playing upon the psychological fears of a lack of control over surroundings and the loss of sight, direction and sound. Not intended for anyone under age 18, $20 per person. Top rated by attendees on www.TheScareFactor.com website.Fridays and Saturdays, September 25-November 7. Helheim Haunted Attraction, Just off of I-81/I-77 at exit 77, 3081 Chapman Rd, Wytheville, VA 24382, (276) 613-0645www.helheimhaunt.com
If You Go: At the crossroads of I-77 and I-81, 2.5 hours from Charlotte, North Carolina is Wytheville, Virginia (ca. 1790), an off-the-beaten track getaway with unique in-town attractions, breathtaking outdoor scenery and activities from fly-fishing and watersports to horseback riding. The classic downtown includes the old, the quirky and the contemporary. Stop for a selfie at the iconic “biggest pencil in Virginia” and snag a frozen Wiffle Pop at Crepe House & Creamery. Just three miles from downtown, Crystal Springs Recreation Area and Big Survey Wildlife Management Area offer more than 9,000 acres of preserved lands, 13 miles of hiking and mountain biking trails. Enjoying a 57-mile trail, canoeing, tubing, kayaking and fishing are all popular at the New River Trail State Park. Climb the 100-foot observation tower at Big Walker Mountain and Big Walker Lookout for views of five states at an elevation of 3,405 feet. For more information, www.VisitWytheville.com.
Chase the last notes of summer sunshine into the fall on a visit to some of Florida’s best hidden gems, where vintage and retro have been preserved and polished. Uncrowded beaches, nature preserves, natural springs, native American history and Florida cowboy ranches are among visitor superlatives.
Martin County, Florida: Port Salerno Ghost Tours: Stretching nearly 22 miles along the Atlantic coast and including private spots to enjoy the surf and sand, endless golf and nature preserves, cattle ranches, rodeos and one of the last Indian trading posts, Martin County is a haven for Old Florida nostalgia. This easy-to-get-to but hidden gem offers uncrowded beaches, two state parks, sweeping nature preserves and the most bio-diverse lagoon ecosystem in the Northern Hemisphere.
Port Salerno Ghost Tours “throws shade” on Florida’s sunny reputation with dark, shivery tales of this Old Florida fishing town, and this year, the spirits are amping up for an unforgettable, ghost hunting season (following Covid guidelines) starting in September. Guests will meet the spirits of ancient Indians, plundering pirates, a phantom widow watching for lost seamen and the victims of a cop who linger at the Devil’s Tree where their bodies were found. Does Black Caesar still steer his ghost ship toward Dead Man’s Point? Are there ghostly clues to sunken treasure? Local ghost guides Patrick and Pat Mesmer base their stories on extensive history and professional paranormal research, have authored books about the area, including “Ghosts of the Treasure Coast,” and conduct separate highly specific paranormal tours. Guests are issued an electromagnetic field detector or an infrared thermometer, instruments featured on TV shows like “Ghost Hunters” and “Ghost Adventures.” Two-hour walking tour, 7:30 p.m. most Saturday nights, with equal emphasis on area history and paranormal activity. $15 adults.Port Salerno Ghost Tours, 4745 SE Desoto Ave, Fish House Art Gallery, Stuart, Florida; Call 772-223-5482 or check www.Facebook.com/portsalernoghosttours for updates.
If You Go: Martin County is within 90 minutes to two hours of the Palm Beach, Ft. Lauderdale, Miami and Orlando airports. Thriving arts and culture celebrates and incorporates significant historic preservation. Area restaurants feature fresh caught fish served alongside ingredients from local and organic farms. Martin County’s many lodging options range from branded hotels and resorts to one-of-a-kind bed and breakfasts, fish camps and quirky cottages to campgrounds. www.DiscoverMartin.com
West Volusia County, Florida: Cassadaga Spiritualist Camp Tours West Volusia encompasses fourteen communities with an eclectic collection of attractions between Orlando and Daytona. From top-rated stylish and funky downtown DeLand to the scenic St. Johns River, this is real and authentic Florida. The region is known for everything from skydiving above to manatee-sightings in Blue Springs State Park.
