frightfest1Family by Day… Fright by Night, Elitch Gardens knows how to celebrate Halloween! For the entire month of October, the park is turned into a ghoulish ghost town, covered in cobwebs and boarded up windows, graveyards and ponds flowing with blood. There are evil clowns in wayward coaster cars, scarecrows and skeletons lurking around every corner of the park. Your regular park admission gets you into Fright Fest where there is fun to be had by ghouls and goblins of all ages.

On Sunday, I took two four-year-olds, my daughter and her little friend to Elitch’s for the kid’s activities that start at noon when the park opens and end at 5pm when it begins to transition into zombies and other dark and terrifying creatures.

frightfest3Besides the graveyard at the entrance of the park, you can avoid most of the scary stuff with the little ones if you head straight to Startoon Studios where a trick-or-treat trail has been all mapped out for you (trick-or-treat bags provided). Get lost in the hay maze, participate in various Halloween themed challenges and activities on the Startoon Studios Stage, compete to see who has the loudest scream and the best costume, and enjoy the rides in between!

Elitch’s provides a brochure of all activities with a “Scare Factor Key” to gauge what’s appropriate for your family, with 1 skull for “Fun for all ages,” 2 skulls for “Spooky,” 3 skulls for “Scary,” and 4 skulls “Not recommended for children under 12 or the timid,” like me.

Because my little one is quite courageous and a fan of “spooky,” (her favorite movie is “Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas,”) we decided to venture out of Startoon Studios and try the “family-friendly” haunted house: “Face Your Fears,” rated 2 skulls.

Billed as a way to invite kids to face their fears, the strobe lighting in a darkly-lit maze of black hallways with “traditional monsters” jumping out at you was even a bit much for me. There was no grabbing or gore, and despite what the costumed staff member at the entrance told me was appropriate for kids of any age, I wouldn’t bring a child under age eight through again. I had pictured something closer to the “Ghost Blasters” ride at the park that my four-year-old loves, but can also tell isn’t real, or even the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland that I loved as a kid. My daughter made it through on her own, refusing to hold my hand, but told me afterwards she didn’t want to do it again. Worse, her friend was completely terrified by the experience and took some consoling. Thankfully, it was nothing that a good spin on the Tea Cups couldn’t shake off.

If you like a good fright, then based on the “family-friendly” haunted house, I imagine the three additional adult haunted houses that start at 6pm may be right up your dark alley. One house is rated 3 skulls and is included in park admission, the other two are rated 4 skulls and cost an additional $8 or $12 for both. There are also four freaky shows ranging from “Spooky” to “Violent” included in your price of admission.

Elitch Gardens’ October hours are: 5pm – 10pm Fridays, Noon – 10pm Saturdays, Noon – 9pm Sundays and 5pm – 10pm on Halloween, October 31st. Daily ticket prices are $27.99 for guests under 48” and over 62 years of age or $37.99 for guests over 48”. Discounts available online at ElitchGardens.com.