Water spirits, ghostly apparitions, a cry half-heard… and you thought you were alone in that remote canyon.
Author and veteran National Park Service ranger Andrea Lankford has compiled a collection of stories, lore, and hikes that will add an unworldly component to your next visit to a National Park.
In her largely tongue-in-cheek guidebook, Haunted Hikes: Spine-tingling tales and trails from North America’s National Parks, Lankford provides the intrepid traveller with a spooky campfire read. (The book’s daunting dedication: “For the dead yet still restless, for the lost and not found, you may be gone, but you won’t be forgotten… so please don’t hurt me.”)
Lankford canvassed the continent for the most haunting and mysterious places, turning up hundreds of true stories, legends and compelling historical tidbits. “I hiked trails that have been haunted since before the Civil War,” she writes. “I visited the scenes of savage murders that remain unsolved. I camped in campgrounds buzzed by UFOs. I trekked into alluring landscapes that appear to be holding grudges against those who trespass against them.”
The witnesses to these so-called supernatural occurrences include park rangers, historians, and river guides. And history lovers take note: Each tale has factual relevance to the cultural or natural history of the park.
The book also examines long unsolved murders such as the stabbing of a young woman on Yosemite’s trail to Mirror Lake and the execution style shooting of two General Motors executives at Crater Lake.
For first-time visitors to the creepy side of North America’s national parks, Lankford says the trick to eluding ghosts, goblins, and other weird things of the wild is to move fast — and tread lightly. “National parks, like churches,” she writes, “are sacred places where we should be on our best behavior and show a higher standard of maturity than we might normally demonstrate. I suggest you treat these sites with respect. Or risk the consequences.”
Intrigued? Here’s a sampling of Lankford’s favorite legends and ghostly getaways:
BANFF NATIONAL PARK
The Stoney Indians called the largest lake in Banff National Park m’nesto or “Cannibal Lake.” But in an effort to become more tourist-friendly, the Canadian government changed the name to Lake Minnewanka in 1888. Minnewanka means “Lake of the Water Spirit,” which sounds more pleasant — yet, in its way, continues to honor the ancient Stoney Indian belief that a giant half-man, half-fish, flesh-eating demon lives in the lake.
Lake Minnewanka flows east into Ghost Lakes and beyond to Devil’s Gap. Some say the original ghost of Ghost Lakes was an elusive white mustang the Native Americans could never catch. Another legend claims two Indian tribes fought a battle near where the Ghost and the Bow Rivers meet. Following the battle, a phantom was seen walking up and down the river bank, collecting the skulls of dead warriors.
YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK
In September 1857, the park’s first park ranger Galen Clark hiked to Grouse Lake where he heard what he described as a “distinct wailing cry, somewhat like a puppy when lost.” He supposed that the cry was from a dog that had been left behind by a band of Indians.
But the Indians later told him the cry did not come from a dog, but from an Indian boy who had been drowned in the lake, “and that every time anyone passed there he always cried after them, and no one dared go into the lake, for (the boy) would catch them by the legs and pull them down and they would be drowned…”
C & O CANAL
Built between 1828 and 1850, the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal was a busy water highway, used to transport goods between Washington, D.C. and Cumberland, Maryland via canal boats towed by mules. Today, the 184-mile towpath has been transformed into a park for hikers and cyclists.
During the Civil War, a Union soldier discovered gold flecks in a nearby stream, initiating a mini-gold rush to the area. Mining thrived until years later, in 1906, when an explosion killed a miner named Charles Eglin.
Strange events followed the miner’s death including unaccounted knocking noises and footsteps coming from deep within the mine. A draft horse who had worked the mines for years refused to enter the gates.
The mine spirits known as “Tommy Knockers” (because they made knocking noises) eventually led to the closure of the mine two years later, after a night watchman encountered “a ghostie-looking man with eyes of fire and a tail ten feet long” crawling from the shaft.
BIG SOUTH FORK
Strange happenings at this park can be traced back to a farmer named Oscar Blevins, whose property was condemned by the government in 1975 to include it in the newly established Big South Fork National Park. After Mr. Blevins passed away years later, park staff began to talk about an elderly visitor wearing a black slouch hat and overalls. The man would reportedly appear out of nowhere and just as suddenly, disappear.
These strange visitations continued over the years. In the 1990s, one park ranger, who later became a Special Agent with the DEA, said that when he went to Oscar’s old farm, his normally docile mare became agitated.
Glancing at the terrified horse, an old man in bib overalls and slouch hat said, “She won’t come to you, will she?”
A moment later he was gone.
Haunted Hikes provides readers with a “fright factor rating” as well as trailhead access information, detailed trail maps, and hike difficulty levels. Most of the haunted sites can be reached by the average hiker and some are wheelchair accessible. More difficult, multi-day treks are also provided.
More information: Haunted Hikes: Spine-Tingling Tales and Trails from North America’s National Parks (Amazon.ca).
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