Spending a day treading the trails of Western Carolina is a soul-soothing experience. But what happens when the sun hangs low and the deepest corners of the forest are cast in shadow? This is the time of the Appalachian apparition—when the mind’s eye plays tricks on evening hikers.
Steeped in history and mystery, the hills and woods of the Carolina high country are the perfect breeding ground for tall tales of ghouls and goblins. From disembodied floating lights to an otherworldly chorus of spirits, here are some of the spookiest spaces to spot spirits around Charlotte and beyond.
1. The Phantom Choir of Roan Mountain
The Roan Mountain area, which sits on the border of North Carolina and Tennessee, offers some of the most stunning views in the Southeast. From the precipice of expansive, treeless balds, hikers have endless views of rolling green hills and fertile farm valleys below. But it’s not physical beauty which lands Roan Mountain on this list. Rather, it’s the wind.
Of course, one might expect the wind at the top of a 6,000-foot peak (with no trees as buffer) to be a cause of discussion. But some say this wind carries more than an autumn chill or summer storm.
Since the earliest days of European settlement, visitors to this mountain have reported hearing an otherworldly song that travels on this "devil wind". Most often heard after one of the violent thunderstorms this area is known for, some say it is a beautiful song while others describe it as a thousand tormented screams. Is it the voices of the Catawba Indians who fought a bloody battle and died on Roan? Or is it, as some believe, an angelic choir practicing their song for judgement day? There is but one way for you to find out.
2. Phantom Hiker of Grandfather Mountain
As the sun sinks low at Grandfather Mountain and the shaded forest becomes thick with a heavy darkness, the crowds of day hikers escape back to their cars, leaving the trails quiet for overnight guests. For trekkers hoping to find a peaceful escape from an all-too-connected world, this is their time.
Sometimes solitude might be a little more difficult to find on the rough and rugged trails of Grandfather Mountain, however. Visitors still braving these paths at dusk often report an unexpected hiking partner—clad in rough spun clothes more indicative of an outdoorsman from the 1800’s, this grizzled hiker is often seen quietly gliding up the trail. Never speaking or even acknowledging those he passes, the phantom hiker just swiftly moves along the path and disappears into the encroaching darkness.
For sure, this may just be one of those tall tales that seem to permeate from such mystical mountains as Grandfather. But each report of the phantom hiker is so similar in detail, down to the beard and canvas pack he carries, one has to wonder.
3. Brown Mountain Lights
Immortalized in song, text, and even the small screen, the mystery of the Brown Mountain Lights might be the most famous unexplained phenomenon in the Southeast. The lights, which are most often viewed during mid to late fall, appear as small, floating illuminations amongst the heavily forested Brown Mountain ridge.
Far from mere folklore, the lights have been reported by inhabitants and visitors to the area for hundreds of years. They’ve even been captured on film and, more recently, by high tech infrared cameras. Sometimes their appearance is fleeting—like a few super-sized lightning bugs flitting through the trees. Other times, they seem to descend from the sky, split into a multitude of smaller lights, and drift around for several minutes.
Theories of the origin of the Brown Mountain Lights abound, and some point to swamp gas, although no swamp exists in the area. No matter their cause, most agree that autumn is the best time to catch the unpredictable phenomenon. For easy viewing access, park at the Brown Mountain Overlook north of Morganton on NC Highway 181.
4. Crowders Mountain and the haunting of Lincoln Academy
Lincoln Academy, located in Gaston County near present day Crowders Mountain State Park, was opened in the late 1800’s as a boarding school for African American girls. The school operated at the site in various fashions until the 1950s when it was moved to Bessemer City.
Nearly 20 years later, the old Lincoln Academy was the site of a gruesome crime. Ever since, there have been multiple accounts of a ghostly presence in the area. Visitors say they can feel a drastic temperature change, hear voices, and even feel the touch of a person when no one is around.
Whether you are a believer or a skeptic, Crowders Mountain State Park offers an interesting overnight experience. The walk-in campground, about a mile hike from the parking lot, is open seven days a week. Given the park’s proximity to Charlotte, it’s possible to spend a night there during the week and be at work on time the next morning. The reward is that, unlike busier weekends, you’re likely to have the entire park to yourself. A nighttime stroll through the woods at Crowders, where nothing is visible beyond the scope of your flashlight, will leave even the staunchest skeptic with a few questions.
5. Siren of the French Broad
The Appalachian Trails calls to many adventure seekers, luring hikers with its sweeping views and deep immersion into the natural world. But near Asheville, where the trail meanders near the placid banks of the French Broad River, there is a stronger, more sinister call to those who dare walk it.
The story begins innocently enough. A lone hiker, typically male, beds down for the night alongside the river. He hears a gentle song. Is it the wind? Drifting off into a peaceful sleep, the traveler dreams of a Indian maiden.
Waking in a dreamlike fog, the hiker watches as the dark haired beauty emerges naked from the tumbling river. Her call is irresistible and he reaches for her. Just as she draws near enough to touch, the maiden’s skin turns to cold scale. Too late to escape, the hapless victim is drawn under the surface of the river, never to be seen again.