Someone like me isn’t supposed to be excited about Markoff’s Haunted Forest. I’m one of those people who cowers behind pillows during scary movies, and would be more likely to watch the Sound of Music in the first place. Yet I was the one urging my husband and friends to go. My husband eagerly agreed. My friends were too scared. “People with chainsaws are going to chase you through the woods?” they asked. Yes, and as a matter of fact, I was very much looking forward to it.
Markoff’s Haunted Forest is a DC-area Halloween institution, notorious for its high-quality theatrical productions. I had to see it for myself.
So my husband and I set off on a date night of horror. We drove to Dickerson, Maryland, about an hour and 15 minutes from Reston. We finally turned into a farm seemingly in the middle of nowhere, excited and nervous.
The farm is owned by brothers Nick and Alex Markoff. In addition to its Halloween haunts, it’s used as an agricultural and environmental education center for Calleva, the nonprofit summer camp that the Markoff brothers operate. Calleva offers camping, skiing, and kayaking trips for children, and provides scholarships for kids who can’t afford to attend. It relies heavily on the Haunted Forest for funding, and receives 65% of ticket revenue.
Because of its association with an outdoor adventure camp, Markoff’s Haunted Forest also offers optional zip lines and a canopy tour. There are many ways for adrenaline junkies to get a thrill.
When we arrived, we were assigned a number for our turn to enter the forest. Only a few people can enter at a time, to keep the experience lonelier and more frightening. We headed to the large waiting area called “Markoff’s Inferno.” Two huge bonfires burned as a DJ played dance music. Food, warm drinks, and entertainment were available as people waited their turn.
Fire breathers and twirlers stunned the waiting crowds. Every person within the gates appeared as a costumed character, which added to the spookiness of the place. Occasionally a performer would lunge toward onlookers with his torches, and make everyone jump.
As we waited for our number to be called (and I got more nervous in the process), we walked around the Inferno area. Several attractions were available for additional purchase, including:
- Absolutions (zip line)
- Dirty Duck (bow and arrow)
- Anger Ball (wrecking ball)
- Maze of Fraud (corn maze)
- Hayride of Violence (haunted hayride)
- Canopy Tour (zip lines and elevated cable bridges)
Of course the featured attraction is the Haunted Forest, which is included in the cost of the ticket. When our number was finally called, we approached the gate.
At the entrance to the forest trail, we were greeted by costumed actors and this menacing statue. A cackling guard escorted us toward the trail. This was the last photo that I took before we stepped through the doorway.
I thought I might take some pictures along the way, but I did not. I was too busy screaming.
So the kind folks at Markoff’s sent us some photos to show you a hint of what goes on inside the forest.
What can I say about Markoff’s? It’s scary. VERY scary. It’s a long walk along a forest trail, surrounded by elaborately built sets. It’s mostly dark, but occasionally bright lights blind and disorient you. Off in the distance you hear screams and cackles as chainsaws roar. The chainsaws! You can’t escape their grinding roar the whole time, and you know they’ll be coming for you soon.
You walk slowly through the trees, trying to predict what will jump at you next. And they do jump at you. Clowns, murderers, monsters, nuns, hillbillies, zombies. Whatever you find scariest, it’s probably in there. And it doesn’t just lunge at you in the dark – it grabs you. And chases you. And if you scream the loudest in your group, it targets you.
These actors are terrifying and never break character. The costumes, makeup, and set design are all impressively horrifying.
I won’t give away too much detail about what happens in the Haunted Forest, because not knowing what to expect makes it scarier. But I will say that it is extraordinarily well-done, and if you enjoy haunted houses, you don’t want to miss it.
But what about me, a hide-behind-the-pillow chicken? Believe it or not, I loved the whole experience. I never forgot that it was all an act, so I just immersed myself in the show and enjoyed it. But yes, I did shriek and whimper continuously. And I’m pretty sure that the actors enjoyed making me freak out. I also laughed a lot, though. The whole thing is just so wonderfully preposterous. I even found myself praising the actors who scared me. “Well played, monster. Well played.”
Tips for Attending Markoff’s Haunted Forest:
1. Arrive early. We got there at 7pm, and the crowds were light, but the place was packed by 8pm.
2. Dress warmly, with a winter jacket. The night we visited, it was about 10 degrees cooler there than it was in Reston. You’ll be spending a few hours outdoors with only an occasional bonfire for warmth.
3. Dress for hiking. The terrain is uneven, and it will be very dark. This isn’t the time for your cute heels. I recommend hiking shoes and clothes that you don’t mind getting dirty.
4. Don’t miss the Haunted Hayhide. We almost didn’t ride it, because we assumed it would be a let-down after going through the impressive Forest. But it was perhaps even scarier and better acted than the Forest. It’s a must-see.
5. Bring cash. No credit cards are accepted, and you’ll want to try the variety of activities that require additional charge.
6. Leave young children at home. This event is best for teens and adults.
Markoff’s Haunted Forest is located at 19120 Martinsburg Road, Dickerson, MD, 20842. They are open on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights until November 1st.
Have you been to Markoff’s Haunted Forest? What did you think? If you’re looking for more ideas, don’t miss our huge list of Halloween events in Reston and the DC area.