Campfire Stories: 13 Terrifying Accounts of Paranormal Encounters in the Wilderness
Image credit Jeff Fleming, Flickr (CC).

Have you ever found yourself alone in the wilderness? Far from the hustle and bustle of modern life and felt the sensation of being watched? Sometimes you just instinctively know you are not alone, that you are being watched by more than just shadows and unseen animals. From ghostly apparitions creeping through the woods at night to sightings of strange beasts and mythical creatures, here are thirteen terrifying accounts shared by hikers, campers, and hunters of paranormal encounters in the wilderness.

Readers beware, you may never go camping again after reading these terrifyingly true horror stories.

1. A Perfect Circle

“My pops and I are avid campers, not professionals anymore but my dad used to be a wilderness guide for kids. We typically prefer the eastern/western sierras as they have great car camping spots next to lakes and a lot of great trails. Last summer we decided to go up for a two-night stay and do some day hiking.

The campground was pretty full, not unusual for the summer, but we were lucky enough (I thought at the time) to find a pretty secluded site and we set up our tents. First night was normal. Little bear activity, but we’re used to that. Second night, I crawl into my backpacking tent (head and toes hit both ends- very small) and I pass out cold… until about 3 am when I wake up to the sound of footsteps. My dad is a diabetic and needs to get up to pee around 3-4 times a night, and the sounds are definitely footprints but they’re coming from the wrong direction. We were located next to the bathrooms, so the footsteps should be moving in that direction but they’re coming closer to my tent. They stop about a yard short and the breathing gets really heavy. I first brush it off as my dad, maybe lost without a flashlight. The breathing goes away. I fall back asleep only to be woken a few minutes later to breathing right above the tent. You know that rush of terror up your spine? I had that.

This wasn’t dad.

I laid perfectly still but the footprints continued to circle the tent. I had the rainfly on so I couldn’t see through the roof and it was a new moon and pitch black. Now I convince myself, a heavy sleeper, that I’m dreaming. Just as that thought runs through my head I feel a single finger run the length of my foot through the tent… real slow and methodical. Now, I figure, I have to be dreaming because my foot is in my sleeping bag and I couldn’t possibly feel that. But that comfort disappeared quickly when I realized (using the small ambient light available, that my foot was bare and out of the bag. I laid frozen as… whatever it was… Stroked my foot for a minute or two, gave a few more labored breaths and then just stood above my tent for what felt like an eternity before disappearing. I stayed up all night.

In the morning I heard my dad get out of his tent, I bolted up and met him by the fire. He looked me in the eye and asked if I had gotten up the night before. I asked him the same and he said he had at around 2am because he thought someone was going through our stuff. As I told him my story we noticed our gear had been neatly rearranged on the table. Every item. Nothing taken. Footprints in a perfect circle around my tent. We still can’t even talk about it.”  kitteninabearsuit

Related: 21 People Share their Creepiest Experiences of Paranormal Activity

2. The Stick Men

“Six hours walk through thick brush to the nearest passable road. Age 14, maybe 15, hiking and camping with two fellow Boy Scouts and an adult. We made camp for the night, had a cold dinner because it was too wet to scavenge firewood, and all turned in early.

Even in the woods, there are noises. Frogs, owls, small game, and every sort of bug. My tent-mate and I awoke at the same time, maybe 3 AM, to hear nothing outside. Absolute ear-straining silence, like a woolen blanket wrapped around the head. After a few minutes, the bugs started chirping again and we went back to sleep.

When we woke up in the morning, we found that five of the pine trees surrounding our little clearing had been connected in a star shape with scraped lines, and pinned to each one was a stick-man. Like the ones from The Blair Witch. The leader and his son (occupants of the other tent) accused us of f***ing with them, but we both knew it wasn’t us. That’s a story nobody believes. I mean, who would believe the alibis of two kids?

I’ll never camp without the safety of a large group and nearby civilization ever again.” – awesomeificationist

3. The Land Remembers

“One night I was camping near where an old river dam had been. I pulled the canoe in late so I just draped the tarp over the canoe and crawled in underneath it and fell asleep. In the middle of the night I woke up to the sound of roaring water. I crawled up out from under the tarp and the sound stopped. I thought I must have been imagining it or it was the wind through the trees or something. I crawled back under the tarp and the sound started again. This time when I crawled out it didn’t stop. The sound got louder and louder. I realized that it sounded like water ripping through the woods. Even the dogs had their hair on end. I quick pulled the tarp off the canoe and dragged it up to the top of a ridge and waited to see what was making that noise. Then I heard the voices, men yelling and a dull thumping noise. I huddled down next to the boat, pulled the dogs close and waited for the sun to come up to find out what was happening. Morning came and there was nothing to see.

