I Went to Headless Horseman Hayrides and It Was Terrifying

Headless Horseman Hayrides and Haunted Houses is probably one of the most famous, most terrifying Halloween attractions on the East Coast. Located in Ulster Park, New York, the attraction offers a haunted hayride, eight haunted houses with varying themes and a magic show.


Let me preface this by saying that I am not good with scary-themed anything. I don’t watch horror movies, I cried six times when I watched a zombie movie once, and I’m not the best when it comes to abrupt, loud noises. My good friend had asked me to come stay with her for the weekend in her hometown, and Headless Horseman was part of the visit. She briefly described the attraction to me, so I agreed, not really knowing what I was getting myself into. However, the more I researched the attraction, the more nervous I became.

On the night of the visit, we had a scheduled hayride for our group. The park opened at 6:30 p.m., and our hayride was scheduled for 7 p.m. For those who haven’t visited Ulster Park, the town is in upstate New York, and is surrounded mostly by tall trees. It also gets very, very dark when the sun sets. The sun had set by the time we were supposed to go on the hayride, so the darkness added an extra *~spooky~* effect. The hayride itself takes a group of about 25 people and drives through the woods in order to take you to the “main” part of the attraction, where all the various haunted houses and magic show are located. Most of the passengers sit on the border of the hayride, so their feet dangle off the bed of the truck. However, there is an opportunity to sit in the middle where your feet do not dangle. I chose the first option, on the insistence of my friends, to “get the full experience.”

One of the main rules of the attraction was that although they had many live actors, the actors could not physically touch you in any way. They could get very close to you, but they could not grab you at all. This rule comforted me slightly as I went on the hayride, because I knew that my feet would not be suddenly grasped. This comfort very quickly evaporated once the hayride started moving and we drove deeper and deeper into the dark woods, however. I sat in the middle of the truck bed, so when there were portions of the hayride where we stopped to see the live actors doing their horror skit, I was unfortunately front and center. This meant a lot of unwanted eye contact, and I ended up either closing my eyes or looking away for most of the ride. There were also parts where live actors would pop out of the shrubs of the woods for a jump scare, which made my astigmatism-affected eyes well up even more with tears. To my horror, there were even parts of the ride where the live actors would make their appearance, and WALK ALONGSIDE THE HAYRIDE OR FOLLOW YOU FROM BEHIND. The worst part? The hayride was the “warm-up.”

Following the hayride, my group and I headed toward the first haunted house. Each haunted house had a theme, and the themes of this year’s group of houses were a hotel, a diner, a cemetery, a haunted corn maze, a greenhouse, a circus, cannibals and a manor. I didn’t know this going into the night, but the houses (with the exception of the manor) were connected, so one house led into the next. I have to admit, although I was terrified the entire time, I had to appreciate all the details that each house contained. They had such detailed special effects, and each scene in the houses looked very realistic. It was truly like walking through a real-life horror movie. The actors were very dedicated. I never saw an actor break character, which is commendable when I’m sure that the entire thing is very physically and mentally exhausting. My friend was brave enough to talk to the actors, and looking back, I can’t tell if that made the whole experience better or worse. I ended up crying at the very end of the cannibalistic themed house because a man with a chainsaw ran up to me, not necessarily because I was terrified of that one instance, but it seemed like a buildup of visual overstimulation.

The magic show was actually the best thing to calm me down for the rest of the night. It wasn’t necessarily a kids magic show, but rather the performer was dubbed an “illusionist” who had some pretty mind-boggling tricks. He also incorporated a lot of audience participation into his acts, which was fun for everyone.

Overall, the Headless Horseman was a great way to get into the spirit of Halloween. Looking back, the experience was very frightening, but also very well done. Although I was terrified the entire time, it was hard to not appreciate the level of work and detail that went into creating such a production. That night, I definitely shed a few tears and briefly lost my voice because of how much I screamed, but it was very well worth it.