With Halloween upon us, WTA set out to find some particularly spooky trails. It's really not that hard. Almost any forest hike on a dark and rainy fall day in Washington can give you the shivers, and not just the kind where you are cold. All of that drippy moss and old man's beard can give anyone the creeps if they are in a frightful mood.
What else makes a hike eerie? In a decidedly unscientific poll of hikers, we heard about thick dark forests, lonely lakes, abandoned roads and campgrounds, ghost towns, caves, and stories - fact & fiction - about the trail. Or how about hiking through a burned out forest? What's more spine-tingling - fresh charred bark or smooth silver stumps from some long ago wildfire?
One person's scary hike can also be another's happy place. Take Lake Janus. Guidebook author Craig Romano describes the hike as a "warm, inviting lake" within "deep, soothing wilderness." Hiker Kim Brown, on the other hand, notes that the name means "two-faced" and was spooked by the loneliness of the lake during a solo visit on a rainy day.
The Twilight books have made the Forks area a vampiralicious destination, and since the main characters are prone to walking in the woods, there are any number of haunted trails in the area. And let's not forget about Bigfoot. Washington is rife with reported sightings of our elusive Sasquatch -- the Olympics and Gifford Pinchot area in particular.
So without further ado, here are a few of our favorite haunted hikes.
Lime Kiln Trail
Location: Mountain Loop Highway
Distance: 7 miles
Haunted qualities: Old relics and your imagination
We suggest you read Nathaniel Hawthorne's short story "Ethan Brand" before embarking on this hike to an old lime kiln and townsite. It's the haunted tale of a lime burner and is sure to set your imagination alight as you walk among the relics in this forest. Saw blades, bricks and more are all over the place, and the old stone lime kiln still stands today. Be sure to also read the historical information at the trailhead before you set off on the trail.
>> Read about Lime Kiln Trail in WTA's Hiking Guide and in recent trip reports.
Location: Mountain Loop Highway
Distance: 8 miles roundtrip
Haunted qualities: It's a ghost town!
In the late 19th century, Monte Cristo was a bustling mining town of nearly 2000 people seeking their fortunes in gold and silver. They built homes, stores, a school and five hotels. A railway took the ore to the smelter in Everett. The town flourished only a few years before the mining industry started to collapse and floods restricted access to the area. By the 1930s, the place was abandoned, and today there are still a few structures and relics lying around to give you a sense of what this ghost town used to be.
>> Read about Monte Cristo and longer destinations like Gothic Basin in WTA's Hiking Guide and in recent trip reports.
Iron Goat Trail
Location: Stevens Pass - east
Distance: 5.7 mile loop
Haunted qualities: 1910 railroad disaster & spooky tunnels
The Iron Goat Trail marks the site of one of the worst railroad disasters in US history: an enormous 1910 avalanche on Windy Mountain that swept two trains off the track at the Wellington depot and into Tye Creek. Nearly 100 lives were lost. The old railroad grade and its tunnels were abandoned in 1929 in favor of the current Cascade tunnel, and what was left has been crafted into the Iron Goat Trail. When you're walking the trail, imagine being perched up there in a rickety old train on a snowy winter day.
Hoh River Trail
Location: Olympic National Park
Distance: 1 to 35 miles, depending on your destination
Haunted qualities: Bella from Twilight walks there! And maybe Sasquatch too.
Even without the Twilight books and Sasquatch sightings, the Hoh would rank high on our list of haunted hikes. Those trees are just so huge. And it rains. A lot. You can just imagine mythical creatures (fairies perhaps?) cavorting in the rainforest while you're not looking. Whether you go a mile or 35, this trail has some serious mysteries it is harboring.
>> Read about the Hoh River Trail in WTA's Hiking Guide and in recent trip reports.
Spruce Railroad Trail
Location: Olympic National Park, Lake Crescent
Distance: 8 miles roundtrip
Haunted qualities: dead bodies, native lore
Lake Crescent has secrets. At first glance, its shimmering clear water appears to reveal everything. But its depths plunge to a pitch black 624 feet or more, and the lake is known for rarely giving up its dead. We could choose many spine-tingling stories to reveal here - cars plunging into the water never to be seen again or evil spirits conjured by the Klallam tribe. But the most enduring ghost story is that of the Lady of the Lake. In 1940, a body was found in the lake of a woman who had been murdered three years earlier. What was most surprising was that her corpse was amazingly well-preserved. A process known as saponification had turned her body into something like a bar of soap which, refrigerated by the freezing water, essentially mummified it. You can walk along Lake Crescent's shores on the Spruce Railroad trail (which has its own interesting history) and ponder the lore.
