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24 Creepy Real-Life Camping Stories That Will Make You Stay Out of the Woods Forever

The woods are dark and full of terrors.

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Camping isn’t for everyone. No toilets, exposure to the elements, creatures roaming free. And those creatures aren’t always of the fuzzy, woodland variety.

If that wasn’t enough to dissuade you from packing up your gear and marching out into woods, keep reading for some particularly creepy camping stories that will keep you out of the wilderness for good.

1. A Strange Sound in the Woods

A few years back, OGdinosaur, an archaeologist, was among a group of people doing a survey in the middle of a forest. The crew had gone home, and only OGdinosaur and her boss were left to finish up some mapping, miles away from the furthest town. They made their way out further into the bush, about an hour out. 

As soon as they arrived, the entire area felt off. OGdinosaur and her boss pushed the feeling away in favor of their work. About 15 minutes in, they hear a loud ‘womp’ sound. Both stopped, thinking the sound must have been their imagination. Then, they heard it again. This time, it was so loud that they both felt pressure on their bodies and got goosebumps all over. They fled the site as quickly as possible. A decade later, thinking about it still freaks OGdinosaur out.

Related: 10 Scary Stories From Creepy Catalog That Will Give You Nightmares  

2. "When The Saints Come Marching In"

Thekeezler and his girlfriend were on a road trip through California when they found a relatively empty campsite. They set up camp, made dinner, and went to bed. 

In the middle of the night, they were awoken by someone whistling outside their tent to the tune of “When the Saints Come Marching In.” They laid in utter silence, hoping the singing person would go away. But then the whistling turned to chanting: “When you sleep here, you disrespect me, and when you disrespect me, you disrespect the U.S. Marines.” The Reddit user knew they needed to get out. 

They quietly climbed from their tent into their truck and drove to a motel in the neighboring town. The next morning they drove back to the campsite to retrieve the belongings they’d left behind. As they were leaving, they paused at a site adjacent to where they had slept, where a family had been staying. The family told thekeezler that the singing had continued for another 2-3 hours after they’d left, and it was one of the creepiest things they’d ever experienced. 

3. When in Florida, You May Meet a Serial Killer

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  • Photo Credit: Cover of Trails of Death: The True Story of National Forest Serial Killer Gary Hilton via TitleTown Publishing

When DrJimDanger was 18, he and some friends took a road trip to the Apalachicola National Forest near Tallahassee, FL. Their goal was to get away from people. So, they found themselves driving far into the woods. After they set up camp and had a few drinks, the writer and a friend decide to explore the surrounding forest. They found another trail and started following it, but the further they went, the more apparent it became that someone was living there. 

Eventually, they came to the campsite of an older man who was living out of his van. His clothes were strung up, coolers were scattered around, and a dog sprawled beside the van. The user and his friend tried to back out without being seen, but the man caught sight of them and called them over. He asked them friendly questions and offered up some places they should check out in the park. After about ten minutes of talking, they returned to their own campsite. The man was a little strange but seemed perfectly harmless. 

But, fast forward two months, and the Reddit user’s friend calls and tells him to turn on the television. There, on screen, was the man they met in the woods that night … on trial for four murders. 

4. Never Camping in the Florida Keys Again

Jackman was camping in the Florida Keys near a quarry and an old dump site. One day, someone showed up at their camp and said they needed to move further from the dump site. He was planning on cleaning up the junk and burning some of the refuse in the area. The user moved, and that night the men started burning. Both parties went about their business. 

That night, the peaceful camping trip took a turn. They woke to the sound of scratching outside their tent. When they opened their eyes, they found their tent was covered in hundreds of rats. They shook off as many as they could before climbing from the tent. The rats had gone, but the writer was too freaked to go back to sleep. Instead, they started a fire and stayed up for the rest of the night. 

The next night, the Reddit writer fell asleep hesitantly, but thought it would be okay because the men had finished their burning. Yet, again, they woke on the second night to their tent covered in rats. They used the same strategy: shaking the tent until the little critters fell off, then starting a fire. But after this they’d had enough. They packed up their things and headed back for the highway. As they were walking along the road, they came upon the dead body of a giant alligator. Suffice it to say, they had their fill of camping in Florida. 

