By: Caitlyn Morton …..
Thanks to fairy tales and legends of the Blair Witch variety, a dense, dark forest can elicit feelings of dread—we’d argue that (even seemingly) haunted forests are some of the eeriest places on Earth. And while most spooky moments can be chalked up to our campfire imaginations running wild, some places around the world carry legitimately terrifying histories that are much harder to brush off with a nervous laugh. From woods said to have high-pitched screams echoing through the trees, to extra-creepy cemeteries in the woods, these 19 haunted forests are certainly not for the faint of heart.
Elfin Forest, California
The community of Elfin Forest sounds like it belongs in the world of Tolkien, even though it lies just southwest of Escondido in San Diego County. How fitting, then, that it is crawling with tall tales, myths, and stories of haunted spirits and goblins. Legend has it that Romani people used to occupy Elfin Forest in the early 19th century, until nearby townsfolk drove them out and slaughtered those that remained behind. Supposedly, they exacted revenge by cursing the forest and its surrounding lands. Today, people have claimed to see all kinds of eerie apparitions, like a floating woman dressed in white, a cloaked spirit riding a black stallion, and mysterious footprints.
Highgate Cemetery, London, U.K.
This lush and leafy north London garden, fictionalized in Bram Stoker’s Dracula as Kingstead Churchyard, has a pleasantly eccentric roll call of notable graves, including those of Karl Marx and Douglas Adams. And while it remains one of London’s least-visited landmarks, those who do enter its gates come seeking ghostly encounters as much as celebrity headstones.
The site was established in the mid-1800s and became neglected and unattended by the end of WWII, the overgrown vegetation and crumbling monuments only upping the fear factor. Then in the 1970s, after appearing as a filming location in several horror movies, Highgate reached a surge in popularity—namely among self-proclaimed vampire hunters. Many visitors claimed to see a creature hovering over the graves (a vampire, presumably), and stories of grave robbing began appearing in the news. The so-called vampire hunters would open tombs to drive wooden stakes into the corpses’ chests, or steal the corpses and relocate them to random places (including the car of one of the cemetery’s neighbors!). To this day, Highgate remains a go-to spot for enthusiasts of all things fanged and occult.
Hoia-Baciu Forest, Romania
From the moment a military technician captured a photograph of a UFO hovering over this forest in 1968, Hoia-Baciu has gained paranormal notoriety around the world. The area has become known as the “Bermuda Triangle of Transylvania,” as some believe it to be a portal that causes visitors to disappear. Other people who have passed through the forest (without being zapped into another realm, that is) reported rashes, nausea, and feelings of anxiety. The curved trees in some parts of the area further lend to the off-putting aura of Hoia-Baciu.
The Black Forest, Germany
Hardly any sunlight breaks through the dense fir trees of the Black Forest, and the myths surrounding these woods are more fantastical than paranormal: A headless horseman riding on a great white steed, a king who kidnaps women to take them to his underwater lair where he lives among the nymphs, friendly dwarves, and lurking werewolves. Is it any wonder the Brothers Grimm set so many of their fairy tales here?
The Island of the Dolls, Xochimilco, Mexico
Despite its status as a World Heritage site (along with Mexico City, it’s a well-preserved example of Aztec life), Xochimilco has reached a certain amount of internet fame for its Isla de las Munecas, or the Island of the Dolls. Hidden among the area’s many canals, the site is famous for the hundreds of dolls—and doll parts—hanging from trees and scattered among the grass. The chinampa (akin to an artificial island) used to be the residence of a now-deceased man named Julian Santa Barrera. After finding a dead girl’s body in a nearby canal, Barrera collected and displayed the toys in the hopes of warding off evil spirits, reports National Geographic. Today, the island is believed to be haunted by the ghost of the drowned girl, and local legend even states that the dolls have been heard whispering to each other, moving their heads and arms, and opening their eyes.
