10 Fun Jack-O'-Lantern Festivals

Enjoy the frightful lights of Halloween at these events

Photo: SupportPDX/Flickr [CC by 2.0]

Haunted houses aren’t for everyone; jack-o’-lantern festivals are a less frightening and more artistic alternative for your family’s Halloween entertainment. Spellbinding displays of glowing gourds have sprung up all over the country, offering an interactive and engaging substitute for the standard ghouls and gore. This October, bundle up and head out to these popular evening events, each showcasing hundreds—or even thousands—of pleasingly illuminated pumpkins.

This article originally appeared on WomansDay.com and is republished here with permission.

The Great Jack-o’-Lantern Blaze, Croton-on-Hudson, New York

courtesy of Scott Mullin for Historic Hudson Valley.

More than 4,000 individually hand-carved, illuminated jack-o’-lanterns cover the grounds of an 18th-century riverside historic site. The elaborate outdoor walk-through experience, complete with atmospheric music, sound effects and professional lighting, connects a series of themed vignettes. You’ll find pumpkins hanging from tree limbs, perched on rooftops and staged as an undersea aquarium as well as a mammoth exhibition of mummies with a pyramid. The centuries-old stone manor house, brick ferry house and heritage garden add to the other-worldly atmosphere. October 2 to November 7; visit HudsonValley.org for more information.

2010 Jack-o’-Lantern Spectacular, Providence, Rhode Island

courtesy of Bill Gallery for the Roger Williams Park Zoo.

Every October, the Roger Williams Park Zoo transforms its wetlands trail by lining it with 5,000 glowing pumpkins. Over 30 professional carvers spend six weeks creating the jack-o’-lanterns to fit themed groupings, all brought to life with special lighting and music. More than 80,000 visitors from across New England are expected for this year’s show, “A Walk Through Time.” Scenes will include The Jurassic Era, The Dawn of Man, The Renaissance, The Growth of Democracy, The Wild West and The 20th Century. October 7 to 31; visit RWPZoo.org for more information.

Pony Express Pumpkinfest, St. Joseph, Missouri

courtesy of the Pony Express National Museum.

This weekend-long festival takes place at a former stop along the Pony Express, now a museum honoring the horseback mail delivery system of the 1850s. Live entertainment highlights the site’s history, with a Pony Express reenactment and a “Shadows of the Old West” show. Storytellers, magicians, crafts, a costume parade, petting zoo and pony rides round out the day. The headlining event is the lighting of Pumpkin Mountain, when nearly 1,000 hand-carved jack-o’-lanterns, stacked over 25 high, come to life with a click of a switch. October 8 to 10; visit PonyExpress.org for more information.

Hallowe'en in Greenfield Village, Dearborn, Michigan

courtesy of Michelle Andonian Photography.

The eerie sights and sounds of a turn-of-the-century Halloween set the scene in this living history section of The Henry Ford entertainment center. Visitors are invited to come in costume and follow a path of 800 hand-carved jack-o’-lanterns, which light the way and are grouped in dramatic displays. Actors in period clothing and costumes act out several vignettes throughout the trail, complete with a “headless” horseman riding a real horse. Treat bags are provided, and can be filled at 11 themed stations throughout Greenfield Village. October 8 to 24; visit TheHenryFord.org for more information.

Keene Pumpkin Festival, Keene, New Hampshire

courtesy of J.W. Ocker via OddThingsIveSeen.com.

Every year, tourists outnumber residents in downtown Keene for the granddaddy of jack-o’-lantern events. The world record for the number of jack-o’-lanterns lit at one event has been broken here eight times throughout the festival’s history. Last year’s 29,762 pumpkins set a record for the festival...and the world record may be broken again this year! The 20th anniversary celebration will also include entertainment, crafts, a costume parade, seed-spitting and pie-eating contests, and a spectacular fireworks display to cap off the evening. October 16; visit PumpkinFestival.org for more information.

The Great Highwood Pumpkin Festival, Highwood, Illinois

courtesy of Rosa D. Stefani.

The city of Highwood is ready to make pumpkin-carving history this fall as they also attempt to break the Guinness World Record for the most jack-o’-lanterns lit in one location. Everyone is welcome to include their own carved creations into the winning total. The four-day festival includes pumpkin pie cooking and eating contests, the Pumpkin Fest Parade and a giant pumpkin regatta, featuring pumpkin flotillas on Lake Michigan. The event culminates on Saturday evening with the anticipated lighting of 32,000 jack-o’-lanterns. October 20 to 23; visit CelebrateHighwood.com for more information.

Great Pumpkin Fest 2010, Worcester, Massachusetts

courtesy of the EcoTarium.

The largest family Halloween celebration in central Massachusetts is geared toward kids 10 and under, and is held on the grounds of the EcoTarium, a popular children’s science and nature museum. Local youth groups carve about 1,500 pumpkins for the after-dark display. The day includes rides on the Explorer Express train, games, animal encounters, carving demonstrations, hayrides and crafts. Guests can also enjoy the museum’s indoor “Secrets of the Forest” or “Water Planet” exhibits, or catch a show at the Alden Digital Planetarium. Children, adults and even museum staff often come dressed in costume. October 23; visit EcoTarium.org for more information.

Underwater Pumpkin Carving Contest, Key Largo, Florida

courtesy of Amoray Dive Resort.

Landlubbers shouldn’t have all the Halloween fun. Scuba divers get their own jack-o’-lantern event each year beneath the sea at the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Divers descend to the sandy bottom, where they’re issued a pumpkin and knife. Individuals and teams carve their creations underwater, competing for the coveted carver’s crown. The pumpkins are then brought to the surface, judged and displayed all day for the public to enjoy. October 23; visit Amoray.com for more information.

Glow Night, Bluemont, Virginia

courtesy of Great Country Farms.

Families arrive at the Great Country Farms early in the day to enjoy its attractions, including the giant pumpkin jumping pillow, the animal barnyard, the brand new “Who’s Your Farmer” corn maze, 60-foot-long slides and the “Moo-cow Train,” made from painted barrels. Local students create nearly 2,000 jack-o’-lanterns while competing for “Best in Glow,” “Scariest” and “Funniest” awards. They lie in wait until the lights go out at 7:30 p.m. and the pumpkins are lit. Leftovers are used for Pumpkin Chunkin’ Week, when they’re dropped from a 40-foot lift in an upside down “fireworks display.” October 29 and 30; visit GreatCountryFarms.com for more information.

Camp Sunshine Pumpkin Festival, Freeport, Maine

courtesy of Camp Sunshine.

In 2006, Camp Sunshine set the world record in Boston for the most lit jack-o’-lanterns in one place. The record of 30,128 stands today. This year, the event moves to L.L.Bean’s flagship store, where over 10,000 jack-o’-lanterns will line walkways and fill-in creative installations, including an aquarium, house, tower and a moose made with 250 pumpkins. Since 2003, the event has raised over $1 million for Camp Sunshine, a retreat for children with life-threatening illnesses and their families. October 30; visit CampSunshine.org/PumpkinFestival for more information.