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9 Spooky Ghost Walks Across the U.S.

By The Budget Travel Editors
January 12, 2022
Old street lit up at night
F11photo/Dreamstime
It's said that paranormal activity abounds if you know where to look, and these ghostly guided tours have the inside scoop.

Halloween comes just once a year, but the spirit world never sleeps. From coast to coast, America is full of spectral sightings and unexplained phenomena, and we’ve rounded up a few of our favorite ways to take it all in. Suspend those skeptical tendencies, summon up a sense of humor, and strap in for an otherworldly ride.

1. Ohio State Reformatory Ghost Walk: Mansfield, Ohio

dreamstime_l_87752326.jpg?mtime=20181025083603#asset:103537Ohio State Reformatory (Sandra Foyt/Dreamstime)

Seventy miles northeast of Columbus, in the county seat of Mansfield, the Ohio State Reformatory offers a full slate of preternatural programming, from spectral tours and ghost hunts to private courses in paranormal investigation. As the former site of the state penitentiary, the Romanesque Revival building is a fount of ghostly activity, and its two-hour evening tours cover the institution’s long, gruesome history with aplomb. (Fun fact: As the stand-in for the titular prison in 1994’s Shawshank Redemption, the Reformatory is a stop on the so-called Shawshank Trail, and it also offers a History Meets Hollywood tour for fans of the film looking for a less spooky time.) Dress warmly, as the 19th-century building isn’t heated, and be sure to book in advance, as spots fill up quickly. In October, the tour schedule is set aside in favor of a month-long haunted house, so make your Halloween plans accordingly.

Guided tours are held from April to September with the occasional offering in November. $25 per person; children under the age of 13 not permitted; ohiostatereformatory.org

2. Spirited Stroll: Brooklyn, NY

Green-wood-cemetery-ghost-walk.jpg?mtime=20181025083819#asset:103539Green-Wood Cemetery (Elzbieta Sekowska/Dreamstime)

A lush, tree-lined oasis of calm in middle of bustling Brooklyn, Green-Wood Cemetery covers 478 acres, and as the site of the first major battle of the Revolutionary War, its history is a bloody one, with nearly 400 casualties on both sides of the line. And that’s not to mention its roster of permanent residents: More than half a million dearly departed are interred here, from Jean-Michel Basquiat and Leonard Bernstein to Boss Tweed and Louis Comfort Tiffany. Wander the spirit-soaked grounds with the cemetery’s cult-favorite event, a two-and-a-half-hour, historian-led excursion that hits all the gory high notes, with a stop in the super-creepy catacombs—normally off limits—for good measure.

Tours are held annually on Halloween weekend, one on Saturday and one on Sunday (weather permitting). $25 per person; green-wood.com.

3. White House Pub Tour: Washington, D.C.

America's capital is arguably the capital of scandal and misconduct, so it’d be an understatement to say there are lots of skeletons in the proverbial closets of Washington D.C. Nightly Spirits’s White House Pub Tour introduces you to some of them. On the two-and-a-half-hour pub crawl, stops include three or four historic pubs and buildings. You'll get stories about the allegedly resident spirits and, well, spirits. (The drinkable kind, that is) There’s a specific beverage at each site to accompany the storytelling session. 

Tours take place Thursday through Saturday at 8:30 p.m. $25, not including drinks, 21-plus only; nightlyspirits.com/dc-tours/white-house-tours/

4. Killers and Thrillers: New Orleans

french-quarter.jpg?mtime=20181025085250#asset:103541French Quarter, New Orleans (Wangkun Jia/Dreamstime)

New Orleans—city of jazz, Mardi Gras, the two-foot drinking vessel, and voodoo. Few cities can claim a voodoo priestess as one of its primary historic personalities, but that’s just what Marie Laveau is. Her former home—and site of many legendary voodoo rituals—is just one stop on Ghost City Tours’s Hell Hath No Fury Like a Woman Scorned, one of the options that falls under the company’s Killers and Thrillers duo. This 90-minute walkabout highlights the devilish deeds of the city’s ferocious women throughout history. Another option is the company’s Killers and Thrillers West, which visits the sites where vicious crimes took place and hauntings are said to linger as reminders. Both tours are so seriously scary that they’re adults-only.  

