For some people, a haunted hayride is as ghostly as they want to get. For others, driven by curiosity, a taste for adventure, and perhaps just a hint of masochism, Halloween is the perfect excuse to explore the macabre that lies within the Blue Ridge Mountains—as well as the boundaries of their own personal tolerance for fear. Southern Appalachia has more than its fair share of strange and unusual places, ghost towns, and paranormal activity. Here are four adventures for the brave.
1. Camp by a Cemetery in the Smokies
Imagine sitting beside the dying embers of your campfire, smoke curling slowly into the night as you try and muster the courage to climb into your tent. You’re a rational thinker, an experienced outdoors person who has spent countless nights alone in the wilderness, yet you can’t pull your thoughts away from the crumbling tombstones that lie just a few yards from your camp.
Every branch that snaps within the dark forest jolts you with fear, every tree that creaks as it bends in the wind sends shivers down your spine. After all, if there was ever a time for the spirits lying beneath the graveyard to meddle with hapless park visitors, wouldn’t it be tonight—Halloween night?
While an evening like this might not be for everyone, adrenaline junkies seeking a seriously spooky experience should look no farther than the Great Smoky National Park. The park is brimming with ghost stories, Cherokee legends, overgrown graveyards, and the historic sites of Civil War horror. The Smokies are the most visited national park in the country, and, it would seem, it ranks just as popular among the undead as well.
The Norton Creek Trail is an old road bed that begins on the North Shore of Lake Fontana, then climbs six miles upstream until it reaches the Upper and Lower Norton cemeteries. Not far from the trailhead, you will soon find yourself amongst the crumbling foundations of homes, schools, and taverns, the relics of long abandoned communities that existed within the park’s boundaries.
A number of official backcountry campsites are established in the woods. If you’re looking for a night of terrifying Halloween fright, or at least a perfect spot to tell ghost stories, then claim the site nearest to the graveyards. We hope you can rest in peace.
2. Witness the Brown Mountain Lights
This halloween, perhaps you will be lucky enough to witness one of North Carolina’s most famous unexplained phenomenon—the mystery of the Brown Mountain Lights.
The first documented sighting of the luminous, multicolored orbs was reported in the Charlotte Daily Observer on September 24, 1913. Since then, thousands of people claim to have witnessed the phantom lights, either floating above Brown Mountain ridge or hovering over The Linville Gorge. In fact, they have been observed near the gorge so frequently that Joshua P. Warren writes in his book, The Brown Mountain Lights Viewing Guide, that they could just as accurately be described as “The Linville Lights.”
With logical explanations (such as automobiles, trains and the errant lights of hikers) having been ruled out over the decades, the spectacle has puzzled geologists, astronomers, ghost-hunters and explorers. Investigators at Appalachian State University have even set up two cameras that film the ridge all night long. The lights have been featured on television shows such as The X Files and Mystery Hunters; folk singer Scotty Wiseman even wrote a song about them which has been covered by popular artists like The Kingston Trio and Yonder Mountain String Band.
Luckily enough for Halloween thrill-seekers, the best time to see the lights is September through early November. There are a number of places to view the phenomenon for yourself, including two spot along the Blue Ridge Parkway: the Brown Mountain Overlook at Milepost 310 and the Green Mountain Overlook on milepost 301.
For a more involved hike, sightings have been reported from the summit of Table Rock Mountain on the East rim of the Linville Gorge, and at Wiseman’s view is in the Pisgah National Forest. Pack a blanket and a bucket of candy corn, and perhaps you too will catch a glimpse of these elusive, ghostly vapors.
3. Explore the Ghost Town of Lost Cove
There’s something powerful about ghost towns: the chilling enchantment of abandoned Americana, the stories they tell of boom and bust, rise and ruin. The story of Lost Cove, a ghost town within the Nolichucky Gorge, is one mired in moonshine, self sufficiency and rugged isolation. Founded during the Civil War era, the community was once a thriving hub of agriculture, timber and railroad industry. Teetering on the border of North Carolina and Tennessee deep within the gorge, the town was mostly free from the scrutiny of tax collectors, and the illicit trade of moonshine flowed freely.
Eventually, with the railroad work complete, the same seclusion that kept the law at bay also kept away economic advancement. The town began to shut down and by 1957, it was completely abandoned. The Southern Appalachian Highland Conservancy recently purchased a 95-acre portion of Lost Cove, with the aim of preserving the historic site and including it as a part of the Pisgah National Forest.
You can explore the ruins of this old river town by following the Lost Cove Trail off of Flat Top Road near Burnsville, NC. What better way to spend your All Soul’s Eve than exploring the eerie structures—empty houses with sunken roofs and dilapidated porches—as well as crumbling chimneys, collapsed cabins and the rusted bodies of old fashioned automobiles. Is it haunted? That we can’t guarantee, but as evening falls, you’ll no doubt become a little skittish of your own shadow. It’s just that kind of place.
4. Take a Haunted Pub Tour
Beer, wine and....spirits? You can find them all by joining Haunted Asheville Ghost Tours for a Haunted Pub Crawl . The guides will take you on a spine-tingling circuit of the city’s most chilling taverns and mysterious brewpubs, with plenty of opportunity for you to have a drink at each stop. But don’t expect plastic spiders on the bar stools and fake cobwebs in the corners—this is an authentic, historical tour that includes some of Asheville’s most sordid tales of murder, mayhem, apparitions and unexplained phenomenon. You will never view Beer City in the same light again.