Hikers and campers delight in ghost stories. Crowded around a crackling campfire, with the noises of the dark night around you, tales of horror and the supernatural that you’d scoff at in the bright light of day seem eerily possible. Perhaps because of this, the United States is home to dozens of haunted trails. We’ve assembled some of the more compelling, for those of you brave enough to walk with the unknown.
Batona Trail, New Jersey
In the woods of the East Coast, legends of demons and devils were very real to early settlers. One of the most famous of these abominations is the Jersey Devil.
Back in the 1700s, a Mrs. Leeds was pregnant with her thirteenth child. Understandably fed up of being a full-time mother, Mrs. Leeds is said to have cursed the child, and wished it dead. She didn’t get her wish, but as her normal baby son grew, he began to change. His torso lengthened, wings sprouted from his back, and he developed a horse’s head, cloven feet, and a thick trail. He’s out there to this day, lurking in the marshes of the Batona Trail. Waiting.
Black Diamond Mines, Antioch, California
The Black Diamond Mines trail is home to two very different spirits. One is the Wailing Woman, who haunts the mines after being executed for causing the deaths of children in her care.
Her more refined ectoplasmic neighbor lives in Rose Hill Cemetery. Sarah Norton was crushed to death when her carriage overturned, and never quite moved on. Still, if you’re going to meet a ghost on the trail, better her than the Waling Woman.
Bloody Lane Trail, Maryland
Yikes. If life were a horror movie, only naïve young college coeds would hike a trail with a name like Bloody Lane. The Civil War battle for Antietam was fought along and around the 1.5 mile trail. Over 23,000 soldiers were reported dead, wounded, or missing, and some may still be out there.
Hikers report seeing ghastly soldiers, mostly in Confederate uniform, by both day and night. Other have seen balls of blue light. Drumming, gunfire, and battlefield songs have been heard, and somehow most disturbingly, people have smelled gunpower. Any haunting capable of producing olfactory stimuli is one that’s packing a heck of an otherworldly punch.
Bluff Mountain and Punchbowl Shelter, Virginia
If you like ghost stores that are less full-scale massacre and more misty-eyed pathos, hike the Bluff Mountain and Punchbowl Shelter in Virginia. In 1861 four-year-old Ottie Cline Powell wandered away from the Tower Hill Schoolhouse. His body was eventually found seven miles away, but his spirit? Poor Ottie’s spirit may never have found his way home—hikers still report feeling an unseen presence at the top of the mountain.
Chilnualna Falls Trail, Yosemite National Park
Along the 8.4 Chilnualna Falls trail in Yosemite, another young boy met a tragic end. Legend says a Native American boy drowned in Grouse Lake, and people still hear his cries for help. Don’t offer assistance, however. Legend also says those foolish enough to offer aid are dragged beneath the lake.
As if that weren’t creepy enough, an evil wind spirit named Po-ho-no is said to haunt the trail. Stray too close to the high edges of the local waterfalls, and he’ll push you over the side. Po-ho-no’s legend may have less to do with the supernatural and more to do with human carelessness: in 2011 three hikers fell to their deaths from the top of Vernal Falls.
Ghost House Trail, Tennessee
In Big Ridge State Park, Tennessee, the Ghost House Trail offers three separate scary stories. A witch was reportedly hanged there, and the trail witnessed a Native American scalping. Only one of these gruesome events is documented on trial plaques. We’ll leave it to you to discover which one.
Despite these incidents, the trail is named for the remains of what was once the Hutchinson family house. Mary Hutchinson died there of tuberculosis, and long after the family moved, people reported ghostly activity. Even today, hikers report hearing Mary’s long-dead dog running up and down the trail, searching for his mistress.
Long Path, New York
Long Path is aptly named. The long-distance, 357-mile hiking trail begins at George Washington Bridge in Fort Lee, New Jersey, and ends in the Albany area of Altamont, New York.
Walk the Long Path and you’ll pass by the Letchworth Village Cemetery. Back in 1911 a mental institution opened in Letchworth for the care of the “epileptic and feeble-minded.” Most of the patients were children.
You just know where this is going, don’t you?
The institution was known for unethical clinical experiments, rampant abuse, and extreme neglect. Hundreds of nameless grave markers fill the cemetery, the final resting places for the multitudes who died at Letchworth. Anonymous grave after anonymous grave, filled with the remains of abused, tormented children. . . .
Letchworth was shut down in 1996, and trespassing is forbidden, which seems redundant, because who wants to explore a dark, abandoned mental institution filled with the ghosts of angry, tortured children? Unless you’re one of the Winchester brothers, you’re not going in there.
Norton Trail Creek, North Carolina
Once upon a time, a witch named Spearfinger wandered the Smokie mountains. She got her name from one long finger made of the sharpest stone. Spearfinger’s favorite trick was to disguise herself as a kindly old woman and lure children into the woods. There she would hold them and sing them to sleep—and then cut their livers out with her finger and eat them. She might still be out there—waiting for you.
Spruce Railroad Trail, Olympic National Park, Washington
Spruce Railroad Trail runs along Lake Crescent, and is haunted by the Lady of the Lake. Hallie Latham Illingworth’s husband murdered her in 1937. Three years later, her mummified remains were found by a fisherman.
Hallie now walks the 8-mile loop trail, so at least she’s chosen to spend her afterlife amidst some of the most beautiful scenery along the West Coast.
Transept Trail, Arizona
We’ll end with a legend from the Grand Canyon that, like Po-ho-no, is a cautionary tale for hikers. The three-mile Transept Trail is haunted by the Wailing Woman. Unlike the Wailing Woman of Black Diamond Mines, this lady did no wrong in life. Dressed in white and bearing blue flowers, she cries for the loss of her husband and son, both killed in a hiking accident in the Canyon.