There’s nothing better than sitting under the stars with friends and family around a campfire, getting away from the normal hustle and bustle of everyday life by sharing a good horror story or two. But what if those stories turn out to be true? From strange encounters with smiling men who are not all they first seem to be, to terrified campers who stumble across ancient altars deep in the woods and ghostly footsteps that creep around in the dead of night.
Here are 15 true horror stories shared by hikers, campers and rangers who dared to venture into the wilderness and then into the beyond.
1. The Helpful Stranger
“When I was about 18 me and some friends took a road trip about seven hours or so down to the Apalachicola National Forest near Tallahassee FL. We were going to do a little car camping, drink a few ice cold Natty Lights. You know, 18-year-old stuff. As such we didn’t want to be bothered by any park rangers so we drove waaaay deep into the woods.
Got there, set up camp, had said Natty Lights, and me and a guy decided to go do a little exploring, so we walked about 100 yards from our site back to the main road, saw another path directly across from us, and started walking. Immediately we started seeing signs that someone had lived there for a while. Big bags of trash, stuff like that. Should have been a huge red flag to turn around. But you know. 18. Nothing could hurt us. So we get to this camp site of an older white guy living out of his van. Clothes lines strung up, coolers places around it, and a big gorgeous dog, I think maybe a golden retriever. We tried to back out, but he sees us and starts talking. He’s friendly enough, asks us where we’re from, tells us about some cool spots to check out in the park, we end up chatting for 10 minutes and going on our way. I kept thinking to myself how odd it was that he gave directions in steps, not yards or miles. Guy always seemed to be off balance. Not stumbling drunk, but like he was walking on a balance beam, swaying side to side. Oh and he was SUPER excited to talk about national parks and forests where we were from.
Ok. Camping part over. We went back to our tents. Fast forward two months, same buddy calls me late at night and tells me to turn on TV to the news, I oblige. I see an old dude with a van. You see where this is headed but I didn’t, so I get pissed at my friend for waking me up. “No, WATCH.” And then I see the golden retriever and it all clicks. What the fuck. That man’s name was Gary Michael Hilton, convicted of at least four murders. He kidnapped and murdered a girl on Blood Mountain, GA, an older couple in the Pisgah, NC, and a girl in the Apalachicola at that camp site not long after we left. Yes, the very same places he had been talking to us about.
Obviously, we call the cops, they put us in touch with the FBI, and we get flown down to take investigators to the camp site. Point out every spot we saw anything, tell them exactly what he told us, and show them the places he described to us. I didn’t find out until after the trial, but apparently they found what appear to be partially destroyed human finger bones in an area near the site.” – DrJimDanger
2. The Charred Altar
“A few summers ago I was canoeing in the Boundary Waters with some friends. A few days into our trip, at least two days of paddling from the nearest entry point, we found the creepiest campsite on an island. There was brand-new, abandoned camping equipment everywhere, like a sleeping bag and camping pad. Throughout the campsite sticks with the ends charred had been stuck in the ground. In the remains of the fire was a heavily charred toothbrush, along with the remains of a wallet, glasses, papers and some clothes. The creepiest part was near the edge, where a single petrified moose alter had been wedged between some boulders and surrounded by charred sticks in a circle.
We got the hell out of there and as far away as we could before night. One of the creepiest things I’ve ever seen, it looked straight out of a horror movie.” – Liivv
3. A Perfect Circle
“I was backpacking in the Beartooh Wilderness in early 2000’s with a good friend of mine. Three days into the hike, we had only seen one other couple. On the third night at about 4:00 A.M., we were awoken in our tent to what sounded like screams in the forest, big guttural screams. Obviously, we were freaked out sitting in the tent not knowing what was out there. We started hearing what sounded like hail for about 15 minutes followed by heavy footsteps near our camp. My friend and I started yelling and making tons of noise, and the commotion outside the tent slowly came to a halt.
