Six Haunted National Parks
It’s officially Autumn at our national parks! Peak tourist season is over, which means the crowds have thinned, the animals are putting on their winter coats and the rangers are gearing up for cold weather. But even though the seasons change, there are some fixtures of the national parks whose routines stay exactly the same: the ghosts! Yep, there are spooky spirits all throughout America’s national park system.
Here are six of our favorite positively paranormal parks and where to find their otherworldly occupants.
1. Grand Canyon National Park
Erin Whittaker, U.S. National Park Service, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Located in Arizona, Grand Canyon National Park is one of the seven wonders of the natural world. Why? At 277 miles long, 18 miles wide and one mile deep, the Grand Canyon is truly an awe-inspiring sight. But the park has much more to offer; historic sites, fantastic hikes, beautiful views…and ghosts! Here are a few you may want to keep an eye out for.
El Tovar Hotel, Grand Canyon South Rim
Legend has it that several years ago, a confused guest of the El Tovar hotel approached the front desk.
“Where is the holiday party?” asked the guest.
“What holiday party?” asked the equally confused front desk clerk.
“The employee in the hallway invited us to a big holiday ball here at the hotel!” insisted the guest. “He was all dressed up in fancy period clothes from the 1900s!”
“I’m sorry,” said the clerk. “There is no holiday party, nor is there a gentleman dressed in period clothes working here.”
So who was the fancy-dressed man? Well, from the guest’s description, the hotel employees are pretty sure it was none other than Fred Harvey, founder of the Harvey Company and the designer of the El Tovar! This was no isolated ghost sighting, though. Guests and employees frequently report seeing Mr. Harvey strolling the hallways and gazing at the Canyon from El Tovar’s front stairs.
By the way, I searched for Mr. Harvey the last time I visited the South Rim. Sadly, I did not meet him. But maybe you’ll have better luck!
Visit El Tovar Hotel on Shaka Guide’s Grand Canyon South Rim Tour!
The Wailing Woman of the Transept Trail, Grand Canyon North Rim
If you’re an avid hiker, you probably know that one of the unspoken rules of the trail is to acknowledge that you’re sharing the trail with many other travelers. If you’re hiking on the Transept Trail at Grand Canyon’s North Rim, one of those fellow travelers just might be a ghost!
They call her the Wailing Woman, because chances are that if you should cross her path, she’s–well, wailing.
As the story goes, in the early 1920s, the Wailing Woman was a guest of the newly built Grand Canyon Lodge. One day, her husband and young son went for a hike on the Transept Trail. When they hadn’t returned after several hours, the frantic wife searched along the trail, crying out for her family. It was too late. The gentlemen had met with bad weather, slipped, and fallen to their deaths. Driven mad with grief, the Wailing Woman returned to the lodge and took her own life. Now in the afterlife, the Wailing Woman is doomed to wander the Transept Trail, desperately searching for her family.
The Cavern Spirits, Grand Canyon West
A large portion of the Grand Canyon’s West Rim falls within the boundaries of the Hualapai Indian Reservation. In 1917, a group of Hualapai woodcutters discovered the entrance to the caves which, as it turns out, are the largest dry caverns in the United States.
They are also very, very haunted.
Thing is, no one is one hundred percent certain about who haunts the Grand Canyon Caverns! Some say that the restless spirits of the Native Americans buried here still walk among the caverns. Some people swear that they’ve seen the ghostly form of a long-dead mine worker standing by the cavern’s elevator. Still others report hearing whispers and having rocks thrown at them from out of nowhere! The employees of the Grand Canyon Caverns offer nightly lights-off ghost tours, so perhaps you’ll have a spooky experience of your own someday!
2. Yellowstone National Park
Ghost Trees in Yellowstone / Gregory "Slobirdr" Smith, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Established in 1872, Yellowstone has the distinction of being America’s very first national park. With 150 years of human history under its belt, I’m sure it’ll come as no surprise that Yellowstone has also hosted a ghost or two in its day. This one is our favorite.
The Headless Bride of the Old Faithful Inn
Employees of the historic Old Faithful Inn will gladly tell tales of the Headless Bride, because they’re so used to seeing her that she’s practically family. She wanders the Crow’s Nest in search of vengeance–and her head.
According to the story, in 1915 a young lady of wealthy standing fell in love with one of the family’s servants and wished to get married. The woman’s father certainly did not approve of such a union, so the lovers eloped. It was very fashionable for the upper class to vacation at the newly-built Old Faithful Inn, so the husband insisted they stay here. As it turned out, the husband was very mean. Hotel staff listened to the newlyweds argue nightly; the husband was gambling their money away. One night, after a particularly loud fight, the husband fled the Inn in anger. He did not return. After several days, the staff grew concerned when they realized they had not seen the wife in some time.
It was a poor chambermaid who finally found her headless body in the Crow’s Nest. The murderous husband was never found.
Neither was the bride’s head.
3. Yosemite National Park
Anita Ritenour from Santa Maria, CA, USA, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Father of National Parks and Sierra Club founder John Muir - you can find out more about him on Shaka Guide’s Yosemite National Park tour (coming soon) - once said, “The Mountains are calling, and I must go.” If you visit Yosemite, you may hear those mountains calling. You might also hear a ghost calling!
