What are the scariest places in the world? Transylvania? A New Orleans cemetery? An abandoned, haunted asylum?
If traveling through the continental United States, try a national park. Though national parks are mainly thought of as places to get back to nature, they’re also great spots to raise the hairs on the back of your neck. Among the frights awaiting are haunted caverns, woodland witches, alien skies, and even stalking bigfoots.
Mammoth Cave National Park
Sightings at the Kentucky caverns date to before the Civil War. They range from apparitions of slaves to the phantom coughs of tuberculosis victims buried at a park cemetery. But the most common sighting is of Stephan Bishop, a former slave who explored the cave and whose remains rest at the Old Guide Cemetery. The best chance of seeing Bishop’s ghost is on the Violet City Lantern Tour, in which you walk through the caverns with only kerosene lamps to light your way.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
The Cherokees who once resided on the foggy ridges now making up the national park often told the story of Spearfinger, a witch who lured children into the woods and sang them to sleep. Then with her long finger made of sharp obsidian, she’d cut out and eat their livers. She is said to have walked a number of paths on the park’s eastern edge, including what is now the Norton Creek Trail. That trail also is famous for being the site of where a settler was murdered – and of a strange light that leads one safely out of the dark, foreboding woods.
Little Grey Men
Great Sand Dunes National Park
Most visitors who head up the park’s Star Dune so do for the glory of scaling the 750-foot high mountain of sand. Those hikers definitely will want to keep their eyes to sky rather than to their ground below, though. For more than 60 years, numerous flying saucer reports have been made in the San Luis Valley where the sand dunes are located. Among the UFOs reported over the dunes are black triangles, cigar-shaped craft, and hovering multicolored lights.
Mysterious Moving Rocks
Death Valley National Park
In a remote section of Death Valley across a playa known as the Racetrack, large rocks continue to move, leaving tracks in the clay. No one has ever seen them move, but one far-out theory suggests aliens use telekinesis to race the hefty boulders. Though there’s no designated trail, about two miles south of the Grandstand parking area you can walk a half-mile toward the playa’s southeast corner to see the rocks and the paths they’ve meandered. A high-clearance vehicle is needed to reach the parking area.
Yellowstone National Park
The famous sasquatch has been reported at a number of national parks, but recently not one but four were allegedly filmed at this heavily visited park. A 2015 video shows the hairy beasts apparently stalking bison that have just arrived at Old Faithful Geyser for winter. Walk the Old Faithful Boardwalk to follow in their steps.
Carlsbad Caverns National Park
OK, Carlsbad Caverns is not haunted, but what would Halloween be without spooky bats? Every sunset from June through October, hundreds of thousands of bats fly out of Carlsbad Cavern’s natural entrance in a tornadic-like spiral to feed for the evening then return at dawn. You can either get an up-close seat at an amphitheater where the bats leave their cave or hike the Chihuahuan Desert Nature Trail, a half-mile loop, and watch the bats disperse across the New Mexican desert.
About the author:
Rob Bignell is the author of several hiking books, including the bestselling “Best Sights to See at America’s National Parks.”
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