By Allen Huffman
Can you believe that Christmas decorations started appearing in big box retail shops back in August? For those not quite ready for gingerbread houses and flying reindeer, perhaps something a bit more terrifying might be appropriate now that October has rolled around.
The metroplex will be full of trick-or-treat events, pumpkin walks, hay rides and great Fall family fun. But where’s the childhood trauma in that? To really prepare your kids for the real world, nothing beats being chased by scary clowns with chainsaws.
Here’s “A Bad Parent’s Guide to Traumatizing Children” 👻 aka your guide to haunted houses in the Des Moines area:
We start off with an anniversary.
4051 Dean Ave, Des Moines Iowa 50317
Oct 4-5, 11-12, 17-20, 24-27 and 31st, 2019.
$23-$45 (Discounts available online.)
Just down from the Iowa State Fairgrounds is Sleepy Hollow Sports Park. They are known for mini golf, go-karts, skiing and snow tubing. In 1994 they decided to have a haunted house. It was a success, and the following year they expanded to also include a hay ride. Now, twenty five years later, they have an entire theme park style Halloween experience. It includes multiple haunted houses and walks, elaborate carved pumpkin displays, laser tag, fog maze, 3-D gallery, and even a video dance club. It’s held in their Renaissance festival park which has dozens of themed buildings and a large castle. There’s nothing like it in the region, and it’s a great place to spend an evening since you can purchase a lower-cost “Pick 3 Pass” or, if you are brave enough, go for the “Park Pass” and do them all. For those who don’t like to wait in line, there is even a “VIP Pass.”
Bad Parent’s Guide: This is a good starter haunt for kids because most of the haunts are very short and contain a small number of actors. Since there are multiple to choose from, there’s a better chance of finding something suitable. And, if the haunts are too intense, there’s still a village to explore with many things to see and do. A food court is also available.
Next, we visit one of the oldest haunted houses in Iowa.
3805 6th Ave, Des Moines Iowa 50313
Oct 4-5, 11-12, 18-19, 25-31 and Nov 1-2, 2019
$17 (Coupons available for first and last weekends.)
This is the legendary haunted house for Des Moines. Merlyn Linn originally created a haunted house for his kids in his home garage. That led him to building a permanent haunted house in the basement of his Highland Park grocery store where is has remained since 1984. Although he is no longer involved with running the supermarket, he and his family still operate the basement haunt each October. The overall experience of dark crawlways, pitch black hallways and surprise gorillas has remained unchanged for decades, but each year they try to upgrade or enhance something.
Bad Parent’s Advice: The dark, claustrophobic hallway you crawl through at the entrance is too intense for many adults. If your kids have a fear of the dark, this may not be for them. It’s also quite long. However, the scares are mostly “light comes on and someone says boo” type of scares (okay, and a few clowns with electric chainsaws). It’s full of startles, but forgoes all the blood and gore and death metal music that modern haunts have evolved into. It’s more “afraid of the dark” than anything, and most guests leave happy and laughing.
We continue our tour of terror with the new kid on the block…
97 Indiana Ave, Des Moines Iowa 50314
Oct 4-6, 10-13, 17-20 and 24-26, 2019
This haunted house returns for its third year in a downtown location. Last year, it partnered with Des Moines band Slipknot to make use of their music and imagery. It features highly realistic movie-quality sets that depict areas in and old meat processing factory. They also use high end masks and makeup effects that really make it feel like you have stepped into a slasher-type film. It’s disturbing and intense, and visually impressive.
Bad Parent’s Advice: Many Slipknot albums carry the Parental Advisory label on them, so the music played inside this haunt may not be family friendly. Also, the haunt’s theme is dark, loud and bloody. It contains high-end shocking gore and imagery. It is a far more realistic experience than anything else in the area, even if ultimately it boils down to the same “actor in a costume jumping out and yelling at you” that most haunted houses rely on.
And lastly, if you are willing to do a short drive, here are a few more nearby options.
South of Jack Trice Stadium, Ames, Iowa 50011
Oct 4-5, 11-12, 18-20, 25-27, 31 and Nov 1, 2019
$20 ($2 off coupon on website.)
This year is the 20th Anniversary of this huge outdoor haunted walk. They get high quality actors from the college, and there are always unique scenes that change from year to year.
Bad Parent’s Advice: Although it is long, the scares are spaced out a bit with some breathing room in between. Many scenes are more creepy than scary, and since it is outside, it may feel “safer” than being trapped in a room.
Park at Edgewook Park, Madrid Iowa 50156
Oct 11-12, 18-19, 24-26 and 31, 2019
After a few years on hiatus, Tormented Souls returned last year. It has a very long outdoor haunted walk as well as a zombie paintball trailer ride. Their “Terror Bus” will take you from the parking lot at Edgewood Park to the actual haunt deep in the woods. A food truck is available on some nights.
Bad Parent’s Advice: Madrid may be a small friendly town, but the ghouls here will do their best to terrorize you. For kids old enough to handle a mounted paintball gun, the Zee-Pocalypse ride is a great way to have control over the experience and “shoot” the scary things.
Ashton Wildwood County Park, Mingo Iowa 50168
Oct 18-19 and 25-26, 2019
This is a fundraiser for Baxter Fun Days. Dozens of residents volunteer to haunt this 3/4 mile nature trail with some of the most creative scenes around. It’s by-far the longest haunt in the area, and a bargain at $10.
Bad Parent’s Advice: This one is quite a long walk up and down many steps. Show scenes may feature multiple actors ganging up on you, but they usually will tone it down if small children are present. They give each group a flashlight to help them find their way, which doesn’t help as much as one might think.
One final note … although there may be cases of children being traumatized by a haunted house and being affected for life, the vast majority of folks who love these things as adults likely started out afraid of the dark as children. A haunted house can be a great bonding experience (as anyone who has ever gone with a date knows). If your child is prone to nightmares, perhaps try again next year, or start with some of the “home haunts” in the area, such as the Haunted Garage in Grimes. Haunted houses can be a great fun Halloween tradition.
Join the “bad parenting club” and let us know your family’s favorite haunted attraction in Des Moines?
Allen Huffman publishes a website that covers all the haunted attractions in the area. Find even more information on spooky spots in Des Moines at www.dmhauntedhouses.com.
For additional Halloween fun, be sure to visit our Halloween Fun Guide.