Home » Are You Brave Enough to Experience These Terrifying Theme Park Attractions?

Are You Brave Enough to Experience These Terrifying Theme Park Attractions?

Snow White's Scary Adventures

When it comes to Halloween thrills, no one does it better than Universal Studios’ Halloween Horror Nights. A veritable neighborhood of haunted houses awaits the fearless in spirit, while scare actors lurk in special scare zones that allow guests to get up and personal with some truly nightmarish monsters from the silver screen and beyond.

Halloween may be an annual treat, but you don’t need to shell out the cash for a hard-ticket event to find spooks and scares at theme parks all year round. We’ve rounded up some of the most frightening attractions at theme parks around the U.S., so you’ll still have something to satiate that Halloween craving when the calendar finally flips to November.

Disneyland: Snow White’s Scary Adventures

Snow White's Scary Adventures

Image: Larkyn T, Flickr (license)

Runner-up: Haunted Mansion

While Disneyland’s haunted house is permanently open to the public (except for the few weeks needed to transform it with a Nightmare Before Christmas overlay every fall), it’s not the scariest attraction the park has to offer. That distinction goes to a true Opening Day classic: Snow White’s Scary Adventures, the Fantasyland dark ride that puts you in the shoes—er, mine cart—of Snow White as she braves castle dungeons and spooky forests en route to her happily ever after. It’s enough to creep out even the unflinching theme park cynic, and this is just the revised version… in the original iteration of the ride, the Old Hag trapped unwitting guests in her skeleton-filled dungeon and tried to finish them off by pushing a boulder onto the ride vehicles. Although Disney has since added Snow White back into the ride, she’s only present at the beginning and end of the attraction, leaving you in the witch’s clutches for most of your two-minute journey.

There really isn’t any other Disneyland Resort attraction that comes close to being quite as frightening as Snow White’s haunted jaunt through the forest, but it’s clearly outpaced on the thrill-seeking side by rides like Space Mountain and Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: Breakout! If we had to pick, the Haunted Mansion would be a distant second, despite the fact that it tends to skew creepy rather than outright scary. Beyond the stretching room and its morbid backstory, the only jump scares that await you are of the pop-up ghoul variety. As with Snow White’s Scary Adventures, however, it’s often older versions of existing attractions that provided guests with a more intense ride experience. In 1985, Disney moved a few cast members into the mansion—not to join the 999 ghosts, mind you, but to dress up as knights and jump out at guests during the ride. The gag worked a little too well, as one knight’s nose was broken when a frightened guest punched him in the face, while others had to be reminded not to scare senior citizens and young children.

Walt Disney World: Dinosaur


Image: HarshLight, Flickr (license)

Runner-up: The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror

Ever since the closure of Tomorrowland’s ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter in 2003 and Fantasyland’s Snow White’s Scary Adventures in 2012 (a ride that, for what it’s worth, has a far more nightmarish history than its Disneyland counterpart), there hasn’t been a truly frightening attraction in Walt Disney World. The closest today’s guests will get to a good scare is likely on Dinosaur, an EMV attraction that takes its passengers back through the Cretaceous period in order to rescue an endangered Iguanodon. The only trouble is, a looming asteroid is threatening to wipe out all dinosaurs, and the carnivorous Carnotaurus is eager for its last meal on Earth: you.

Where Snow White’s Scary Adventures is intended to spook its riders from start to finish, Dinosaur takes its time building up to any real scares. Its big payoff comes right at the end, when the Carnotaurus finally emerges from the brush to get a better look at its next snack. Still, it’s far more startling than anything you’ll encounter on thrill and non-thrill rides throughout Walt Disney World, save for perhaps one other scream-inducing attraction: Disney’s Hollywood Studios’ Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. The Tower of Terror undeniably provides more of an immediate thrill—its riders repeatedly plunge down a 13-story drop after winding their way through a spine-tingling backstory—but its famed fear factor stems primarily from its drop-ride mechanics than chilling story elements (unless, by chance, riders already suffer from agoraphobia).

