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Even if you don't believe in campfire stories about ghosts and aliens, you can get your fill of fright with a haunted pre-trick-or-treat hike this Halloween.
The country’s parks are chock-full of huts supposedly occupied by children-eating witches and trails cursed by the ghosts of long-lost hikers. So in honor of All Hallows Eve falling on a Saturday this year, we’ve pulled together five of the best spots around the country for spooky outdoor fun.
The Pine Barrens, New Jersey
The Pine Barrens, a vast expanse of coastal forest that stretches almost uninterrupted from New York City to Philadelphia, is an inhospitable tract of land. The soil never yielded to early colonial efforts to cultivate crops, so the Pinelands—all 1.1 million acres of them—were left largely untouched and became a national reserve in the 1970s. It’s a perfect escape from the city if you’re up for a leisurely hike or if you want to see Jersey’s unofficial state monster. The New Jersey Devil, a mythical creature that has supposedly terrorized South Jersey for centuries, is a winged, kangaroo-like dragon with fiery eyes and a piercing scream. Over the years, the Devil has racked up hundreds of sightings in south Jersey. And by all accounts, it calls the Pine Barrens home.
Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky
The hundreds of miles of caves beneath Kentucky’s Green River valley are, in the words of 19th-century guide Stephen Bishop, a “grand, gloomy and peculiar place.” Bishop, a former slave, was the Mammoth Cave National Park’s most famous early explorer and one of its original guides. He died in 1857—less than a year after he was freed—and was buried outside the cave. Now, legend has it that Bishop’s ghost haunts the largest-known cave system in the world, scaring the flocks of tourists who come to hike the deep underground chambers. The pitch-black cavern is such a naturally frightening spot that a ranger and a local guide have collected enough known paranormal sightings in the cave to fill a book.
The park is open until 5:15 p.m. on Saturday, with guided tours and campfire talks.
Yosemite National Park, California
Yosemite has a few planned activities for people interested in spending Halloween in the crown jewel of the national park system. A guided hour-and-a-half walking tour of the park’s cemeteries offers plenty of family-friendly fun. But those seeking a more horrifying experience will have to delve deeper into the park.
In the 2006 book Haunted Hikes: Spine-Tingling Tales and Trails from North America's National Parks, former ranger Andrea Lankford tells the tale of Yosemite’s first civilian guardian (a pre-cursor to the rangers) and his run-in with the supernatural. In 1857, as he rested on the shores of Grouse Lake, Galen Clark heard the wails of a crying child. Later, when Clark came upon a band of local Indians, the tribe told him of a child who drowned in the lake and how his ghost now tried to submerge anyone who entered the water. “At that time I thought that the Indians were trying to impose on my credulity,” Clark later wrote, “but I am now convinced they fully believed the story they told me.” If you’re hardcore, you can hike the 9.73 miles to Grouse Lake to hear the wailing for yourself.
Yosemite is open every day of the year, but roads often close due to weather. (Check conditions online.) If you’re thinking of hiking the 19.5 miles to and from Grouse Lake, consider getting a backcountry permit and staying overnight.
Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, Colorado
The towering, undulating dunes of the Great Sand Dunes in southern Colorado are the biggest on the continent. They rise as high as 750 feet and sit on the edge of the barren San Luis Valley. The effect is otherworldly—even supernatural. Over 60 UFOs have been sighted in the area in the last 15 years and alien reports date back to the 1960s. A local woman, Judy Messoline, even set up an UFO watchtower nearby and says the region is home to two separate portals to parallel universes. Sound like tinfoil-hat nonsense? Try explaining why the local cattle keep ending up mutilated and dissected.
The park is open 24/7.
Iron Goat Trail, Leavenworth, Washington
About 60 miles northeast of Seattle, the Iron Goat Trail cuts through majestic old growth forest on federal land. The trail, a six-mile loop, follows the Great Northern Railway tracks that once connected the transcontinental railway to the Pacific Northwest. The trail is also the scene of one of the worst avalanches in U.S. history. Nearly 100 people died along this route when a wall of snow swept across the tracks in 1910. The tracks were abandoned for good in the 1920s and a cave-in rendered its spooky tunnel unnavigable in 2006. Some say you can still feel the spirits lingering by the tracks today.
A recreation pass is required at the trailhead and, the Washington trail association notes, it is dangerous to enter abandoned, collapsed railroad tunnels.