Tar Heel Tricks and Treats: Halloween in Downtown Chapel Hill


A local tradition for decades, spontaneous crowds of families, students, community members and guests converge on Franklin Street in downtown Chapel Hill to celebrate Halloween. The festivities are always observed on the exact date of October 31, regardless of the day of the week Halloween falls. Tens of thousands of revelers usually arrive on Franklin St in costume by early evening. While the Town of Chapel Hill has never officially sanctioned the annual event, the police department and other emergency agencies manage the crowd with street closures in the downtown area and alcohol checkpoints. Upwards of 400 law enforcement officers – some from neighboring communities – help control the crowds.

 A strict conclusion to the celebration is enforced at 11:00 p.m.  After that time, the area is re-opened for traffic, public works employees begin to clean-up and police officers encourage crowds to disperse.
Resources devoted to managing the event are provided by the Town of Chapel Hill, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and local businesses.

 Halloween celebrations on Franklin Street. Photo by WUNC

The annual downtown observance of Halloween began as a community event in the early 1980s – students of UNC-Chapel Hill and families from the area would gather on the 100 block of East Franklin to celebrate. The excitement of outdoor costume wear and community merriment quickly drew the attention of the surrounding area, and annual crowds began to continually exceed 40,000 in the 1990s and early aughts.
After a record-breaking crowd in 2007 reached 80,000  that’s 30,000 more than the town’s population – safety became a concern. In an action dubbed "Homegrown Halloween," efforts were put into place to reduce the crowd size and discourage people from out of town to come to Chapel Hill. These tactics included opening the area to through traffic at 11:00 p.m., ending a shuttle service from park and rides lots, and encouraging all establishments to close no later than 1:00 a.m. As a result of the concerted efforts to make the celebration a more localized, the crowds have averaged 35,000 in attendance each year since 2008.


Quick Facts

  • Over 700 Town of Chapel Hill employees work the event
  • The largest attendance ever recorded was 80,000 in 2007
  • Street Closures
    • View a map of street closures
  • Parking
  • Prohibited Items:
    • Alcoholic Beverages
    • Weapons
    • Glass Bottles
    • Paint
    • Fireworks and Explosives
    • Flammable Substances
    • Animals
    • Coolers
    • Items, even as part of a costume, which can be used as weapons or could reasonably be mistaken as weapons will be confiscated. This includes items made of wood, metal, cardboard or hard plastic.
  • Transit
    • Chapel Hill Transit (CHT) ends service early on the NU and EZ Rider routes to accommodate the event.
    • Safe Ride is a service funded by the UNC-Chapel Hill Student Government for the safety of students. Safe Ride buses will operate along detoured routes. View a schedule for the event here.

External Links: FAQs Video Album for Homegrown Halloween, Chapel Hill Halloween Documentary
Sources: Town of Chapel Hill, Daily Tar Heel , WRAL, Herald Sun