There’s something spine-tingling about entering a dark, spooky forest. Whether that’s because the sun is blocked by the thick canopy of leaves, because it’s shrouded in an ever-present heavy mist, or because of the thickets of gnarled trees, spooky forests can boost your adrenaline and give you hope that maybe you’ll be the next person to stumble across an ancient, creepy relic.
When you hike through the spooky forests below from around the world, listen for the creaks and moans of heavy trunks moving in the wind and animals rusting in the underbrush — and try to keep in mind that it’s just the sounds of a tiny squirrel (probably). These nine creepy forests from around the world are the sites of drownings, murders, ancient rituals and rites, and even mysterious plane crashes. For those brave enough, here are the spookiest forests from around the world.
- The Black Forest, Germany
- Isla de la Muñecas, Mexico
- Hoia Baciu, Romania
- Aokigahara Forest, Japan
- Wychwood Forest, UK
- Dow Hill, India
- The Forest of Brocéliande, France
- Smolensk Forest, Russia
- Epping Forest, UK
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Germany: The Black Forest
The backdrop for the troubling fairytales of The Brothers Grimm like “Hansel and Gretel,” the list of legends out of these thick and dark woods is endless. From werewolves and witches to headless horsemen and underwater nymphs, 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.
When you visit the Black Forest, you’ll notice where the name comes from: the canopy is so thick that it blocks most of the sun, making it one of the most spooky forests in the world, even on sunny days. Most people stay in the spa town of Baden-Baden, and good hikes include the Sulzer Grenzsteinweg trail (11 miles, passes by varied landscapes) or the four-mile Ravenna Gorge Trail, which passes through lush areas before reaching a waterfall.
- When to go: You can visit year-round, but most people visit during hiking season, which is roughly April to October. In the winter, you can expect snow in parts, though it can be a lovely time if you like snowshoeing and hate crowds.
- Where to stay: Stay in the beautiful town of Baden-Baden, designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its geothermal water. The town has everything from Christmas markets to hot springs and pretty sweet nearby mountain biking. All hotels are fairly close to the Black Forest National Park, but particularly good options include Hotel Rebstock (a traditional German hotel with an on-site winery and fabulous wooden bar and lounge) or the riverfront Atlantic Parkhotel, which feels a bit like sleeping in a German version of the White House.
Mexico: Isla de las Muñecas
Over 50 years ago, a man on this Mexican island was said to have seen the body of a young girl who had drowned there. He hung a doll he found floating nearby in her honor, but was so haunted but what he’d seen that he started fixating on it, eventually hanging hundreds of dolls in the woods.
Today, this spooky forest overflows with dolls and doll 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. The story of the forest has been played up quite a bit, both in written word (2016’s Island of the Dolls) and a 2018 movie of the same name.
If you’re planning to visit, you’ll need to book a tour or charter a boat from Mexico City; the trip to get there takes about three hours. But make sure to do your research: enterprising locals have realized tourists want to visit and created additional islands full of hanging dolls for tourist photo ops, but they aren’t the real thing. Here’s the one you want.
- When to go: You’re good to go year-round. It’s Mexico, so the weather is pretty great year-round.
- Where to stay: Island of the Dolls is close to Mexico City, so you won’t hurt for places to stay. But since you’ll be getting a boat from the Embarcadero Cuemanco Xomichilco, you may want to stay near there. it’s a huge city, so if you stay in the historic part of town you’ll still be about 45 minutes from the docks. So you’ll want to stay in the south part of the city near Xochimilco Ecological Park. An Airbnb may be a good bet since most of the hip tourist hotels are closer to the Old Town, Polanco, or La Condesa.
Romania: Hoia-Baciu Forest
Allegedly named after a shepherd who mysteriously vanished (along with 200 sheep), this is one of the can’t-miss spooky forests in Eastern Europe. It’s sometimes called “The Bermuda Triangle of Transylvania,” which should give you an idea of how many mysterious events have occurred in the area. 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.
