Cursed forests, UFO hotspots and haunted caves await any travelers brave enough to take these terrifying trips.
Put on your finest all-black outfit, cue up your favorite Utah-themed Halloween song (Werewolves of Logan?) and start practicing your best frightened face, because it’s time to visit Utah’s scariest sites. Whether you’re on an October adventure or just the type who can’t go too long without a good spooking, these ghost towns, haunted islands, world-famous paranormal hotbeds and other scary sites will give you the heebie-jeebies (Heber-Jeebies?).
Given that this iconic hotbed of paranormal activity has its own Discovery Channel show, we’d say it probably takes the cake as Utah’s spookiest spot. And even if you’re a skeptic, there’s almost too much strangeness at Skinwalker Ranch to ignore. The property is named after the Navajo skinwalker legend and is the home to multiple supposed skinwalker sightings, but it’s probably easier to name the things that haven’t been sighted there.
So what goes on at Skinwalker Ranch? You name it. Cattle mutilations, mysterious lights and shapes in the sky, wolflike creatures disappearing into the night, mysterious equipment failures, unknown illnesses, crop circles and disembodied voices are just a few of the phenomena reported on the property.
There’s also the infamous “Hitchhiker Effect,” in which visitors feel the effects of the ranch long after they’ve left. And whether it takes the form of strange phenomena or just an unshakable eeriness, the ranch seems to have some serious staying power.
Theories about the ranch range from ancient curses to hallucination-inducing geological forces and good old fashioned alien activity. The jury’s still out and might never deliver a verdict, but one thing’s for sure — a trip to the ranch will lead to some serious spooking. Outsiders are not currently allowed on the ranch, but don’t worry, there are plenty of neighbors in Uinta Basin that have reported their share of strangeness. Spend a night at Steinaker, Starvation Reservoir or Red Fleet State Parks and try your luck at some UFO sightings.
No, Escalante Petrified Forest State Park isn’t just a normal forest that will petrify you with fright. Although there are plenty of trees and other desert plants, the “forest” in question is actually a unique pocket of fossilized wood formed from ancient trees. And that wood should stay where it is, unless you want to incur the wrath of a terrible curse that will bring you untold amounts of bad luck.
If you think the “curse” is just a Leave No Trace marketing gimmick, a trip to the visitor center might make you change your tune. There you’ll find letters from folks who have actually sent back the wood they took from the forest to escape the bad luck that’s befallen them. And what they describe is way more than a guilty conscience.
In one letter, the sender details the “worst year” of his life, which included three accidents, five broken bones, a motorhome fire and a busted car engine. Park rangers say that petrified wood is returned about a dozen times a year, with some letters later claiming their luck turned around soon after. We recommend going for a nice hike, seeing the petrified wood and not testing out the curse for yourself, for a lot of reasons.
“Ghost Antelope” might make a decent screenplay, but there’s no hauntings of the animal variety at this ecological oasis in the Great Salt Lake. The only (known) ghost resident of the lake actually hangs out just north of Antelope Island on Fremont Island, where he was exiled in 1862 for robbing over 300 graves.
In 1859, Jean Baptiste was working as a gravedigger for the city cemetery. (Note: In cases of grave robbery, the gravedigger is a good place to start.) Baptiste had a nice little scheme going for a while, stealing clothes and possessions from the recently deceased, until in 1862 a family requested that their loved one be moved to the family plot. Surprise! He was now buried face down, completely naked.
When confronted, Baptiste confessed and pled for forgiveness for the horrible crimes he had committed. As punishment, he was exiled to the desolate Fremont Island in the Great Salt Lake. But after six weeks, he had vanished, his humble shack destroyed and likely converted to a raft.
Did he escape, or did he meet a tragic end? A headless, shackled skeleton was found on the shores of the lake in 1890, but authorities claim Baptiste was never chained. They had also heard rumors he had made it to Montana and was now bragging of his exploits. But even if that’s true, it’s very possible he still haunts the shores of Fremont Island and the Great Salt Lake, the site of his greatest misfortune. Spend a night camping at Antelope Island and you might see him wandering on the nearby island.
