With history like Washington's, it's really not that hard to find trails that give you a creepy feeling. Almost any forest hike on a dark and rainy fall day in Washington can give you the shivers, and not just from the cold. The drippy moss, shadowy understory and old man's beard lichen can give anyone the creeps if they are in the right mood.
What else makes a hike eerie? In a decidedly unscientific poll of hikers, people mentioned thick, dark forests, lonely lakes, abandoned roads and campgrounds, ghost towns, caves, and history or tall tales about the trail.
But 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.
Washington is rife with deep forests — 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
Length: 7 miles, roundtrip
Haunted qualities: Old relics, a mossy stone structure, and your imagination
Read Nathaniel Hawthorne's short story "Ethan Brand" before embarking on this hike to an old lime kiln and townsite. It's the haunting tale of a lime burner and is sure to set your imagination alight as you walk to the relics in this forest. Be sure also to read the historical information at the trailhead before you set off.
The forest follows an old roadbed, used by the kiln workers, and saw blades litter the trail as you near the kiln. It's still standing, but dripping with moss. Explore the rusty relics near the kiln, and imagine the ghosts of who used to work here.
Iron Goat Trail
Location: Stevens Pass — East
Length: 6.0 miles, roundtrip
Haunted qualities: site of avalanche and 1910 railroad disaster, spooky tunnels
The Iron Goat Trail marks the site of one of the worst railroad disasters in US history. In 1910, two trains — stuck in a monstrous snowstorm as they tried to cross the Cascade Crest — were hit by an enormous avalanche. It swept them 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, watching the snow accumulate outside.
If you want more information on the 1910 disaster, read The White Cascade, an excellent retelling of the event.
Hoh River Trail
Location: Olympic National Park
Length: 1 to 35 miles roundtrip, depending on your destination
Haunted qualities: Trees dripping with lichen, and shadowy figures...could it be Sasquatch?
The Hoh rank high on our list of haunted hikes. Those trees are just so huge, their branches becoming clawlike in the right light. 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 one mile or many more, this trail harbors some serious mysteries.
Mine Shaft Trail
Location: Cougar Mountain area
Length: 0.6 miles, roundtrip
Haunted qualities: Large, deep, dark mine shaft
Discover a piece of mining history on the Mine Shaft Trail. The braver hiker can even peer down the deep mine shaft which has been left open and covered in a safety grate. This deep, dark hole is an eerie relic of the mining activities which took place on Cougar Mountain in the late 1800s.
South Coldwater Trail
Location: Mount St. Helens
Length: 10 miles, roundtrip
Haunted qualities: Twisted metal, 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.
But the South Coldwater Lake trail evokes eruption day best. On that day in 1980, several logging operations were in progress, and about a mile into this hike, you can still see a bulldozer and yarding tower lying twisted beside the trail, the cab stuffed full of boulders blown inside it from the blast; 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.
Silver Star Mountain
Location: Columbia Gorge area
Length: 4 miles, roundtrip
Haunted qualities: Sasquatch sightings
Due to the many purported sightings of Sasquatch near Mount St. Helens and the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, if it exists at all, our famous resident ape likely lives in Washington's South Cascades. 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.
If the Sasquatch mythology intrigues you, be sure to grab a copy of Robert Michael Pyle's Where Bigfoot Walks. It's an exploration of the mythos surrounding Bigfoot, why it's important to preserve landscapes and a field report from an under-visited part of the state.
Ginkgo Petrified Forest
Location: Central Washington
Length: 3 miles, roundtrip
Haunted qualities: Howling wind and 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 unusual to imagine a flourishing forest in this desert landscape. And equally weird to see the fossils locked up.
Location: Mount Rainier National Park
Length: 10 miles, roundtrip
Haunted qualities: Ancient spirits, climbing fatalities
Climbing Mount Rainier is not without its dangers. But before recent climbers set their sights on the summits, Native Americans lore warned about attempting to climb 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 unwise to attempt it. According to the book "Haunted Hikes":
"...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."
With October come winter's first storms and rough weather; so be sure to check conditions before going. You wouldn't want to be sucked into Tahoma's cave-like stomach.
Learn more about Washington's history and haunted hikes with these great resources:
- 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.