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Hallowfest

Celebrate Halloween at Ponca State Park

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Mike Taylor and his son, Ethan Taylor, of Fort Calhoun carve a pumpkin at Ponca State Park’s Hallowfest in 2017.

Story and photos by Jenny Nguyen-Wheatley

For more than two decades, Ponca State Park’s Hallowfest has thrilled guests of all ages. The park modeled its event after Indian Cave State Park’s festival, starting out with just one weekend of haunted hayrack rides in 1998 and expanding its offerings to two weekends full of Halloween activities. This fall festival has become a tradition for families, many of whom begin booking their cabins and campsites a year in advance.

Hallowfest 2020 falls on Oct. 10 and 17. Guests may begin making reservations for the haunted ride on Oct. 5 at 8 a.m., but be forewarned, tickets usually sell out within an hour. This popular 40-minute tour gives parkgoers the experience of Ponca State Park after dark, but with the added element of spooky scenes and surprises. Although there is no age limit, parents should use their discretion in bringing children under 10 years old. (See page 47 sidebar for changes due to COVID-19.)

Daytime attractions are fun for the whole family, and they require no reservations. During a typical year, activities may include take-and-go crafts, fortune telling, maze, yard games, pumpkin carving, pumpkin rolling, “creepy crawly” animal programs and more. Guests and their pets are encouraged to come in costume.

A decked-out mini-lodge welcomes trick-or-treaters at Ponca State Park. Photo by Jenny Nguyen-Wheatley.

The campground-decorating contest is another favorite activity at Hallowfest. Take a stroll near the cabins and campsites, and you’ll quickly see how much parkgoers love this holiday. Interestingly, the park owes the creation of this contest to its guests.

“We are unsure of when this fun began,” said Lynn Mellick, event coordinator at Ponca State Park. “Guests took it upon themselves to decorate their campsites, and they also began trick-or-treating in the campgrounds.” In 2012, the contest became an official part of Hallowfest, with prizes awarded to best-decorated campsites and cabins.

Kick off your holiday season by celebrating Halloween at Ponca State Park. Come enjoy the fall colors, and immerse yourself in the autumn season and all this time of year has to offer. For more information and/or to make reservations, contact Ponca State Park at (402) 755-2284.  

COVID-19 Changes

Due to COVID-19, the park will offer haunted drive-thrus instead of hayrack rides in 2020; guests will self-drive the route in their own vehicles in order to maintain social distancing.

Confirmed activities include take-home crafts, “creepy crawly” animal programs, pumpkin sales, and campground and cabin decorating contests. The pumpkin rolling obstacle course will not be available this year. The pumpkin carving contest is to be determined.

For the most up-to-date information on Hallowfest, contact Ponca State Park at (402) 755-2284.

About Jenny Nguyen-Wheatley

NEBRASKAland Associate Editor Jenny Nguyen-Wheatley was born in Nha Trang, Vietnam, and moved to the United States with her parents in 1992. She graduated from Bolsa Grande High School in Garden Grove, California, in 2008 and completed her bachelor’s degree at UCLA in 2012. Wheatley was editor-in-chief for her high school newspaper and continued to write in college, freelancing for various publications, the Tiger Woods Foundation and writing for her blog FoodForHunters.com. After graduating college, she moved to Nebraska in early 2013 to join the Commission as Regional Editor at NEBRASKAland Magazine. She then became associate editor in 2015. Wheatley enjoys hiking, camping, horseback riding, hunting, fishing and wild game cooking.