To this day I don’t know what that was but I have my ideas. I will not camp there ever again. I was told that the land remembers, and that’s fine, I just don’t need to be there when it’s remembering.” – lone squirrel

Related: 21 Terrifying True Horror Stories That Will Keep You Awake Tonight

4. The Skin Changer

“Wildland firefighter with the forest service. Not my story but from an old supervisor of mine that I believe completely.

Setting is 2004 or so, hells canyon area of middle Idaho. his crew had been working all day on an emerging incident and were going to be working through the night as well. Being the assistant superintendent of the crew (second in charge, effectively) he was out ahead scouting on an atv or some such. He was working his way down a logging road that clearly had not been used in some time when a bobcat or lynx (it’s been a few years since I heard it) appears in the middle of the road, but doesn’t run away as they usually would. Thing stands there for a good 10 seconds, screams at him, and scampers up a tree not 5 feet off the road.

He finds this odd but not particularly unsettling. Just a half mile or so down the road, he finds a small cabin. Also odd, as this is federal land and no private structures should be there. Upon investigation, all the windows had been boarded shut tight and someone had done a good job of doing so. The door know had been punched out and secured to a hole drilled into the log frame by a chain. Someone did not want anything getting in (or out). Peering through the hole in the door he can see that everything in the house is upset.

This has him kind of unsettled, so he hops on his ATV and heads back up the road. Well, here’s where it gets real interesting. Right where the bobcat had been, there stands a native American woman, in a badly tattered nightgown and bare feet. Just standing there. He yells at her, asking if she needs help. she just screamed at him, the same scream as the cat from before, and climbs right up the tree, faster than any human has a right to be climbing.

Obviously, he nopes out of there as fast as he can. Unsure of who or what he just saw, he asks a local guy about the cabin. After asking around a little, a local Native American hears them talking and informs them that they saw a pumawha (excuse the likely butchered spelling.) In effect, a skin-changer, a warg.

Now, I would not believe most people that tried to tell me that. But this was a serious man that did not mess around about many things. He was dead serious the two times I heard him tell it, and I 100% believe he saw what he saw.” Anonymous

5. The Missing Hiker

“Park ranger here. Another ranger and I were out on a search and rescue call once. The missing person was a man in his 20s. He had gone hiking and had not returned the day that he intended to. When we got the call, it was nighttime, but we hiked in a few miles and set up camp on a ridge that had a pretty good view. He had gone into the woods prepared, so we decided to wait until daylight before beginning the search.

About 2 AM, I get up and am taking a piss when I see a moving light at the base of the cliffs across the valley and a few miles away. Looks like a flashlight beam. I tell the other ranger and we make the decision to keep waiting for daylight.

The next morning, we decide to go check out the area and bring this guy home. He get to approximately where I saw the light the night before and start calling his name. Soon, we find his body at the base of the cliff. He had fallen 60 feet on his head. The body was badly mangled. We radio back that it has now become a “recovery” instead of a “rescue.”

At this point, the other ranger yells to me to come look at this. Lying 20 feet from the man’s body was his maglite. It seemed odd, but I thought nothing of it until the other ranger reminded me of the light the night before. It kind of gave me the creeps, but I still dismissed it.

Before too long, the coroner arrived and inspected the body. After he took the body back to the lab, he said that the man had been dead for at least 48 hours before we found the body. All of the sudden the “oh, shit” alarm went off in my brain. I knew that it couldn’t be possible. I had the coroner review his work. Same result. I tried to find an explanation for the light I had seen–perhaps other hikers. But one Search and Rescue guy had stayed at the only trailhead in the area all night. No one had come or gone.

To this day, I have no clue what I saw that night. It freaked me out though.”  lepus_americanus

6. Laughter In The Night

“My dad and I would occasionally go hunting together when I was a kid. I was 14 and my dad knew a guy who owned what seemed to by half of Georgia. I mean the amount of property this guy owned was ridiculous. He let people hunt out there and if he trusted you he’d let you camp out there for a couple of nights if you wanted. He’d always make sure we had a way to call for help though before we did it though.

