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15 Terrifying (and True) Camping Stories

15 Terrifying (and True) Camping Stories

Glowing orbs in the forest? Serial killers on the loose? Mayhem at the campground? Plenty of scary stories abound of people who sought solace in a relaxing camping trip out in nature, only to find themselves doing anything but relaxing. While telling tales by the campfire is a summertime tradition, quite a few real events have occurred that would put any normal person off of camping forever. Some are creepy, eerie and unexplainable; others are terrifyingly real, like animal attacks. Check out these true accounts of events that can’t quite be explained—and even worse, things we CAN explain.

15. Faces in the fire


Camping in the backcountry can sometimes be an eerie experience, especially for those of us who spend more time in the city than in the woods. But what if you came home with proof that something out of this world and creepy had happened? Writer Tami Asars recounted a childhood event for Washington Trails. Family friends went camping deep in Canada’s backcountry, and during the trip were plagued by unexplainable, deeply uneasy feelings. They went ahead and had dinner around the fire and took pictures of each other sitting around and eating dinner. No one could explain why they felt so weird and jittery, Asars said. That is, until they returned home and developed the rolls of film from their cameras. “There, in the fire, they saw faces.” They showed the pictures to Asar and other family members. “Very clear faces, coming up from the flames…to this day, I can remember the very evident eyes, noses and mouths of the phantoms that burned toward the sky…”

14. A lethal, ‘compelling force’


In 1959, a group of nine very experienced winter campers set off on a hike into the Ural Mountains. They never came back. Months later, a search team sent out to find them discovered their bodies frozen in the snow at what is now called Dyatlov Pass. The incident sparked intense investigation but remains a chilling mystery, because investigators found no clear cause of death, except that some of the hikers appeared to have been struck by a “compelling force”—they had broken ribs, cracked skulls and other injuries. The hikers had fled their campsite in the middle of the night, all barely dressed. The campsite itself wasn’t in bad shape—other than one tent that had been cut open…from the inside. Plenty of theories have circulated since then, ranging from Yeti attack to UFOs to a government conspiracy, but no clear answers.

13. The hiker and the serial killer


British backpacker Paul Onions was on the hiking trip of his life around Australia, when he hitched a ride out of Sydney with a good-natured guy named Bill. An hour into the ride, at the entrance to a state forest, “Bill turned into a monster,” stopping the car and pulling a gun on Paul, then producing a rope to try and tie him up. Paul ran for his life with Bill chasing after him, and managed to convince a passing driver to stop, jumping into the back seat and telling the driver to get out of there. He called the police to report the assault, but for some reason the report went unnoticed for four years. When detectives finally investigated, the details that Paul and the woman who saved him gave them helped lead them to “Bill,” whose real name was Ivan Milat—one of Australia’s worst serial killers, who had murdered several backpackers in that same part of Belanglo State Forest.

12. Hundreds of Rats Everywhere

via Alex Randall / Pinterest

One Reddit user told a camping tale that will have people with a fear of rats climbing on a table just from thinking about it. While camping in the Florida Keys near a rock quarry, he was told by an official that a nearby dumping site would be cleaned up and the trash burned, and that he should move his tent. “So I gathered up all of my belongings and moved a few hundred yards back into the woods,” he said. The next night, “As soon as it got dark and I was falling asleep my tent became covered with hundreds of rats,” displaced by the trash fire. “I shook as many as I could off and started a fire and stayed up all night hoping they wouldn’t return.” No luck: The next night, even more rats swarmed all over his tent, threatening to get inside. “I decided my Florida camping adventure had gone on long enough and headed back home,” he said.

11. Night of the living dead

via Phronk

Comedian Andy Kindler recalled a scary incident while car camping near Santa Cruz, California, in the 1970s. Early that evening, a police officer had questioned him and his girlfriend at their campsite, because of a report about people with guns in the state park. Nothing had come of that, and the couple went to sleep in the back of their station wagon. “It’s about one in the morning, don’t forget the back window is [stuck] down, and I’m completely naked…All of a sudden it sounds like my car is about to be attacked by 100 people. And they’re coming towards the car. So obviously, whoever had the guns in the park is still in the park,” Kindler recounted. “I hop into the front seat, completely naked. I turn on the lights and the people are literally like Night of the Living Dead about to descend upon the car. …I drove out of there. Naked. They’re chasing us.” Low on gas, “We get out of the park and for the rest of the night we had to park on various streets until cops came and told us to move. We moved three or four times until daybreak came and I was able to get in line for gas. I don’t camp anymore.”