Related: 13 Horror Movies Set in the Woods That Will Keep You Out of the Forest Forever 

5. A Jersey Devil Sighting

EtsuRah had just watched an episode of “Are You Afraid of the Dark” about the Jersey Devil when their father took them hunting. While they were deep in the woods, waiting for the deer to emerge, the Reddit user caught sight of a little figure on the ground. It looked human, but because they were at a distance and it was dark, they could hardly make it out. Since EtsuRah was just 12 and it was three in the morning, the best they could tell was that the figure was two or three feet tall.

For hours, the writer sat and watched this figure. The longer they watched it, the more they were certain is was the Jersey Devil. It had to be. When the two finally stood to leave, they walked toward the figure, and it was revealed what it really was: a lawn gnome. 

6. Stumbling Onto a Crime Scene

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Every summer when Camo_Panda went to visit their dad, the two would take trips into the mountains. On one trip, however, their experience left them incredibly uneasy. They were hiking down a steep slope when they saw an old rifle sticking from a tree. It looked like the tree had grown around the barrel many years before. They went to get a closer look and found a small cave.

Inside, the two found a handful of aged personal belongings that made it seem as though the cave had once been inhabited. There were three cans of unopened food, a rusted cast iron pot, an old saddle and bridle set, and a deteriorated wool blanket. They unrolled the blanket, and here’s where things got really freaky. Inside, they found a shirt with holes and bloodstains crumpled up. The writer’s father estimated the gun they found in the tree to have been from the 1870s, meaning whoever had been shot (and most likely killed) in those woods likely died around that same time. 

7. The Glowing Orbs

TX_  and their family were camping on a lake in central Texas. On the first night they were playing Pictionary by the campfire when they saw a light fly by over the lake. For a moment they didn’t think much of it, and instead continued the game. Then, another went by at the same speed following the exact same trajectory as the first. 

They were reddish yellow orbs with no sound coming from them. After about 15 of the orbs went by, a faster, smaller, white one came in behind the rest. Then they were all gone. Not much was said about the event for the rest of the trip but when they returned home, their mother looked up what the lights could have been. She discovered that people in a town a few miles from where they’d been camping also reported seeing the lights. No one had an explanation for what they were. 

Related: 11 People Recount Their Creepiest, Unexplainable Paranormal Experiences 

8. Suddenly, No Longer Alone

TestPilotBeta went hiking with a friend in the Carolina Mountains. They went far off the main trail so by the time they set up camp, they were miles from any other people. They pitched their tent, ate dinner, and were relaxing around the fire when they first felt it - the sudden feeling of not being alone. 

After a few seconds, they heard something move in the darkness. The second time they heard it, the sound was louder, and they realized they had to be more than one thing. The two friends decided their best chance was to try scaring these things away. The user grabbed a handful of large rocks, and their friend took a thick branch from the fire. They both yelled as loudly as they could then ran into the darkness, the user throwing rocks, the friend swinging his branch. They saw a dozen pairs of eyes staring back at them.

As their eyes adjusted to the darkness, they realized they had charged a pack of mountain ponies who didn’t even looked phased when two grown men ran and yelled at them. 

9. A Strange Attack

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AlexDr0ps went camping in the Allegheny National Forest with some friends, and one night they were sitting around the fire when someone, or something, started throwing rocks at their tent from somewhere in the darkness. Initially, they thought it was a group of pranksters from a neighboring camp. When they took a look around the camp, there was no sign of anyone but them. A few hours later, they heard a piercing scream. The two spent the rest of the night unsettled, but never discovered what had happened.

10. Is That... a Polar Bear?

Koshgeo was camping in the high arctic when late at night, from inside their tent, they heard what sounded like pebbles rolling down the side of a nearby slope. Their first thought was it had to be a polar bear. They got up to look outside the tent, and saw nothing. 

Somewhat confused, but not too worried, they fell back asleep. An hour or so later they woke to the sound of pebbles falling again. After a few nights of this eerie noise, they finally discovered what was going on. When the sunlight hit the frozen side of the slope, it loosened the pebbles that had been solidified by the ice. Then, the pebbles would slowly start falling, coming in showers. But then, the writer began to worry that the next time they heard pebbles it would actually be a polar bear—and they would have dismissed the pebbles as a natural phenomenon. Naturally, they didn’t get a good night’s sleep until they moved camp. 