I loved camping out there more than I did just going hunting for a few hours then coming home. I liked the woodsman feel of living out in the woods. We woke up early one morning and hiked into the woods. It was still dark when we got to our stand. We didn’t see or hear anything. Not even birds. I remember my dad commenting on it and looking back it should have been a sign. Frustrated, we pack up and look for a spot to camp and we would set up again later that evening. My dad suggested we go deeper in to better our chances of seeing something so that’s what we did.

We hiked for a few hours, found a clearing, set up a small camp, got settled and passed the time freaking ourselves out by talking about bigfoot and other woodland creatures. We hike a ways away from camp, set up our blind and wait. Again, nothing.

We get back and our tent has been pulled up and laid flat. Not in a neat way but it’s just kinda laying there. We thought it was just the wind or something and we didn’t put it up right and it collapsed. We didn’t think much of it. Since we didn’t see or even hear anything all day we decide to leave the following day and try again later that week. We settle in for the night build a really small fire and just relax. Again, not even birds are making a sound. I remember thinking how odd it was to be this deep into the woods and only hear one or two birds the whole trip. Oh well, maybe we are making too much noise and scared everything off.

We go to sleep soon after settling in.

It’s pitch black, middle of the night, I wake up for some reason just to try to go back to sleep. I’m in that half asleep half awake phase when I hear laughter. I kinda jolt awake but don’t hear it anymore so I figured it was a dream. I lay back down and a few minutes later I hear it again. It continues and gets pretty loud. I wake up again but this time my dad is up too. He whispers and asked “Did you hear that?” and this is when my heart dropped. He heard the laughing too. It wasn’t a dream. We heard it again but it was faint and now that I’m actually awake I am paying attention to it.

It sounded kind of like several people laughing in unison. It wasn’t cackling or hysterical laughter but just kind of normal laughter. It didn’t last but for maybe 5 or 6 long seconds. I have never felt that much fear before in my entire life. We didn’t hear it anymore after that but needless to say we didn’t get any sleep. We packed up as soon as the sun came up and GTFO’d.

My dad was convinced someone followed us and was playing a prank. That’s why we didn’t see anything. He said while we were in the stand and blind, they were scaring all of the wildlife off with their unmasked scent and being on the ground. He says this but he didn’t go back out there for over a month. When he did finally go back, he mentioned it to the guy who owned the property. He wouldn’t let my dad hunt their anymore. Didn’t say why either. My dad thinks he made the guy think that my dad was crazy or something.

I guess it is possible for someone to have followed us out there. They must be legit ninjas though because we went out before daybreak. Nobody but the owner was parked out there that morning. There were dead leaves and sticks everywhere and when they decided to laugh, it came from different spots and I never heard a footstep.” – EbenHSHD

7. The Fur Coat

“We have a family cabin in the middle of nowhere, on a small lake with two other cabins, surrounded by forested area and flatlands both. About two miles away from the cabin and across the dirt road is a wildlife reserve. As kids, we walked through there all the time.

After about thirty minutes walking straight into these woods, there used to be. Collection of abandoned houses, an old settlement. We went exploring and found that the people who used to live there had just up and left. In each house, still dishes on the tables, clothing in the closets, cars parked in the clearings, all the strappings for horses in the barns. In one house, the floor had caved in and there were about forty pairs of women’s shoes scattered around the hole in the middle. No bones though, animal or human, nothing. We decided to stay away from the second floors of the houses after we saw that, we figured they’d be structurally unsound. A skeletal treehouse in the middle of the clearing. After we told my parents, my dad wanted to come and look too.

In one of the houses we found a bedroom, fully intact. The sheets were still on the beds. The pillow still had the indentation of a head on it. But everything was covered in a thick layer of dirt and the dust on the floors only had our footprints in it. At the foot of the bed was this stunning enormous grey fur coat. There were a few moth holes chewed in it, and it was as dirty as everything else, but when we inspected it, we knew it was real fur, likely wolf or silver fox. It was gorgeous. Dad decided he was going to bring it back and clean it up and see if he could have it remade for my mom (Dad was a thrifty guy, haha). As we were leaving I got a chill on the back of my neck, and about sixty yards from the house, turned around and saw an old woman glaring at us from the window of the second floor. She had her hair in a loose bun and was wearing a blue shawl on her shoulders over a cream colored blouse. I immediately felt super guilty.

I grabbed my dad, who was about ten yards ahead of me, and told him we had better put the coat back, because the woman was still living there and we had probably scared her and she looked pissed. We turned back around and I pointed to the window I saw her glaring at us from. No one there. I said she must have gone downstairs, and as we approached the house, still carrying the stupid coat, one of the windows in another house suddenly slammed shut. I fucking ran as fast as I could into the woods. Dad, being dad, stayed behind and started yelling for the lady to come out, he was sorry, etc. Went upstairs, no one there, dust on the floor undisturbed. Then he started up and dropped the coat in a big hurry and we beat it back to the road as fast as we could.

