Sure, haunted houses have their own place in the pantheon of scary Halloween activities. But there’s one problem with all those bloody chainsaws, zombie brides, and moaning corpses: they aren’t real. True connoisseurs of the paranormal have to dig a bit deeper to scratch their itch for things that go bump in the night.
To the detriment of our nerves, we’ve done that digging for you. What follows are five of the most abjectly terrifying ghost tours in America. Though these tours and overnight investigations aren’t for the easily startled, they should appeal to those with a grim fascination for the undead.
Gettysburg Ghost Tours’ XTREME Ghost Hunt
The Ghosts You’ll See: Soldiers who perished in one of the bloodiest episodes of the Civil War, the Battle of Gettysburg.
Why It’s So Terrifying: Hailed as “the most extreme ghost hunt available to the public,” this tour investigates the grisly aftermath of war from a supernatural perspective. Participants team up with the Gettysburg Paranormal Association, using that group’s advanced EVP equipment to investigate purportedly haunted locations.
Recommended For: Night owls. On Friday and Saturday, the three-hour tour stays out until 2 a.m.
Not Recommended For: Children younger than 12 and anyone especially frightened of muttonchops.
Missouri State Penitentiary’s Public Overnight Investigation
Jefferson City, MO
The Ghosts You’ll See: Criminal inmates of what was once the largest prison in the US. Probably a few disgruntled security guards, too.
Why It’s So Terrifying: In total, 40 inmates were executed in the prison’s gas chamber between 1937 and 1989, and that’s not even the worst of it. MSP is often referred to as “the bloodiest 47 acres in America,” a reputation earned by its unsettlingly high number of murders and assaults.
Recommended For: Total insomniacs. This eight-hour marathon of horror begins with a history tour that quickly morphs into an all-out paranormal investigation. Tours typically run from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., so get plenty of sleep the night before (you won’t be getting any the night after).
Not Recommended For: Guests younger than 18, or adults who can’t handle being in the dark for prolonged periods of time.
Blue Orb Savannah’s Uncensored Zombies Tour
The Ghosts You’ll See: These aren’t the zombies you’re thinking of. Before the word was popularized by films such as Night of the Living Dead, “zombie” more broadly referred to a spiritually undead ghost. Blue Orb focuses on the hoodoo and voodoo communities of Georgia’s low country, and when they say “zombie,” all ghosts, spirits, and undead souls are fair game.
Why It’s So Terrifying: Savannah is widely considered America’s most haunted city, and this is widely considered its scariest ghost tour. Combine Colonial-era ghosts with the area’s strong voodoo culture, and you have a recipe for terror.
Recommended For: People who can go with the flow. The tour is uncensored and can be edgy at times; also, stops vary and are often at the discretion of the guide and group.
Not Recommended For: This is an adults-only ghost tour, so kids younger than 18 should stay at home.
The Queen Mary’s Paranormal Investigation
Long Beach, CA
The Ghosts You’ll See: With such a long and varied history, The Queen Mary is home to more than its share of supernatural apparitions. There is, of course, the sailor who died in the engine room, as well as the soldiers who perished on board when the ocean liner was transformed into a troopship for World War II. But the most common (and feared) ghost here is known simply as “the lady in white.”
Why It’s So Terrifying: If you think the walls of an old house creak and moan, wait until you walk through the long, dark hallways of a ship that’s been out of commission since 1967.
Recommended For: People who can handle the truth. Of all the tours on this list, this is the one where you’re probably most likely to experience something unexplainable.
Not Recommended For: Landlubbers younger than 16. Also, due to the historic nature of the vessel, not all areas are accessible by guests with mobility issues.
Waverly Hills Sanatorium’s Guided Tour and Investigation
The Ghosts You’ll See: Victims of a tuberculosis epidemic that hit Jefferson County in the early 20th century. They’re no longer contagious, but that’s cold comfort.
Why It’s So Terrifying: Normally we’d exclude a haunted house from this list, but Waverly Hills Sanatorium is one of the few places to host both a haunted house and a bona fide ghost tour, making it easily one of the scariest places in America. Dark hallways, dingy treatment rooms, and a grisly history of death add up to a kind of paradise for ghost hunters.
Recommended For: Anyone who can’t get enough of that old hospital smell.
Not Recommended For: Guests younger than 18. Anyone uncomfortable with the phrase “body chute,” or the prospect of going down one.
Photos: Gettysburg Ghost Tours, Gary Shaver, Blue Orb Tours, The Queen Mary, and Waverly Hills Sanatorium