Surviving the night someplace cursed is the ultimate thrill for Halloween fiends. Haunted houses, abandoned asylums, and old penitentiaries are among the obvious choices. While creaky floorboards and leaky pipes are enough to put anyone on edge come October, there’s something even scarier than being trapped between four haunted walls: weathering the elements and lingering spirits out in the open air. For a bone-chilling challenge this Halloween, trade in a couple of nights at a haunted hotel for your very own Blair Witch experience. These are the seven most haunted campgrounds in the United States to pitch your tent — if you dare.
1. Holy Ghost Campground, New Mexico
One would expect a campground called Holy Ghost to be inhabited by a spirit or two. This legendary haunt in New Mexico’s Santa Fe National Forest delivers: Rumor has it that a Catholic priest has stalked the grounds since the 17th century. Competing theories posit that the priest either slaughtered or was slaughtered by the area’s Native Pueblo people in a fight for their land. In the centuries since, reports of spine-tingling activity at the site have snowballed, from paranormal sightings to real-life disappearances. Apparitions aside, religious or otherwise, the Holy Ghost Campground is a memorable place to sleep in view of the rugged Pecos Mountains about an hour east of Santa Fe. Just ignore that shadowy figure in your periphery.
2. Antietam Creek Campsite, Maryland
The Battle of Antietam was the Civil War’s bloodiest. In a single day, more than 23,000 soldiers were wounded or killed at Antietam Creek near Sharpsburg, MD. Battlefield sites like Bloody Lane, where some of the most brutal casualties occurred, can only be described as haunting. Some even say they’re haunted. At the nearby Antietam Creek Campsite, historical horror buffs can one-up war reenactors by spending a night with Antietam’s actual soldiers, or their ghosts anyway. Campers have reportedly seen undead soldiers, heard phantom gunfire, and experienced other military activity at the campsite, which sits right beside the Potomac River in Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park.
3. Hermit Park, Colorado
Fans of The Shining will recognize The Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, CO, as the inspiration behind Stephen King’s bestseller. Fewer know the legend of the Hermit Park campground about 10 minutes east of the hotel along Route 36, which is said to be haunted by a man nicknamed Dutch Louis. As the story goes, cowboys lynched Dutch Louis for squatting on the then-ranch and stealing cattle around the turn of the 20th century. The myth has been debunked as a scary story based loosely on German homesteader John Jacobi, who was actually quite social for a supposed hermit. Dutch Louis, on the other hand, is not exactly known for making friends.
4. Big Moose Lake, New York
The scariest ghost stories generally begin with real-life horrors. Such is the case with Big Moose Lake in the Adirondacks: There, in 1906, 23-year-old Chester Gillette murdered 20-year-old Grace Brown, a secret girlfriend whom he’d gotten pregnant, refused to marry, and then lured to the lake under the guise of a romantic getaway. The ensuing trial was a Chicago-style scandal that rocked upstate New York. Gillette was found guilty and sentenced to the electric chair while Brown supposedly hung around to haunt the lakefront.
Ghost-chasers can pitch a tent at a primitive campsite by Big Moose Lake for a shot at their own encounter. Pro tip: Sing a chorus of “The Ballad of Big Moose Lake” (a favorite at haunted campgrounds around here), and the popular folk song inspired by her tragedy might just convince Brown to make an appearance.
5. Lake Morena Campground, California
Rumors of paranormal activity at this San Diego County campground have been flying around for decades, much like the levitating bodies some have claimed to see there. A 1983 San Diego Union article recounts some of the creepier sightings: disembodied footsteps, floating christening gowns, self-turning doorknobs. In true horror-film fashion, a woman in white is also said to haunt the area. Terrifying? Absolutely. But according to those who’ve seen her, there are worse campground neighbors, undead or alive. The woman in white reportedly keeps to herself, woefully stalking the shoreline and nearby woods.
6. Braley Pond, Virginia
By day, Braley Pond is a pleasant place to cast a fishing line in George Washington and Jefferson National Forest. After dark, it’s the stuff of camping nightmares, or Halloween dreams as the case may be. Some overnighters claim to have seen dark, levitating figures by the pond. Others say they’ve heard children laughing sinisterly. And at least one paranormal investigator was left reeling for weeks after spending a night there. Though Braley Pond has long been considered one of the most haunted places in Virginia, creepy occurrences have become more common in recent years, ever since a grisly pondside murder took place there in 2003.
7. Freetown-Fall River State Forest, Massachusetts
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Southeastern Massachusetts is home to its very own Bermuda Triangle, a 200-square-mile region that’s notorious for paranormal activity. Forty-five miles south of Boston, Freetown-Fall River State Forest occupies one corner of the so-called Bridgetown Triangle and is allegedly occupied by all things supernatural. Ghosts, demon dogs, UFOs, glowing orbs, Bigfoot, balls of fire, giant snakes, Satanic cults — name your fear and someone’s probably seen it there.
True crime has also contributed to the forest’s haunted reputation as a series of murder victims were discovered there between 1978 and 2001. There’s no camping in the forest itself, which is probably for the best, but anyone brave enough can spend a frightful night at the nearby KOA campground in Middleborough, right on the edge of the Bridgewater Triangle.