The campfire is out, it’s dark outside your tent, and you hear something rustle in the woods. You know it’s probably nothing, but your body is on alert. Then, as a moonlit shadow slowly passes over your vulnerable tent, you ask yourself: Why did I think it would be a good idea to spend the night at a haunted campground? For the thrill, of course. But haunted houses are cliché, and you visited the corn maze last October, so put your nerves to the test and head out into the woods, where strange sounds, floating figures, and high electromagnetic readings abound. Here are a few campgrounds across the spooky spectrum that you can visit this Halloween.
Lake Morena, California
This lakeside campground, near the start of the Pacific Crest Trail and not far from the Mexican border, has experienced unexplained activity for at least 40 years. On October 26, 1983, the San Diego Union ran a story with the headline “More than Fish Haunt Morena.” At the time, park volunteers and rangers attested to witnessing levitating bodies, hearing heavy footsteps when nobody was around, and seeing an old man in their peripheral vision.
On one occasion, reported the newspaper, when a ranger hosted a relative in his house, she woke in the night to see “a baby’s christening gown across the room. It floated to her, brushed her cheek, floated back where she had first seen it and disappeared.” In the years since, guests have reported similar experiences of floating figures, unexplained sounds, and even a woman in white standing at the shoreline.
Big Moose Lake, New York
Stories of hauntings are often preceded by legends of murders, and—if the murder happened at all—the details are murky. This isn’t the case for the story of Big Moose Lake, site of the well-documented murder of Grace Brown in 1906. Located in a remote region of the Adirondacks near Fourth Lake, in a place that has primitive campsites, the lake and the killing that took place there have inspired numerous fictitious accounts, including Theodore Dreiser’s novel An American Tragedy and the movie A Place in the Sun, starring Elizabeth Taylor.
The story goes that 18-year-old Brown was working at a skirt factory in Cortland, New York, when she met the company owner’s charming nephew, Chester Gillette. They began secretly dating, and soon enough, Brown was pregnant. She begged Gillette to marry her, desperately wanting to avoid the fate of an unwed young mother. To her delight, he promised he’d take her on a trip, presumably to propose. They traveled to upstate New York and decided to paddle a canoe onto the lake. Brown had mentioned that she couldn’t swim, and when they got far enough out, Gillette grabbed a tennis racket from his bag and smashed in her head. She fell into the water and drowned.
Gillette was arrested within days and eventually sentenced to death. Ever since, campers have reported seeing a supernatural presence at Big Moose Lake. “I understand her ghost haunts the lake,” a psychic named Lucia Read told The New York Times in 2006.
Fort Worden State Historical Park, Washington
There are miles of buried tunnels, dead ends, and old rooms beneath Fort Worden Historical State Park, a former military base that’s now a campground 60 miles north of Seattle. “There is a lot to be explored here that will get your spine tingling,” says Megan Claflin, who works for the park, where you can explore century-old fortifications that housed nearly a thousand troops and officers. While Claflin would not confirm whether the area is definitely haunted, she did say that visitors have had unsettling experiences.
Ghost hunters who have visited the fort claim to have witnessed paranormal activity, including glowing orb sightings and high electromagnetic readings. “This was an active military base and then juvenile detention center for about ten years,” says Claflin. “There is certainly an echo of the individuals who made the fort their home, and if you believe in that kind of thing, perhaps there are some who have yet to move on.”
Braley Pond, Virginia
This popular fishing spot in George Washington National Forest, 60 miles from Charlottesville, is the site of Virginia’s most haunted campground, Braley Pond. Rumors of disembodied laugher, floating figures, and other unearthly activity escalated after a gruesome gang murder took place there in 2003. According to a story by the Dyrt, not long after the murder, paranormal researcher Shea Willis visited the pond and immediately began experiencing nausea and dread upon arriving.
