Fall was finally starting to peak on Saturday as we drove down the winding road speckled with autumnal hued trees. Nature’s peaceful display almost made me forget the reason we were taking a 40 minute trek deep into central Tennessee.
Growing up loving ghost stories and Halloween, haunted sites and graveyards have always intrigued me. I was eager to snag the opportunity to write about walking through a haunted forest, but it wasn’t until the day of our trip to Millers Thrillers that my fears started to kick into action and my feet to turn cold. Memories of walking through haunted houses in New York with my friends reeled through my head. I was always the first to volunteer to walk through, only to surely have me trying to find someone to cower behind moments later.
At around 7:30 p.m., we followed the glowing markers into a field. The late-October dusk was just beginning to settle as we stepped out of the car and walked up the path to the ticket booth. You could see the warm glow and smell the bonfire, which anchors the center of their entertainment zone, from the parking lot. Music was playing from the stage and spotlights illuminated the sky above.
By now it was dark out, the ticket sign illuminated by a string of lights.The line to pickup tickets moved rather quickly, but I would highly recommend taking advantage of their online ticket options which allow you to skip this line entirely.
A few lone clouds still hung in front of the dim, waxing crescent moon; it was the kind of night you’d expect to run into things that go bump in the night. It was hard not to take the ominous hint and begin worrying again.
The main area was a large clearing that resembled a festival: a ticket booth, haunted house fascade, an over-sized chair for photos and a concession booth glowing in black lights. People of all ages began arriving. By the time we left that night, the parking lot would be full and the line for tickets would easily exceed 45 minutes. Nearby the roaring bonfire was a stage that would host a variety of entertainers from a light show set to music, the “Reptile Guy” , jugglers, and more. Also make sure to check out the amazing fire performers and the super energetic zombie drum line! If you don’t purchase the Slash-Pass the entertainment is a very welcome distraction while waiting to enter the woods.
Into The Darkness
A large facade marked the entrance to the Haunted Woods. A woman stood in the shadows as we approached the end of the line. “Are you two with a group?” she asked. Maybe I imagined it, but she seemed to smirk at the question, her eyes glinting. “Um,” I said, stalling. Survival tip number one: Never go alone.
We locked eyes with the group behind us, a family with a few teenagers, willing them to take strangers under their wing for the night. It was a low point, but fear makes perfectly rational people do crazy things, like sleep with the lights on for weeks after watching a scary movie (this is why you should never watch “Silence of the Lambs”). Besides, we were simply being practical — it’s all about strength in numbers.
At the entrance to the haunted woods— a forest that we were warned takes 30 to 40 minutes to travel through — being first was not our highest priority. So when the hostess asked who wanted to enter first, we took a few steps back.
In nervous silence, we were guided into a room by a man dressed up resembling Captain Spaulding. In the next room, we all posed for a group photo before being lead back into the original room that we entered, but it was completely upside-down. After this we were instructed to head down the path into the woods.
Leaves whipped around our feet in small cyclones that hid roots, making us step carefully in the darkness and ignore our basic instinct to run. Though my awareness was heightened for any type of movement — a sinister shadow lurking behind a tree, the fearful snap of a twig — I couldn’t help but notice the beauty of the woods in the nighttime.
For a while, there was no movement. We kept walking, winding deeper the woods. We knew that there were numerous terrifying employees waiting for us in the forest — but where were they? I almost started to enjoy myself, thinking of our tour as a midnight nature walk. This would go great with some mulled apple cider. I made a terrible mistake, I let my guard down.
Survival tip number two: Never let your guard down. As I peered around the bend, a throaty snarl erupted from a tree just behind me. A creature sprung onto the path, half crawling and jumping toward our group. We screamed and stumbled, running up a ramp that led to a shed.
The wolf-creature left us alone, but the shed — and the other makeshift buildings that would follow it on the trail — brought a new terror: the fear of being in a confined space, with a lurking monster and nowhere to run. At this point,we abandoned all notions of personal space, clutching each other’s shirts as we entered the shed.
The room was filled with swinging black tubes, like punching bags, their movements warped and disorienting from the blinding strobe lights overhead. Everything was pulsing. We wove through the tubes, gripping each other tightly, our vision blurred — was that movement a person? Or was it just us in here? — when a stranger’s voice shrieked from the corner of the room. He staggered toward us, moving fast and in slow motion at the same time, his clown grin flashing between the tubes. We bolted through the door at last, the lights blinking behind us.
The trail became a conduit of terror, the narrator of horror. It held its own scares: redneck zombies jumped out from behind a tree, setting our eardrums ringing with screams; a deranged girl wailed and followed us; a man was suspended in a tree, screaming for help. Still, we preferred to be scared in the open woods, where escape was easy and the openness offered solace, rather than be trapped in dark haunted houses.
We thought we had reached the end of the woods as we approached a black-light illuminated area that was themed to a circus. We were dead wrong. We were handed 3D glasses and motioned to enter a circus tent. Inside there were multiple paths filled with specially painted murals and props that looked like they were incredibly detailed. The glasses play with your eyes: was that clown really just pointing at me, or is it a stationary prop?
After as few more scenes and after crawling through an actual hearse we approached a western ghost town. From its exterior, the final stop along the path looked no different from the other areas we had walked through. We entered the room cautiously, tugging on each other’s shirts. The room became a narrow hallway, giving way to a twisting maze, growing steadily darker and darker. Soon it was pitch black; the only light came from the ceiling, a tiny sliver of moonlight, shrouded by leaves.
An eerie silence took over as we walked in the blackness. With one hand I gripped the shirt of someone in our group, with the other I skimmed the wall, feeling for passages and corners.“This must be what it feels like to be blind,” someone behind me said. Suddenly, a loud smack from in front: we’d hit a dead end. Someone in our group chuckled, brushing past to backtrack. I tried to control my breathing.
Finally, after what seemed like hours of dead ends, we found the exit. We spilled out into the moonlight, laughing about the maze and the trail, walking to the distant glow of the bonfire and huddles of friendly faces.
Before leaving, we posed for a few pictures with some of the characters in the entertainment zone. We waved as we walked back to the car, thanking the staff, and wishing the waiting ticket holders good luck.