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I Tried It: The Haunted Amusement Park 

SDM’s editorial intern summons the courage to wander through the legendary El Cajon scare trail
Attraction with a sign "Haunted House" at the Haunted Amusement Park or Scare Trail in San Diego
The Haunted Amusement Park Haunted House

I’m standing in the dark. Shaking. Death-gripping my friend’s hand so intensely I’m cutting off her circulation. We’re standing in line for The Haunted Amusement Park, and I’m not sure if my pants will make it out of here dry.

In 1998, iconic El Cajon amusement park Marshall Scotty’s Playland filed for bankruptcy. Adrenaline junkies have been visiting the remains of the rickety rides ever since. This abandoned park now takes on a new life (or death) every October as The Haunted Amusement Park, a supposedly phantom-infested scare trail. I’m here to see what the hype is about. 

Poster for the San Diego Haunted Amusement Park
Courtesy of The Haunted Amusement Park

Behind me, I hear a shriek from what sounds like a 5-year-old girl. “That was so fun! Let’s do it again!” she says, dressed in a Barbie outfit, her adorable blonde ponytail sparkling in the darkness. 

I breathe deep. After hearing this little girl’s excitement, my terror starts to fade a bit. My confidence grows. I’m not scared. No. A witchy woman summons us to enter the mile-and-a-half scare trail.

“Fresh meat,” she yells with a smirk. “Don’t worry—they aren’t allowed to touch ya.”

But that little girl was definitely planted in the line to settle my nerves. It took only ten seconds before I screamed like a newborn. I walked onto the dirt path with the confidence of a post-spinach Popeye the Sailor Man and later sprinted out while being chased with a chainsaw.

Actor in Jason Voorhees mask and chainsaw with Haunted Amusement Park in background
Courtesy of The Haunted Amusement Park

We were hypnotized by a spinning tunnel swirling with neon pinks and oranges when I felt the warmth of a clown’s breath in the crook of my neck. My escape resembled a drunk hamster on its wheel, a cartoon cat running in place. I couldn’t see well in the dark, but I could feel the clown’s silent secondhand embarrassment. Our pace slowed as the trail grew narrower and the continuous hum of a chainsaw began to amplify, piercing our triple-pierced ears. We dodged creepy, Walking Dead-esque creatures while their jaws unhinged to bite the air in front of our faces. In the background droned the relentless duet of a corpse bride’s patronizingly melodic lullabies and the soundtrack of an out-of-tune ice cream truck. 

As we stumbled on, rusty ring-toss game booths bled into wooden alleyways with axes smacking against the walls. Faint screams echoed throughout the park. A fine vapor blurred my vision. My friend’s hand turned purple from my grip. Covered in goosebumps, we wove through stale back rooms that reeked of musty mothballs, making me smell the spirits that once happily ate cotton candy and kettle corn on the very trail I was tip-toeing through. 

It seemed like there were hundreds of zombies, ghosts, and fortune tellers, all with different makeup, costumes, and techniques designed to scare the Jersey Mike’s sub out of me. I was almost stabbed so many times, my joints felt like they were in the third stage of rigor mortis. So, I shifted my intentions in an attempt to make the actors crack. I asked a gremlin gnawing on a loose hand if that was her “girl dinner” and she didn’t even flinch. These actors are the real deal. 

The isolation of the dark winding trail made me question whether there was something lurking behind every corner. If you’re looking for a creaky rollercoaster to seek refuge under while hiding from the twins from The Shining, The Haunted Amusement Park has you covered. 

The horror takes place, like clockwork, every weekend in October starting at 7 p.m. I’m not sure if I’ll muster the courage to go back. We can’t all be as brave as a little blonde girl in a Barbie outfit.


By Lucy Byam

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