10. Footsteps in the canyon

via Horseshoe Bend

Most hikers don’t worry too much about hearing footsteps nearby, since most popular trails these days will have more than one person on them. But when those footsteps sound near you for days … that’s more than a little creepy. It happened to a hiker in the Arizona backcountry, who was on a multi-day hike through a canyon, according to Washington Trails’ Asars. When the hiker walked, he heard footsteps. When he stopped, the footsteps stopped. He thought the footsteps were an echo of his own … but sometimes, they would speed up, and get very loud. After four days of this, he decided to cut his hike short and go out of the canyon by a different trail. The footsteps followed him nearly all the way to his car, Asars said—outside the canyon.

9. A grizzly attacks—twice

via Watson

Todd Orr was hiking in Montana’s Madison Valley on an early morning in September 2016 when he spotted a full-grown mama grizzly playing with her cubs. An experienced bear-country hiker, he kept his distance, waiting until the family disappeared into the trees. Then he took a path headed away from them. “But just a few strides later, I heard brush crashing down behind me,” Orr related to Backpacker’s Carolyn Webber. The grizzly was charging him. Orr pulled out his bear repellent spray. “But in two seconds, she burst through the cloud, 10 feet in front of me. I dropped onto my stomach and protected the back of my head and neck with my arms.” The bear clawed at his shoulder and back for several seconds before leaving. Orr thought that was the end of it. Bears rarely attack twice—but just a few minutes later, the mama grizzly came back! “She bit me 20 or 30 times, lifting me up a few inches from the ground and slamming me back down,” mauling his back and left arm. Despite having been chewed up like a gristly piece of steak, Orr was able to walk three miles back to his car and then drove himself 17 miles to the nearest hospital. He even had the presence of mind to record a Facebook video before leaving the trailhead.

8. A bugging sensation

via Atlas Obscura

High in the mountains of Nicaragua, a Peace Corps worker nicknamed “Boots” (real name withheld) was living in a remote community. He’d brought a few comforts from home, including a big set of cushioned headphones to listen to his iPod in the evenings. “It was about six months into Boot’s service that he began to hear the noises,” Travis, a.k.a. EmpyrealInvective, related in a CreepyPasta blog post. The sound of two rough pebbles being rubbed together, very close to his ear. At first he barely noticed it, but then the sound got louder and louder. Most people would go to a doctor about this time, but the nearest one was in Managua, two days’ travel away. Boots decided to tough it out. After a few days the noise ebbed—but that night, when he tilted his ear down, yellow liquid trickled out. He decided to make the arduous trip to see a Peace Corps doctor. “When she looked into his left ear, she gasped and said these words exactly, ‘Sangre de Cristo!’…she told him that when she looked into his ear canal, she saw insect legs,” Travis said. Apparently an insect had climbed into the cushioned lining of his headphones and then, driven out by the vibration of the music, climbed into his ear canal. “The sound Boots had been hearing was the bug chewing its way through his eardrum and worming its way deeper into his head.”

7. When goats attack


Reddit user CitizenTed was on a three-day camping trip on Mount Rainier when a herd of goats decided to gang up on a human…and that human was him. While making his way up a steep, scree-covered slope, a large herd of mountain goats “casually walked across the glacier toward me…Then, to my surprise and horror, they started kicking down rocks onto me. This wasn’t casual. This was the premeditated, coordinated kicking of large rocks down onto my head. I had to dodge and weave to avoid the rocks.” After several minutes of ducking the goat-made avalanche, the gang, er, herd, finally gave up and left, making their way off of the glacier. “I was pretty shaken up. But I continued my hike up to Observation Rock and met a few hikers there. They saw the whole thing and laughed about it,” CitizenTed recounted. “I told them ‘ya had to be there’. It was scary as hell.”

6. You’re not wanted

via Treehoppers

Jonathan Dorn, editor-in-chief of Backpacker Magazine, is obviously an experienced solo hiker. But even he has been scared stiff on the trail. “I’ve been stalked by bears, circled by wolves, and sniffed by coyotes while laying under a tarp, but none of those encounters unnerved me as much as a discovery I made a few years ago in the Catskills,” he wrote. “I was almost two miles off-trail in a spot I’d found the previous year while bushwhacking. No obvious human signs of any sort. As always, I scouted my surroundings for bear tracks before settling down to dinner–again, nothing. But as I got up from dessert to hang my food, I suddenly saw a small hand-woven stick figure hanging from a tree–like those in The Blair Witch Project–then another, and another, until I realized that the very spot I’d selected for cooking was surrounded by them.” How about a nice cup of Nope!