The Grouse Lake Ghost
Grouse Lake is at the end of a 4-mile, moderate hike on the west side of Yosemite National Park. The lake is beautiful, but it’s also home to the restless spirit of a Native American boy.
It’s believed that the Grouse Lake Ghost was first discovered by Galen Clark, Yosemite’s first park ranger. On a crisp, fall day in 1857, Mr. Clark hiked to Grouse Lake, which was one of his favorite spots in the whole park. But as he got closer, he heard a high-pitched howl, like that of an injured animal. Clark searched, but couldn’t find the source of the sound. On the way back from his hike, Clark passed through a Native American hunting camp.
“Have you gentlemen come across a wounded animal?” asked Clark. “I heard its frantic crying, but I did not find it.”
“That was no animal,” said one of the hunters. “What you heard was a spirit!”
The men went on to tell Clark that long ago, a Native American boy fell into the lake and drowned. Now, his spirit is restless, and he cries out to passers-by. But should someone come too close, he will grab them by the ankles and drag them to the bottom of the lake to keep him company!
These days, hikers have reported hearing mysterious cries coming from Grouse Lake. Are they the cries of an injured animal? Or could they be the lonely wails of a boy gone too soon? If you ever find yourself hiking the 9.7 miles to Grouse Lake in Yosemite, you may find out for yourself!
4. Rocky Mountain National Park
inkknife_2000, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
At nearly 358 square miles of mountainous splendor, Rocky Mountain National park is famous for its sweeping views of the Colorado Rockies and fresh, mountain air. If you’re a horror fan, you may also know that Rocky Mountain is home to the famously haunted Stanley Hotel, the very place where author Stephen King got his inspiration for the novel “The Shining.” But F.O. and Flora Stanley aren’t the only ghosts that hang around Rocky Mountain National Park!
Ute Spirits of Grand Lake
The Ute Tribe was one of the first Native American tribes to inhabit the land that’s now Rocky Mountain National Park. Long, long ago, a group of Utes set up camp on the shores of Grand Lake. Without warning, they were ambushed by their Arapaho enemies. The men of the tribe fought them off while the tribeswomen and children hastily boarded a canoe and attempted to escape. They made it halfway across when a sudden and unexpected wind capsized their boat. Everyone aboard drowned. For many years after these tragic events, the Ute people avoided Grand Lake completely. They believed that it was a cursed place.
These days, it’s said that on quiet, hazy mornings, you can see lost spirits of the Ute women and children rising from the mist and beckoning you to join them!
5. Joshua Tree National Park
Joshua Tree National Park, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
The fact that Joshua Tree National Park was established as a national park on October 31, 1994 is spooky in its own right. But honestly, there isn’t much else to be afraid of at Joshua Tree National Park. Thousands of artists, musicians and creatives flock there each year because of the inspiration the desert’s rock formations bring. In fact, one musician hasn’t left–despite the fact that he died in 1973.
The Spirit of Gram Parsons
Gram Parsons was a musical genius who collaborated with bands like the Rolling Stones and Emmylou Harris. He and his musical friends spent many drug-fueled nights at the Joshua Tree Inn–jamming, creating, and making memories. Sadly, Gram passed away from a drug overdose in the wee morning hours of September 18th, 1973. His father tried to have his body returned to Parsons' hometown, but his friends “kidnapped” it first. According to Gram’s wishes, they took his body to the desert and set it ablaze.
Though his body may be gone, Gram Parsons’ spirit still hangs around the Joshua Tree Inn. Guests have reported hearing faint singing, smelling cigarette smoke, and even hanging out with Mr. Parsons himself, watching the sunrise and talking about life.
As far as ghosts go, Gram Parsons sounds like one you’d wanna get to know!
6. Cuyahoga Valley National Park
Cuyahoga jco, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Ohio’s Cuyahoga Valley National Park is one of the lesser-discussed national parks. Which is peculiar, because at 2.2 million visitors a year, it’s one of the most visited! Cuyahoga Valley National Park protects nearly 33,000 acres of rolling hills, bucolic farmland, historic structures, and–you guessed it!--ghosts!
Everett Road Covered Bridge
The Everett Road Covered Bridge is the last remaining covered bridge in Summit County, Ohio. One story says that on a winter night in 1877, a farmer named John Gilson and his wife were returning from a holiday party. As their wagon crossed the Everett Road Bridge, one of the horses lost its footing. Everything–the team of horses, the wagon, and Mr. and Mrs. Gilson plummeted into the freezing river below. Mrs. Gilson survived the fall; Mr. Gilson did not.
But many historians dispute this story. Records show that the bridge wouldn’t even have been built at the time Mr. Gilson died. So the alternate story is that the bridge was built over a Native American burial mound. Regardless of the story, we do know that a ghostly hitchhiker wanders the bridge, hoping to catch a ride with an unsuspecting driver! Is it Mr. Gilson, trying to get back home? Or maybe it’s a restless Native American spirit looking for their final resting place! We may never know…but will you dare to find out?
Want to hear more legends like these? Check out one of our GPS driving tours next time you're traveling and check out some more spooky stories below: