Knott's Scary Farm Celebrates 50th Anniversary With Big Scares

Paying tribute to their legacy, this year's festivities have lots to offer.

By Chad Jones · September 29, 2023, 4:00 PM EDT

When discussing scare actors, haunt mazes, and Halloween-themed events, it is impossible to avoid bringing up Knott's Scary Farm. For 50 years, Knott's has served up a terrifyingly exhilarating haunt experience like no other, offering Southern California a unique experience grown locally, picked right off the vine, and served farm to table. We had the extreme pleasure of being on the ground floor for the special preview event and the opening night of this year's scare-emonies to bring you the full rundown of what to know, what to see, and how to get the most out of your visit into the fog.

Knott's manages to raise the bar every Halloween season, and this year is no different. For the event's 50th birthday, The Conductor leads us into the fog, a ghoulish train operator with a glowing lantern guiding guests deeper into the mist. To make this year even more interactive, you can purchase your very own Conductor's Lantern to light the way. The lantern retails for about forty bucks and can be purchased from most of the park's gift shops and a few pop-up merch booths. We suggest making it an early evening priority if you want one; otherwise, you might find they've sold out. Now, I'll be honest with you: it's definitely just a piece of plastic that lights up, but the experience of walking through the fog with your own lantern as the music swells around you or having your lantern change colors unexpectedly in the middle of a maze to match your surroundings really does immerse you deeper into the perfectly curated lore. If you happen to spot the conductor by his steam engine at the base of the Calico Taffy Mines, see if he can help make your lantern shine a little brighter.


The scares, of course, are not just limited to the inside of mazes; unique and iconic scare zones will also make sure you are never bored. My personal favorite of the night was Forsaken Lake, an eerie graveyard flooded with rains that have brought more than just coffins up to the surface. The Scare Actors here are great to interact with, and the scare zone features great lighting and gorgeous backdrops.

Beyond the Forsaken Lake, we see the return of the Glamorous Goreing '20s, The ever-playful and sinister CarnEvil, an all-new reimagined version of the fan-favorite medieval Gauntlet. Of course, the crown jewel of Knott's Scary Farm scare zones is the fog-filled darkened streets of Calico Ghost Town, where ghostly outlaws or beast-like cowboys are lurking around every corner. The Scare Actors are just as excellent as always. These people aren't just good at their job but seem to love it. Be sure to spend some time exploring these spaces! You don't want to miss all the great details tucked away.

Now, if you have been to Scary Farm before, then you've probably heard of the long-standing tradition of The Hanging. Once a year, the Lawman of Calico Ghost Town rounds up the biggest offenders from pop culture and serves up some justice by sending the worst of the worst to the gallows in this raunchy, low-brow, "equal opportunity offender" stunt show. The Hanging was canceled in 2019 due to being seen as offensive, disrespectful, inappropriate, and in poor taste, but it has now been "un-canceled." With its return, I can confirm that it is, in fact, all of those aforementioned things. Don't get me wrong, there are some solid celebrity jabs and a few impressive (though brief) feats of stage combat, but it's hard to find jokes about Johnny Depp's 2005 version of Willy Wonka topical or current. If you are a die-hard Knott's fan, you are always going to go see The Hanging. It's not just a dirty comedy show, it's an institution! Be sure to sit towards the back of the theater for the best view and arrive early to hear some of the pre-recorded voice-over announcements for the show. In the end, its return does not signify any lack of social awareness, but rather, they realize it is a cornerstone of the culture they've created, and there is a fan community that will always show up for the thrill of the hangman's noose.


We didn't get a chance to see all of the shows during our trip, unfortunately, but we were able to catch a few glimpses of Carnaval Du Grotesque on the Calico Mine Stage, which offers some thrilling, death-defying circus acts that give me anxiety just thinking about it. We also heard that Music, Monsters, and Mayhem was a great time, honoring the last fifty years of original music Knott's has made for the event.

Obviously, we have to talk about the mazes. I have always admired Knotts' dedication to creativity, relying on original ideas and fresh creations that get increasingly innovative every year. You won't be disappointed if you're like me and are too busy trying to catch a glimpse of every little detail, even to get scared. This year introduced a few new mazes, each one more impressive than the last. If you can only make one maze, let it be Cinema Slasher. Perhaps one of the longest mazes of the night, you enter through a dilapidated movie theater and are transported right into your own bloody franchise that takes you through a series of familiar gory flicks. This is a love letter to slasher films, with plenty of little Easter eggs for those in the know and major production value. It pays homage to movies like Halloween, Friday the 13th, and I Know What You Did Last Summer, but without ever feeling unoriginal or like it's just reusing sets.

Mega fans and Knott's regulars will not want to miss Chilling Chambers, a brand new reinvention of the very first maze Knott's ever debuted at Scary Farm in 1973, but this time, they've added plenty of references to iconic fan-favorite mazes from KSF's storied history. I did not expect to get emotional in a haunt maze, but as someone who grew up watching all the vlogs and YouTube videos from Scary Farm in my small hometown, dreaming of the day I'd get to go, I honestly felt like this maze was hand-picked for me. There were references to mazes that have long since been deceased but resurrected with respect, joy, and terror. This is the perfect maze for Scary Farm's 50th, and whether this is your first time passing through or you're a long-time lover like I am, make sure this is a priority.


Returning this year are Wax Works, Mesmer: Sideshow Of The Mind (with some of the best set designs), last year's fan favorite, The Grimoire, and Bloodline: 1842 (without the laser guns). If you've got the time, visit The Green Witch and learn her story in Origins: The Curse of Calico to discover just how Calico mining town turned so ghostly. I also recommend the brand new Room 13, a terrifying tour through an opulent 1920s hotel whose guests have all become horrible monsters after drinking a strange elixir. This is also the final year for The Depths and Dark Entities, so make sure to say your final farewell.

Our advice — buy the Fright and Fast Lane Pass in addition to your ticket. This is a crowd-heavy event, and wait times for mazes can get pretty unbearable, leaving your feet sore at the end of the night with only three mazes under your belt. If you want to see it all, you will need the fast pass. Also, be sure to check out the much-dreaded bag policy because there will not be any large purses or backpacks allowed. Wear something with deep pockets.

We did confirm with the staff that all mazes are wheelchair accessible, and if you are not able to handle jumpscares but still want to appreciate the ambiance, the new "No Boo" Flashing Necklace signals to performers that you want to be left alone. Fans don't seem to appreciate this feature (in fact, it's even one of the offenders The Lawman takes on in The Hanging), but I do see its usefulness for guests who prefer to skip some of the scares.

Knott's is bigger than just some haunted houses and berry pie; there is a community here that looks forward to the event all year, and it's so special to see how much care and attention gets put into the haunt. This is a homegrown haunt, full of connection and fresh personality. Be sure to take a moment to breathe in that fog machine smell and enjoy it.

Also, Ghost Rider still kicks ass.

Head to the official Knott's Scary Farm website for tickets and more information on the 50th anniversary celebration.