Both tours take place nightly year-round; $29.95 per person, children under the age of 16 not admitted; ghostcitytours.com/new-orleans/

5. Ghost Walk of Old Wilmington: Wilmington, North Carolina

Once a fire-prone, tar-and-wood-filled community, not to mention a significant player in the slave trade, the port city of Wilmington has seen its fair share of heartache. But academic tours have you covered on that front—you won't get a serious deep-dive into the nature of such atrocities on your ghost walk. For a frothier take on historic tragedy, sign up for a ramble through the old downtown area, led by a costumed guide who customizes each excursion with stops at his or her favorite haunts (an unassuming alley, an impressive mansion, a tiny graveyard alongside a circa-1840 church) for story time. The tall tales are told in broad strokes with most of the bloody details omitted, so it’s suitable for small fry...as long as they’re not nightmare-prone.

Tours are held nightly from March 1 to November 30 and on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights from December 1 to February 29. Adults, $13; seniors, students, and military, $11; children ages 6 and under, free; hauntedwilmington.com.

6. The Granbury Ghosts and Legends Tour: Granbury, Texas

Everything’s bigger in Texas, including the history. And, so legend has it, the ghosts. San Antonio is getting a lot of attention this year with its various 300th anniversary celebrations, but Granbury, a historic city that doesn't tend to get as much attention as Texas’s major metropolises, should not be overlooked. The Granbury Ghosts and Legends tour is an hour-long guided walk through the historic Downtown Square, where it’s said that the spirits of notorious figures with names like the Faceless Girl and Lady and Red still roam, trapped in another dimension. The costumed guide will share all their spooky stories and more along the way, including a bit about Jesse James's connections to the town.

Tours are held year-round on Friday and Saturday nights at 7:00 p.m. and 9:15 p.m.; $10 per person, $7 for kids 12; undergranburytours.com 

7. Night Spirit Tour: Estes Park, Colorado

Stanley-Hotel-Shinning-Movie.jpg?mtime=20181025084138#asset:103540The Stanley Hotel (Coljh09/Dreamstime)

Its facade won’t be familiar to fans of the Kubrick masterpiece, but Colorado’s Stanley Hotel played a vital role in The Shining. After an overnight in suite 217, Stephen King was inspired to write the book upon which the film was based, and the rest, as they say, is history. Today, the century-old property remains home to an abundance of paranormal activity, and its nightly tours explore the nooks and crannies that ghosts have been known to frequent. (Be forewarned: As a disclaimer, the hotel won’t guarantee any interactions “due to the fact that spirits are not on payroll.”) For a more in-depth experience, check into one of the “Spirited” rooms, a collection of quarters—including the suite where King laid his head—with a history of supernatural sightings.

Nightly tours are held year-round. Adults, $28; hotel guests, military, AAA, and seniors ages 55 and up, $25; children under the age of 10 not permitted; stanleyhotel.com/night-spirit-tour.html.

8. Spooked in Seattle: Seattle

ghost-alley-seattle-pike-place.jpg?mtime=20181025090048#asset:103542
Pike Place Market, Seattle (Minacarson/Dreamstime)

Spooked in Seattle promises “real ghost stories by real ghost hunters” on its tours. Sightings, however, don't carry a guarantee. The most popular offering is the 90-minute Pioneer Square Ghost Tour, which covers all sorts of locations in the city’s oldest neighborhood, from a hotel to Seattle’s oldest restaurant. You'll get the low-down from your lively tour guide about the the ghostly guests that reside in each place. There’s also a venture down into an underground area with only a flashlight—and the trusted tour guide—to steer you. Another offering is the Pioneer Square Haunted Pub Tour, a bar crawl that explores the seedy doings that went down in the city and a look at the paranormal activity that’s allegedly caused by the spirits of the people who suffered the consequences.