Pine Barrens, New Jersey
The heavily forested Pine Barrens spans over one million acres and seven counties in New Jersey. The area thrived during the colonial era, host to sawmills, paper mills, and other industries. People eventually abandoned the mills and surrounding villages when coal was discovered to the west in Pennsylvania, leaving behind ghost towns—and, some say, a few supernatural wanderers. The most popular Pine Barrens resident is without a doubt the Jersey Devil. According to legend, the creature was born in 1735 to Deborah Leeds—her thirteenth child—with leathery wings, a goat’s head, and hooves. It flew up the Leeds’ chimney and into the Barrens, and it has been killing livestock and creeping out South Jersey residents ever since.
Wychwood Forest, Oxfordshire, England
Yet another English creep-fest, Wychwood Forest’s air of mystery stems from the story of Amy Robsart, the wife of the Earl of Leicester. Robsart mysteriously broke her neck and died in 1560; years later, her husband encountered her ghost in Wychwood while on a hunting trip. Her spirit told the Earl that he would join her in the afterlife in just a few days. As promised, he fell ill shortly after the encounter and quickly died. Local legend says that anyone who encounters the ghost of Amy in Wychwood Forest will befall the same fate as the dearly departed Earl of Leicester.
Yosemite National Park, California
Yosemite National Park is beloved for its epic waterfalls and giant sequoia groves, but there are areas of the park that might give you a different kind of goosebumps. For example, some visitors who have hiked the Chilnualna Falls Trailhead reported hearing the distinct sound of someone crying. Native American folklore attributes the cries to a boy who drowned in nearby Grouse Lake—his spirit calls out for help, but any hikers who venture into the lake will get pulled under and drown. Another Native American legend claims that some of the waterfalls in the park are haunted by an evil wind that draws people to the edge of the falls and then blows them off the cliff.
Aokigahara Forest, Japan
This seemingly serene forest at the foot of Mount Fuji has a tormented past. Colloquially known as “Suicide Forest,” Aokigahara has had the world’s second-highest rate of suicides after the Golden Gate Bridge: In 2010 alone, 247 people attempted to take their own lives here, and 54 of them were successful. Some blame this trend on the forest’s association with demons in Japanese mythology. Others point towards the density of the trees, which muffles sound and makes it easy to get lost. In fact, many hikers will mark their path with tape or string to make it easier to find their way back out again. The sprinkling of clothing and letters left throughout the labyrinthine woods gives Aokigahara that extra touch that will leave you in a cold sweat. (If you are having thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK) or go to SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for a list of additional resources.)
Cameron Park, Texas
Waco’s Cameron Park has several spots that are reported to be paranormal hot zones, including Jacob’s Ladder, a treacherous set of stairs haunted by a “grabbing ghost” who tug on climbers’ clothes to pull them down. But perhaps the most well-known site is the Witch’s Castle—a name given to crumbling ruins found deep in the park. According to one story surrounding the “castle” (and there are many), the ruins are the former house of a woman suspected of witchcraft in the late 1800s. Waco residents blamed the woman after people began disappearing in the surrounding woods, so they formed a mob and burned down her house while she was still inside. Some people claim to see the witch’s figure wandering through Cameron Park today, even chasing down some unlucky visitors.
Dering Woods, Smarden, England
The Dering Woods are commonly referred to as “the Screaming Woods” or, you know, a perfect place to host your next family camping trip. Visitors report hearing blood-curdling screams coming from the forest’s depths at night as well as footsteps and whispers on foggy days. The screams are often attributed to a highwayman who was captured and killed by villagers in the 18th century, and whose ghost apparently still holds quite the grudge. Others believe the hauntings are the result of a 1948 massacre, where 20 people were supposedly found dead in the forest the morning of November 1. Residents reported seeing strange lights emanating from the woods that Halloween night and autopsies of the bodies couldn’t determine a cause of death.
Freetown-Fall River State Forest, Massachusetts
The Freetown State Forest sits smack dab in the “Bridgewater Triangle,” an area in southeastern Massachusetts swarming with paranormal activity—roaming specters, UFO encounters, and even Bigfoot sightings. Some believe that the forest’s haunted history dates back to colonial times, when settlers purchased the land (sacred burial grounds included) from the Wampanoag Tribe. The transaction is said to have cursed the area, which has since been the site of satanic cult rituals and murders in the 1970s and 80s, as well as comparatively innocuous poltergeist and fireball sightings more recently.
