The 2016 horror film The Forest bombed with critics and audiences alike. But the movie sparked great interest in Japan’s Aokigahara, the so-called “suicide forest” located at the base of Mount Fuji. The dense forest is associated with demons in Japanese mythology, and thousands of Japanese have committed suicide there. There’s no forest in the United States with such a deadly legacy, but there are plenty of forests and other natural areas that have developed reputations for being haunted. Here are just a few American landscapes where the paranormal is said to be quite normal.
5. Robinson Woods (Chicago)
The very phrase “Indian burial ground” evokes images of supernatural activity. Located near Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, Robinson Woods is home to the Robinson Family Burial Ground. It holds the remains of Chee-Chee-Pin-Quay, chief of the Potowatomi, Ottawa, and Chippewa tribes in the early 1800s (his English name: Alexander Robinson, hence the burial plot’s name). Many supernatural phenomena have been reported in the woods through the years, from moving lights to strange sounds and the pervasive scent of lilacs, even in the middle of winter. The 265-acre forest preserve is a popular destination for paranormal researchers. Many Chicago residents visit not for the haunts but to enjoy the winding trail along the Des Plaines River.
4. Great Dismal Swamp (North Carolina and Virginia)
Covering more than 100,000 acres near the Atlantic coast on the border of North Carolina and Virginia, even the name of this place sounds ominous. The Great Dismal Swamp is as much a no-man’s land as any swamp, filled with poisonous snakes, quicksand and heavily forested with twisted and gnarled cypress trees. And of course, through the years, stories were born. In the most famous, a Native American squaw who died just before her wedding can reportedly be seen paddling a pale white canoe on Lake Drummond. The fact that the swamp served as a refuge for escaped slaves for some 200 years only adds to the lore. While the original swamp land covered around a million acres, only a tenth of that area is protected today through the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge. For the best view of this otherworldly area, take a canoe or rent one at a local outfitter.
3. Pine Barrens (New Jersey)
It’s hard to imagine that a massive area this wooded could exist just more than an hour’s drive from New York City. But the Pine Barrens that cover more than a million acres in southern New Jersey look much as they did when the first Europeans arrived centuries ago. The area is the supposed home to one of the most mysterious creatures in the United States, the Jersey Devil. The first appearances of this cryptid, described as a hybrid between a goat and a bat, came in the early 1700s. As legend has it, a woman who practiced witchcraft gave birth to her 13th child on a stormy night; after the child emerged from the womb, it sprouted a goat’s head and wings. It then killed a midwife and flew off into the Pine Barrens.
A wave of sightings around the beginning of the 20th century helped revive the folklore of the creature. Most such sightings are easily debunked; a reported photo of the Jersey Devil in late 2015 is laughably ridiculous. If you visit the Pine Barrens, you probably won’t see the Jersey Devil. You will, however, find some great wildlife viewing areas, along with opportunities for hiking, canoeing and other outdoor activities.
2. Owyhee Mountains (Idaho)
According to Shoshone Native American legend, cannibalistic, dwarf-like creatures inhabit these mountains in the southwestern corner of Idaho. Supposedly possessed by a powerful demon, these creatures venture out of their caves to abduct little children. They’re surprisingly strong for their size, as legend has it they’ve been seen carrying elk and deer back to their caves. If these long-tailed demonic creatures aren’t eerie enough, the Owyhees are home to other legendary paranormal activities. Silver City, an old mining town with dozens of structures dating to the late 19th century, features the Idaho Hotel, which is still open for business part of the year. No less than three different spirits are said to haunt the hotel, including two men killed in a shootout during the town’s boom days. Another Owyhee tale tells of a pack of phantom horses that materialize out of the clouds to help when local ranchers or farmers are in trouble.
1. Freetown-Fall River State Forest (Massachusetts)
Unlike other forests where the supposed horrors are based on legends, plenty of very bad stuff has been documented in Freetown. This 5,400-acre forest in southeastern Massachusetts has seen several murders, suicides and assaults. In the 1980s, news surfaced of satanic cult activity in the forest. But there’s more. One paranormal researcher includes this state forest as one of the points of the mysterious “Bridgewater Triangle,” where everything from UFOs to strange flying creatures have allegedly been spotted. A 2013 documentary, The Bridgewater Triangle, details weird events in this state forest and elsewhere in the mysterious area christened “America’s Bermuda Triangle.”