There are some experiences every family should try once. Then there are annual events that, after you try them, you vow to do every year forevermore. The Great Jack O' Lantern Blaze in Croton-on-Hudson, a Hudson Valley Halloween staple with thousands of hand-carved jack-o’-lanterns, falls firmly in the latter category.
The downside of the Blaze is that tickets start selling out way in advance ... like early September. The 2017 shows begin Friday, September 29, and run through Saturday, November 25—a longer run than planned in years past. They are not held every day, so start checking the calendar now. Our NYC readers should know that the Blaze is definitely worth splurging on, even if you need to rent a Zipcar. It's also accessible via public transportation.
Read on for what you need to know about this Halloween spectacle, including details about this year's installations (including the timely Pumpkin Zee Bridge). Looking for more fall and Halloween fun? Sign up for our newsletters.
T-Rex stalks through Jurassic Park. Photo by Jennifer Mitchell.
The first thing to understand about the Blaze is that it's a jaw-dropping original and totally worth the schlep. The grounds of Van Cortlandt Manor overflow with incredibly detailed pumpkin sculptures, with everything from traditional grinning jack-'o-lanterns to massive sculptures of dinosaurs, robots, animals, flowers, scarecrows, totem polls, snakes, giant spiderwebs, creatures from Greek and Roman mythology, King Kong and much more. It's truly breathtaking: There are intricately carved pumpkins flickering in the darkness as far as the eye can see.
Even if you've been to the Blaze in years past, each year offers new innovations that impress. Other installations for 2017 include a fully functioning Pumpkin Carousel with a 20-foot diameter (sorry, only pumpkins get to ride), a giant Statue of Liberty and giant, gourd-filled jack-in-the-boxes. Don't miss the Pumpkin Zee Bridge, whose appearance coincides with the opening of the newly completed Tappan Zee Bridge.
While it's not especially scary, it can be overwhelming, and creepy music composed by Richard Christy from The Howard Stern Show blares from speakers all around you. Kids who are afraid of the dark probably won't like it, but really the most terrifying thing you'll encounter are the volunteers, who often yell at you in an effort to keep people moving.
Visitors take in the Pumpkin Bonfire. Photo by Tom Nycz.
Tickets are sold in 30-minute increments and that's about how long it will take you to get through the whole thing, depending on your pace. When you arrive, there's a holding tent where you can buy hot apple cider, seasonal treats and Halloween tchotchkes, and watch carvers work their magic. According to the very amusing FAQ on the Blaze website, you'll see approximately 7,000 jack-'o-lanterns during your visit. Not all of them are made out of organic pumpkins, though. Some of the most intricate creations were crafted from "art pumpkins" so they can be preserved. It takes more than 1,000 volunteers to help bring the Blaze to life, and their work definitely shows.
What to Know Before You Go
- The Blaze is tough to navigate with a stroller, and since the grounds sometimes get muddy, it's best to leave the Elvira heels at home.
- There's often a traffic jam at the start of the tour (think tourists gawking in Times Square at Christmas). You don't need to wait for them; just walk on by. Everyone goes at their own pace but, as we said, volunteers often urge you to move along.
- The route strategically takes you through the gift shop.
- Try to buy tickets for around dusk. That way you can watch the jack-o'-lanterns come to life as the darkness falls around them.
- Consider buying tickets for after October 31. The Blaze runs past Thanksgiving, in fact (which also has been associated with pumpkins, so it's all good!).
Still not convinced that the Blaze is worth the trek? Just do a Google image search—it's even more spectacular in person.
The train is just one of the amazing sights at the Blaze.
The Great Jack O' Lantern Blaze takes place at Van Cortlandt Manor in Croton-on-Hudson on select evenings Friday, September 29, through Saturday, November 25, 2017. Times vary. Saturdays: $25 for adults, $20 for children ages 3-17. Other nights: $20 for adults, $16 for children ages 3-17. Advance tickets are a must.
The Blaze is accessible via public transportation. Take a one-hour train ride on Metro-North or Amtrak. Get off at the Croton-Harmon station, and then it's just a five-minute cab ride away.
Find more seasonal fun in our Halloween Guide.
All photos courtesy of Historic Hudson Valley. Photos reflect past years, and exhibits may differ this year.
This was originally published in 2012 and has been updated for 2017.