One doesn't generally think of the U.S. national parks as being particularly spooky or haunted. After all, the parks represent some of the most spectacular landscapes in the world and are traditionally seen as family friendly destinations. But even those revered places are not without their secrets, some of which are only fit for sharing around a campfire after a long day on the trail. As Halloween quickly approaches, here are five creepy places that exist within the national park system that just might manage to send a chill down your spine.
Devil's Den - Gettysburg National Military Park
Gettysburg was the site of one of the deadliest battles in U.S. history and remains a revered spot more than a century and a half later. Over the course of three days in July of 1863 more than 51,000 men were left dead, wounded, or missing. Today, it is not uncommon for visitors to the park to say that they have seen the ghosts of those fallen soldiers or heard voices coming from the field where the battle took place. But this is especially true around a rocky hill known as Devil's Den, where a barefoot apparition has appeared on occasion, telling travelers "What you're looking for is over there," while gesturing towards Plum Run, a small creek that meanders through the area. Who this soldier was remains a mystery, but he seems to still be connected to the park somehow.
Transept Trail - Grand Canyon National Park
There are a number of tales of spooky sightings within Grand Canyon National Park, but few can compete with the story of the Wailing Woman who is sometimes heard sobbing uncontrollably along the North Rim.
The story goes that the woman committed suicide in one of the park's lodges after learning that her husband and son had died in a hiking accident. Visitors have reported spotting her wearing a white dress and crying out in anguish for the loved ones she has lost. Most sightings are said to take place along the Transept Trail – an offshoot of the more popular Bright Angle Canyon route – although she has been seen elsewhere as well.
Mammoth Cave National Park
Exploring a dark, shadowy, underground cavern is spooky enough under the best of conditions, but throw in a few unexplained experiences and it gets even creepier. That happens to be the case with Mammoth Cave National Park, a place that has been called "the world's largest haunted place." Many park rangers and visitors have reported seeing ghosts within the caves, the most common of which is Stephen Bishop, an early explorer of the underground passages and caverns. Others say they have spotted slaves that once hid in the subterranean chambers, while some have heard the ghastly coughing of long-dead tuberculosis victims that once used the site as a hospital. Is it just the shadows of the place playing tricks on their eyes and ears, or is there something else happening here?
Bloody Lane - Antietam National Battlefield
Gettysburg isn't the only Civil War site that is believed to be haunted. The Antietam National Battlefield in Maryland is home to the bloodiest single day battle of the entire war with more than 23,000 soldiers killed, wounded or missing in just 12 hours of fighting. Today, visitors report hearing voices and drumbeats while walking the infamous Bloody Lane.
Others claim that they have heard singing or even gunshots, followed by the smell of gunpowder. There have even been a few reports of Confederate soldiers being spotted marching along the road, only to then vanish into thin air. It seems that the ghosts of Antietam still have strong ties to the battleground, and continue to wander its landscapes more than 150 years after the battle took place.
Skidoo - Death Valley National Park
Death Valley is home to a number of abandoned towns that quickly boomed on the promise of gold or silver, and then abruptly vanished back into the desert when the boom inevitably went bust. One such down is Skidoo, where legend has it that a man named Joe Simpson murdered the local banker over a $20 debt. Simpson was caught and hanged by a local lynch mob and was later buried nearby.
A few days later, a reporter came to town, and the body was dug up and the hanging was reenacted so that photos could be taken. Before reburying the body, Simpson's head was inexplicably cut off by a local medical examiner. Today, very little remains of the town of Skidoo, but visitors to central Death Valley claim that they have seen a headless ghost wandering the area where the settlement once stood.
There are of course numerous other tales of hauntings throughout the national parks, but these are some of the most compelling stories that we have come across. Feel free to share them as the Halloween season unfolds. Perhaps you'll even have your own tale to tell.