There is something spine-tingling about entering a dark, creepy forest. As the sun is blocked out by a thick canopy or mist, and the trees’ twisted branches and roots seem to reach out and touch one another in a secret conversation to which we aren’t privy, it can be downright unsettling. The creaks and moans of heavy trunks moving in the wind, of animals rusting in the underbrush, make it scarier still. In some places around the world — from Mexico to Romania — these eerie wooded areas have also seen drownings, murders, even massacres, making you wonder if you should even visit them at all. For those brave enough, here are the scariest forests in the world.
1. The Black Forest, Germany
The backdrop for the troubling fairytales of The Brothers Grimm like Hansel and Gretel, the list of legends attributed to these thick and dark woods are endless. From werewolves and witches to headless horsemen and nymphs who live underwater, Germany’s Schwarzwald has been the mythical site of many fantastical stories. These are commemorated in the region’s unique Carnival celebrations, where people dress as demons and frightening creatures.
2. Isla de las Muñecas, Mexico
Over 50 years ago, a man on this island was said to have seen the body of a young girl who had drowned here. He hung up the doll in her honor but was so haunted by thoughts of her lifeless body that he continued to tie the dolls onto the trees in her memory. Today this creepy forest overflows with dolls and their body parts, from disembodied heads to arms and legs pleading to be made whole. Many who come to take in the spectacle say the dolls are possessed, whispering to one another and even moving their eyes and body parts.
3. Hoia-Baciu Forest, Romania
Allegedly named after a shepherd who mysteriously vanished along with 200 sheep, the area is also called “The Bermuda Triangle of Transylvania.” Another tale recounts a five-year-old girl who disappeared here but was found again five years later, but it was said she had not aged a day. Visitors have reported feeling anxious when they visit the forest, experiencing nausea and even rashes. Locals are said to stay well clear of the misty forest and its eerily curved trunks and branches.
4. Aokigahara Forest, Japan
A sign at the forest entrance reminds visitors that life is precious and to seek help if they need it. Sadly, this is the site of more suicide attempts — hundreds of them successful — than nearly any other place on Earth. Beyond this tragic fact looming over those who enter, the trees are so tightly packed together that it’s hard to see or hear anything, leaving even seasoned hikers disoriented. They’ll use string or other markings to ensure they can make their way out as it’s said that iron deposits below ground render compasses all but useless.
5. Wychwood Forest, England
According to lore, well over four centuries ago, the wife of the Earl of Leicester, Amy Robsart, broke her neck and passed away in unexplained circumstances. Much later, the earl was hunting in the Wychwood Forest and encountered her ghost, who told him he would soon join her in the hereafter. He was then said to have fallen sick and died. It is legend that that fate would befall others who see Amy Robsart’s apparition. Visitors to these allegedly haunted woods claim to feel hands touching them or to hear the clapping of running horses. With a name like Wychwood, these eerie legends certainly leave you wondering if these woods are best left unexplored.
6. Dow Hill Forest, India
Many murders are said to have taken place in these ominous, mist-filled woodlands. Reports claim that those who enter feel they are being watched, and some have even spied a red eye gazing at them and have caught a fleeting glance of an apparition in an ash-colored dress. The most oft-heard rumor is of a headless boy walking on his way from the forest along “Death Road” to the Dow Hill Victoria Boys’ School, itself considered one the most haunted locations in India. Residents who live nearby say they hear sounds emerging from the school even when it is not in session.
7. The Forest of Broceliande, France
According to some Celtic legends dating back to the Middle Ages, this forest in the northern part of France was said to have a mystical aura. Some believe these woods are the ones described in the legends of King Arthur. The wizard Merlin was said to have been briefly imprisoned in an invisible tower here and is thought to be buried at a mysterious location widely called the Tomb of Merlin. Also here is the Val Sans Retour, or Valley of No Return, where it’s said that King Arthur’s sorceress half-sister Morgan le Fay trapped and held young knights who were not faithful.
8. Smolensk Forest, Russia
This really was the site of the Katyn massacre. During World War II, a mass grave with 20,000 Polish soldiers and military leaders secretly slaughtered by Joseph Stalin’s army was discovered. Only a decade ago, a plane carrying nearly 100 of the most important political and business officials of Germany crashed here, killing everyone on board. It was a shocking day for the people of Poland, for whom this scary forest was already the site of a painful history. You can forgive them for believing that this patch of earth is cursed.
9. Epping Forest, England
Part of the dense urban forest that London comprises, the nine-square-mile Epping Forest has long been the perfect place for criminals to lay low or to bury their murdered victims. Frighteningly, more than a dozen such victims have been discovered here in the last half-century. At least one murder took place in the forest itself, at the hands of a notorious highwayman Dick Turbin. Many of the trees here haven’t been cut in nearly 150 years, following legislation to protect the area, leaving them with weirdly deformed shapes. Add in reportedly creepy sounds and ghostly sightings, and this is one hair-raising walk through the woods.