Guided Pioneer Square Ghost Tour is offered nightly. $17 per person, $15 students and seniors; spookedinseattle.squarespace.com/tour

9. The Original Santa Fe Ghost Tour: Santa Fe, New Mexico

As the second-oldest city in the country, it’d be shocking if there weren’t an abundance of restless souls in Santa Fe. Get to know them under the expert tutelage of Peter Sinclaire, a local who’s been communing with the area’s ghosts for 25 years. The tour winds through the streets of Santa Fe, where eagle-eyed participants might spot La Llarona, an eerie specter mourning the children she drowned in the Santa Fe River, or rub elbows with the city’s most celebrated spirit, Julia Staab, a high-society dame who loved the familial manse—now a luxury property called La Posada de Santa Fe—so much that even now, more than 130 years later, she refuses to move on. She’s been known to hang out in the men’s washroom on the ground floor, so be sure to down some liquid courage at her namesake bar before venturing in.

Tours are held on Friday and Saturday nights from March to November and Saturday nights from December to February. $16 per person; theoriginalsantafeghosttour.weebly.com.

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Take a Civil Rights Tour of Montgomery, AL

Montgomery, Alabama, has been a flashpoint of Civil Rights activity since the movement’s beginnings in the 1950s. Montgomery is the city where Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat to a white man, where a young pastor named Martin Luther King Jr. helped lead the subsequent long (and ultimately successful) bus boycott, and where allies known as Freedom Riders arrived via buses from across the U.S. to march with protesters. When the National Memorial for Peace and Justice opened in Montgomery in April, we decided to drive the four hours south from our home in Nashville to see it and some of the other important Civil Rights sites there. NATIONAL MEMORIAL FOR PEACE AND JUSTICE & THE LEGACY MUSEUM Sometimes called the “Lynching Memorial,” the National Memorial for Peace and Justice pays tribute to the thousands of African Americans who were murdered by white supremacists over the decades. A spiraling walkway leads us past hundreds of huge metal obelisks hanging from the ceiling; each one bears the name of a county, and the names of those who were murdered there. A few counties have just a handful of victims’ names; many have dozens. The path gradually descends as it proceeds, until we’re looking up at the hanging objects and they become an all-too-evident representation of the horrifying murders that they memorialize. This is a somber and powerful place to reflect on some of the darkest moments of American history. The Legacy Museum is set in a downtown building that was once a literal warehouse for slaves. It outlines the grim path that U.S. policies have laid out, showing a direct connection from enslavement to Jim Crow laws to mass incarceration. (museumandmemorial.eji.org) REMEMBERING THE BUS BOYCOTT Nearby, the Rosa Parks Museum remembers the famous defiance that prompted the 381-day Montgomery bus boycott. The Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. preached for six years, was the site of many meetings in planning the boycott, as was the Dexter Parsonage, where the King family lived. This house has been restored to its 1950s condition, including furniture and many personal items used by the family. Also preserved is the damage done when a bomb exploded on the front porch. Downtown’s Civil Rights Memorial pays tribute to the people who lost their lives in the struggle for equality and bears one of Dr. King’s favorite quotes, “... until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.” FREEDOM RIDES MUSEUM In the former Greyhound bus station downtown, the Freedom Rides Museum memorializes the bravery and sacrifices of the young men and women who faced violent, racist mobs hell-bent on maintaining segregation in the south. At this and at all the sites we visited, we found the docents to be welcoming and engaging, eager to answer questions and impart their considerable knowledge to curious visitors. A TASTE OF AFRICAN AMERICAN CUISINE When it came to eating in Montgomery, we decided to spend our money in black-owned businesses in town. A few blocks west of the Freedom Rides Museum, Margaret Boyd’s Mrs. B’s Home Cooking is a classic southern meat-and-three restaurant, whose sides (like cabbage or collard greens) are cooked with smoked turkey drippings rather than lard. It’s also another “museum”: The walls are plastered with family, military, and celebrity photos, as well as framed press articles of momentous local events. A few blocks southeast of town, Monique Williams’ Cheesecake Empori-yum offers delicious desserts and also, unusually, eggrolls in inventive flavors like “Soulfood” and “Cajun seafood”. Just around the corner from the Rosa Parks Museum is the Savanna Tropical Rotisserie Cafe, where a wood-smoke grill sits out on the sidewalk, enticing customers to partake of authentic Caribbean/African cuisine like savory goat curry or delicious Jamaican jerk chicken. HISTORIC LODGING There is more to see in Montgomery than can be covered in a single day. We spent the night at a fantastic Airbnb rental, The Treehouse at Cottage Hill, a full upstairs apartment in an elegant, historic 1892 home in a quiet neighborhood, just three blocks away from the Peace and Justice Memorial.

