Summer is finally over, and with crisp air, vibrant fall colors, and pumpkin spice lattes, comes the arrival of every Halloween lover’s favorite time of year: spooky season. Autumn may be the perfect time to hit the road for leaf-peeping, cider trails, and wineries, but as the fall chill sets in and the crunch of dead leaves collect on the ground, it’s also the best time of year to hop in the car and scare yourself silly.
The good news for horror enthusiasts is that there’s no need to travel to Trannsylvania to visit some seriously spine-tingling destinations. From Salem, Massachusetts, to Alcatraz Island, the United States is full of haunted history and creepy legends. So why not take advantage? After all, with plenty of frightening things going on in the world these days, it’s much more fun to focus on ones in the past or in your imagination.
Salem to Boston
Undoubtedly the most well-known spooky destination in the United States, Salem, Massachusetts, is where this route begins. Immortalized by the witchcraft hysteria of 1692, history buffs and Halloween lovers alike will enjoy a visit to the Salem Witch Museum to learn about the infamous events that took place there, as well as the Witch Trials Memorial, where you can remember the 20 young victims of the trials. Next, head north to Dogtown in Gloucester, a mysterious ghost town that became a hotspot for vagabonds after it was abandoned in the 1800s. The townspeople were rumored to practice witchcraft; to this day, you can find odd words and phrases—“Help Mother” being one of them—carved into boulders in the vicinity.
Head southwest to Fall River to see the infamous Lizzie Borden house, where America’s most gruesome axe murders took place. It was here that Lizzie Borden was accused of butchering her father and stepmother in broad daylight, though the case has never been solved. Nearby, take a stroll through Freetown-Fall River State Forest, also known as the "The Cursed Forest of Massachusetts.” Legends surrounding this forest include UFO sightings, witchcraft and human sacrifices, ghostly orbs, unexplained disappearances, and even stories of a race of troll-like creatures who call the forest home. End your trip at Boston’s Cutler Majestic Theater. Numerous ghost sightings have been reported here, including sightings of stagehands and theater patrons from centuries past still sitting in their seats, waiting for a show.
Philadelphia to Evans City
This frightening road trip starts at one of the country’s most infamous haunted destinations, the Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia. This famous prison, which once held criminals along the likes of Al Capone, was known for its extreme approaches to isolation and solitary confinement, causing many prisoners to lose their sanity. To this day, angry spirits are said to haunt the prison, with many visitors experiencing the feeling of being pushed, shoved, and followed as they walk past the prison’s cells. Next, head west to the Pennhurst Asylum in Spring City. Nicknamed “The Shame of Pennsylvania,” this former hospital for the mentally disabled was the site of horrific abuse towards its patients. To this day, visitors who enter claim to see visions of nurses and children, and have reported leaving with unexplained marks and scratches across their arms.
In Stewartstown, head to Hex Hollow, where Nelson Rehmeyer was murdered by a local man named John Blymire, who believed Rehmeyer was a witch who had placed a hex on him. After the murder, Blymire and two accomplices set Rehmeyer’s house on fire, but the house survived and remains standing to this day. Visitors who drive past report feeling a deeply sinister atmosphere surrounding the house. After, head to the legendary Gettysburg, the site of the notorious Battle of Gettysburg in 1863, which resulted in more than 55,000 casualties. The spirits of Union and Confederate soldiers are still said to haunt the battlefield. In Altoona, make a pit stop at the Mishler Theatre, where the theater’s owner, Isaac Mishler, is often seen roaming the theater during productions, leaving a trail of cigar smoke behind him. Finally, end your trip at the Evans City Cemetery, where you can visit the graveyard—and recreate that epic opening scene—where "The Night of the Living Dead" was filmed.
