Image source: Flickr - Loco Steve
It's nearly that time of year the time when we carve pumpkins, drink hot apple cider, and decide what this year's hottest costume will be. Autumn and Halloween is fast approaching, and what better way to get into the right mood than talking ghouls and ghosts?
When it comes to the spooky, the weird and the downright bone chilling, the United States has plenty to offer. But why not experience some of these goose bump-inducing locales for yourself? Luckily, so long as you like this sort of thing, many of the purported "most haunted" cities in the country are happy to share their sordid stories with curious tourists like you and me.
If you love a good ghost story like I do, here are five U.S. cities you'll definitely want to visit this year.
Savannah was founded in 1733 as one of the first planned cities in the New World. Today, people visit Savannah to admire its architecture, relax in the verdant green squares, soak up its Southern charm and learn about its ghosts. Savannah is a city built on bones, and as the city expanded over the centuries, it was built atop the city's former graveyards. This combined with epidemics and tragedies have all led to Savannah being called one of the most haunted cities in the country today.
Best tours: Blue Orb does some chilling walking tours, but my favorite is probably the kitschy Hearse Tours where, yes, you ride around the city in a converted hearse.
New Orleans, LA
New Orleans competes with Savannah for the "most haunted city" in America title - having been founded around the same time (1718) in a similar culture and climate, New Orleans, too, has seen its fair share of catastrophe and violence over the years. And it doesn't end with ghosts here - there are also vampires and voodoo in the local legends of New Orleans.
Best tours: There are literally dozens of spooky tours on offer in New Orleans, ranging from ghost tours to vampire tours and even cemetery tours. You can go by bus, by bike or on foot; there's no shortage of ways to get spooked in this great city. The Ghost & Vampire Tour with French Quarter Phantoms is supposed to be one of the best walking tours in the city, and Bloody Mary's New Orleans Cemetery Tour is also popular.
Estes Park, CO
You might know Estes Park as being the gateway for Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado. Each year, millions of tourists make their way through this small town on their way to the mountains. But Estes Park also has another claim to fame: the historic Stanley Hotel. This hotel, built in 1909, served as Stephen King's inspiration for writing The Shining, and is said to be home to a number of spirits.
Best tours: The Stanley Hotel does its own tours, including a daytime history tour and a nighttime ghost tour.
Each year, history buffs from across America (and the world) visit Gettysburg to see the site of the largest battle fought on North American soil. There are plenty of stories to be told here dating back to the days of the Civil War and many of those stories involve ghosts. From haunted hotels to haunted parts of the battlefield itself, it's easy to get creeped out in a place where more than 50,000 people lost their lives and thousands more spilled their blood.
Best tours: The Ghosts of Gettysburg Candlelight Walking Tour is the "original" nighttime tour of the town of Gettysburg, but Farnsworth Inn offers "mature" tours late at night for those looking for something a bit scarier. It should be noted though that most Gettysburg tours will NOT take you onto the battlefield at night, as this is actually not allowed past 10 p.m.
Often referring to itself as the "most haunted small town in America," Alton is located in southern Illinois, right across the Mississippi River from St. Louis. During the glory days of the steamboat, Alton was larger than both St. Louis and Chicago. Thanks to a past that has included mob murders, tragic floods, and an old prison that was home to Confederate POWs during the Civil War, Alton has plenty of spooky history to present.
Best tours: The McPike Mansion is said to be the most haunted building in Alton. There are also haunted riverboat cruises you can take on the Mississippi.
When I asked some other travelers about their favorite US cities for ghost tours, other places mentioned included Charleston, SC; Key West, FL; Annapolis, MD and Harpers Ferry, WV.
Where's YOUR favorite location to take a spooky tour?