Fall is one of my favorite seasons for trail running—brilliant colors and the cool, crisp temperatures can make any run special. However, as the days get a little shorter and darkness sets in a little earlier, trail runs can also get a little creepy.
Many of our country’s trails are known for their historic hauntings, creepy creatures, and strange sounds, so it’s not surprising that nearly one-in-five US adults (18%) say they’ve seen or been in the presence of a ghost, according to a 2009 Pew Research Center survey.
In the spirit of the season, I thought that I’d share some of our nation’s spookiest wildplaces—if you head out for a Halloween run, consider yourself warned—you may have an unwanted running buddy along for the ride.
1) Grouse Lake, Yosemite National Park
According to Native American folklore, a young indigenous boy drowned in Grouse Lake and hikers and runners have heard a wailing cry on the Chilnualna Falls Trail every since. Legend has it that the boy calls out for help, but that anyone who ventures into the lake to help will be pulled under and drowned. If that’s not enough, Miwok Indians believed Yosemite’s waterfalls were haunted by an evil wind called Po-ho-no, which entices people to the edge of the falls and then pushes them over.
2) Bloody Lane, Antietam National Battlefield, Maryland
This historic site is home to one of our country’s bloodiest one-day battles. In 1862, after only 12 hours, 23,000 soldiers were killed, wounded or missing after the Battle of Antietam, which ended the Confederate Army’s invasion into the North. The road, known as Bloody Lane, is said to be haunted by some of the soldiers who lost their lives. Visitors have reported hearing phantom gunfire, shouting and singing, and some have even claimed to see soldiers in uniforms who abruptly vanish. Take a run through this park and you may wish you didn’t.
3) Transept Trail, Grand Canyon
The “Wailing Woman” is known to haunt the North Rim. According to legend, the woman committed suicide in the nearby lodge during the 1920s after hearing that her husband and son had died in a hiking accident. Dressed in a white dress with blue flowers, she has been seen floating along the Transept Trail, crying for the family she lost in the canyon.
4) Batona Trail, New Jersey Pinelands
Since the 1700s, thousands of people have reported seeing the Jersey Devil in the Jersey Pinelands, a kangaroo-like creature with the head of a dog, bat-like wings, horns, and a forked tail. Those who live near the Pinelands claim to hear the creature’s screams late into the night. The mysterious creature is said to prowl through the 49-mile route spooking people with its creepy appearance—yikes!
5) Star Dune, Great Sand Dunes National Park, Mosca, CO
Okay, technically not a trail, but the Marathon de Sables is on my bucket list (sorry, dad). More than 60 UFO sightings have been spotted in and around the Great Sand Dunes National Park. If you want to see or be spooked by a UFO, here’s a good place for it.
6) Bluff Mountain, Appalachian Trail, Virginia
In 1891, while collecting firewood, 5-year-old Ottie Powell got lost and perished on the mountain and has haunted the area ever since. Hikers and runners along the trail have heard the little boy crying out for help near the Punchbowl Mountain trail shelter, particularly on cold, dark nights.
7) Norton Creek Trail, Great Smoky Mountains, NC
I was just in North Carolina, but thankfully it did not include a run on the Norton Creek Trail. If you’re lucky, you’ll run into the “good” ghost who appears as a floating light and is known for leading lost hikers (and runners) back to safety. Chances are though, you’d probably run into “Spearfinger,” who according to Cherokee legend, is a witch who haunts and feasts on wayward children.
8) Iron Goat Trail, Stevens Pass, WA
In 1910, an avalanche swept two trains off the track, killing nearly all 100 passengers on board, making it one of the worst railroad disasters in US history. The old railroad grade and its tunnels were abandoned in 1929 in favor of the current Cascade tunnel, and what was left has been crafted into the Iron Goat Trail. Runners insist they can hear the passengers’ screams as they make their way through the wooded trail to the Old Cascade Tunnel.
9) Ghost House Trail, Big Ridge State Park, TN
A young girl and a dog are said to haunt unsuspecting visitors along this spooky trail. In the late 1800s, the Hutchinson family’s daughter was ill with tuberculosis and died at the same time visitors on their way to see her heard a dog running toward them, but no dog appeared. Today hikers claim to hear the sound of a panting dog, and ghostly silhouettes of the family are said to appear in photographs taken at the family cemetery. Luckily Ghost House Trail is only 1.2-miles, so chances are you’d probably be able to outrun any unsavory ghostly figure. Oh and there’s also something about a witch in the forest—I’d probably stay away from this trail.
10) The Witch’s Castle, Forest Park, Portland, OR
I couldn’t have a creepy trail list and not include a famous haunt from my own backyard. Forest Park is the largest urban forest in the US with more than 80 miles of glorious trails. A family feud in the 1850’s that resulted in a murder is said to have occurred near what’s now called the “Witch’s Castle” (also known as the “old stone house”) and the ghosts of the pasts may still wander along the trails.
Have you ventured into the woods for a trail run and had a creepy encounter? Share your ghostly stories here.