Inspiration

Hotel We Love: Hellenthal Lofts, Juneau, AK

About 1.5 million passengers come through Juneau’s cruise port each year, and while the compact, scenic seaside town is a stopover for many, it’s also an excellent destination for a longer stay, what with its vibrant dining and brewing scene, proximity to natural wonders and hiking (there’s over 250 miles of trails and only 42 miles of road in town), and all kinds of interesting historic remains of the booming Gold Rush era. One of those holdovers is the Hellenthal Building smack in the middle of downtown. It opened as a hotel in the summer of 2018 after extensive renovations and it's an affordable, comfortable and convenient lodging option if you plan to visit this scenic Alaskan capital city. THE STORY The building was constructed in 1916 by J.A. Hellenthal, a lawyer for a big mining company. It started out as offices then became a bank. An Art Deco-style theater was housed in an adjacent space. But the theater closed in 1971 after the building fell into disrepair. Christine Hess and Dale Whitney, who took a “left turn” from their legal careers, bought the rundown property in 2016 and after two years of planning and giving the space a complete overhaul, the boutique hotel opened in June 2018 with six airy, contemporary loft spaces, each individually designed and decorated with shrewd minimalism. The renovation, much of which Christine and Dale did themselves, preserves the building's infrastructure. Particularly impressive are the three wood beams, each made from a single Juneau-grown tree, that run across the length of the structure under the roof. They discovered this architectural marvel only after they ripped out the attic. Chris and her 80-year-old mother sanded and stained them themselves. THE QUARTERS Most units sleep six people, but the biggest, one of the lofts, features a queen bed, a pullout queen, and futon queen bed and can accommodate eight. Each of the units has an open floor plan, spacious closets, a washer and dryer, flat-screen televisions, and free wifi. They're all also equipped with a full-size kitchen complete with modern appliances, a roomy fridge, and all the cookware, flatware, and dishes you could hope for, so if you're on a budget, stocking up on food and having a few meals in would be a good idea. Just take note: grocery shopping requires a cab trip, as there are no markets within walking distance. THE NEIGHBORHOOD Three words: location, location, location. The building is smack in the middle of the bustling downtown, which is very compact. Restaurants, bars, galleries, a bookstore, and gift shops--not to mention the ocean--are virtually all right outside. THE FOOD There is not an affiliated eatery within the hotel, but Devil's Club Brewing Company is located next door in an adjoining space formerly occupied by the theater, so it's close enough. The lively brewpub with communal tables serves creative beers and pub grub with a global twist. Chris and Dale created a curated guide of their favorite nearby restaurants and bars with snapshot descriptions of each that they leave in each room alongside with a variety of Alaska-themed books. Consider it their personal recommendations. ALL THE REST The Hellenthal Lofts can be booked through Airbnb or by calling the hotel's office directly. It's self-check-in, though sometimes Chris and Dale will be there to welcome guests. RATES AND DEETS Starting at: $150 Hellenthal Lofts100 Franklin StreetJuneau, AK 99801(907)523-0703 // www.airbnb.com/room/24287288?s=51

