Published online on Sierra magazine’s Explore blog, October 30, 2013
6 Haunted Hiking Trails
What better way to celebrate Halloween (and work those old trick-or-treating muscles) than to set out on a haunted hike? Many of the country’s trails have rich and creepy histories, and you’d be surprised at just how many ghosts have apparently chosen to spend the afterlife spooking unsuspecting hikers. This year, celebrate the holiday on one of these six trails, then share its spooky story around the campfire.
1. Norton Creek Trail, Great Smoky Mountains, NC: Some claim the Great Smoky Mountains are home to more ghosts than any other national park on the map, and the Norton Creek Trail hosts one of the more terrifying. Utlanta, or “Spearfinger,” an ogress of Cherokee legend, is said to roam the area, appearing as a harmless old woman and tricking unsuspecting children out of their livers. As the story goes, she was ultimately defeated by the Cherokee, but hikers who are particularly attached to their internal organs might get a chill from this creepy tale.
The easily frightened can take comfort in knowing the trail is also stomping grounds of a friendly specter. The ghost of a murdered settler is said to lead lost hikers to safety with his lantern. Even if you don’t encounter ghosts, the trail winds past several old cemeteries, and you can even pitch your tent in one of the official backcountry campsites — among the crumbling ruins of an old town.
2. Batona Trail, New Jersey Pinelands, NJ: The marshes of Southern New Jersey are said to be home to the Jersey Devil, a kangaroo-like creature with the yellow eyes, the head of a dog, bat-like wings, horns, and a forked tail. If that sounds like your kind of beast, then the 49-mile Batona trail is for you. Since the 1700s, thousands have reported seeing the Jersey Devil, and those who live near the Pinelands claim to hear the creature’s screams late into the night.
3. Transept Trail, Grand Canyon, AZ: The ghost of a bereaved wife and mother mourns the loss of her husband and son at the Grand Canyon’s North Rim. Both visitors and rangers report having seen the Wailing Woman, who appears dressed in a white dress with blue flowers and (as her name suggests) floats along the Transept Trail crying. This ghost story also serves as a sobering cautionary tale; the Wailing Woman of the Grand Canyon is said to have lost her family to the canyon in a fatal hiking accident.
4. Spruce Railroad Trail, Olympic National Park, WA: The depths of Lake Crescent are home to many secrets, and are rumored to be the watery tomb of many lost travelers. And like any good lake, it has a Lady. The Lady of Crescent Lake is said to be ghost of a murdered woman whose body washed up on shore several years after her disappearance. This particular woman caught the public’s attention because her remains had undergone the entirely natural but creepy-looking process of saponification, giving her a mummy-like appearance. The 8-mile Spruce Railroad Trail follows the water, giving you ample opportunity to spot the apparition.
5. Grouse Lake, Yosemite National Park, CA: Visitors to Yosemite’s Grouse Lake often report hearing wailing as they approach the water. Some point to Native American folklore, claiming the cries are those of a young indigenous boy who drowned in the lake. But don’t be a hero; as any good horror movie fan knows, you should resist the urge to investigate the sound, as those who dive in apparently don’t make it out.
6. Mammoth Cave National Park, KY: With more than 400 miles explored and “no end in sight,” Mammoth Cave boasts the country’s longest cave system, and an impressively haunted history. The cave system has seen more than 150 documented paranormal events, and is home to several ghosts. Rangers having reported seeing the ghosts of guides past, including frequent apparition Stephen Bishop. Bishop was among the slaves who were the first cave guides, and the National Parks Service credits him as “unquestionably one of the greatest explorers Mammoth Cave has ever known.” Visitors also claim to have heard the coughing of the long-dead patients who met their end in the cave when Mammoth served briefly as a tuberculosis hospital in the 1800s. Visit Corpse Rock and listen closely to hear their death rattles yourself.
Read online at SierraClub.org
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