The time-honored tradition of telling spooky stories is likely as old as humanity’s ability to harness fire. The campfire is just the perfect place to tell a scary tale; huddled around an island of light in a dark wilderness. Everyone knows a scary story or two, but a lot of these are just made up, cheap jump scares. Well, here are several true creepy stories that you can tell on your next camping trip that are sure to chill the bones with their grounding in reality.
Many scary camping stories are supernatural in nature and can be a little far-fetched. But here are a few with solid explanations or confirmed reports that defy logic. Decide for yourself if the mystery is mundane or perhaps something more. These stories come from the supernatural ghost capital of the American South, North Carolina.
Brown Mountain Lights
Brown Mountain North Carolina is mostly a normal run of the mill mountain, but an odd phenomenon has been witnessed there that has made it famous. The first recorded report was in 1913, but tales and word of mouth accounts date back to the early 19th century. The reports tell of “mysterious lights seen just above the horizon every night, red in color, with a pronounced circular shape.” These lights bob up and down and traverse the mountain from side to side.
Some researchers dismiss them as train or automobile lights, and some accounts likely were, but a massive flood in 1922 knocked out power and roads in the area for some time. While there was no electricity or vehicles in the mountains, the lights persisted.
One of the most popular legends tells of a man and his pregnant wife who lived on Brown Mountain back in the 1800s. The man was not faithful to her, and one day she disappeared. The townsfolk believed him to be the murder but could not prove it. Then one night, the lights came. Some brave townspeople followed the lights, which lead them to a small rock formation. Buried underneath were the corpses of a woman and a baby. They went back to arrest the man, but he had vanished as well.
The Spectre in the Gold Mine
This time in Cabarrus County North Carolina, there was a rich gold mine owned by a notorious cheapskate actually nicknamed “skinflint” McIntosh. McIntosh wanted the services of expert miner Joe McGee, but McGee claimed he would not work in the dangerous mine unless skinflint promised to pay his wife $1,000 if he died. McIntosh promised to pay $2,000, and the deal was struck.
Of course, one day Joe did not return home. His wife put together a search party, but the body was never found in the mine. When she asked for the promised money, skinflint claimed that Joe had merely run off with another woman and that he would not pay. The next night, the leader of the search party, Joe’s friend Shaun, claims to have been visited by the ghost of Joe Mcgee. When Mcgee asked if his wife had been paid, Shaun said no. Angered, Joe’s spirit leads Shaun to his body, hidden in the mine and vowed to haunt the mine forever.
The body found, skinflint had to pay the money to the widow and was forced to close down his mine after it became known that it was haunted. Ghost sightings aside, there was a small gold rush in North Carolina at the time, and McIntosh and Mcgee were real people. To this day it is one of the region’s most famous ghost stories.
The Maco Light of Joe Baldwin
In 1867, in the small Brunswick County station of Maco fifteen miles west of Wilmington, there was a slow freight train making its way down the track. The flagman Joe Baldwin was dozing in the caboose when he was jolted awake by the caboose becoming unlatched from the rest of the train. Shortly after the caboose came to a halt, Joe saw a passenger train heading in his direction. In order to signal the conductor of the passenger train and avoid a collision, Joe waved his lantern frantically but to no avail. The train collided with stray caboose and Joe was decapitated.
Clean-up crews found his body in the wreckage but his head was never found. Not long after he was buried, train passengers along the same route reported a floating light off in the distance. Some report it to be the headless ghost of Joe Baldwin, swinging his lantern and searching for his lost head.
What gives this story some credence is that United States President Grover Cleveland claimed to have seen the light on his campaign tour which took him by rail through the area. The tracks have since been removed, but ghost enthusiasts search the area to this day looking for signs of Joe Baldwin’s ghost.
True Life Horror Stories
These true creepy stories are not so supernatural but are confirmed reports of terrifying experiences in the wilderness while camping or hiking.
Chatting With a Serial Killer
A man and his buddy went camping in a Florida state park. The two 18-year-olds were just hanging out and drinking beers when they decided to go for a hike deep into the park to avoid park rangers. It was there they stumbled upon a disheveled old man living out of a van.
He was strange but not threatening. He gave directions in steps, not yards or miles, and constantly swayed as if off balance. The boys thought nothing too much of it, but got a bad feeling about him and decided to head home soon after encountering him. A couple of weeks later, they recognized the man when he appeared on the news, being arrested.
That man was Gary Michael Hilton, a now convicted serial killer who murdered and decapitated at least four people. The boys told the police and took investigators to the site they met him at, and even had to testify in court after evidence was found there.
The Mysterious Journal
A couple went camping in Golden Ears Park. The campsite next to theirs was fully set up and stocked, but no one came or went for a few days. Upon investigating the camp, they found empty cans of can food, an iPod in Japanese, broken mirrors, batteries and other objects strewn about the tents. It had been abandoned for some time.
The strangest thing they found was a journal that told the story of a young woman who met a new man and was in love with him. She wrote about how he hoped he would never leave and how she never wanted another man again. The last entry details a fight they had, and the young woman wrote that she was going to “get what she deserved” followed by a list of names and phone numbers. The entry was dated to one day before the couple that found the site arrived.
The owners of the campsite never returned, and the woman was never found. The park has had its share of drownings and missing persons but nothing quite so creepy.
Backcountry True Story
This story comes from Australia. A pair of hikers were exploring the wilderness in New South Wales when the stumbled upon what looked like a little altar. A small construction of sticks and stones that appeared almost religious in appearance. It did not seem to be aboriginal, and the hikers were puzzled by the mystery. They thought little of it and continued on.
Later that year, they were horrified to learn that this altar was one of many made by Ivan Milat, Australia’s worst serial killer. He would construct these shrines only a few dozen meters from where he buried his victims in shallow graves. The hikers realized that he must have been operating in that area while they were hiking, and were likely a stone’s throw away from one of his victims when they found the altar.
Known as “The Backpack Killer” Ivan Milat was convicted of seven murders, but likely committed more. He is currently spending the rest of his life in an Australian prison.
Truth Scarier Than Fiction
Spooky campfire stories are great for fun tale around the campsite, but if you really want to scare your friends and family, inject a little truth in them. There’s nothing scarier than a true creepy story; knowing that it really happened and that it could happen to you. Whether it’s confirmed yet unexplained sightings or true tales of death and horror on the trail, you can be sure that actual events will scare your fellow campers better than a corny story about a hook hand. Just be careful and observant while you are out in the wilderness, lest someone tells a scary story about you one day.