5. The shadow that follows

via Destination America

While visiting his native village, Reddit user banjowashisnameo was followed by an eerie figure one evening. Walking through a wooded area just after sundown, “we heard footsteps behind us and in our torchlight we saw a man walking in the distance who looked like our grandfather. Now, we had just left our grandfather back at his place and were walking to our cousin’s place so we were a bit surprised, particularly about him walking in the dark without a torch. So we slowed down a bit to allow him to catch up. The distance between us remained the same. We could see him walking but he was not getting near to us.” Spooked, the pair ran, but the figure remained the same distance behind them the whole time until they reached his cousin’s house. “Next day we asked our grand father if he was all right and narrated the incident. He said he had dozed off and dreamed about us walking through the woods.”

4. The most unpredictable animal

via Pinterest

Humans can be the most unpredictable and scary creatures in the woods. One Reddit user remembered a childhood incident where a drunken man with a rifle approached their campsite one night and began arguing with them. “My Dad stands up, and the guy moves for his rifle off of his back. As soon as that happens, my dad REACHES INTO THE *bleeping* FIRE and throws a log at the dude, then my Dad tackles him,” Rustadk recounts. While Rustadk and his brother ran to get the park rangers nearby, their dad held down the attacker until he was taken into custody.

Another Redditor set up camp with friends and left the site to go to an outdoor concert. They came back late that night to hear a rustling inside their tent. Thinking it was a raccoon, they carefully drew back the tent flap—to find a woman, high on drugs, stumbling around inside. Their next-door camping neighbours had tried to chase her off, but she had threatened them with a knife. “It took 45 minutes for the cops to come,” the poster said, and meanwhile, the woman trashed their tent.

3. More than just a bump in the night

via Pinsdaddy

Cabins are much more secure than thin-walled tents when it comes to keeping the creepy-crawlies … or so we think. Reddit user hawtcheck recalls a terrifying incident at a cabin in Arkansas. “The first night we stayed there, this beating started on all sides of the cabin, it was LOUD and eerily fast paced, moving from one wall to the next to the roof etc.,” he wrote. “A few times the gas powered fireplace would roar up and then go out, the tv would turn on and just be static, really cliche stuff.” The group also heard whispering throughout the night. After the first night, hawtcheck left a hall light on, and kept the bedroom door shut and locked. That is, “till we started seeing shadows under the door…” That was too much to deal with—they left after that. “I don’t know of the place was poorly built or people were messing with us or what, but the shadows under the door was way too much for me.”

2. Floating orbs in the woods

via Cleveland Plain Dealer

Numerous accounts exist of campers seeing glowing orbs or balls of light floating nearby in the woods or even in the open desert. While some might ascribe them to other campers passing by with flashlights, the tellers swear that the orbs are free-floating. Redditor hamhandle described one such orb that floated behind his tent while camping in the Sylvania Woods of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. “It looked about a foot in diameter of white light and gave off very little light. It moved slowly and steadily through the forest and eventually disappeared behind a tree,” he said. “I was pretty disturbed by this unexplainable orb of light and decided not to go to my tent for a few more hours. It was an unsettling night. It looked like one of those Will-o-the-wisps from folklore and legends.”

1. The guardian at the bridge

via Anza Valley Outlook

A longtime solo camper, Reddit poster ocelotSeven recalls an incident over 20 years ago in the Rio Grande Gorge near Taos, New Mexico. “Just as I was about to nod off, I got the feeling I was not alone,” he wrote. First, he thought it was the pair of badgers that had been bothering him all night that caused his eerie feeling. But then, “I noticed a faintly blue glow coming from somewhere far up the gorge.” He could hear a faint buzzing sound. And all too quickly,“What I saw was a WALL of blue light moving between each of the walls of the gorge,” moving toward his campsite. He threw his belongings together and ran along the river’s edge until he reached a bridge that crossed the river and led out of the gorge. And then things got really weird. “On the bridge is an old man on a horse. Wearing an old black velvet ‘Boss of the Plains’ style hat and a poncho/cloak/saddle blanket over his torso,” and staring at the approaching wall of light. Their eyes met, and ocelotSeven felt real panic: “I knew I was not supposed to be here now.” He backed further down the river, watching the rider: “I see him raise a hand, palm out, to the light. It stops immediately, the buzz trails off, and a “bottle rocket” of blue light shoots up into the sky.” And yes—a moment later, the rider had disappeared.


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