The Haunted Stories of America’s National Parks
Wailing Ghosts, Mysterious Lights, a Headless Bride, and Lost Civil War Soldiers Haunt Some of Our Favorite Outdoor Destinations
Telling ghost stories around the campfire is a long-standing tradition guaranteed to make the hair on the back of your neck stand on end. Sharing tales of strange encounters and unexplained happenings while the fire crackles in the darkness can be both fun and frightening. Even more so if the story takes place in the woods, a remote cabin, or other locations far from the safety and security of civilization.
Some of those places include America’s national parks, which are often vast wilderness areas that are largely untamed and unexplored even in the 21st century. Many are located far from the bright lights of the city, creating an impenetrable darkness that could harbor some of the scariest things that our imaginations could ever conjure. With that in mind, it should come as no surprise that the national parks are home to some truly fascinating and unusual ghost stories. Here are a few that you can share the next time your friends and family are spinning spine-chilling yarns.
The Wailing Woman of the Grand Canyon
Grand Canyon National Park is one of the most popular destinations in the entire US, drawing nearly five million visitors on an annual basis. Over the years, more than 900 people have perished while hiking, rafting, and camping in the park, spawning more than a few tales of ghosts wandering the trails or haunting remote areas of the canyon.
The most famous of those ghosts is the wailing woman, who reportedly haunts the Transept Trail near the Grand Canyon Lodge along the North Rim. As the legend goes, the woman’s husband and son went for a hike along the edge of the canyon only to get caught in a sudden violent storm that caused them to fall off a ledge to their death. When the storm had passed, the woman went in search of her missing family but was unable to find them. Overcome with grief, she returned to the nearby lodge, where she took her own life.
Many visitors to the North Rim—including park rangers and hikers—have reported seeing a ghostly woman dressed in white wandering in the area after dark. Others have heard the sounds of her weeping, both on the trail and at the Grand Canyon Lodge, where she will occasionally make her presence known by slamming shut doors. These stories give the otherwise-tranquil setting a bit of a creepy vibe.
Mysterious Lights in the Great Smoky Mountains
More than 14 million people visit the Great Smoky Mountain National Park each year, easily making it the most visited park in the US. Some of those visitors come to hike the Norton Creek Trail—a 6-mile route located in North Carolina. The area is said to be home to a legendary creature that the Cherokee Indians call Utlana, which translates to “spearfinger.” She is said to be an ancient ogress who tricks unsuspecting children into her lair, where she removes and eats their livers.
But the trail is also the site of another unsettling tale. Some hikers who wander the path report seeing eerie lights along the route, particularly after nightfall. Sometimes, those lights help lead them back to the trailhead, vanishing from sight as they approach the end of their trek. The lights are believed to belong to a man who lived in the area in the mid-1800s and continues to wander the trail long after his death. According to local legend, the man’s daughter went missing in the forest and he set out with his lantern in hand to find her. Neither father, nor daughter, were never seen again. But some believe he may still be looking for her along that lonely path.
The Headless Bride of Yellowstone
The Old Faithful Inn at Yellowstone National Park is home to one of the more ghastly ghost stories of any of the national parks. The stately lodge is said to be haunted by the spirit of a young bride whose husband killed her while on their honeymoon. On occasion, guests at the lodge have reported seeing her still wandering the halls of the hotel while wearing a flowing white dress.
As the story goes, the young woman resisted plans by her wealthy father to marry her off to a young man from a family of similar social stature. Instead, she wished to wed an older man who worked as a servant in her family’s home. The bride’s father was against such a union, fearing the groom only wanted to get his hands on the family fortune. Eventually, he agreed to the marriage on the condition that he would give the newlyweds a substantial dowry, but they would not receive any further financial assistance in the future.
The couple traveled from New York City to Yellowstone on their honeymoon, spending most of their money while en route. By the time they reached the inn, they were already nearly broke, which led to frequent arguments. One day, not long after they arrived, the groom was seen feeling the premises and did not return that evening as expected. Later, the bride’s decapitated body was found in their room, and her head was discovered stashed away in the Crow’s Nest, a lofted part of the building where a band would play each night. It is from there that the spirit of the young woman is still seen on occasion, descending the stairs late at night while carrying her severed head under her arm.
The Ghosts of Mammoth Cave
With over 400 miles of underground passages, Mammoth Cave National Park is home to the largest cave system in the world. Naturally, there are numerous tales of paranormal activity in those underground passages, including sightings of apparitions said to be the incorporeal spirits of former slaves who served as tour guides there in the 1840s and 50s.
The most famous ghost of Mammoth Cave is that of a man named Floyd Collins. A spelunker who explored the caverns in the early part of the 20th century, Collins is credited with discovering the famed Crystal Cave in 1917. A few years later, in 1925, he became trapped in a narrow tunnel while wandering in another section of the subterranean labyrinth. Several rescue teams attempted to free him but to no avail. Eventually, a rock slide sealed the tunnel, sealing off Collins’s only means of escape. It took two weeks to clear the opening, but by that time, the explorer had passed away due to a lack of food and water.
Mammoth’s park rangers spend more time inside the cave than anyone else, and many have reported encounters with the ghost of Collins. The spectral figure wanders the same tunnels he frequented in the past and he is often spotted standing on a rock in a chamber known as Big Chief. The old explorer has even played tricks on guides and guests in that cavern by unexpectedly turning off flashlights and headlamps, leaving them in complete darkness.
Yosemite’s Haunted Grouse Lake
One of the earliest tales of paranormal activity in the national parks dates back to 1857 when a ranger named Galen Clark was scouting part of Yosemite. He was hiking in the southwest section of the park near a place called Grouse Lake when he heard the sounds of a puppy crying out for help. After searching for a bit, he was unable to locate the dog, however, and eventually moved on.
Later, Clark came across a group of Native Americans who were living in the area at the time. He recounted his tale of hearing the dog but lamented the fact that he couldn’t locate the animal. The indigenous people told him that he wasn’t hearing a dog at all but instead heard the sounds of a young man who had drowned in the lake. They told the park ranger that the boy now calls out to anyone passing by, attempting to lure them into the cold waters where he pulls them into the cold depths of the water.
Clark dismissed the tale as a Native American legend and thought little about it afterward. But to this day, there are hikers who report hearing the sounds of a wailing dog as they pass by Grouse Lake.
Spectral Soldiers Along Antietam’s Bloody Lane
Antietam National Battlefield is the site of one of the most horrific encounters between the North and South during the entire Civil War. The battle took place over 12 hours on September 17, 1862, resulting in 23,100 men being wounded or killed. Much of the fighting took occurred along a sunken road, which offered some protection for the soldiers. But in the aftermath of that harrowing day, that road became known as Bloody Lane.
Today, visitors to that solemn site often feel the weight of history as they wander its verdant fields. Some say they can still hear the sound of gunfire and the voices of Union and Confederate soldiers who fought in the battle. Others catch a brief whiff of gunpowder in the air as they walk the road. There have even been a few reports of travelers spotting men in blue and gray uniforms quickly moving up the lane, only to disappear from sight moments later.
The ghosts of Antietam are said to be even more active at night. There are reports of strange blue lights spotted hovering over the ground near Burnside Bridge where much of the heavy fighting occurred. Many soldiers died there during the battle and were later buried in unmarked graves. From time to time, they can still be heard calling out in to one another in the darkness, anguished voices from a time long past.
These are just a few of the eerie stories that are a part of the history of some of our most famous national parks. There are many more tales to be told around the campfire that are sure to bring chills and leave you looking over your shoulder. Just remember to lock the RV door and maybe keep the lights on a little longer.