Ghostly Encounters: Ten Eerie Tales of Hauntings in U.S. National Parks

Within the paranormal community, supernatural occurrences and the United States National Park Services go hand-in-hand. However, most outdoorsy horror stories deal with Bigfoot, missing people, or sightings of UFOs. Regular, old-fashioned ghosts fail to make it in the zeitgeist when it comes to the National Parks. Still, one would be mistaken if they were to assume that these sites of natural wonder were devoid of ghostly activity—if one were to believe in that sort of thing, that is.

The following is a list of ten different paranormal reports that deal with standard ghosts in the congressionally designated National Park system of the United States of America. While some stories deal with phenomena associated with ghosts, such as poltergeist activity or missing time, these ten entries will reveal strange occurrences that cannot be mistaken for anything other than the spirit of someone sticking around in the afterlife.

10 Diana of the Dunes

The Indiana Dunes can be found at the southern end of Lake Michigan and were designated as a U.S. National Park in 1966. However, folks have been basking in the natural beauty of the dunes since the 1910s. One such dune climber was a woman by the name of Alice Mabel Gray, who found herself so disgruntled with her job in Chicago that she decided to run away to the Indiana wilderness and live off the grid. Some claim that she enjoyed her new natural home so much that she decided to stick around in the afterlife as well.

Nicknamed “Diana of the Dunes,” the ghost of Alice Gray has a reputation for skinny dipping in Lake Michigan. Her spirit is also spotted in various abandoned homes, in which Gray took up residence in her life. One such home was also the location of a crime scene when a body was discovered nearby in 1922. Some link this murder to Alice Gray’s unofficial husband, Paul Wilson, a man whose desire to live off the grid may or may not have involved a desire to run from the police.[1]

9 The Grouse Lake Ghost at Yosemite

After Yellowstone and Mackinac Island, Yosemite National Park was the third location to be designated a national park in the year 1890. It’s often reported to be an absolute hotbed for sasquatch sightings and UFO reports. But it’s also the host of a good old-fashioned haunting. The ghost of a crying little boy can be seen and heard at Yosemite’s Grouse Lake, and the spirit has been allegedly sighted since the park’s creation.

Park Ranger Galen Clark heard the ethereal wailing near Grouse Lake even as far back as 1910. He even asked local Ahwahneechee tribe members if they’d experienced something similar and was told the tragic tale of a young First Nations child who drowned in the lake. Yosemite also plays host to a second haunted location: the Yosemite Valley Pioneer’s Cemetery, where Galen Clark’s ghost has actually been spotted on occasion.[2]

8 The Haunted Volcano House

This next haunted locale is found all the way out west, in the Hawaiian Islands. The Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park was registered in 1916, but this particular tale concerns a building that was constructed fifty years earlier. The Volcano House began its life in the early 19th century and was built within the boundaries of the modern-day National Park. However, in 1940, a fire destroyed the original building, prompting a new hotel to be built on the property.

As is the case of many haunted houses, the new disturbance on the land seems to have stirred up the spirit of an elderly woman dressed in 1800s attire, roaming the hallways and popping up in various rooms. Some paranormal investigators have also reported the apparition of a dog, with the more folkloric among them hypothesizing that this dog is actually a manifestation of Pele, the Hawaiian goddess of fire. [3]

7 The Horse Ghost of Big Bend

In regards to the continental United States, Big Bend National Park is the furthest from civilization that you can find yourself. Nestled against the Rio Grande River at the bottom of Texas, Big Bend has an infamous reputation for the paranormal that dwarfs Yosemite’s, with alien encounters and chupacabra sightings in every nook and cranny. But it is the strange ghost of a mysterious white horse that warrants Big Bend National Park’s inclusion on this list.

According to the legend, the horse in question was branded with the word “Murder” by some cowboy, potentially as a joke, and may have even died in the process of the branding, according to some interpretations of the legends. Every so often, hikers in Big Bend have reported seeing a horse appear from thin air, marked with the word “Murder,” which is sure to be a completely horrifying sight to those unprepared for it.[4]

6 Charlie Watt at Isle Royale

Located in the northwestern vicinity of Lake Superior, Isle Royale is an island National Park belonging to the state of Michigan and was bestowed the honor in the year 1940. People have called the island home for thousands of years. However, due to the fact that the water between the island and the Canadian province of Ontario is apt to freeze in winter, it allows for easy crossing.