Inspiration

Treehouse Vacations: 3 Awesome & Affordable Destinations

When you’re planning a vacation, an inspiring view out your hotel window is often high on your list. Well, it turns out there are some lodgings around the U.S. and beyond where that view is extremely inspiring, not to mention extremely high - like, in the treetops. Here, three of our favorite treehouse vacations—all for well under $200/night. 1. BLUE RIDGE TREEHOUSE, BLUE RIDGE, GA As if Blue Ridge, Georgia, weren’t beautiful enough, the Blue Ridge TreeHouse, located at Bear Claw Vineyards, delivers breathtaking views year-round. And autumn may be the best time of all to soak up those gorgeous colors. You’ll stay in a real treehouse - tree trunks are part of the interior design! - and enjoy visiting the vineyards, the nearby cool town of Blue Ridge, and those endless northern Georgia mountain views. (blueridgetreehouse.com) 2. TREEBONES RESORT, BIG SUR, CA Perched high above cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean at Big Sur, California, Treebones Resort, on Highway 1 (which is now completely reopened) offers an array of elevated structures that deliver views of the sea and the stars you’ll never forget. The Human Nest (just what it sounds like) literally gets you up into the trees, and you have to bring your own sleeping bag and, when needed, rain gear. Cushier options include yurts (essentially comfy tents with hotel-style furnishings inside). The property also offers cozy indoor amenities, food at the Wild Coast Restaurant and the Sushi Bar, and lounge chairs for taking in the ocean views. You may even hear the distant cry of sea lions. (treebonesresort.com) 3. BANGKOK TREEHOUSE, THAILAND Treehouse hotels aren’t just for U.S. domestic travelers. One of the best-known in the world is the Bangkok Treehouse, in Thailand, with a dozen elegant elevated bungalows built with sustainable wood and repurposed and recycled materials. You won’t believe you’re in a major metro area, just a short ferry or taxi ride from the city’s river, temples, and iconic skyscrapers. Thailand, though it’s a long flight away, we’ve found that it is affordable and easily navigable for American travelers thanks to reliable public transportation and English-speaking locals. (bangkoktreehouse.com)

