Tell a spooky ghost story outdoors

Hikers that disappear without a trace, haunted huts, Sasquatch sightings, mysterious lights and visions in the woods, UFOs. It's time for spooky stories of the backcountry sort.

If you want to do the scaring, learn how to tell a good ghost story.

You'll need:

  • A dark, secluded, primitive setting. This part is easy enough for all of you hikers and backpackers.
  • The right mood. Wait till it's dark, late, and quiet. A small campfire or single candle lantern or flashlight can give a shadowy effect.
  • A great ghost story. Know your audience, and what will scare the gorp out of them (serial killers, ghost hikers, bears, etc.). Then pick a spooky tale from the many ghost books and websites that abound. Personally, I think creepiness works better than gore for a good story, but play to your audience.
  • Make it real and yours. Embellish the story with local, believable details, historical facts and folklore, and locations appropriate to your setting and audience. (It was Long Lake, the one we passed on our hike in, that the boy set out for 100 winters ago...
  • Practice telling the story so it sounds believable. Start off with a conversational tone and ramp up the tension for the horrific, unfinished ending. A scary twist or surprise at the end will complete the effect. If you're with a group, you can enlist helpers for this part.
  • Keep the fright factor appropriate. If you're telling a story to kids, don't scare them out of the outdoors for life, just give them a little thrill.

Here are two instructional videos with tips:

And, here are a few of the many sites with scary stories:

Which reminds me, did I ever tell you about that night I slept out alone near the swamp? It was such a stormy and dark night, no stars or the moon out. I woke up around 2 a.m. and heard these strange noises...

Share your own favorite outdoor ghost or scary stories below.

Filed under: Outdoor Skills


Bill S
3,670 reviewer rep
5,739 forum posts
October 25, 2010 at 9:02 p.m. (EDT)

I have been telling tall tales at Scout campfires for quite a few years. Doc Forgey's collections work well for youth groups. The classic Robert Service poems from the Yukon, Cremation of Sam Magee and Shooting of Dan McGraw work well even when read, as do the 2 versions of Jack London's To Light a Fire (the early version is the optimistic one where the protagonist succeeds, while the later version, written when London was apparently in a very depressed stage of his life, has the protagonist freezing to death as he fails to keep the fire lit).

But you do have to use some judgment with the group. One night, while camped in Calaveras Big Trees State Park, I told the tale of the Blue Mist. This story is based on a true incident that happened not far from Calaveras Big Trees, involving a blue mist (probably hydrocyanic gas or other vapor from a gold mine) that kills the 3 protagonists one by one, on successive nights. I introduced the tale with the words that "This is a true story that happened not far from this very place." After telling the tale and 3 or 4 others, we walked out into the meadow to do some star gazing. As we stood there looking up at the stars, a mist arose from the damp meadow. A very young, and short, scout became very frightened and grabbed my hand with one of his hands and the Senior Patrol Leader's hand with his other hand, and started screaming over and over "Mr. Scoutmaster, Mr Scoutmaster, THE BLUE MIST! LOOK! THE BLUE MIST!" I had not realized that a small 11-year-old could squeeze so hard. It took quite a while to calm him down, along with a couple of other young scouts.

So beware! You might stir up a few nightmares and actually scare some of your audience, especially if it includes young kids.

0 reviewer rep
415 forum posts
October 25, 2010 at 10:05 p.m. (EDT)


I have nothing to add but I thought this picture might get some people in the mood.

Tracker Clayton
4 reviewer rep
13 forum posts
November 15, 2015 at 8:23 p.m. (EST)

I've told a few in my time. Now I YouTube or read...missing 411 which is about people who go missing in the park systems before trips and it really gets to some of the people I go with. I worry more about other people than anything else in the woods. A good story around the campfire is always fun though! I usually look up Native American tails and stories before a trip in the area we go too and tell those.

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February 12, 2016

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