8 Creepiest Places in U.S. National Parks

Overcast sky over a rocky landscape with a single tree and sparse stone monuments
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America's national parks are full of beauty and natural wonders, but they're also home to many things that can strike fear in the hearts of hesitant hikers: dark caverns, wild animals and complete isolation. For the most part, there's nothing to fear, but if you're looking to add a little spooky spice to your next outdoor adventure, check out these parks. Local legends, historic hauntings and creepy creatures make these national parks the perfect places for a hike — no matter the time of year.

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Mammoth Cave

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With more than 150 documented paranormal events, the caverns at Mammoth Cave National Park have been called "the most haunted natural wonder in the world." Rangers have reported seeing apparitions resembling slave guides who led cave tours before the Civil War, but the most frequent sighting is of Stephan Bishop, a slave whom the National Park Service website describes as "one of the greatest explorers Mammoth Cave has ever known." Bishop, who's buried in the Old Guide Cemetery not far from the cave, is often seen during the Violet City Lantern Tour, when rangers take visitors through caverns lit only with kerosene lamps.

During the 1800s, Mammoth Cave briefly served as a tuberculosis hospital, and visitors can see the remains of the "consumptive cabins" where patients stayed. Outside one of the cabins is a slab of stone where the bodies of dead patients were place before burial. Today it's known as Corpse Rock, a place where some people claim to have heard phantom coughing.

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Devil's Den, Gettysburg National Battlefield

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With 51,000 casualties, Gettysburg was the site of the Civil War's bloodiest battle. Reports of ghostly soldiers are common here, especially at Devil's Den, a boulder-strewn hill that was used by artillery and infantry. The most common sighting is that of a barefoot ghost wearing a floppy hat who is known as "The Hippie" and is thought to be a member of the 1st Texas Infantry. Those who have met the spirit report that he always says the same thing while pointing toward Plum Rum: "What you're looking for is over there." Those who claim to have photographed the ghost say that his image doesn't appear in pictures, and Devil's Den is known for causing cameras and other electronic equipment to malfunction.

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Norton Creek Trail, Great Smoky Mountains

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The misty ridges of the Great Smoky Mountains are home to many ghost stories, but few are as terrifying as the Cherokee legend of Spearfinger. According to legend, the witch had a long, sharp finger made of stone, and she walked the Smokies' trails disguised as an elderly woman and lured children who wandered too far from their village. She'd hold the children and sing them to sleep and then used her stone finger to cut out their livers, which she would eat. There’s also the tale of a settler who was murdered on the north shore of Lake Fontana while looking for his daughter, and lost hikers have reported a mysterious light that leads them back.

If you want to see the lights yourself — and walk the mountains where Spearfinger was said to live — hike the Norton Creek Trail, which will lead you past several cemeteries. An old roadbed, the trail is still used during "Decoration Days" when the families of the cemeteries' dead come to decorate the graves.

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Batona Trail, New Jersey Pinelands

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Since the 1700s, there have been thousands of reported sightings of the Jersey Devil in the New Jersey Pinelands. Described as a kangaroo-like creature with the head of a dog, bat-like wings, horns and a forked tail, the animal is said to prowl through the marshes of Southern New Jersey and spook people with its hideous appearance. Residents of cities near the Pinelands have reported hearing the devil’s screams late at night. For the best chance of glimpsing the Jersey Devil, hike a section of the Batona Trail, a 49-mile route that ventures deep into the creature's habitat.

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Star Dune, Great Sand Dunes National Park

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The park that’s home to North America's tallest sand dunes is also a flying saucer hotspot. More than 60 UFO sightings have been reported in and around Great Sand Dunes National Park, and the region made national headlines in the 1970s with a rash of cattle mutilations that continue today. If you can't make it to the nearby UFO Watchtower, the top of the 750-foot Star Dune provides the best view for UFO spotting.

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Bloody Lane, Antietam National Battlefield

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This Maryland park was home to the bloodiest one-day battle in American history. On Sept. 17, 1862, 23,000 soldiers were killed, wounded or missing after the 12-hour Battle of Antietam, which ended the Confederate Army's first invasion into the North. Today, the sunken road known as Bloody Lane is said to be haunted by the soldiers who lost their lives. Witnesses have reported hearing phantom gunfire, shouting and singing, and some have even claimed to see soldiers in Confederate uniforms who abruptly vanish.

Visitors, park rangers and Civil War re-enactors have experienced strange phenomena at several other Antietam National Battlefield sites, including Burnside Bridge. They've reported seeing blue balls of light moving through the air and hearing phantom drumbeats. According to historians, many fallen soldiers were buried beneath the bridge.

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Transept Trail, Grand Canyon

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Park rangers and visitors have reported seeing the Grand Canyon’s "Wailing Woman" who's said to haunt the North Rim. According to legend, the woman committed suicide in the nearby lodge during the 1920s after learning that her husband and son had died in a hiking accident. Dressed in a white dress printed with blue flowers, she floats along the Transept Trail between the lodge and the campground on stormy nights, crying and moaning over the family she lost to the canyon.

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Grouse Lake, Yosemite National Park

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Hikers who visit Yosemite's Grouse Lake via the Chilnualna Falls Trail often report hearing a distinct wailing cry like the sound of a puppy. According to Native American folklore, the sound is the cry of an Indian boy who drowned in the lake. Legend has it that he calls to hikers for their help, but anyone who ventures into the lake will be pulled under and drowned.

But the wailing boy isn't the park's only deadly spirit. The Miwok Indians believed Yosemite's waterfalls were haunted by an evil wind called Po-ho-no, which entices people to the edge of the falls and then pushes them over the edge. In 2011, three hikers plunged to their deaths from the top of Yosemite's Vernal Falls.