Universal Studios Hollywood: The Walking Dead Attraction

The Walking Dead Attraction

Image: Jeremy Thompson, Flickr (license)

Runner-up: Revenge of the Mummy – The Ride

The Walking Dead Attraction may not be a ride in the traditional sense, but that doesn’t make it any less thrilling. This immersive walkthrough opened in 2016 as a permanent fixture in Universal Studios Hollywood, and places its guests square in the middle of a post-apocalyptic United States, where they have to fight their way through a walker-infested hospital, prison, and warehouse in order to reach safety and sanity once more. What makes this attraction especially creepy isn’t just the mind-blowing attention to detail—from the sinew-splattered windows to a cabin that really looks and feels as if it’s on fire, with a charred walker to boot—but the way it uses a combination of convincing motion-activated animatronics and scare actors to keep the fear level at an all-time high. Fair warning: If you’re a fan of the show and start dawdling to take in all of the references scattered throughout the attraction (a perpetual challenge for anyone even casually familiar with AMC’s hit show), you might just end up on a walker’s radar.

Far less realistic, though spooky in its own right, is the Universal Studios classic, Revenge of the Mummy – The Ride. You won’t find any scare actors lurking in the darkened corridors of this roller coaster, but animatronic hands reaching through the ceiling, ghostly projections, and the fright that awaits you at a perceived dead end—not to mention the twists and turns of the coaster in pitch-black darkness—are usually enough to inspire a few screams along the way.

Six Flags: Rage of the Gargoyles


Image: Jonrev, Wiki Commons

Runner-up: None

Six Flags theme parks are famed for their high-ranked roller coasters and thrill rides, which aren’t always accompanied with the kind of theming and immersion you’ll find in the other spooky attractions on this list. Over the last three years, however, theme parks across the United States have been sprucing up their open-air coasters with virtual reality (VR) technology, allowing guests to enjoy a variety of interactive and non-interactive stories as they flip, dip, and spin along the tracks.

One of Six Flags’ best VR-enabled roller coasters is Rage of the Gargoyles, which has been overlaid on Demon (Six Flags Great America), Skull Mountain (Six Flags Great Adventure), Kong (Six Flags Discovery Kingdom), Shock Wave (Six Flags Over Texas), Ninja (Six Flags St. Louis), Steamin’ Demon (Six Flags Great Escape), and Dare Devil Dive (Six Flags Over Georgia). Passengers are strapped into the roller coaster of their choice and have the option to don VR headsets, which immediately place them in the cockpits of glass-fronted helicopters as they plunge through a grungy cityscape overrun with ravenous, sharp-toothed gargoyles—one of whom plucks a (digital) pilot from the cockpit and sends him hurtling through the air. Exactly what befalls the actual roller coasters riders in-game depends on the layout and length of the roller coaster, and, to a greater degree, the accuracy with which they’re able to dispatch the creatures.

Six Flags currently offers three other VR overlays: Galactic Attack (found on the aforementioned Ninja and Shock Wave, as well as Mind Eraser), Superman: Ride of Steel (offered only on Superman Krypton Coaster and Superman – Ride of Steel coasters), and New Revolution (Steamin’ Demon). Though they’re just as immersive as Rage of the Gargoyles, they lack the added scare factor needed to really keep you on your toes.

Cedar Point: Iron Dragon

Iron Dragon

Image: Nick Nolte, Wiki Commons

Runner-up: None

If it’s a good scare you’re looking for, especially outside of the Halloween season and away from theme park leaders like Disney, Universal, and Six Flags, you may have to poke around a bit in order to do so. Family-friendly parks like Legoland and SeaWorld don’t have anything worth writing home about, especially after the removal of a VR overlay on SeaWorld’s floorless Kraken coaster, while most non-chain parks rely on thrill rides or simple haunted houses rather than more elaborate fright-filled attractions.

Enter Cedar Point’s Iron Dragon, a steel suspended roller coaster that offers passengers the option to don VR headsets and lose themselves in a medieval world where danger lurks at every turn. Instead of bloodthirsty gargoyles, angler fish, and sea monsters, ogres and dragons abound in spades, and some emerge quite unexpectedly as riders are cast about from side to side. Unlike, say, the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror or the Walking Dead Attraction, Iron Dragon is far more dependent on sudden jump scares than an immersive, steadily creepy environment, but that doesn’t make it any less fun. The only drawback so far? Cedar Point doesn’t offer Iron Dragon year-round. Thanks to the long wait times and loading process that usually accompany VR rides, it’s only been made available to parkgoers during evening hours from June to September so far.


Which theme park attractions spook you out this time of year?