The only light comes from the moon floating above. The only sounds are your own footsteps on the trail and the dry leaves on the trees surrounding you crackling in the breeze -- or, was that more than just the wind moving the leaves in the dark?

At the Haunted Forest, it could be just the wind. Or it could be a gruesome zombie, a demented nun or a twisted fairy tale wolf, among other horrors lurking in the woods.

Unlike other haunted houses in Utah, the atmosphere of the Haunted Forest in American Fork isn’t manufactured. It’s a real forest with real swamps a good distance out from the city. It honestly would be freaky to walk through the forest at night without the haunt up and running. But then you add in all of the surprising jump scares, actors, high-quality animatronics, themed sets and more, and you’ve got yourself an absolutely freaky haunted house.

I felt like an on-edge Red Riding Hood traipsing through the woods, meeting terrifying creatures and sights. The walkthrough took us through many different areas, including a Salem witch trials stretch, a twisted fairy tale area, a section run over by evil pirates, a medical experiments gone wrong tent, and many more.

The Forest contains a good variety of scares, from popouts to grisly costumes to sudden noises to terrifying scenes. Many other houses rely too much on one or two types of scares, so the well-rounded variety within the forest really keeps you on your toes.

In fact, honestly, some of the scariest parts for me were a few of the short stretches in between different sets where there was nothing but the winding path and trees -- suspense ran high in anticipation of the next scare. Similar to horror films where skilled moviemakers know exactly how to build suspense without revealing too much too soon, the Haunted Forest does its uninhabited sections the right way.

Additionally, the forest contained a good amount of animatronics, some highly impressive in their smooth agility, some stunning in size. Especially noteworthy animatronics include a headless horseman on a rearing horse, one that I can only describe as a giant, devilish creature, and a dinosaur fossil come to life. Seriously, at some of these we paused in the path for a while just to watch the things with a combination of awe and fear.

The Haunted Forest, which is celebrating its 30th year, is the largest haunted house in the state, which makes for a pleasantly lengthy journey that makes you feel like you got your money’s worth, unlike other shorter walkthroughs.

Another noteworthy aspect of the Haunted Forest is the actors. In comparison to other haunted house actors around the state, these ones seemed especially well trained and mature. I consider this a significant plus in the haunted house world, as a badly trained actor can take you out of the moment instantly in a cringeworthy way.

Overall, I had a spectacular time winding my way through the terrifying forest. While trying to arrange my thoughts and main points for this review, I honestly couldn’t think of anything critical to say. The Haunted Forest is an all-around excellent haunted house, and my No. 1 recommendation of haunted houses in Utah.

McKenna Park covers nights and weekends at the Daily Herald, along with special projects and visual editing. She can be reached at mpark@heralextra.com.

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