In the morning, after not sleeping at all, we unzipped the tent to the creepiest scene: all around the tent were literally thousands of little pebbles that were not there the evening before. Surrounding the tent in a near perfect circle were 20 or so 150 to 300-pound boulders. My friend and I hopped out of there making a three-day hike into one, practically running the entire way to the car.” – I_hate_NY
4. The Last Campsite
“When I was young my dad lived in an old log cabin about 15 miles west of Sheridan, WY in the foothills of the Bighorn Mountains. Every summer when I was visiting we would go up into the mountains backpacking and fishing for two days every weekend. We would park the truck, hike into a remote area fishing for trout along the way and make camp wherever we ended up. We encountered a number of strange/creepy things and got into some scary situations with wildlife but the one that sticks with me the most was an ancient abandoned camp we found.
We were hiking down a very steep slope to get to an area of a creek that had been dammed up by beavers, hoping to catch some big trout. I had climbed out on a rock ledge and was looking for a way down when I saw the stock and action of an old rusty rifle sticking out of a tree (where the tree had grown around the barrel years before) about 10 feet above the ground. Dad and I climbed down to check it out and we found a small cave at the base of the rock formation, only about 12 feet deep, which would make a nice natural shelter but a really terrible place to set up a long term camp.
Inside we found a bunch of really old stuff; three heavy gauge unopened cans of food, an old cast iron pot that had holes rusted all the way through it, a crusty old saddle and bridle set, and a very deteriorated heavy wool blanket rolled up and tied with a leather belt. When we unwrapped the blanket we found several personal items including a rusty old cap and ball black powder revolver, a leather satchel with lead pistol shot, a powder horn with no black powder in it, tarnished old cartridges (presumably for the rifle in the tree), a straight razor, and most unsettling was a shirt with holes in it and over half of it stained with dried blood. As we stood there thinking about what all of this meant it occurred to me how remote this place was even at that time (it was July of 1985) and the fact that whoever owned that shirt had been very seriously injured, stuck on a steep slope in the middle of absolutely nowhere I got serious chills down my spine.
The only thing that somewhat dated this fateful campsite was the pistol and the rifle, both of which were made sometime in the 1870’s according to my father. There’s no way to ever know what happened to the man who owned all this stuff but the fact that he or someone he knew was obviously shot twice with either a gun or arrows and all his belongings were sitting right where he left them possibly 100 years later, it was highly unlikely he left that area alive. Discovering what amounts to a 100-year-old crime scene in the very remote wilderness kinda gave me the creeps. But mostly, it just made me sad to know how hopeless and alone this guy must have felt when he died.” – Camo_Panda
5. The Cave Full of Bones
“A few years ago, I was backpacking in Eastern Washington with some friends of mine. I don’t know how well you guys know Eastern Washington, but it’s pretty much dust, sagebrush, and dirt. We decided to hike up on to the top of this canyon, and from up there, you could see miles and miles of nothing. After a few hours of traversing the top of the cliff, we eventually found a little crevasse that kind of took us underground into a pretty decently sized cave.
The cave was filled with little bones, like mice and bats. In one of the corners of the cave, there was a rock fixture that jutted up from the ground and almost made a separate “room.” In the room, we found lots of scratches on the walls, photographs, and three bottles with notes in them. While this was kind of off-putting on its own, we figured it was just some sort of joke, and we’d find silly S.O.S. notes in the bottles.
The scariest part about it all was the photographs were super ordinary, of families and normal people, and two of the notes in the bottles made no sense at all. While it was English, it was pretty much straight gibberish. None of the words made sense in context with the other words. The third bottle had a super ordinary letter talking about what they’ve been up to like something you’d send to a fairly distant relative after not talking with them for a while.
I don’t really know what to think of it all. I feel like it could easily have been someone just joking around, but it was almost too strange for that.” – NocturneLark
6. Rocks Thrown at the Tent
“I once went camping up in Allegheny National Forest. Me and some buddies were all sitting around a fire bullshitting. As it got a bit later, we kept hearing things landing on the ground all around us. There were rocks being thrown at our tents and towards the fire. Nothing too absurd, could’ve been some hooligans at a nearby campsite. But looking around the area we saw nothing. Anyway, it eventually stopped and we went to our tents. A few hours later we heard this ear-piercing noise that sounded like a woman screaming while running through our campsite, but much raspier.