As for ghost stories, however, the tale of Charlie Watt is far more recent. In 1845, the copper prospector tried to strike it rich on the island with his wife, Angelique. Both relied on a steady stream of supply ships for food but were eventually stranded without such a shipment for an entire winter due to harsh weather. Starvation eventually claimed the couple, and to this day, Isle Royale visitors have reported seeing the ghastly apparition of a prospector prowling the wilderness alone.[5]

5 Stephen Bishop at Mammoth Cave

Mammoth Cave, just northeast of Bowling Green, Kentucky, is a popular, well-visited tourist attraction that was granted National Park status in 1941. Over 400 miles (644 kilometers) of tunnels have been charted, making Mammoth Cave the largest discovered cave structure in the entire world, and there are still countless areas that have yet to be found. Well before it became a park, however, the cave was a tourist attraction owned by Proprietor Dr. John Croghan, who happened to use slave labor to run the tour.

One such tour guide was a man named Stephen Bishop. Though he suffered in a life of slavery, he steadily became the man to discover and explore the majority of the Mammoth Cave structure. The date and cause of Bishop’s death were lost to history. However, some modern explorers claim to see the historic explorer manifest as a ghost when left alone in the dark cave. Others even claim to see the spirits of an entire black family materialize in the chamber once used as a Methodist Church.[6]

4 A Haunting at the Dry Tortugas

While most of the entries on this list pertain to large swathes of stunning wilderness, some specific buildings in the United States earn the National Park designation by merit of being historically important. Such is the case with the series of forts in Key West, as well as the neighboring coral reef. Fort Jefferson, in particular, was constructed by the United States government as a bastion of strength against the Caribbean threat of piracy and began its service life in 1825.

Creepy corsairs are far from the fort’s only ghostly clientele, however. While some claim to hear and see the wailing spirits of piratical prisoners who suffered at the hands of yellow fever, others claim to see the ghost of Samuel Mudd, who died at Fort Jefferson. Mudd was no pirate but instead was a conspirator working alongside the assassin John Wilkes Booth before facing execution in Florida.[7]

3 Edgar Watson at the Everglades

The Dry Tortugas are far from Florida’s most famous National Park, however, and the ghostly legends therein pale to the swampland specters associated with Everglades National Park. A plantation owner and serial killer by the name of Edgar Watson was gunned down in the sprawling swamplands by Chokoloskee townsfolk in the year 1910. Watson was known to murder his own servants, most of whom were black, and indiscriminately kill anyone who trespassed on his property.

Rabbit Key, the island within the Everglades where Watson was killed, serves as the murderer’s eternal afterlife residence, according to some eyewitness reports. A nearby museum is also plagued with strange instances of poltergeist activity, such as motion detectors randomly going off, and strange shapes moving about the preserved general store after hours. The Everglades received National Park status in 1947, but it also became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979.[8]

2 The Wailing Woman of the Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon is the second most-visited National Park in the entirety of the United States, just barely getting beaten out by the Great Smoky Mountains. Though President Theodore Roosevelt, who kickstarted the National Park project, rallied for the Arizona canyon’s preservation in 1909, it wouldn’t be until nine years later that it officially became a national park. The Grand Canyon plays host to countless legends of various shades, but the ghost of a mysterious wailing woman is perhaps one of the most famous.

Apparently, on the cliff edge where the Transept Trail stands in modern times, a father and son in the 1800s fell to their death in a sudden rainstorm. The wife, who stayed behind, took her own life out of grief. This woman was said to wear a white dress, a blue scarf, and an assortment of flowers around her neck, which just so happens to match the description of a translucent entity often spotted at the Transept Trail. True to her name, the wailing woman is also often heard crying out in a disembodied voice to those who dare hike the trail alone.[9]

1 The Battle of Gettysburg

The alleged, illusory reenactment of the Battle of Gettysburg is not only the most prolific National Park haunting but possibly the most prolific haunting in the entirety of the United States of America. The famous Civil War skirmish took place in the summer of 1863 and ended in the deaths of over 7,000 soldiers across both sides. The Union ended up claiming victory, both at Gettysburg and in the Civil War, and the battlefield was designated a National Historic Place in 1895, later being regarded as a National Park.

As far as the hauntings go, the site of the battle is riddled with ghostly activity. Tourists report hearing the sounds of guns and horses. See-through soldiers show up in the backgrounds of photographs. Electrical equipment fails in the vicinity of a rock structure known as the Devil’s Den. And that’s only the tip of the iceberg. Locale tour guides and National Park employees claim that the battlefield’s most haunted site is a large, unnamed maple tree where six Union soldiers all sat up against and died within minutes of each other[10]


Written by Aaron Fox

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