Asheville, North Carolina, to Charleston, South Carolina
The Carolinas may be known for their beauty, but both states are also steeped in haunted history. Begin this route at Asheville, North Carolina’s Omni Grove Park Inn, where a young woman in a pink dress fell to her death sometime in the 1920s. Often seen by guests wearing a pink ball gown, the friendly Pink Lady is said to appear when children are around, and is known to try and hold their hands or tickle their toes. Next, head to Abbeville, South Carolina’s infamous Abbeville Opera House, and look up to the balcony, where you’ll find one chair that stands out from the rest of the building’s modern refurbishments. The chair is left there for the ghost of a young actress who died in the middle of a performance and is said to haunt the opera house to this day.
The city of Charleston has no shortage of hauntings. Your first stop should be the Old City Jail, where criminals deemed too dangerous for society were housed in the 1800s and are still said to wander to this day. Grab lunch at Poogans Porch, where multiple accounts of ghost sightings and bizarre happenings, such as water faucets, radios, and lights randomly turning on, are said to occur. Finally, end your trip at White Point Gardens, where numerous pirates were executed and buried in the nearby marsh. Visitors often report seeing ghostly orbs, feeling cold spots throughout the park, and seeing apparitions of pirates waiting for their ship to return.
San Antonio to El Paso
Begin your Texas trek at Woman Hollering Creek off Interstate 10. The creek is said to be haunted by the ghost of a woman who drowned her children and continues to walk the riverbanks, searching for them. Spend some time walking around and you may hear her loud wails of anguish—but don’t get too close to the water, as she may pull you in. Next, head to the haunted railroad track at the intersection of Shane and Villamin in San Antonio. In the late 1930s, a school bus was hit by a speeding train, killing 10 children and a bus driver. The crash’s only survivor drove to the train tracks to end her life out of guilt, but felt her car being pushed off the tracks before the next train came. It is said that anyone who parks their car on or near the railroad tracks will start to feel their vehicle being pushed away, as the children make sure no one meets their same fate.
In Marfa, head down Route 67 to experience the country’s most famous ghost lights. Discovered in the 1800s, visitors from all over Texas and beyond travel to see these glowing orbs that are often spotted floating over the town. While some attribute the lights to reflections of car headlights, others say that the lights are the remnants of UFOs or a sign of paranormal activity. Finally, drive to El Paso to experience the 16th century tale of La Llorona, the grief-stricken Mexican woman who drowned herself and her children in the Rio Grande. Visitors who have traveled to the river where she drowned report horrific wailing in the dead of night followed by an apparition of a woman in a white gown with long dark hair. Locals are warned against going near the river at night, fearing that the spirit may possess their bodies.
San Jose to Bodie State Historic Park
Northern California’s spookiest road trip begins at San Jose’s Winchester Mystery House, one of the most infamous haunted houses in America. Constructed by Sarah Winchester, the widow of the rifle’s inventor, it is said that anyone killed by a Winchester rifle haunts the house to take revenge on the family. Further up north in San Francisco, no haunted road trip is complete without a visit to one of America’s most well-known prisons, Alcatraz Island. Nicknamed The Rock, the former military fortress—surrounded by shark-infested waters—was used to confine some of history’s most dangerous criminals, including James “Whitey” Bulger, murderer Robert Stroud, and again, Al Capone. The prison is a hotbed of paranormal activity, with many employees reporting apparitions, floating lights, and freezing cold temperatures in several cells, even in the heights of summer.
Next, head to the Donner Pass Train Tunnels in Truckee. These abandoned former train tunnels were originally built in the 1860s and were named after the Donner Party, a group of explorers en route to California who were stranded in this region due to heavy snow and notoriously resorted to cannibalism for survival. Walking through the tunnels today, visitors report experiencing a cold and sinister atmosphere. End your trip in Bodie State Historic Park, nestled in the Basin Range of the Eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains. This once bustling mining hub from the 1800s was completely abandoned in 1915, when it became a ghost town. It is said that anyone who takes anything from the town, even something as small as a pebble, is cursed with bad luck until it’s returned.
