A haunted trail can be a cheap and effective way to scare your visitors on Halloween, and make them earn their candy. Or it can be used for a party or another special event and tailored to your specific needs.
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Step 1: Plan the Basics
You will need to make sure that everyone, visitors and volunteers alike, are going to be safe and have fun without doing any property damage. Try to select a location for your trail on level ground. If there is some rough terrain, make sure this part of the trail can be well-lit. Stay well away from any thorny bushes, long grass or undergrowth and low-hanging trees. A trail intended for children should be kept within an area that can be completely supervised by adults. If your trail is going to be set up for a while, make sure that everything is waterproof, or can quickly be moved inside in the case of rain.
A haunted trail can be made more memorable with a theme. Your choice of theme might be influenced by access to existing props. The ages of participants should also be taken into consideration. Some good themes for a trail intended for children might be: Ghosts and Ghouls, Witches and Wizards, or Creepy Crawlies. For teenagers or adults some themes might be: Insane Asylum, Graveyard, Mad Scientist or Ancient Crypt.
Step 2: Mark out Your Trail
If you only have a small space, you can hang sheets of black plastic or tarp to make the walls of a maze. If you have a larger space, you will need to provide obvious markers for your visitors so they don't get lost, such as
- LED lights inside jars or lanterns
- Reflector patches on trees (if your visitors are carrying their own light
source, like a flashlight)
- Fairy lights strung along the path
- A rope or ribbon that visitors will hold and follow.
- Paint gravel with glow in the dark paint and scatter it along the path. This might need to be refreshed with light if the trail is up for a while.
- Use red paint to make "bloody" hand or footprints for visitors to follow.
Step 3: Address Safety Concerns
Make sure that there is nothing on your trail that can trip up or harm your visitors. Any potential hazards, like thorny bushes or low-hanging branches should be clearly marked. Remember to plan from the perspective of the youngest anticipated visitors. A child will have shorter strides and a lower viewpoint than an adult, so make sure they will be comfortable and safe.
Provide instructions at the beginning of the trail, advising an age limit, whether there are any health concerns like the potential for a severe shock or strobe lighting, and how visitors should proceed.
Step 4: Make Props
Many props for a haunted trail be made cheaply from craft supplies or ordinary objects. Choose props to compliment your overall theme, adding to the scary atmosphere. Too many props can overwhelm the visitors and might actually lessen the overall scary vibe. Usually the best arrangement is to have one prop to distract attention and another to scare. For example, you might have a glowing cauldron near the path, which will draw the eyes of visitors as they approach, so they don't see a rubber spider hanging over the trail until they crash into it.
- Use cardboard and paint to make fake boards and "board up" any windows or doors that are visible from the trail.
- Use polystyrene or thick cardboard to make gravestones. Place them in long grass so they look very old, or at the head of a mound of dirt, so they look brand-new.
- Sheets of plastic and bubble-wrap can be fashioned into ghostly shapes. They can be lit from within by LED lights.
- Use black cardboard to cut out scary silhouettes, like witches or monsters.
- If you have a scary mask and no volunteer to wear it, place it in a tree hollow or hide it in bushes so that it is just visible and not immediately obvious that it is empty.
- If you have large dolls or manikins, wrap them with clingfilm or gauze to blur their shape in the dark.
- Rubber bats and spiders are classic props that can still be very scary if used carefully.
- Give your visitors something to walk through by hanging strips of black crepe paper or wads of white cotton over the trail.
Remember stay aware of fire hazards. Don't use candles or any kind of real flame to create props and try to keep electric wires to a minimum. Only use power wires, lights and props intended for outdoor use. Remember people may be stumbling or jumping in fright, so props will probably be knocked over at some point.
Step 5: Create a Scary Atmosphere
Light and sound effects can add an incredible dimension to your haunted trail. Scary sounds, like heart-beats, loud thuds, growls and howls, can be found online and transferred to an MP3 player attached to speakers. Strobe lighting can add to a scary atmosphere. Mirrors placed in strategic positions can help create the illusion that something is moving in the distance. Lights placed below a prop can turn it from an ordinary object into something spooky.
Step 6: Enlist Volunteers
If you have volunteers, you can take your trail to the next level. Even without a costume, volunteers can hide off the trail and make spooky noises, like rustling or growling. They can throw harmless objects at visitors, like rubber spiders or cotton balls, or brush them with feathers when they pass in the dark. In costume, or with makeup, they can interact with visitors in a number of different ways. One example is to pretend to be a prop as visitors approach, then spring to life and scare them.
If you are using volunteers, make sure you instruct visitors to refrain from touching them. Your volunteers should be told to use their best judgement when attempting to scare someone. A small scare is fun, but taking it too far will ruin the event.