Updated from original 10/17/17 post
With histories that go back centuries and even millennia, trails might just be the perfect locations to trigger our supernatural senses. In the “spirit” of fun this Halloween, RTC searched for the spookiest tales we could find on America’s diverse collection of rail-trails and multiuse pathways.
*Check out these 10 great (and sometimes strange) tales below (in no particular order), which show that our connections to our trails and our communities can sometimes truly be … otherworldly.
Be advised: Although this post is meant entirely for fun and entertainment, a couple stories may not be for the faint of heart—so read with caution. Also, when visiting a trail, remember to always put safety first, obey local trail rules and regulations, and respect closing times!
Special thanks to all the trail organizations and nonprofits that participated in this post and provided their unique stories and legends for our hair-raising enjoyment.
1Mysterious Handprint in Cell 17 – Switchback Railroad Trail/D&L Trail (Pennsylvania)
Just a stone’s throw from the Switchback Railroad Trail in Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania—and less than a mile from the D&L Trail—stands the old Carbon County Jail, now The Old Jail Museum, site of the infamous execution in the 1870s of seven Irish coal miners known as the “Molly Maguires.” Accused (many think some falsely) of murdering mine owners during a union dispute, the men were hanged—but not before one of the accused, thought to be Thomas Fisher, put his hand on the dirty floor of his cell and placed it on the wall, affirming “This hand will remain as proof of my innocence.”
As the Old Jail Museum writes, “That handprint is visible today for everyone to view, even though past wardens tried to eradicate it by washing it, painting it, and even taking down part of the wall and re-plastering it.”
Today, you can visit the jail (open on limited days from May to October, call 570.325.5259 for info) to see the mysterious handprint, and hopefully catch a glimpse of the orbs and ghostly presences which are said to inhabit the place.
2Sasquatch Sightings – Hoh River Trail, Olympic National Park (Washington)
“Yearning for an eerie hike this Halloween season? Consider trekking the Hoh River Trail! A popular location for Bigfoot sightings and home to vampire legends, this 17-mile trail fulfills any hiker’s need for a spooky experience,” writes the Olympic National Park staff in a 2015 Facebook post. And indeed, while our research can’t speak to vampires per se, there have been multiple sightings that have been reported over the years of the elusive hairy humanoid around the Hoh River Trail, located about 20 miles southeast of Forks in Olympic National Park.
Whether the reports are true are not, the mostly easy-to-moderate trail certainly appears otherworldly with its dense, moss-covered trees and rainforest views along a 17-mile path to Blue Glacier on Mount Olympus. But hikers should take caution in the spring and early summer, when snowy conditions can make certain sections difficult to negotiate and follow. “In early season, several steep snow slopes exist along this trail. An ice axe may be required … [as well as a] map and compass skills,” writes Olympic National Park.
3Edward’s Ferry and Haunted House Bend – C&O Canal Towpath (DC/Maryland)
“In October of 1861, Union troops were driven down the infamous Ball’s Bluff into the [Potomac River] on the other side of Harrison Island [Montgomery County, Maryland]. Some of their bodies floated downstream all the way to Washington, D.C.,” writes Ranger Geoff Suiter in a September 2014 blog on the C&O Canal Trust website. Reports in later years around Edward’s Ferry—also known as Haunted House Bend—include strange noises and terrible screams, restless mules and even apparitions.
Regardless of whether one is inclined to the paranormal, the area claims a rich history as a Civil War site and once-active canal community, and archeology studies show that people lived in the area going back potentially thousands of years. Today, trail users can connect to Edward’s Ferry and its past, as well as many other historical landmarks, along the 184.5-mile C&O Canal Towpath.
4Midnight at Moonville – Moonville Rail Trail (Ohio)
"Deep in the forested hills of Vinton County stands one of the most legendary railroad tunnels in the world," writes the Vinton County Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB). The CVB goes on to say that according to age-old lore, the Moonville Tunnel, located along the 16-mile Moonville Rail Trail, is haunted by spirits who met their untimely deaths at the site.
Two eerie specters take center stage in the tunnel: 1) that of an 8-foot-tall man with eyes like fireballs who swings a lantern and releases blood-curdling screams, and 2) that of either a shapeless entity or, according to mixed reports, a woman dressed in clothing from an earlier period.
Note: Should you consider exploring the trail, be aware that some sections are works in progress with a rugged surface, steep inclines or missing bridges. Detailed trail info can be accessed on the CVB website.
5Dead Man’s Hollow – Youghiogheny River Trail (Pennsylvania)
The name “Dead Man’s Hollow” alone is enough to stir up one’s imagination about “things that go bump in the night,” and indeed, the 450-acre green space and conservation area located along the Youghiogheny River Trail (a segment of the Great Allegheny Passage) in Pennsylvania, has at least eight myths, legends and pieces of lore attached to its moniker. The Allegheny Land Trust (ALT), which owns the conservation area, notes stories ranging from the spirit of a man who claimed to have been wrongfully convicted of (and was hanged for) murder, to multiple sightings of a 40-foot snake with the girth of a top hat. Even more macabre: The name Dead Man’s Hollow is said to come from an incident where a group of boys found a body hanging from a tree!