Every ghost town is a safe bet to give you the spooks, and Utah sure has a lot of them. But Winter Quarters has an eerier past than others. A past that may still be reverberating to the present …
In 1900 Winter Quarters, located just outside of Scofield Reservoir State Park, was a bustling mining town. Then, disaster struck, when an explosion in the mine (the supposed safest in the state) resulted in the deaths of 225 men. At the time, it was the worst mining disaster ever to occur in the United States.
It’s hard for anyone to go back to work after that, but the men of Winter Quarters had more obstacles than most. Chief among them was the ghost of a headless miner wandering beside them in the tunnels. In fact, almost 50 men quit because of the ghost and 500 miners went on strike. Among the union’s other gripes? Mysterious blue lights in the cemetery and strange noises in the depths.The mine has long since closed, but remnants of the town still stand, and who knows? Mining technology has advanced a lot since then — maybe the ghosts have resurfaced.
Just by Church Rock, outside the entrance to the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park, you’ll find Home of Truth, another ghost town that has anything but the economy to blame for its downturn. The town was founded in 1933, when a woman from New Jersey named Marie Ogden settled in San Juan County with the hope of building a religious commune. (Apparently there was no land available in Ogden.)
Marie had grown interested in the occult years earlier after her husband had passed, and wanted to share her newfound beliefs with the world. By 1935, she had 100 followers living in her commune, which she named Home of Truth. The group adhered to a strict code of conduct and was relatively ignored by its neighbors until one of its members died of cancer. That’s when things got weird.
The group member, Edith Peshak, had joined the group with the promise of a cure for her disease. Now, Marie was attempting to raise the poor woman from the dead. Marie claimed she was in contact with the woman’s spirit, so instead of burying her body, she kept it preserved for an eventual resurrection. The body was still there four months later when the police investigated. And although they saw nothing wrong with keeping a surprisingly well-preserved corpse around, word got out about this creepy cult and things didn’t last long after that. By 1937, Home of Truth had only seven residents.
Currently, only the homes of Marie Ogden’s closest confidants, aka the “Inner Portal,” remain standing. The town is on private property, but the owner has plans to restore the site for future tours.
A leaf-peeping fall drive through Logan Canyon isn’t complete without adding in this haunted hike. A short but steep trail (1.8 miles roundtrip) will lead you to Wind Cave, which isn’t really a cave at all. It’s a pair of limestone arches that create a cave-like structure with an opening at the top. Its name is taken from the loud howling that the wind makes as it blows through. But is it actually something else that’s howling? That’s where its other name comes in.
Also known as the Witch’s Castle, Wind Cave is said to be home to a hellish witch named Hecate. If you make the hike and she’s nowhere to be found, don’t be disappointed, it’s just because you didn’t go through the proper channels. Go to the Spring Hollow Campground just across the highway and chant her name. Then she’ll appear, usually with her ghostly dogs.
Hecate is said to have the power to kill car engines at will. One man claims to have had his engine die in the middle of the canyon road, only to look up and see an old woman in a gray cloak staring back at him. She passed by his car and his engine came back on, but as he drove away followed behind, slowly and steadily. On dark nights in Logan Canyon, you can still hear Hecate’s hounds wail. You’ll have a hard time believing it’s just the wind.
Utah has 5 national parks, 46 state parks, 8 national monuments, 15 alpine ski resorts and countless other areas of interest — you’d better bet we have a few haunted houses. From pioneer poltergeists to creepy kids, you're never alone in these houses. Here are just a few of Utah’s ghostly getaways, along with their chief residents:
Utah has even more haunted houses, terrifying tales, ghost stories and local legends to offer. And who knows? While you’re out exploring, you might even wander into a spooky story of your own. Hopefully during the daytime.
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