If you love spooky stories by the campfire, look no further than your favorite national park. Unbeknownst to many, the U.S. National Park System is a hotbed of paranormal activity. Ranging from ghost stories to urban myths to weird otherworldly occurrences, some of the most famous national parks are home to spine-chilling tales that are sure to keep you awake at night. So grab your s’more stick and gather round the fire for the scariest ghost stories from U.S. national parks.
Mammoth Cave National Park
If climbing into a deep, dark cavern isn’t spooky enough, then Mammoth Cave National Park's many ghost stories are sure to give you the creeps. The Kentucky cave has 400 miles of subterranean passageways and a bizarre history — in 1839, the cave was turned into a tuberculosis sanatorium by Dr. John Croghan. As the unventilated, damp cavern wasn’t an ideal hospital, five of the patients died in Croghan’s care, and were laid out on a slab of stone called “Corpse Rock.” Visitors to this section of Mammoth Cave often hear phantom coughs echoing within the cavern.
With 150 recorded paranormal events, many by rangers themselves, the most frequent ghost sighting is believed to be Stephen Bishop, a slave of Dr. Croghan’s who was a tour guide, ranger, and skilled spelunker. It’s believed that Bishop likes to tag along on ranger tours, and when the lights go out for one minute during the Violet City Tour, strange incidents often occur, such as people being shoved or grabbed when no one is in close proximity.
Gettysburg National Military Park
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the site of the bloodiest battle during the Civil War has its fair share of ghost stories. In essence, Gettysburg National Military Park is a type of graveyard — in 1863, 51,000 men died there over of course of the three-day battle.
The most brutal fighting was located in a section of the park called Devil’s Den, a hill strewn with large boulders that provided a defensive position for Union troops. A ghost nicknamed “The Hippie” is often encountered in this part of the park. Believed to be a member of the 1st Texas Infantry, the ghost is always described as a barefoot man in a floppy hat, with shoulder-length hair. Repeated reports from visitors claim that he points towards a stream called Plum Rum and says, “What you’re looking for is over there.” Although people have attempted to snap photos of the spirit, his image has never been captured, and this section of the park is notorious for causing cameras and electronic equipment to malfunction.
Grand Canyon National Park
Spanning nearly 2,000 square miles, Arizona’s Grand Canyon National Park covers a lot of ground, which is perhaps why the list of ghost stories within the park is so lengthy.
Built in 1905, guests and employees of the historic El Tovar Hotel have reported numerous chilling incidents, including seeing phantoms in the hallways, sensing odd presences in rooms, and, in one instance, witnessing a ghostly reflection of an old man in the television. El Tovar is also purported to be home to a gentlemanly spirit who has been witnessed greeting guests at hotel functions.
Elsewhere in the park, hikers repeatedly describe seeing eerie lights when they make the trek to Crash Canyon, the sight of a 1956 airplane crash that killed 128 people.
But by far, the “Wandering Woman” is the park’s most infamous permanent resident. As the story goes, a woman killed herself after discovering that her husband and son had perished in a hiking accident. Her lonesome spirit, dressed in a white dress with blue flowers, has repeatedly been spotted by park rangers and hikers on the North Rim’s Transept Trail.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
There are 150 known cemeteries and 4,727 graves within the confines of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which means many of the park’s hikes and campgrounds are within proximity to burial grounds. Beginning along the shores of Lake Fontana, Norton Creek Trail has the highest concentration of graves in the park and is also fabled to contain two different spirits.
The first spirit is derived from Cherokee legend and tells of an old witch named Spearfinger, named for her knife-like finger made of stone. Spearfinger would disguise herself as a kindly, elderly woman as a way to lure children far from their village, at which point she would cut out their livers to eat.
The second spirit happens to be more benevolent: an old settler who was killed as he was searching for his lost daughter in the woods near Norton Creek Trail. It is claimed that his spirit still roams the trail to this day, providing light with his ghostly lantern for lost hikers who need to find their way.
Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park has no shortage of legends and myths, and if you believe in such tales, you should beware. First, there’s the Legend of Po-ho-no, an evil wind spirit that traps victims in the water, and is said to lurk in Bridal Veil Falls, a park attraction that coincidentally is prone to accidents and deaths.
There’s also the Ghost of Grouse Lake, who was first reported in 1857 by Yosemite’s earliest park ranger, Galen Clark. Clark heard a distress call near the lake, which he believed to be a dog. The local Indigenous people warned him not to go towards the sound, as it was the spirit of a drowned boy who lures people to the lakeshore to drag them underwater.
There’s also the Ghost of Camp 6, where a man who hanged himself can be seen hanging from the rafters in the middle of the night. Although the camp has since been turned into a parking lot, believers have claimed his spirit can be seen in the hours between 11 pm and 3 am.