That said, if you do want to visit, you have lots of options. You can book night hikes or overnight camping trips, complete with spooky stories and legends, or take a more “scientific” tour with EMF meters and Geiger counters. You can also go to the 730-acre park on your own if you just enjoy hiking or biking (there’s a relatively new bike part in the forest). But even if you don’t care about the supposed legends that make it one of the world’s most spooky forests, you should try visit the “dead zone,” near the center of the park, where it’s said no vegetation will ever grow.
If you’re into learning about cultures, stop by the open-air Ethnographic Museum of Transylvania, only a few minutes away in Cluj-Napoca (usually just called Cluj).
- When to go: Late May through early September is the busy tourist season in Romania, probably because it has the nicest weather. September and October are still nice, but it tends to rain more. April is usually a little brisk, but a more affordable and less crowded time to visit. Winter is tough and many tourist facilities close as it is cold with frequent rain and snow.
- Where to stay: Stay in Cluj. Hotel Capitolina City Chic is colorful, comfortable, clean, and near everything in the Old Town, and Hotel Beyfin is a boutique hotel with a rooftop bar and art and decor from throughout Europe.
Japan: Aokigahara Forest
Another forest featured in a recent Hollywood movie (The Forest, 2016), this spooky forest is near beautiful Mount Fuji — but it’s hardly as peaceful. A sign at the forest entrance reminds visitors that life is precious and to seek help if they need it. Why? Well, it’s the site of more suicide attempts — hundreds of them successful — than nearly any other place on Earth.
Beyond that tragic fact, 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. While this is certainly one of the most spooky forests in the world for that fact alone, there actually is some scientific proof. In 2014, a group of researchers used Japan as a case study and posited that Japan’s geomagnetic disturbances could lead to an increase in suicide rates.
Somewhat morose data aside, the forest is objectively quite lovely and a wonderful place for a hike. The Aokigahara Cave Trail is quite popular for hiking and, at 6.4 miles, winds through many of the forest’s prettiest vistas.
- When to go: You can go year-round, but winter is the slow season and many restaurants and hotels may be closed, especially closer to Mount Fuji. Summer is the best time for hiking, but also the busiest.
- Where to stay: Since you probably won’t spend more than half a day in the forest, consider staying closer to Mount Fuji and using the mountainous area as a base for other outdoor adventures like hiking or biking. The Fuji area is the perfect place to stay in a ryokan — traditional Japanese hotels with tatami mats and bedrolls rather than Western-style furnishings. Winning choices near one of Asia’s most spooky forests include Hotel Asafuji, which offers traditional multi-course Japanese breakfasts and views of Mount Fuji, or Lakeland Hotel Mizunosato, with indoor and outdoor hot springs. You can also visit the forest on a day trip from Tokyo.
UK: Wychwood Forest
According to lore from more than 400 years ago, wife of Earl of Leicester Amy Robsart broke her neck and passed away in unexplained circumstances near this forest. 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.
Now, legend says that other people daring to hike in one of Europe’s most spooky forests will meet the same fate if they see Amy Robsart’s apparition. Visitors to these allegedly haunted woods have reported the feeling of being touched by hands and the sensation of hearing running horses. With a name like Wychwood, these eerie legends certainly leave you wondering if these woods are best left unexplored.
If you want to experience the paranormal in the forest, walk a section of the 37-mile Wychwood Way Circuit, or take the seven-mile route past the forest’s ponds. It’s a gently rolling walk and a lovely place to spend some peaceful time outside in the English countryside.
- When to go: This is another possible year-round destination, but December through February tends to be wet and rainy, and sometimes snowy. Summer is prime for hiking, and late spring tends to be a bit busy as students from nearby Oxford University finish exams and families come to (hopefully) watch them graduate.
- Where to stay: The closet town is Oxford, a beautiful historic city with the lovely Oxford Castle and a few great museums. The Old Parsonage Hotel is a luxury hotel in a manor from the 16th century, complete with daily afternoon tea.