Just before midnight, Willis and her colleagues heard something moving in the water, “splashing violently.” As they ran back to the car, Willis claims something landed on her back and began crawling all over her body. They escaped the campground and made it home, but Willis continued to feel haunted, experiencing nightmares and not feeling like herself for weeks afterward. “It was like a communication with whatever this thing was,” she told the Dyrt. “Like little bits and pieces of it were still stuck with me.”
Holy Ghost Campground, New Mexico
In New Mexico’s northern Sangre de Cristo Mountains, Holy Ghost Campground, within Santa Fe National Forest, is an isolated but scenic place to spend the night. But before you go, know that it’s rumored to be the haunting grounds of a Spanish priest who was murdered there in the 17th century.
According to local ghost-tour guide Allan Pacheco, the surrounding Pecos Wilderness is home to all kinds of bizarre activity. “There are a number of people who have gone missing in that vicinity,” Pacheco says. “It’s like the Bermuda Triangle of New Mexico—people disappear into thin air. No clothing or bones are ever found.” According to Pacheco, people have also spotted UFOs, seen strange shadows, and heard voices. “There’s all kinds of speculation. Maybe there is a cosmic doorway that opens up there, maybe a Star Trek–type dimensional wormhole. Different beings, different energies, you name it.”
When reached for comment, a spokesperson at Santa Fe National Forest denied the existence of paranormal activity in the area: “Holy Ghost Campground cannot be haunted for one simple, yet big and important reason: ghosts are not real.”
Update: On Friday, October 18, after this story published, a group of Outside editors bravely spent the night at Holy Ghost to investigate the claims of paranormal activity. The night passed peacefully, but the next morning, associate managing editor Aleta Burchyski got up early to fish the nearby Holy Ghost Creek. About ten minutes in, her hook got snagged on a root along the bank. As Burchyski worked to free the hook, she saw a dark figure of a man in her peripheral vision, approaching her. “He was walking weird, kind of loping,” Burchyski says. Initially she thought it was her husband coming over to tell her how cold he was, walking strangely in an attempt to warm up. “But then I turned to say hi,” she says, “and NOBODY WAS THERE.”
Bannack State Park, Montana
The Montana Territory, before it became the state in 1889, was a rough-and-tumble place. During the gold rush of the 1860s, a civilian group known as the Montana Vigilantes set out to capture and hang members of the Innocents, a highway gang that targeted shipments of gold passing through the territory. The Vigilantes accused Henry Plummer, the local sheriff of Bannack, of leading the gang, and Plummer was hung from the same gallows north of town that he had previously ordered built. It’s still disputed whether Plummer was guilty, and in a 1993 posthumous trial in Virginia City, Montana, the jury was split six-six.
Maybe it’s the ghost of Plummer who haunts Bannack today—now a ghost town with a spooky reputation. Visitors regularly report paranormal experiences. “Our most commonly seen spirit is a young girl named Dorothy who drowned here,” says John Philip, a ranger at Bannack State Park. You can camp nearby, and while visitors are not usually allowed in Bannack itself after dark, nighttime ghost tours are scheduled there the weekend before Halloween.
Humboldt State Park, California
Hiking through the redwoods of Humboldt Redwoods State Park at night during a full moon, or camping overnight at one of 250 sites, you might encounter strange “ghost trees.” They look like regular redwood trees, but their leaves are pale, as white as a skeleton.
While eerie in the right light, these albino redwoods are more hauntingly beautiful than anything. Only about 400 are known to exist around the world. Without chlorophyll, these redwoods are unable to produce their own sugar, so nearby trees will pass sugar to albinos through their roots, allowing them to live. Why do the other trees give up precious nutrients? One theory points to the fact that albino redwoods have higher amounts of heavy metals in their pine needles, which could kill an ordinary redwood. So it’s possible that a symbiotic relationship exists, in which other redwoods feed the albino trees, and the albinos in turn remove more heavy metals from the soil.
These trees are fragile and easily damaged by visitors. Enjoy them from a distance, or you won’t need a ghost story to scare you—an angry ranger will do the job fine.