About five years later the government demolished the whole thing.” – SoulRequiem

Related: 25 People Share the Scariest Stories from their Hometowns

8. The Drumming

“I have always been drawn to the wild. It seems like home and I generally know my neighbors out there. Not afraid to be in the deep woods, in the dark. Love my woods.

One sunny, weekday afternoon I had dirt biked up an old mining road. It gained a couple thousand feet from the valley floor towards one of the ridges of the Cascades. When the road gave out near the bottom of a high basin I put on my backpack and started off cross country toward the ridge. It was still heavily forested, old growth and old cut fading in another thousand feet into those scraggly, wind blown ones near the top. About twenty minutes in and about a half mile up from me, near the tree line, I heard this thumping sound. It was very odd so I stopped to listen carefully. It sounded like a big, solid branch was being whacked against a solid tree. I use the term solid because the hits were powerful. One or both of the pieces of wood were hard and dry. The wood resonated and rang on impact as dry wood will. I couldn’t get over the power though. It sounded like someone was swinging a four inch post. Weird right? Well it gets better, this someone sounded like they were trying to communicate, the thumping had a very complex and well defined pattern. And here’s the weirdest part. The thumping “signal” occasionally became very rapid like what a drummer could do if they were noodling around with a stick but I swear it sounded like a four inch post was being treated a lightly as a drumstick.

I listened for maybe five minutes, just fascinated with this sound, this code, and the power of it. Then the drumming suddenly stopped. And I, kind of woke up to the the fear of this unknown thing out there. I had my pistol, I had my bear spray, and my knife. I really only fear cougars and even then I figure they’ll have a bad day trying to take me down. Still, the silence as I stared into the forest ahead seemed loaded and I turn on my heels and left that valley. That place and that experience gave me the chills and that high valley won’t see my shadow again.

I have read stories about some of the native peoples around here having valleys that they just wouldn’t go into. I can now easily understand how these legends get started.” – turgidpinky

9. Shadows in the Field

“Camping in Wyoming, two hours from pretty much anywhere with my dad, my friend, and my dog. This dog was the calmest (albeit quite stupid) and nicest dog I’ve ever had. I’ve never heard her growl or bark at anything, no matter how much it presented a threat to us or her, she just assumed everything was her friend or food.

It’s late at night, my dad’s asleep, and my friend and I are just hanging around the campfire. Out of nowhere the dog bolts up, barks once, and starts growling in the direction of a field next to our site. Of course we’re freaking the fuck out, trying to figure out what the hell she’s going on about, when we realize there’s a group of shadows on the other side of the field. We just sit there, staring at whatever it is, when we hear a conversation, no clue what language it was in. This goes on for about 10 minutes of us staring wide eyed at the shadows (didn’t think to wake my dad), when the shadows just went away, and my dog stops growling, lays down, and falls back asleep.

That was the one and only time she ever did anything like that in over a decade that we had her, still freaks me out to this day.” – Mataraiki

10. The Bloodcurdling Scream

“Some friends and I were doing some night fishing on the James River. We were sitting along the shoreline with a nice fire going accompanied by the usual idle talk and a few beers, when suddenly everyone just stopped talking like a switch was flipped off.

We were all staring across the river and felt as if something or someone was staring back. It was a very uneasy feeling, to which some of the group tried to shake off with the typical macho humor, when a bloodcurdling sound erupted from the other shore that froze everyone in their tracks. This sound was unlike any other that I had heard and it made every hair on my body vibrate and tingle. The only way I can describe it is it sounded like a wild person with no language skills being gutted alive. No words, just this high pitched bloodcurdling scream. Nobody moved or said a word. We all just sat there fixed in our stare, when just as suddenly a second scream was let loose with even more force than the first.

By this time, several of us were sprinting to our trucks that were parked within 20 or 30 feet and retrieving various firearms. We all sat there quietly with our eyes fixed staring toward the opposite shore watching the light from our fire reflecting off the rocks. Hours later we packed it up and left, feeling very unsettled. We never did figure that one out or even hazard a guess as to what was on the opposite bank.”  Imjonesy

11. A Gut Feeling

“Me and my eldest son took off to a lake in the wilds of glacier country. I have extensive backcountry exposure, even did a stint as a big game guide in a remote backcountry camp. On this day we enjoyed the fishing and settled in for the night.