Neither haunted house attraction nor typical historic ghost tour, Cassadaga Spiritualist Camp is in a class by itself. Established in 1894, visitors are drawn to the spiritual teachings and to experience the peaceful, healing energy of this community. Seminars and historic tours take place among the quirky cobblestone streets and meditation gardens. Walk and discover Cassadaga’s historic, unique and mysterious beginnings and the spirit activity that still goes on in the historical homes of present-day mediums. As the oldest active community of mediums in the Southeastern United States, and known as the Psychic Center of the South, readings (tarot, palm, psychic) and spiritual healings are given daily. Nearby, stay at Hotel Cassadaga, where Halloween takes on a more nuanced meaning. Mostly weekends, prices and hours vary with tour type. Cassadaga Spiritualist Camp, 1112 Stevens Street, Cassadaga, FL386-228-2880; www.Cassadaga.org
If You Go: DeLand’s “real Florida” downtown takes top rating as best outside of Orlando. Combining a sense of history and a contemporary vibe, it’s home to shops and boutiques, galleries and (nine!) museums as well as a slate of annual events. Fabulous restaurants, microbreweries and a series of murals combine in this delightful downtown setting. Skydive DeLand is one of the busiest drop zones in the world. Eco-tours and fishing the St. Johns River are magnets for visitors. www.VisitWestVolusia.com
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Mississippi welcomes visitors with stories untold. Corinth attracts visitors with its history but keeps them with its romantic appeal of small-town USA. Discover a natural rhythm and a richness in the Mississippi Delta which stretches along the banks of the mighty Mississippi River, south from Memphis through fertile fields and welcoming communities. A wealth of stories are being told here, through long-standing traditions, over meals and in the music for which the region is famous. No matter where travels take you, Mississippi creates lasting memories.
Corinth, Mississippi: Corinth is strategically positioned to attract visitors in search of Civil War history and quirky surprises like the motorcycle wonder, the Bike Museum. What guests don’t expect to find are all the hidden gems in this town including the Corinth Coca-Cola Museum. The National Park Service Corinth Civil War Interpretive Center shows how a railroad crossing became the cornerstone for a community thrust into the forefront of war. Nearby are the Shiloh National Military Park and Cemetery and the commemorative Corinth Contraband Camp which accommodated emancipated refugees with homes, a church, school and hospital.
Crossroads have significance in scary legends and paranormal research. Because of the amount of bloodshed during the battle, untouched mass graves are believed to be located near the Crossroads and on or near museum property. The Crossroads Museum Annual Historic Corinth Cemetery Tour takes visitors through the city’s oldest cemetery spotlighting notable and notorious figures from Corinth’s past. Legends are vividly portrayed/re-enacted by local talent. Tour will be held at the Corinth City Cemetery at 602 Westview Drive and Cemetery Drive off U.S. Highway 72 in Corinth. (At press time, the Crossroads Museum is planning but has not finalized details for the Historic Corinth Cemetery Tour dates or times for 2020. Check their Facebook page for updates.) Crossroads Museum, 221 N. Fillmore St., Corinth, MS. 38834 662-287-3120; www.CrossroadsMuseum.com; Facebook@crossroadsmuseum
If You Go: An authentic Southern city, Corinth roots are strong with age-old businesses and tradition, like Bluegrass jams on the Square and the Slugburger, a Great Depression-era delicacy still served at Borroum’s Drug Store and Soda Fountain, which now has its own festival. Over the past few years Corinth’s downtown district has evolved with boutique shopping, a coffee shop, upscale dining and lodging and other fun attractions. www.Corinth.net
Mississippi Delta Along the banks of the mighty Mississippi River the Mississippi Delta runs south from Memphis through fertile fields and welcoming communities. In places where the flat farmlands seem to go on forever, so do the depths of the traditions. The Mississippi Blues Trail is bursting with stories of the music that was born here and the people who brought it to life. Cafes and diners offer traditional recipes, born of necessity, that now sustain body and spirit for those who love this region. From roadside tamale stands, to neighborhood gathering places, to elegant Southern settings, the flavors of the past and present are steeped together and served with a smile.
Named Mississippi’s “Most Haunted House,” the McRaven Tour Home’s years of ghostly and paranormal activity have been documented by professional paranormal researchers and explored on A&E, The Travel Channel, 48 Hours and more. From the hideout of a notorious Murrell Gang highwayman who robbed travelers on the Natchez Trace to a prominent businessman who survived the Vicksburg siege but was murdered the next year by Union troops, discover and experience the famous and infamous, and why their spirits have never left the gardens that held a Confederate campsite and field hospital. Historic and/or ghost tours, private paranormal discovery tours. Children 5 and under free; 18 and under discounts, various tour prices from $15 to $35 adult. A range of times and dates; all tours limited to 10 persons, pre-purchasing or reservations are recommended. Mask and social distancing guidelines must be followed. Weeknight tours arranged for groups of 4 or more, 24 hours in advance, call for pricing.McRaven Tour Home, 1445 Harrison Street, Vicksburg www.McRavenTourHome.com
Haunted Vicksburg Ghost Walk includes a 12-block, 90-minute stroll through Vicksburg’s oldest and most haunted neighborhood. The Trail of Tears, antebellum duels, yellow fever epidemics and a 47-day siege have left old Vicksburg with quite a legacy of “unfinished business” and restless spirits. Adults – $18; Children 12 and under – $13; Kids 5 and under – freeOld Court House Museum at the corner of Monroe and Grove Streets. Tours are March-December, at 8 p.m. sharp, Thursday, Friday and Saturday. The pace is leisurely, with many stops and several places to sit down if needed, and the neighborhood is full of delightful antebellum homes, gardens and churches. Social distancing required; group tours require special arrangements. Booking is online only at www.HauntedVicksburg.com/newghostwalk.htm
At Vicksburg National Military Park, where thousands of soldiers perished, many visitors and paranormal experts experience documented ghost sightings. Visitors have reported hearing sounds of battle, cannon fire, horses, orders issued and screams of the wounded over the empty fields. Ghosts of troops have been spotted along the tree line or walking the grounds. There are even reports of the smell of smoke and gunpowder.