Related: 15 Hikers Share Their Scariest Experiences in the Wilderness 

11. The Man Who Watched Them Sleep

Border trilogy is no stranger when it comes to camping, but when he and his wife wandered off the trail while backpacking in Maine, they had a rather strange encounter. They had prepared to be on the trail for 10 days and so far hadn’t seen another person since first hitting the trail. The couple had hoped not to see anyone else on their trip, so this was perfect.

Normally, they just sleep under the stars. One night, because it was drizzling, they set up their little tent and climbed inside for the night. Around sunrise the next morning, he crawled from their tent to see a man standing about 30 feet from them, staring. The Reddit user greeted them, but without saying a word, the man turned and disappeared into the woods. The couple were out there for another few days and kept waiting to run into the man again, but never did.

12. What Do You Do After Stumbling on a Klan Rally?

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While camping in the Manistee National Forest in Northern Michigan, BeerHunter420 saw something they’ll never be able to forget. That year, they’d decided to try a new spot on the river that had better access for fishing and kayaking. They were miles from the nearest town so the odds of running into anyone else were slim. 

On their first day, they set up their tents and spent the afternoon by the river before returning to camp in the evening. They were sitting around their fire when they noticed another, massive fire glowing through the trees about 300 yards away. Then the chanting began.

When the Reddit user got a closer look, they realized it was actually a burning cross. Five minutes into the chanting, gunfire started. The Reddit writer guessed there were at least 10 different guns going off followed by yells about white power. Based on the level of the noise, they thought there had to have been at least 20 people. They packed up what they could carry, and got out of that camp as quickly as they could.

13. The Old Man Who Begged for Help

OneMacabreCat  went camping at a summer program when he was 16. When he went to bed one night, the group stayed awake, chatting in their tent, when they suddenly started to hear heavy breathing nearby. He described the noise sounding like someone had just been sprinting and stopped right outside their tent. Trying to stay calm, he ignores it and keeps chatting.

Then they heard, “Please, help me.” Everyone in the tent went silent. They heard the questions again. At this point, they were all freaked out. Then one of the braver kids turned on a flashlight and opened the inner flap to see out. They saw a pair of bare, scabbed and pale legs standing there. It seemed as though the guy had been walking nude through the woods for a while. The man asked for help again, and the boy who opened the tent told the man to keep walking down the trail and he should find a ranger soon. 

The man responded, “No. No rangers. They keep me here.” One of the camp chaperones came out and asked the man a series of questions. The old man didn’t answer. Instead, he started sobbing and ran into the woods.

Related: 40 Scariest Books of the Last 200 Years 

14. Witch Doctor in the Night

A few years ago, Taizek went on a mission trip to Kenya and was spending a few days camping in the bush. They remember that one night the moon was exceptionally bright, making it easy to see what was happening outside their tent. They woke in the middle of the night after hearing quiet feet shuffling through the dirt nearby. They opened their eyes and saw the silhouette of a person moving around their tent. The silhouette was utterly terrifying, thanks to a large, strange headdress. After getting barely any sleep that night, they asked their team leader about the person. They said it was probably a witch doctor, passing by in the night.

15. Distant Nightmarchers

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Truven was camping in Pololu Valley on the Big Island of Hawaii when they discovered two massive centipedes in their tent. They decided to pack up and leave at about three in the morning. When they reached the top of the valley, they paused to take a break and look out across the coastline. 

That was when they saw 15-20 flickering torch lights a few valleys over. Now, those valleys are for experienced hikers only, and it would be very strange for that many to be out at this time of night. The only other solution pointed to the Hawaiian Night Marchers - a piece of local lore that describes the ghosts of Hawaiian warriors marching around the miles in the dead of night. This Reddit user didn’t believe in the stories before, but what kind of hikers would be using torches instead of headlamps?

16. The Mountain Lion Was After Their Dog

Pillowpants101 was in Canada climbing with a friend, and they were on their way back to their car with their dog walking between them on a leash. Suddenly, the dog lurched into his friend, causing him to stumble. The writer turned around and saw a full-grown mountain lion standing about two feet behind them. It had just tried to pull the dog off its leash and was now sitting back on its haunches, hissing. 