India: Dow Hill Forest
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. Even the India Times Paper has covered the legends of the region’s spookiest forest.
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 there are no students there.
- When to go: Year-round is just fine. Though it’s at the foothills of the Himalayas, it still doesn’t get very cold. The chilliest month is January, but it still averages 60 degrees Fahrenheit during the day.
- Where to stay: Stay in Darjeeling. If you’re a tea fan, you already know why Darjeeling is well-known: it’s home to a huge percentage of India’s tea farms and forests. Considering staying at The Elgin, a luxurious (and sustainable) property very close to downtown. However, you can also stay on tea farms like Singtom Tea Estate or Sourenee Tea Estate.
France: The Forest of Brocéliande
According to Celtic legends from the Middle Ages, this spooky forest in northern France has a mystical aura. In fact, some believe these woods are the thosr from 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 in the park is an ancient spring once used as a place of worship from Druids (the “enlightened” class of early Celtics), though it’s now known as the fountain of youth. The forest is also the site of the “Gate of Secrets” a few times a year. It’s a visual and artistic experience that takes place along the forest trails.
There’s quite a bit to do in this area, including activities specifically focused on exploring the “haunted” aspects of one of France’s most spooky forests. That includes storytelling bike rides, hikes to the various historical and notable (i.e., haunted) sites, and even visiting a traditional nordic farm.
- When to go: The forest is in northwestern France, so it’s what you’d expect: nice from spring to fall, and a bit cold and sometimes rainy in the winter. That said, there’s not a huge difference in how often it rains between summer and fall, so base your trip on when is good for you rather than any particular season (though it can be busy during European school vacations).
- Where to stay: If you want to spend a few days exploring one of Europe’s most spooky forests, stay in Paimpont (though the closest train station is about 40 minutes away in Rennes). You can actually camp in the forest for a reasonable four Euro per night. But if that’s not your jam, the cutest hotel in town is probably the Logis Hotel Le Relais De Broceliandel, within walking distance of forest trails.
Russia: Smolensk Forest
This isn’t just one of the most spooky forests in the world as far as legends go — Smolensk Forest was actually the site of a major massacre. It was the Katyn Massacre from WWII, during which Stalin’s army murdered more than 20,000 Polish soldiers and military leaders — all of whom are buried here.
But that’s not even the end of it: in 2010, a plane carrying nearly 100 of Germany’s most important political and business officials 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.
- When to go: Anytime, as long as it’s pretty far into the future. Americans need a tourist visa to visit Russia, which you’ll have to apply for well in advance. You can’t just roll up for the day and go hiking.
- Where to stay: If you’re able to score a visa, your best bet is to stay in Moscow and do a day trip. Especially cool hotels include the Moscow Four Seasons — which possibly has the city’s best views from the upper floors — or the strikingly pretty Myasnitsky Hotel, just a few minutes from the city’s famous Red Square.
UK: Epping Forest
Epping Forest is a 4,000-acre old-growth forest near London — and it’s because of that proximity that so many members of London’s underbelly have used the forest as a haven for crimes, including murder. More than a dozen such victims have been discovered in this spooky forest in the last half-century. While records on the crimes can be a bit hard to track down, 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. And speaking of walking: there are about 30 different trails through the forest, as well as some mountain bike routes.
- When to go: The most popular trails in this forest are always crowded as it’s one of the closest areas for hiking near London. It’s less about what time of year you go and more about when: visiting midweek will give you much more space to yourself than going on a Saturday afternoon.
- The forest is only about 30 minutes north of London, but with traffic, it can take a lot longer. So look for lodging in the London suburb of Chingford, which is only a few minutes from the main forest trails and visitor center. Since there aren’t a lot of hotels in that area, an Airbnb is probably your best bet. Here’s a quick guide to 18 of the best Airbnbs in London.