It was a pretty unsettling experience, needless to say, but nothing more came of it.” – AlexDr0ps
7. Lights in the Sky
“My family and I were camping on a lake in central Texas on a week with very few people around. Our spot was on the edge of the camp next to the woods and very close to the edge of the lake. We were playing Pictionary by the campfire the first night we were there when I see a light go by over the lake.
I didn’t think much of it and was still focusing on the game when another one went by at the same speed following the same line. At that point I felt a little bit strange, but still wasn’t too worried about it. After that another went by and now I point it out and my dad said he noticed it as well. We walk out past the campfire and campground lights to get a better view of what these were. They continued to fly by over the lake going the same speed and staying the exact same distance from each other.
They were reddish yellow orbs and there was no sound coming from them. Now my whole family is watching in awe and disbelief. After about 15 go by the last one was chased by a white ball of light that was much closer than the rest. We didn’t talk about it much after discussing what it could be, but when we got back home from the trip my mom looked it up and saw that people in a town a few miles from our campsite reported seeing the same thing exactly the way we saw it.” – _TX_
“I had been out stargazing and was sleeping out in a park near town–no tent, just a sleeping bag and pad. This was a fairly popular area for joggers, walkers, etc. I had found a nice spot in a field few hundred meters from the top, obscured by tall grass and brush, but with a nice view of the valley below and mountains in the distance. It was very nice! I saw some shooting stars, heard coyotes singing in the distance, and slept very well since it was a warm summer night.
In the morning, at the crack of dawn, I was woken up by one of the strangest performances I’ve ever witnessed. Above me on the hill, I could hear some kind of chanting. Due to my concealed location, I couldn’t actually see what was going on, and I wasn’t keen on moving to a better vantage point lest I be seen by the group. A man’s loud and deep voice was half chanting, half shouting in a language I couldn’t identify. It sounded like a Latin-derived language, but was definitely not Spanish though he kept repeating a word which sounded similar to “diablo” (Spanish for the devil). There were other voices too, but he was clearly leading whatever was happening up there.
Eventually, he finished his chant, and there were some cheers and whoops, and then the entire group silently departed. After waiting a while to make sure it was clear, I went up to where the sound had come from–there was no physical evidence of whatever had happened. I asked everybody I knew in town if they had any idea what it might have possibly been, and nobody had heard anything like it. To this day, one of my greatest regrets is not peeking out of my hiding spot to see what the heck was going on.” – nrhinkle
9. Mysterious Rescuer
“My family used to camp in Algonquin Park in Ontario when I was a kid. We used to do a lot of the day hikes with our dog. The dog was a crazy runner, and would run up and down the trail, back and forth between my parents and my brother and me.
This one trail ended at a lookout. My brother and I stopped to take in the view, and my dog arrived, seconds later, travelling at full speed. He attempted to apply the brakes, but the momentum carried him right over the edge. We freaked out. Our dog had just gone over a cliff, and it was a good 50 or 60 foot drop.
I ventured over to the edge to look. My dog had somehow landed on the one ledge that sat about 10 feet down. Shit. Now what? Any movement, and my dog would fall the rest of the way down. It was a shear face, and no way to get down.
OUT OF THE BLUE, from the trail behind, appears a hiker WITH FULL CLIMBING GEAR. Algonquin is not an area known for a lot of climbing. I’ve never seen anyone before or since with gear on that trail. This guy belayed down, rescued my dog, packed up and left. He didn’t even stick around long enough to get his name. To all intents and purposes, he just returned to the trail and vanished.” – Anonymous
10. The Shaking
“He had taken his young son for a father and son type hike out of Skagway. If any of you are familiar with Skagpatch, there is quite a network of trails above town at lower Dewey lakes.
