Forests have always fascinated and frightened humanity. Whether it’s the limited visibility, the unexplained noises in the night, the endless hiding places for unseen threats, or the lack of civilized comforts, something about forests just creeps people out. Horror movies, ghost stories, and cryptid encounters are set in the woods for a good reason, and there are a lot of real-life woods that prove that reason valid.
Many forests across the globe have had their share of horrors, both factual and fantastical, and this list brings together ten of the absolute creepiest—omitting the Island of the Dolls, the Screaming Forest, and the Suicide Forest, which have enough press already.
10 Cameron Park, U.S.
Cameron Park is located in Waco, Texas, a city with an eerie reputation, and the park only adds to the feeling. For starters, it is a common paranormal investigation site, allegedly haunted by a pair of unjustly executed 19th-century outlaws. For another, a hike through the park will take you to no less than four different paranormal monuments.
There’s Jacob’s Ladder, a set of extremely steep and aging steps that lead up a bluff. Jacob’s Ladder is said to be home to the “grabbing ghost” who pulls climbers to their deaths. Then there’s the Tar Pits, where a motorcyclist died attempting an overly ambitious jump. He now haunts the area. Then there’s Lover’s Leap, a cliff from which a Native American Romeo and Juliet were said to have leaped together. They also haunt the area. Best of all is the Witch’s Castle, a set of crumbling stone ruins in the heart of the forest, where people hear the screams and chants of a witch’s ghost nightly.
9 Freetown-Fall River State Forest, U.S.
Freetown-Fall River State Forest in southeastern Massachusetts has gained much attention from true crime fans and paranormal investigators for one reason or another. There are many articles, for example, detailing the murder of Mary Lou Arruda or the role a Satanic cult played in another murder there. But Freetown earns its spot on this list for another creepy reason: …every creepy reason.
Freetown has played a large part in earning its surrounding area the nickname “The Bridgewater Triangle.” The area’s somewhat unique boast is that almost every creepy happening you can imagine has been claimed or confirmed within its bounds. UFO abductions, regular abductions, ghosts, Native American curses, Bigfoots, murders, ritual sacrifices, toxic waste dumping, mutated animals, thunderbird sightings, and even an escaped emu stalking the forest.
8 Dow Hill, India
Dow Hill Forest, in the coincidentally named Kurseong, India, is a haunting inside of a haunting. The woods themselves are considered one of the most haunted areas in the country, and at the center of the forest sits the Victoria Boys’ School, considered one of its most haunted schools. On top of that, the road that leads to the school is known as “Death Road.”
There are many alleged sightings of ghosts, orbs, disembodied giggles, and phantom footsteps. But the most frightening local apparition is the headless boy. A young boy with only a stump neck patrols Death Road, and if spotted, he runs into the trees and disappears. Local tradition holds that anyone who sees the apparition will never be able to get him out of their heads.
7 Epping Forest, England
The United Kingdom is home to several officially designated “ancient forests.” These forests are sites with a minimum of 400 years of continuous history. It’s no surprise that many of these old woods are thought to be haunted, just as it’s no surprise that many have been used as a refuge for criminals and fugitives. Epping Forest is no exception.
The infamous 18th-century highwayman Dick Turpin pillaged in the woods. He also committed at least one of his murders there. Modern times have seen even more death. The woods have become a popular dumping ground for murder victims since the ’60s. At least 11 murders are tied to the woods. Naturally, the forest has its share of paranormal sightings and has even been the setting of multiple horror and murder-mystery novels.
6 Sasan Gir, India
Gir National Park and Wildlife Sanctuary, known to locals as Sasan Gir, isn’t considered haunted. It wasn’t the setting for a grisly murder by inbred cannibals. It doesn’t play host to alien abductions, Jersey Devils, or Bigfoots. Instead, the Gir Forest is scary for one very specific—and very real—reason: it is the one spot on Earth that both lions and tigers stalk the jungle.