Inspiration

7 Wineries to Visit for More Than Just the Wine

Looking to up your wine IQ? According to industry advocate group WineAmerica, American wineries welcome nearly 30 million visitors a year. Though California produces 90 percent of US wine, with Napa and Sonoma providing the flagship tasting experience, wine is now being produced across the US in even the unlikeliest of places, which means diverse experiences for wine-loving travelers. And though tasting is surely a top priority, the offerings at these seven wineries are sundry and distinct and sometimes even enjoyed by the entire family. 1. Island Grove Wine Company: Kissimmee, Florida  When you think Orlando, Mickey—not wine—likely comes to mind. But this sustainable winery (www.formosawinery.com) in Kissimmee, delivers a family-friendly, organic, eco-minded experience on top of its award-winning fruit wines. The two-story, 13,000-square-foot winery is surrounded by eight acres of botanical gardens and farms where they grow more than a dozen different fruit crops (lychee, anyone?), including the blueberries for their specialty blueberry wine. Tastings are very low-key, allowing you to sip as you mosey around the property. Hungry? Take a wander over to the Blue Grove Baking Company, which serves vegan and vegetarian options among its selection of flatbreads, sandwiches, salads, and home-baked goods. Check out seasonal events like Oktoberfest, a British Festival, and, of course, the Blueberry Festival. 2. Francis Ford Coppola Winery: Geyserville, California (Courtesy Francis Ford Coppola Winery) Francis Ford Coppola makes no apologies for the kitschy pleasures of his eponymous winery in Sonoma (www.francisfordcoppolawinery.c...). By design, this is a family destination. “The Godfather’s” production designer, Dean Tavoularis, styled the property after Copenhagen’s Tivoli Gardens, one of the oldest theme parks in the world. It includes two restaurants; a movie gallery of props, scripts, and other memorabilia; a family gaming pavilion fashioned after “The Godfather: Part II” with bocce courts, board game tables, live entertainment, and interactive events; and a groovy, reservations-only swimming pool with cabanas. Of course, if your focus is wine, there’s plenty of it. Private tours include a full journey of the grounds. Other options include the First Flight Tasting featuring limited production wines, a Sonoma Inclusive tasting of the entire region, and a behind-the-scenes peek at the state-of-the-art bottling facility. 3. Wolf Mountain Vineyards: Dahlonega, Georgia Located on Wolf Mountain, this 10,000-square-foot winery (www.wolfmountainvineyards.com) sits 1800 feet above the fieldstone-encased cellar overlooking the foothills of the Southern Appalachian Mountains. The high elevation provides the vineyard with warm days and mild evenings, which give the grapes a long warm period to flower, set, and ripen, and helps explain the 200-plus medals its wines have won. Enjoy tastings of six bottlings with impeccable views of the vineyard and mountains, then grab a full glass and locally sourced bites from the café on the open-air veranda. A Sunday brunch changes monthly and includes a themed cuisine, live music, food and, of course, vino. Gourmet Winemaker Dinners are sporadically announced and include a Cellar Reception with appetizers, a three-course dinner, and paired wines. 4. Bendell Cellars: Cutchogue, New York The Hamptons may boast celebrities, nightlife, and pristine beaches, but when it comes to wine, you’ll want to head to the North Fork, Long Island’s more laid-back coastline. Bedell Cellars (www.bendellcellars.com) sits in Cutchogue, a quiet town known for its stunning views of craggy cliffs overlooking the Long Island Sound and miles of bucolic farm land. Bedell, however, features 75 acres of vineyards. Tastings take place in the refurbished New England-style barn with a mahogany garden pavilion and intimate loft area with vaulted ceilings and fireplace. Elegant small plates are the draw at its seasonal restaurant, Noah’s. Book a group reservation for a sommelier-led tasting of both current and limited production wines or just walk in to customize an individual tasting. Local events include live music, wine and cheese parings with samples from New York City’s famed Murray’s Cheese, and even stargazing evenings organized by a local observatory, complete with telescopes. And wine specials.  5. Raffaldini Vineyards: Ronda, North Carolina Nestled near the Yadkin Rover and Blue Ridge Mountains, this Tuscan-style villa and tasting room (www.raffaldini.com) sits at a 1200-foot elevation and is the centerpiece of the winery’s 40-plus acres that grow classic French and Italian varietals. Regular tastings are offered on a walk-in basis and include a commemorative Riedel glass. And because the National Wildlife Federation recognizes the vineyard as an official Certified Wildlife Habitat, you’ll want to join one of the moderate hikes with vintner Jay Raffaldini, which are offered on select Sundays throughout the year. Other events include the educational Afternoon in Tuscany, a two-hour wine experience with lunch, a guided tour of the property, and an outdoor concert. Various Italian festivals take place throughout the year. 6. Chateau Ste. Michelle: Woodinville, Washington (Courtesy Chateau Ste. Michelle Winery) Founded in the 1930s and producing European varietals since 1967, this Washington state winery (www.ste-michelle.com), which uses grapes grown in the eastern Columbia Valley, is lauded for its eight different styles of Riesling. The Woodinville-based namesake Chateau is surrounded by 105 wooded acres and located just outside Seattle, making it the perfect pit stop if not a destination. The new state-of-the-art visitors’ center lets you customize your afternoon. Try the daily Feature Flight of five reserve wines; a Champagne and bubbly literacy session with food pairings; a free half-hour tour of the property; and a personalized wine-blending session to create your very own bottle to take home. There’s a café with daily specials to fortify you while you’re there. And make sure to check out the lively calendar of events, including a summer concert series that supports over 400 local non-profits. 7. Domaine Serene: Dayton, Oregon Producing award-winning Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from a 42-acre hillside estate, Domaine Serene is a classic example of the style of the Dundee Hills in the Willamette Valley in Oregon. In addition to a new winery dedicated to white wines and bubbly, the estate includes both a tasting room and a 30,000-square-foot Clubhouse. Inspired by a 15th century chateau in Burgundy, France, it offers a diverse lineup of wine-related experiences. The most luxurious contribution is the 45th Parallel Experience, a four-course wine and food pairing inside a lighted wine cave. Go behind the scenes with a guided tour of the winemaking facility or head off to tour the estate armed with a glass of Rose. A more formal and educational Prestige Tasting includes seasonal wine flights or you can just take in the valley views at the more casual Estate Tasting with light bites.