Cheyenne, Wyoming, to Denver, Colorado
Begin your route at the Atlas Theater in Cheyenne, Wyoming. A National Historic Landmark, the theater has gained a state-wide reputation as a ghost hunter’s paradise, with reports of several ghosts haunting the second floor, as well as observations of moving objects, floating orbs, and the sound of voices when no one is around. Next, head to the St. Mark’s Episcopal Church bell tower, the site of a truly gruesome murder cover-up. Two Swedish workers hired to construct the tower disappeared here without a trace in the early 1900s. It was later revealed that one worker had slipped and fell to his death and the other, afraid of deportation, hid the man’s remains in the tower wall and fled town. To this day the church’s organ will play and bells will ring by themselves.
One of the best-known hotels in America due to its status as the inspiration behind the hotel in Stephen King’s "The Shining," The Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado, has fielded reports of paranormal activity since the 1970s. Guests at the hotel have experienced ghost sightings in almost every room, with closet doors opening and closing, lights flickering on and off, and apparitions following guests to their beds. If you’re brave enough to spend the night, get your camera ready and be prepared for some surprise guests appearing in the background of your selfie. Finally, back in Denver, take a break at Cheesman Park, one of the city’s most beloved green spaces. Few may know, however, that it was built over a cemetery for unclaimed bodies. Visitors to the park have reported sudden overwhelming feelings of sadness and despair, and have claimed to witness apparitions and shadows treading behind them during morning runs.
Los Angeles to Death Valley National Park
There’s no better place to kick off your southern California haunted road trip than the City of Angels. While it may be best known for the glitz and glamour of the entertainment industry, Los Angeles has a haunted past. Spooky spots include Pasadena’s Colorado Street Bridge, the site of hundreds of suicides, the Rosenheim Mansion, best known as the “Murder House” from "American Horror Story," and the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, where the ghosts of Old Hollywood are said to still hang out. The Hollywood sign itself has a dark history; in 1932, aspiring actress Peg Entwistle jumped off the “H” and reportedly haunts the sign’s surroundings to this day.
After exploring Los Angeles’s terrifying history, drive out to The Padre Hotel in Bakersfield for more ghostly encounters. A fire in the 1950s killed several children who have been spotted running through the halls to this day. Skeptics should check out the child-size handprint in the hotel’s cafe; it continues to reappear even after being painted over several times. End your trip at the beautiful Amargosa Opera House, located on the eastern outskirts of Death Valley National Park. There have been numerous reports of unexplained phenomena here, from strange smells, the sound of babies crying, and even a ghost cat that interrupts performances in the theater. The property also includes a hotel, sections of which used to be a morgue for miners during the Gold Rush. Nicknamed “Spooky Hollow,” visitors who explore its hallways report glowing orbs and a deeply eerie atmosphere.
Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to Omaha, Nebraska
This Midwestern journey begins in Milwaukee, at Shaker’s Cigar Bar, once operated by Al Capone as a speakeasy and brothel. Unsurprisingly, Capone’s shady dealings meant that many mobsters suddenly “disappeared” here, and visitors to this day have reported many run-ins with ghosts of those who lost their lives at the infamous bar. In 2001, human remains were found packed into the building’s walls. Next, head west to Cresco, Iowa, to the Cresco Theater & Opera House, where visitors have witnessed what appear to be apparitions of vaudeville performers on the stage. Another spooky figure has been spotted sitting in the theater while the lights are off, disappearing when anyone tries to approach.
One of the most infamous haunted houses in the midwest, Iowa’s Vilisca Axe Murder House was the site of the 1912 murder of eight people in their sleep—six of whom were children—by an unknown axe murderer. Today, visitors report hearing children laughing, doors opening and closing by themselves, and feelings of being pinched as they walk through the house. End your trip at Omaha’s Hummel Park, notoriously surrounded by spooky folklore and urban legends. The park has long been believed to be a hotbed of satanic activity, with the bodies of several missing persons being discovered there and visitors reportedly seeing spray-painted pentagrams on park property. Others say that the park is home to a colony of albino cannibals who have been spotted in the park’s dense woods. Even worse, a rickety staircase in the park is nicknamed the “Stairway to Hell,” and somehow always seems to have more steps to count going up than going down. The city of Omaha closes the park early from October to April to discourage Halloween enthusiasts from spending too much time there.