Not only lions and tigers but leopards. And hyenas, jackals, crocodiles, and venomous cobras. No other forest on Earth, nor land in general, is home to so many apex, and potentially apex, predators. Though the two most fearsome big cats used to have thousands of miles of overlapping territory, it has been reduced to solely the Gir Forest in the last century. Only in Gir can two glowing yellow eyes peer at you through the dark forest and make you think to yourself, “Lion, tiger, or leopard? Oh my. I’m gonna die.”
5 Hoia-Baciu, Romania
Unsurprisingly, Romania is home to one of the most haunted forests in the world, the Hoia-Baciu Forest. Regardless of any paranormal or violent associations in Hoia-Baciu, the trees themselves are creepy, growing in unnatural twists and curves, some even spiraling or zig-zagging. Thought by some to be related to the odd flora, the air feels different within the borders of Hoia-Baciu. This feeling potentially contributes to the many claims of anxiety and nausea by visitors.
Hoia-Baciu’s main claim to paranormal fame came when a military technician captured a widely-spread photograph of an alleged UFO there in 1968. The bright object was hovering over a clearing in the center of the woods. Why? We still don’t know. Experts haven’t been able to come up with a valid explanation. No plants have ever grown either. It’s probably UFO radiation.
4 The Devil’s Tramping Ground, U.S.
Speaking of unnatural clearings, the United States has its own. Known as the Devil’s Tramping Ground, the eerily empty spot sits within a forest in Bear Creek, North Carolina. Despite being located in the middle of miles of dense, old forest, the Ground sits empty of all life. And it’s been this way as long as anyone can remember.
The clearing spans about 40 feet, and within its bounds, people have claimed to witness a range of odd occurrences. Dogs prefer to avoid the spot and whine when brought within. People have seen forest animals taking detours around the spot rather than passing through. Items left within the spot overnight end up tossed beyond its borders. Legend has it that the Devil uses the space for his nightly dances, hence its name.
3 The Schwarzwald, Germany
Located in southwestern Germany, the Schwarzwald, or the Black Forest, is a dark, damp conifer forest. The forest’s name comes from the fact that its trees tend to block out sunlight, blurring the lines between night and day. Its stifling atmosphere inspired the Brothers Grimm to set a few of their spookier tales there.
Most famously, the size and density of the forest inspired the Brothers to write “Hansel and Gretel,” a tale that begins with two children becoming hopelessly lost in a crowded wood. Further supporting this claim is that some of the footpaths beaten into the Schwarzwald are thought to be the oldest in the entire world, and their twisting, crumbling visages look it.
2 The Crooked Forest, Poland
Poland’s Crooked Forest is aptly named. Its trees all grow crooked and hauntingly—all with the exact same crooks. Every tree in the forest emerges from the ground straight up, then within a few inches bend dramatically into semicircles before returning to normal, perpendicular growth. An even weirder fact is that every one of the trees’ bends faces due north.
How hundreds of pines became so identically warped is still a mystery. Unlike The Devil’s Tramping Ground, which scientists attribute to a naturally occurring salt-lick, the trees of the Crooked Forest still remain a mystery. As you would expect, many have turned to alien influence for an explanation.
1 Elfin Forest, U.S.
The Elfin Forest in Escondido, California manages, among other feats, a very rare spooky hat-trick: it holds an abandoned insane asylum, is cursed by Native American spirits, and is cursed by Romani (the correct term for Gypsies).
The forest is home to a staggering amount of creepy locations, paranormal sightings, and historical violence. There is the evil white witch who roams the forest. There’s the rock labyrinth at its heart, where the Romani conducted regular seances. There’s Spook’s Canyon, where the Romani lived before they were all slaughtered. The hills above the canyon are said to be home to a mass burial ground for Native American children. Perhaps related to the graves are the mysterious children-sized footprints painted on concrete pipes in the area. Then there’s Questhaven, the abandoned psychiatric hospital which hosts its own impressive amount of frightening folktales.