Ghost Stories of America’s National Parks

These haunting national park tales will make you think twice when the woods go bump in the night.

Photo by: Joe Sills

Joe Sills

By: Joe Sills
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Camp. There’s something reassuring about the word. It conjures memories of glowing fires, starlit nights and sleeping bags. Camping is something of a national pastime, after all—setting off into the woods with your best friends, or a parent, or alone. Most of us only make camp for a night or two, relying on the safety of a nylon tent and a rain fly to protect us overnight.

Despite the coyote’s howl or the glare of a midnight moon, we always rise a bit chilly, but no worse for the wear. And a morning flame soon brings hot black coffee to comfort our cold bones.

Camp is safe, after all. The woods are mysterious, but all sights and sounds have an explanation, we’re told.

Sometimes, what we’re told is wrong. Sometimes, the sounds that go bump in the night cannot be explained.

From the time the first American explorers set out into the woods, deserts and mountains that are now our national parks, we have been walking, hiking and camping on the footsteps of history. And sometimes, those footsteps return to camp to haunt us. Submitted for your approval, these are the ghost stories of America’s national parks.

Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park

Groups of people have been waiting to watch, experience and photograph this Old Faithful eruption just after sunset on a sunny early autumn day.

Photo by: iStockphoto/NoemiC

iStockphoto/NoemiC

The Old Faithful Inn has been a Yellowstone fixture since 1903. Located less than a mile from Old Faithful geyser, this 327-room hotel is home to the world’s largest timber structure…and a headless bride who refuses to leave.

In 1915, the Inn was a bristling wonder of the west. Few western attractions drew tourists from the east like its namesake geyser, and a young couple from New York pinned the Old Faithful Inn as the site for their honeymoon. As legend tells, the couple set off from the Big Apple with a substantial dowry, which the bride’s new husband quickly began to spend at bars and gambling halls from the Hudson River to the Colorado.

By the time they reached Wyoming, the couple were all but destitute. And the financial disaster resulted in violent arguments inside of room 127 at the Old Faithful Inn. One night, the husband stormed out, leaving a shocked hotel staff to tend to his bride.

After waiting several days to see the woman, the staff began to worry. And when a housekeeper went to investigate, she found the bloody body of the bride lying headless in the bathroom tub. Her head, later located by its pungent stench, was found rotting days later in the hotel’s crow’s nest.

In the 103 years after her murder, the bride’s headless ghost has been spotted by visitors and staff at the Old Faithful Inn, apparently wandering the stairs towards the crow’s nest, searching for her head.

Mammoth Cave National Park

Mammoth Cave National Park

Mammoth Cave National Park

Mammoth Cave, USA - March 26, 2015: Visitors attending ranger led cave tours within Mammoth Caves National Park.

Photo by: iStockphoto/sreenath_k

iStockphoto/sreenath_k

Kentucky’s Mammoth Cave National Park is home to the largest underground cavern system in the United States. Today, the 82-square-mile park is a draw for tourists, scout groups and spelunkers, hosting many overnight on five campsites.

And while Mammoth Cave is an idyllic wilderness retreat for many, during the American Civil War, the cave was mined as a source of saltpeter to make gunpowder. Mining is a dangerous business even today, but 1800s mining was an incredibly risky proposition. Tunnels, supported by wooden beams, often collapsed, and poisonous gases threatened the lives of hard men earning a hard living.

After the war, the ruins of the cave’s saltpeter mine soon became a destination for Victorian travelers—and according to Troy Taylor, author of more than 120 books on the paranormal, some of their spirits still linger. Taylor interviewed a Mammoth Cave National Park ranger nearly 15 years ago as research for his book, Down in the Darkness. The guide left him with a chilling tale:

One day, while leading a tour group through the cave, she paused to point out a passage. Waiting on her group to catch up, she looked back to count her flock. There, lingering far behind the group, she saw a man she hadn’t noticed when they set off—he was wearing what appeared to be a miner’s work clothes: denim pants, suspenders and a striped shirt.

As the tour continued, the man was never seen again.

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite valley at sunset, California, USA.

Photo by: iStockphoto/zorazhuang

iStockphoto/zorazhuang

The deep blue waters of Grouse Lake reward hikers in Yosemite National Park. Six miles from Upper Blue Lake Campground, a rocky trail gives way to a steep descent to 8,248 feet, where the shores of Grouse Lake often ripple in the California sun.

The wilderness lake is a favorite for backpackers, who often camp under the vast blanket of stars in the Sierra Nevada sky. At night, the flicker of flame is not an unusual sight, but for some campers, Grouse Lake produces some of the most unusual images they’ve ever seen.

Late at night, when the fires dwindle, campers have reported phantom cries coming from beneath its waters. They begin with a gurgle and crescendo into an unmistakable wail of despair—a cry for help, heard across time.

The legend of Grouse Lake goes back farther than Yosemite National Park itself, as its very first ranger, Galen Clark, learned one brisk night in 1857. Clark had spent the afternoon hiking near the lake, often hearing a mysterious wail that he believed to be a lost puppy. That night, he joined a band of Native Americans at a hunting camp and asked them about the sound.

What the hunters told him still resonates with hikers today: The sound was not a dog, they said, but the spirit of a boy who had drowned at the lake long ago. They dared not approach its shores, believing that the boy would grab them by the legs and pull them under to be drowned. Clark believed the noise to be an undiscovered waterfowl, but in his reports, he stated that the Native Americans fully believed the legend to be true.

Gettysburg National Battlefield

Gettysburg National Battlefield

Gettysburg National Battlefield

Ohio's Tribute monument to Carroll's Brigade on East Cementery Hill. This marks the spot where the 4th Ohio Infantry repelled an attack of the Confederate army. Photo captured near the entranced to the Evergreem Cemetery at 799 Baltimore St, in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania on July 5, 2013. This photograph consists of 5 exposures blended together using HDR Pro2 software to create a high dynamic range (HDR) image.

Photo by: iStockphoto/gnagel

iStockphoto/gnagel

The Devil’s Den carries a sinister name for good reason. It was here on a rocky stretch of Gettysburg National Battlefield that some of the Civil War’s most ferocious fighting occurred on July 2, 1863. It was here, amongst the boulders, that more than 2,500 casualties were recorded as Union and Confederate troops exchanged control of the terrain. After the battle, the boulders of the Devil’s Den were covered in blood, littered with the terrible carnage of artillery fire and hand-to-hand combat.

Today, the Devil’s Den could be mistaken for a picturesque portion of Pennsylvania countryside, but more than a century of reports say otherwise.

Gettysburg National Battlefield is regarded as one of the most haunted places in America. The town of Gettysburg and the nearby battlefields of the national park are teeming with tales, but the Devil’s Den is home to its highest concentration of spirits.

Since at least the 1880s, park visitors have reported the disembodied sounds of gunfire and war cries emanating from the Devil’s Den.

In the 1970s, a photographer reported the spirit of a shoeless man in shredded clothing approaching her on a morning shoot in front of the Den. The man looked at her, pointed, and said, “What you are looking for is over there.”

The woman turned to see where he pointed. When she turned back around, the man had vanished.

The mysterious man is still reported at the Devil’s Den to this day, often mistaken for a Civil War reenactor.

In the days of film photography, he would reportedly pose for photos but never appeared when the frames were developed. In modern times, photographers report unexplainable device failures in the area.

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