While ALT says some of the stories (including about the name) can’t be substantiated, the organization still embraces the lore as a way to generate support for Dead Man’s Hollow, which boasts 111 bird species and 8 miles of trails. “We like to find connections between people and the land,” says Lindsay Dill, marketing communications director for ALT. “People like history.”
6A Polite G(host) – Heritage Rail Trail County Park (Pennsylvania)
According to an article in Penn Live, the 25-mile Heritage Rail Trail County Park in Pennsylvania—once a train corridor used by Lincoln on his way to deliver the Gettysburg Address, and then again via the funeral train following his assassination—also hosts the oldest continuously operating railroad tunnel in the world, the Howard Tunnel. It’s in this tunnel that a program coordinator for the York County Parks and Recreation Department once recalls smelling coffee during a visit with a paranomalist. Later, when listening to a tape made during the visit, he heard a ghostly voice asking, “Anyone want coffee?”
7Eerie Tunnels – North Bend Rail Trail (West Virginia)
The history and development of West Virginia’s 72-mile North Bend Rail Trail was documented in RTC’s December 2015 Trail of the Month, as was the fact that many people speculate about the supernatural activities taking place in the trail’s old railroad tunnels, 10 out of 23 of which are now passable for rail-trail traffic. The most famous is the Ghost of Silver Run (tunnel 19 near Cairo), where it’s said a young woman with “pitch-black hair and bloodless skin” would stand in front of the tunnel late at night—oblivious to the urgent horns of oncoming trains. Just before being hit, she would shoot up in the air, flailing and wailing like a banshee.
“Every community has their own story about the haunted tunnels in their section,” said North Bend Rail Trail Superintendent Paul Elliott in the 2015 article. Of the many hours of maintenance and surveillance work he’s done on the trail late at night, he said, “I don’t believe in ghosts, but let’s just say I sure don’t stop to pick up trash in the tunnels on those nights.”
8Spirit on Bike, and Train Whistles? – Old Narrow Gauge Volunteer Trail (Maine)
Though short at 1.25 miles, the Old Narrow Gauge Volunteer Trail has had a lot said about it in recent times in the local community of Randolph—in particular that it’s haunted by the bike-riding specter of a man who (rumor has it) was the victim of a murder-suicide. Pointing out that the rumors were born from a local event but that the facts may or may not equate to murder, Dan Albert, president of Friends of the Old Narrow Gauge Volunteer Trail, says he’s never personally witnessed a ghostly event. What he does maintain, however, is that on two occasions, he’s heard what he perceived to be a train whistle from a steam engine in a remote section of the trail with no homes nearby. “It’s a unique sound—because nobody has those whistles anymore,” said Albert, specifying that what he heard was high pitched and two toned. “I heard it twice.”
And, he mentions another interesting fact: The route once connected to the first government-supported veterans hospital in the U.S.
Want to learn more about the trail? Check out friends group’s Facebook page.
9Deadly Avalanche – Iron Goat Trail (Washington)
In March 1910, after almost two weeks of blizzard-like conditions, lightning struck Windy Mountain near Wellington, Washington. An avalanche was triggered that obliterated the railroad depot below, as well as much of the community, and rolled two snowed-in trains 150 feet into the Tye River Valley. In all, 96 lives were lost in what is considered the deadliest avalanche in U.S. history.
Although the Great Northern Railroad abandoned the tracks, many old railway tunnels and snow sheds still exist along the corridor—now preserved for hikers as the Iron Goat Trail—along with some of the wreckage. Though not confirmed, it’s said that people on the trail have reported hearing voices and screams and sounds of the crash around Wellington, which is now a ghost town. Today, the flora and relics make for a pretty trek (note that the trail is hiking only), but trail users should be sure to check local conditions before heading out, and entering the tunnels is strictly forbidden.
10Disappearance of Ottie Cline Powell – Appalachian Trail (Virginia)
Nobody really knows what happened to 4-year-old Ottie Cline Powell on Bluff Mountain, but a marker on the Appalachian Trail in Virginia designates the spot where the poor child’s body was found—months after he disappeared in November 1891—on the high peak of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
According to accounts, it was hunting for firewood that led Ottie and his classmates into the woods near the Tower Hill Schoolhouse on the Eastern Slope in Amherst County. It is believed that after he became lost, Ottie panicked and made a 7-mile climb over rocks, hedges and cliffs to the high peak, before succumbing to fatigue and freezing temperatures.
Since then, hikers and campers have reported feelings of an eerie presence near the site where Ottie was found, as well as sightings of a little boy in the area around Punchbowl Shelter, about 1.6 miles away.