The Reddit user froze, but their friend turned around and started running. They yelled for their friend to stop - running would make the mountain lion want to chase him. Their friend stopped then turned and ran directly at the cat, screaming and waving his arms. The cat jumped into the woods, away from sight. The two started walking faster down the trail, but when they turned around, the mountain lion was right behind them and even closer this time than before. The friend started throwing rocks. One of the rocks landed and rolled past the lion. The animal chased it down the trail until it disappeared. During the last mile or so back to camp, the two kept checking over their shoulder, but the mountain lion never returned. 

After they were off the trail, they heard about a couple of hikers and their dog who had apparently encountered the same mountain lion. This time, the lion had been successful in getting the dog off the leash. Eventually, the Canadian Mounties hunted it down and killed it. 

Related: 7 Haunted Forests You’d Never Want to be Alone in at Night 

17.The Ocean That Left

Whatsreallygoingon and their husband were camping in the Everglades in Florida. On the first night, they had the entire island to themselves. They set up camp on the beach, and the view of the wide open Gulf of Mexico was spectacular. 

The two settled into their tent and fell asleep to the sound of gentle waves hitting the beach. But around two in the morning, the Reddit writer woke and heard nothing. They went out, and shone their flashlight out to where the water should have been, but it wasn’t there. The beach where the couple had just been fishing a few hours before, extended beyond the reach of their flashlight beam. They ventured out, but still saw no ocean. 

They went back into the tent, and remembered that right before a tsunami hits, the water recedes. Convinced there was a tsunami approaching, they were terrified. Eventually, the sound of the water returned, and the writer couldn’t describe the intense relief they felt

18. "Come and Find Me"

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When Clockwork2112 was a kid, they went hiking along a coastal national forest with their friend and his dad. They dropped into an overgrown side of the main trail, and noticed an awful stench that they assumed was a dead animal. They then spotted a cardboard sign leaning against a pile of trash at the base of a tree.

The sign read “Come and find me” with an arrow pointing further down the overgrown trail. The smell had gotten worse the closer they got to the sign. They went back up to the main trail, and told their friend and his dad what they’d seen. When they got back to town, the dad called the local sheriff. They never found out what was down the overgrown trail, but they can’t help but imagine that it was a corpse or maybe a bunch of dead animals.

19. An Alien in Their Backyard

Dashboardforfire saw an alien come out of the woods behind their house. They were ten years old, playing in their room alone. It was about 11 P.M., and they had the sliding glass door in their room open with the blinds pulled back. Out of nowhere, the automatic light behind their house turned on. They looked out the sliding glass door, and saw a figure approach the door. At first they thought it was their neighbor, but as they looked closer, they realized it had to be something else. 

It stopped at the sliding glass door and stared into the writer’s room. Their description says it was dark black with a rounded head and stood at about 6 feet tall. It had two arms, two legs, and was incredibly thin. After it stared for a few minutes, it suddenly turned and was gone. They yelled for their mom who, when told the story, didn’t believe a word of it. Now, at age 23, this Reddit user still gets chills when they think about what they saw that night.

Related: 21 Terrifying UFO and Alien Encounters 

20. Their Dog Knew Something Was Wrong

Rylodo was camping in Big Sur, California with one of their best friends one weekend. They almost had the entire site to themselves and chose a campsite about half a mile from the ocean in a large open field surrounded by a forest. They spent that evening sitting around the campfire telling stories. Afterwards, the two climbed into their tent and fell asleep easily. 

Around one in the morning, something startled their dog. She is usually very calm, and used to being in the woods, but this time she was yanking at the leash, desperately trying to get away. She pulled so hard that her harness snapped, and she bolted across the field. The Reddit user chased after her into the forest where they eventually found her curled in a random clearing. They picked her up and carried her back to the campsite.

They all hid inside the tent, but the dog refused to lay down with her people. Her ears were up, and she was staring intensely at the tent wall. At this point, the Reddit writer and their friend were also on edge. The dog’s behavior didn’t make sense. 