So, it’s evening, dinner done, tent up, bed time. Sometime later, around midnight, he’s woken up by the tent shaking violently, then silence. Then again. Keep in mind its late August, and pitch black, I mean as pitch black as you can get under the heavy coastal rain forest with no moon.
This shaking kept up for over an hour. He had no idea what it was. He went out with his headlamp, yelled, and heard nothing. Would go back in the tent, then it would start up again. He could hear footsteps whenever it happened.
He was pretty shaken up by the next morning as you could imagine.
He reported it to the troopers, and the only thing they could come up with was someone with a night vision set up messing around. Or something else…” – Yukoner
11. The Footsteps
“Two tents, next to each other about five feet apart, in the middle of the mountains. Had my three little brothers in one tent and me and my girlfriend in the other.
It’s night time and we have just put the fire out, so its dark. Everyone is in their respective tents snoozing off into dreamland. About an hour later im the only one awake just day dreaming.
Suddenly I hear soft human-like footsteps circling our tents over and over. Confused, I ask whose there with no response but continued footsteps so I stepped outside.
No one, footsteps stop. I go back into my tent. Footsteps start again … I make my presence known and go back out. No one, footsteps stop. Of course, I check on my brothers but they are asleep and sound. I repeat this same process about four to five more times believe it or not, lol. Footsteps always stopped. Ended up just going to sleep to the footsteps and not giving a fuck.
When morning came I asked my brothers how they slept and they responded with “Fine, except for you walking, loudly, all around the god damn campsite all night!”” – Itsnotoveryetdamnit
12. The Stickmen
“Six hours walk through thick brush to the nearest passable road. Age 14, maybe 15, hiking and camping with two fellow Boy Scouts and an adult. We made camp for the night, had a cold dinner because it was too wet to scavenge firewood, and all turned in early.
Even in the woods, there are noises. Frogs, owls, small game, and every sort of bug. My tent-mate and I awoke at the same time, maybe 3:00 A.M., to hear nothing outside. Absolute ear-straining silence, like a woolen blanket wrapped around the head. After a few minutes, the bugs started chirping again and we went back to sleep.
When we woke up in the morning, we found that five of the pine trees surrounding our little clearing had been connected in a star shape with scraped lines, and pinned to each one was a stick-man. Like the ones from The Blair Witch. The leader and his son (occupants of the other tent) accused us of f***ing with them, but we both knew it wasn’t us. That’s a story nobody believes. I mean, who would believe the alibis of two kids?
I’ll never camp without the safety of a large group and nearby civilization ever again.” – awesomeificationist
13. The Cackle of Witches
“I went camping in Big Sur, CA with one of my best friends. It was off-season and a Sunday night, so the place was practically empty. We picked a campsite about a half-mile walk to the ocean. It was in a huge open field surrounded by a lush forest. In the background were Limestone Mountains and you could hearing the crashing of the ocean’s waves. Very epic.
We spend the night around a campfire telling stories and eating. We’re both pretty experienced backpackers too—we are VERY diligent in ensuring we do not leave any trace of food by our site, and almost everything other than our essentials goes in the bear bag/box. I have my dog with me too (she’s ADA, so she was allowed on the site)—she’s leashed around one of the few trees in the field on a long metal leash and full harness. It’s a full moon out, and it was pouring beautiful blue light across the field. It was absolutely pristine and breathtaking.
Around 1:00 A.M., something spooks my dog. Now, she is used to the woods and has an incredibly calm demeanor. But, I mean, she is FLIPPING out, tugging hard on the leash like she is desperate to escape … and she does: she pulls so hard that her harness snaps and she goes bolting across the field into the wilderness. I lose my cool. I drop everything and bolt after her. I’m not thinking straight running into the woods at night: my only concern was getting her even if it meant risking my own safety.
I rescue her. I find her curled up in a random clearing in the woods, looking ashamed and terrified. Thank God she ran in a straight line, otherwise I would have been totally lost. I walk back carrying her and my heart is pounding furiously at the horror of the idea of her being lost in the wilderness forever. The thought now is still unbearable. I can feel her heart pounding too in my arms—she’s still terrified.