>> Read about the Spruce Railroad Trail in WTA's Hiking Guide and in receent trip reports.
Location: Mount Rainier National Park
Distance: 10 miles
Haunted qualities: Ancient spirits, climbing fatalities
We all know that climbing Mount Rainier is not without its dangers. Most years, at least one climber loses his or her life trying to attain its summit, and some of these bodies have never been recovered. What you may not know is the Native American lore about the great Tahoma. In 1870, pioneers Hazard Stevens and Philemon Van Trump set out to climb the mountain. Their Nisqually guides would take them no further than timberline, thinking them crazy to attempt it. According to the book "Haunted Hikes" (see below for details), "the mountain's personality, according to their mythology, was that of a disgruntled, scorned wife who sucked people into her cave-like stomach and devoured them." Fortunately for Stevens and Van Trump, Tahoma didn't suck them in, allowing them to make the first summit of Washington's highest peak.
>> Read about Camp Muir in WTA's Hiking Guide and in recent trip reports.
South Coldwater Trail
Location: Mount St. Helens
Distance: 10 miles
Haunted qualities: Rusty relics from the volcanic eruption
You can really pick any hike at Mount St. Helens and view it through a haunted prism. With the volcano's history of eruptions and continued rumblings, there is certainly something otherworldly taking place underneath you. We choose the South Coldwater Lake trail for how it still evokes that day more than 30 years ago when the side blew out of the mountain. In 1980, several logging operations were in progress. About a mile into this hike, a bulldozer and yarding tower lay twisted beside the trail, the cab stuffed full of boulders and tree roots blown inside it from the blast, and the metal warped by the intense temperature. It's a tangible reminder of the human and economic toll exacted by Mount St. Helens and a warning that it all is likely to happen again someday.
>> Read about the South Coldwater Trail in WTA's Hiking Guide and in recent trip reports.
Location: Mount St. Helen's National Monument
Distance: 2.6 miles
Haunted qualities: Cold, dark and damp - plus, volcano
People either love caves or hate them. For some, they are places of mystery and intrigue; for others, a panic-inducing and airless subterranean place. The cold chill inside has a way of getting under your skin and the absolute darkness is spine-tingling. Hey, any place where you need a flashlight to see your own feet rates high on the creep-o-meter. There are several cave hikes in Washington, but one of the most easily accessible is Ape Caves (actually lava tubes), south of Mount St. Helens. The hike in to the lower tube is short, but make sure you bring a strong flashlight or lantern and a warm jacket to combat the 42-degree chill inside.
Silver Star Mountain
Location: South Cascades - Columbia Gorge area
Distance: 4 miles
Haunted qualities: Sasquatch sightings
Due to the many purported sightings of Sasquatch near Mount Saint Helens and the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, our famous resident ape likely lives in Washington's South Cascades - if it exists at all. In November 2005, a hiker photographed what he believed to be a Sasquatch on Silver Star Mountain. It could be just a hiker, but maybe not... In the meantime, we ran into another unconfirmed Bigfoot that we've posted here.
>> Read about Silver Star Mountain in WTA's Hiking Guide and in recent trip reports.
Ginkgo Petrified Forest
Location: Central Washington
Distance: 3 miles
Haunted qualities: Petrified, caged trees
Millions of years ago a lush, diverse forest of ginkgo, walnut, oak, maple and chestnut prospered on what is now the Columbia Plateau. Then came massive volcanic eruptions and a flow of lava that entombed the forest and began the process of petrification, turning the trees into rock that was eventually exposed by massive Ice Age floods. Today, remnants of this fossil forest can be seen by hikers along a three-mile interpretive trail. It's a bit unnerving to imagine a flourishing forest in this desert landscape. And equally weird to see the fossils in their jail holes. What crime did these trees commit to condemn them to such an ignominious life?
>> Read about the Ginkgo Petrified Forest in WTA's Hiking Guide and in recent trip reports.
Learn more about Washington's history and haunted hikes with these two great books:
- Hiking Washington's History. University of Washington Press. Judy Bentley. 2010
- Haunted Hikes: Spine Tingling Tales and Trails from North America's National Parks. Santa Monica Press. Andrea Lankford. 2006.