I pulled out my pan and stoked up a nice fire. It was clear and cool as the sun faded into the western slopes. We cooked up some fresh rainbows with garlic and butter and filled our stomachs. I leaned back against the cooler after pulling out a refreshing beverage. The boy was soon asleep by the fire as it had been a busy day. I sipped my beer and watched the moonlight bouncing off the little waves in the lake. There was still a light glow on the western horizon where the sun had gone down and I could see the outline of the mountain peaks towering over the little lake. I slowly faded off to sleep with the sound of the lake waves gently lapping on the rocks.

I awoke with a start. The fire was out, the lantern was out too. The moon was gone and it was pitch black. Something was wrong. The hair on the back of my neck stood straight out. I was paralyzed. I could hear my heart thumping as I strained to hear something in the bush, all was quiet. I had a horrible uneasy feeling. I gathered myself together and started kicking around the fire, a small flame came alive and I quickly threw on some wood. In the firelight, I could see that the boy had awoken and was shocked to see his wide-open eyes staring at me. “Whats wrong?” he asked. “Nothing, go climb in the tent.” I lied. He crawled into the tent but even in the light of fire I couldn’t shake my wariness. Something was out there in the bush, and I could feel it was watching me.

I gathered up my light and flashed around camp. Nothing. Finally, I began to calm down and crawled in the tent with the boy. Then again, like clockwork, I awoke completely tense. This time I couldn’t shake the feeling at all. I finally instructed the boy to wake up and go get in the truck. I packed up all of camp and drove around to the other side of the lake and slept with him in the truck. At dawn, I got up and looked across the lake where we were camped earlier, and another uneasy feeling came over me. I decided it was time to go home.

I don’t know what was out there, or what was going on over there, but I know my instincts, and something was bad wrong with that place. Whatever it was, I will leave it to your imagination, it creeps me out to this day thinking about that night.” – MT Patriot

Related: 15 People Share their True Haunted House Ghost Stories

12. The Burial Mounds

“It was very early in the morning around 2-3 a.m. and I was in a very open area waiting for my boss to return with some equipment. As I was waiting I got that feeling like I was being watched by something that didn’t want me there and had some intent on harming me. I stood up and looked around. The moon was very bright that night and I could clearly see all the way to the tree lines, probably 50 yards on both sides of me. Nothing around. I calmed down a bit and took my pack off my back to get my drink out.

As I opened my drink, I hear this woosh woosh woosh sound flying through the air from behind me. It was like the sound that a stick makes if you throw it overhand. I literally dove out of the way with my bag falling to the ground and my drink flying through the air spilling as I jumped away. I recover from my diving experience and take my radio out of my bag to radio my boss. I go “I’m not trying to freak you out or anything but I’m on my way back to the shop. I just had something thrown at me.” As I’m talking to him I’m looking around on the snowy ground for anything that could have been hurled at me. There was nothing on the ground but snow. I had no idea what the hell was going on at this point. His reply of “I’ve already got a head start on you I’ll see you there” sounded out of breath like he was running. I gather my stuff and start hauling ass back to the shop.

I get back and meet up with my boss and he’s pacing back and forth in our shop freaking out. I get him to calm down and he tells me he was on his way back up to me when he got the same feeling I got before something got thrown at me. He said after he got the feeling he stopped to look around and heard something clearly two-legged start walking towards him, barely crunching in the snow. Then he said it started running at him but there was nothing in sight. All of the sounds of movement stopped and he froze to listen for more sounds. Then he said a “hot breath” was hitting the back of the neck and he proceeded to freak out. He said he ran the whole way back to the shop and about halfway back is when he heard me on the radio.

The crazy part about this whole thing is the area where we were working has several burial mounds in the woods from Native Americans. Apparently, there also used to be an ‘altar’ of some kind made out of stone that was buried during a construction project a few decades ago.” – get_logicated

13. Music in The Night

“My brothers and I were camping at this primitive campsite in west Texas, it was about 12:30 at night and we start hearing this very faint, opera music in the forest around us. After heating up Spaghettios on our fire we nope’d the f*** outta there and hiked like 6 miles by moonlight back to our truck and drove home. It was like it was following us, because we heard it all the way to about a mile away from the parking lot.

The reason it was creepy was because when we got to our campsite a park ranger told us we were lucky to be the only people for miles around because of how peaceful it was. He said there was no one else there.” – Sambaloney

Note: Some of these entries have been edited for length and clarity.

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