If You Go: With nine counties to explore, there is plenty to do in the Mississippi Delta, including 24-hour casino entertainment, soaking up blues music and Civil War history, shopping, dining and family-friendly fun. www.VisitTheDelta.com
Thoroughbred Country, South Carolina: Just east of Augusta, Georgia, along I-20 between Atlanta and Charleston are the rolling hills of Thoroughbred Country, South Carolina, encompassing the town of Aiken, where National Champion horses are the prize. This four-county part of the Palmetto State is filled with world-renowned horse racing training and tracks, Civil War sites, gardens and plantation homes, state parks, historic healing springs, folk art and antique shops in charming towns. Dining runs the continuum from chef-refined and down-home Southern specialties, family restaurants, international cuisine and the unique find of a Mennonite bakery and community.
Tailored Tours of Aiken–Haunted AikenHaunted secret passages in the Old Post Office, bones in the basement. In the former 1878 Aiken Hotel, shadowy movements, whispers, crying and screaming from empty rooms, where toilets flush and doors open or close. Housekeeping carts found down the hall when left outside a room. These hauntings and more are included on a spooktacular nighttime walking tour offering chilling stories of spirits combined with Aiken’s history. Ghost hunting tools aid in the discovery. Tours are arranged and tailored individually. $15 per person, family-friendly. Masks preferred. Limit 10 people. Year-round, including historic city tours.Visit the website at TailoredToursofAiken.com or call (803) 295-3870.
If You Go: Soak in nature’s restorative power at Aiken State Park where visitors can bring canoes or kayaks and glide along the 1.7-mile glistening trail that winds its way down the south fork of the Edisto River. Enjoy free admission to the Aiken Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame and Museum, as well as concerts, culture and dining. Investigate the luxury amenities at The Willcox Hotel as well as delightful B&Bs including Rose Hill, the Carriage House Inn, Lookaway Inn and Rosemary Inn. More on what to do, eat, where to stay: TbredCountry.org
Onslow County, North Carolina: Located off of I-95, north of Wilmington and east of Raleigh and I-40, Onslow County full of history, Onslow County is a destination full of coastal flavor, family fun and a host of water-related adventures for all ages and generations. The county encompasses Richlands, Jacksonville, Camp Lejeune, North Topsail Beach, Sneads Ferry and Swansboro, is a playground for outdoor recreation from the beaches to exploring Hammocks Beach State Park.
Lights, sound effects, woods, a scary walking trail. Fishstrong Foundation’s Annual Fright Nights brings on the fear and the fun with food and craft vendors, carnival games, a pumpkin patch and more. Proceeds from the hayride and walking Trail will go to the Fishstrong Foundation, a 501(c)3 that raises funds to assist North Carolina families that are experiencing life-altering illnesses. Note: North Carolina’s recent health and safety guidelines may require alterations. Please check the website before a visit. 7 p.m. until, ticket sales 6-10:30 p.m.September 25-26, Friday and Saturday nights in October through the 31st.Haunted Hayride, $12; Walking Trail, $9Fishstrong Foundation’s Annual Fright Nights, 3100 Freedom Way, Hubert, NC 28539. www.Fishstrong.org
If You Go: Huffman’s Vineyard in Richlands offers handcrafted wines in small batches and Mike’s Farm in Beulaville is a popular seasonal agritourism entertainment venue. In Jacksonville, the county seat, have a sip and a tour at Walton’s Distillery, one of North Carolina’s favorite small-batch distilleries, manufacturing corn whiskey and moonshine. Nearby, local shops and eateries line the waterfront streets of charming downtown Swansboro. Locals say the best shelling can be found on Bear Island, a treasure of the beautiful Hammocks Beach State Park. All forms of fishing are popular here and plenty of experienced captains and guides can make any trip memorable. For more information, including North Carolina’s Covid guidelines and mandates, visit www.OnlyInOnslow.com.
This fall, ghost-lovers who love to travel can turn an eerie encounter into a delightful vacation getaway. Best of all, these scenic and colorful destinations are worth the drive for their attractions and amenities any time of year. Some offer tours year-round. While picking the perfect destination, read the FAQ pages of the haunted tour website. Heed the Covid safety policies and guidelines. Some allow photography and paranormal detection devices, others don’t.