I’m no longer in a great mood. We all head to bed in my tent, but my dog won’t lay down. She refuses. Her ears are up and she’s staring intensely at the tent wall, as if she could see through it and she’s tracking something. It takes a while for my nerves to calm down from my chase earlier. I’m working hard at taking deep breaths and reminding myself that I’m prepared for anything that I could encounter. That my dog is simply spooked from maybe a raccoon. Maybe she’s just exhausted and acting up. And then I hear it: cackling. Like a high-pitched laughter that is full of a disgusting type of joy and it’s coming from outside my tent. Fuck deep breathing: my senses go on high alert, my body tenses up so tightly it’s like I’m about to break in half. I can’t even breathe.
And then I hear even more cackling, like a group of witches were doing something evil just yards away. It fills my hearing: laughing and laughing and more laughing. It’s loud and it just sounds so wrong. I can’t even bring myself to move to look at my friend. It’s like my entire body has given up. The laughs are then followed up with blood curling screams. It honestly sounded like somebody was being murdered: it was full of panic and horror and sadness.
It could have been wolves or coyotes killing their prey. But it sounded so distinctly human—the laughter, the sobbing, the screams. Finally my friend says something: “What. What the fuck?” I even begin to laugh a little because the situation was so intense and wild, I had no idea how else to react. “I can’t handle this,” I say, and suggest that we bolt for the car. It’s a mile away, so we decide to stay out. We just listen to the laughter and screaming until it fades away. Even when it was over, I didn’t bother going to bed.” – rylodo
14. Negative Filmstrips
“I was backpacking in Yellowstone above the tree line at about 10,500 feet. We are hiking on a ridge above a lake when all of a sudden we come across a horse skull. No body, just the skull.
We get to our campsite not to far away from the lake near where we found the horse skull. When we climb down to the lake, we find the body of the horse rotting on the edge of the lake with negative film strips floating in the water and laying around the shore near the body.” – orilykid
15. Shadow in the Moonlight
“I’m not convinced there is an after-life, or such a thing as ghosts, or demons… but I once saw something in the woods that felt so unnatural it made me second guess how I see the world.
I was hiking up a hillside, thick with trees, in the middle of the night during a long weekend. Some friends and I decided we would hike to the top of the hill and light off some fireworks. Approaching the hill and surrounding the base of this hill was a rolling grass valley. It was around midnight–full moon and light mist. Straight out of a horror movie! Strange part was I wasn’t nervous, or scared or anything. I was having a great night with my buddies. I didn’t have ANY of my defenses up. My buddies and I just hiked in a straight line through the rolling grass valley approaching the hill—when something caught my eye.
On my right I saw a tall shadowy figure standing perfectly upright on the top of small grassy hill. It was standing there right next to a large dead tree. I couldn’t make out any details–both the tree and the tall figure where silhouetted under the moonlight. The strange part was seeing this figure didn’t scare me, I didn’t immediate sense any threat–I almost assumed it might’ve been just another hiker or somebody having a smoke.
I passively turned my flashlight on it and that’s when it happened.
In an instant as my light hit that spot where this figure was standing, it INSTANTLY moved just outside of the range of my flashlight. Like it teleported or something. But just as vividly as I saw it standing in its initial spot, as my light hit that spot and the figure moved, I could see it standing just outside the range of my light.
My breath paused as a wave of dread washed over me, something felt 100% unnatural about what just happened. As a reflex I moved my light to the new spot where the figure was and as my light passed it, it disappeared.
I’ve never passed out in my entire life, not from heat, not from getting knocked out–never. But in that moment I felt my knees give away from under me and I just fell to the ground.
My friends turned and looked at my trying to pick myself up and my knees were too wobbly to stand. They helped me and I tried explaining to them what I experienced. I’m willing to bet it was all just light/shadows playing games with my eyes. But I’ll never be able to explain that sensation I felt of feeling like I had just seen something I shouldn’t have seen, something so unnatural that my body’s instinctual reaction to it was to go limp.” – michaellaicini
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