Then they heard the cackling - a high-pitched laughter coming from outside their tent. They were so scared they could hardly breathe. Then screams followed the laughing. They thought it could have been wolves or a coyote killing their prey, but it sounded far too human. Their car was parked too far away for them to bolt for it, so they just listened to the freakish laughter until it faded away. 

21. The Hungry Black Bear

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Urbaneinthemembrane was hiking the Appalachian Trail in upstate New York. As an experienced hiker, they knew the importance of hanging one’s food to keep it away from bears. However, as soon as they got their tent set up, they realized there were no good branches nearby. After wandering for about 15 minutes, they found one, strung up their food and promptly fell asleep. 

In the middle of the night they woke from a nightmare covered in sweat. After taking a minute to breathe, they realized it was just a nightmare and started to calm down. Then, directly outside their tent, they begin hearing loud noises coming at regular intervals. They looked out from underneath their vestibule and toward their food bag to find a huge black bear jumping up trying to get the bag that was hanging about 12 feet off the ground. 

Eventually, the bear gave up and left. For the two hours following, the Reddit user lay in their tent clutching their knife and trekking pole for defense in case the bear came back and showed interest in the tent. It was one of the scariest moments in their entire life. 

22. They Thought They Found the Perfect Cave

Sud0sm1th was hiking in Zimbabwe with a group of friends. They weren’t following a designated path, which is probably why they had this freaky encounter. 

The group came to a dam with a sandy beach and decided the area would make a good campsite, and set up for the night, then set out to do some exploring. Soon enough, a member of the group found a cave. The mouth was so small, they had to get on their hands and knees to crawl inside. After they squeezed through, the cave opened up to be about 3 meters high and 10 meters long. A crack in the ceiling allowed a beam of light to come through. The whole group was pumped about the find and decided to sleep inside the cave. They moved their campsite inside the rock and fell into an easy sleep that night. 

At one in the morning, this Reddit user was shaken awake by one of the people they were hiking with. He told everyone to get out of the cave because it already had a resident - the leopard anxiously lurking just outside. They all scrambled from the cave, and went back to their original site to sit nervously around the fire. Lucky for them, the animal didn’t care for the activity and eventually wandered off. However, they were all well aware that leopards hunted at night. Suffice to say, no one slept much that night. 

23. Three Knocks

SnaggyfromJoT and their girlfriend  were sitting in their car that was parked at a rest area, having something to eat after visiting the renowned Mount St. Helens. It was raining so the windows were fogged, and, thanks to the approaching nightfall, it was getting dark. 

The couple was minding their own business when suddenly there was a series of three knocks on their driver’s side window. They were both startled - there was no one else in the parking lot. Even more terrifyingly, the driver’s side of the car was overlooking an embankment. They rolled down their window and looked out, but saw no one. This was enough to thoroughly creep them out. They left immediately. 

Later, they read a park flyer that a man had died there during the eruption. Ever since, they’ve been wondering if the knocks on the car door were that man’s ghost, trying desperately to be saved.

24. Terrified for Their Lives

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GoodOleBunburyIst was camping in Canyon de Chelly when they woke to someone shaking their tent and yelling, “I’m going to f*** you up.” They responded, trying to calm the assailant down. But the person just kept going. They said, “My boys are coming over and we’re going to kill you.” This went on for about five minutes, then stopped. A short time later, their truck door started opening and closing repeatedly. The Reddit user huddled in their tent as this continued, until it suddenly stopped. After a few minutes of silence, they climbed from their tent. There was a man sitting in the front seat of their truck. 

Because their phone was in the truck, they ran over to the neighboring campers asking to user theirs. One couple finally said yes, allowing the writer to call the police. When the authorities arrived, they found a drunk 19 year old passed out in the Reddit user’s truck with their iPhone, iPod, and some other personal items in his pockets. The cop took the kid in his car, but the writer will never forget how scared they were that night. 

Featured photo: The Cut / Flickr (CC); Additional photos: Tom Pratt / Flickr (CC); TORLEY / Flickr (CC); Dominic Alves / Flickr (CC); jai Mansson / Flickr (CC); Andrew Malone / Flickr (CC); John Murphy / Flickr (CC); Pat Strosahl / Flickr (CC)