Dow Hill Forest, India
Located in the West Bengal town of Kurseong, the Dow Hill Victoria Boys’ School is known as one of the most haunted places in India; locals claim to hear footsteps echoing through the halls when the school is closed from December to March. But it is the surrounding forest that garners the most paranormal attention. The wooded area is rumored to be the site of several murders, and woodsmen have reported seeing a headless boy wandering among the trees and along the path between the school and forest, appropriately named “Death Road.”
Devil’s Tramping Ground, North Carolina
Deep in the North Carolina woods, about 50 miles south of Greensboro, is a mysterious circle where no plant or tree will grow, nor any animals cross its path. The reason? The 40-foot clearing is where the devil comes to stomp and dance every night—at least according to local legends. The area has built up quite the eerie reputation over the years, with people claiming to see red eyes glowing there at night and placing their belongings in the circle in the evening, only to find them thrown back out the next morning (presumably so the devil can clear his dance floor).
Pokaini Forest, Latvia
There’s nothing particularly strange about Pokaini Forest at first glance—until you notice the mysterious heaps of moss-covered rocks. These piles are strewn randomly throughout the forest, causing much speculation and folk tales among visitors. Some claim that the forest is an old site for pagan rituals, and it now has the mystic ability to heal people—visitors even bring offerings to the stones to enhance their powers. Other visitors attribute more sinister qualities to the forest, believing it to be a gateway to a parallel universe. There are reports of people suffering and even dying shortly after leaving the woods, and locals warn that stealing a rock will end in a stint of bad luck.
Manchac Swamp, Louisiana
New Orleans is filled to the brim with ghost stories, so it makes sense that Manchac Swamp, located less than an hour outside of the city, is said to be haunted. According to legend, a voodoo princess named Julie White used to live in the swamp and dole out curses to those who wronged her. One of her most menacing premonitions was that a cataclysmic disaster would occur when she died—sure enough, a massive hurricane hit the area on the day of White’s funeral in 1915. Her ghost supposedly haunts the swamp to this day, as well as a rougarou (sort of like a Cajun werewolf). If that’s not enough to scare you, maybe the very real population of alligators in the swamp waters will.
Epping Forest, Essex, England
The size and density of Epping Forest have made it a popular hideout for criminals and an infamous burial spot for bodies. Notorious highwayman Dick Turpin hid there in the early 1700s, and more than a dozen murder victims have been discovered in the woods since the 1960s. It’s no surprise then that the forest has developed a reputation for spooky sounds and ghostly apparitions (including Turpin himself). Some people also claim that if you drive to Hangman’s Hill and park in neutral, your car will slowly be pulled uphill. Even if you don’t believe in the myths, just the appearance of the woods is likely to send a chill up your spine. The pollarded trees haven’t been cut since the late 1800s (thanks to the Epping Forest Act of 1878), giving them an unusually overgrown and bulbous look.
Yawata no Yabushirazu, Japan
Located less than 30 minutes from downtown Tokyo, the bamboo forest of Yawata no Yabushirazu (sometimes referred to as just Yawata) is reportedly one of the most haunted places in Japan—and that’s saying something. Rather than traditional ghost sightings, the stories about Yawata center around the belief that anyone who enters the forest gets spirited away (yep, just like the movie) and never seen again. The origins of the forest’s sinister nature vary depending on who you ask, with theories ranging from samurai ghosts to poisonous gas. Whatever the case, locals take these stories seriously—a fence currently surrounds Yawata, barring anyone from setting foot inside.
Angelina National Forest, Tennessee
Back in the early 1900s, Angelina National Forest was home to a thriving sawmill town of over 1,000 people. The mill was sadly a beacon for disaster, getting hit by a hurricane in 1911 and then by a fire in 1914. Residents soon abandoned the area, leaving behind a tiny ghost town. The abandoned site is eerie in and of itself (as ghost towns are wont to be), but rumors of the paranormal up that creepiness factor a few notches. Hikers have claimed to hear the disembodied screams of a young woman, a former resident of the town who was killed in a freak accident while visiting her boyfriend at the sawmill. A few people have even spotted her ghost wandering around the dilapidated mill.