Scary Urban Legends of the National Parks
The spookiest horror stories in America often have something to do with creatures, ghosts, monsters, spirits, or strange animals said to inhabit the wilderness and rural areas of America where few humans live. To celebrate the scariest legends we’ve come across, our poster art illustrators created a new collection, Legends of the National Parks. This art collection is rich with original illustrations of the creepiest urban legends ever to be talked about in hushed voices over midnight campfires.
Be prepared for some scary myths… This article explores the urban horror stories behind just a few of the creatures featured in Legends of the National Parks.
The Most Famous Urban Legends
As artists and illustrators who create art of the National Parks, our goal is always to explore the intersection of natural beauty and mythical wonder, which is why we try to capture the parks’ magic, even if that magic can be somewhat terrifying at times!
To that point, Joel Anderson, ADG founder and the creative mind behind the many ADG art collections, said it best when he introduced the Legends of the National Parks Collection:
“Our artists have spent years documenting the wilderness and wonder of America’s National Parks. We’ve heard horror stories about strange creatures that others have seen, heard, (or felt). We’ve uncovered tall tales of unexplainable events, ancient myths, and local stories passed down by Indigenous Peoples, colonial settlers, and park visitors. Many of the legends we’ve come across are based on Native American folklore, and to the best of our abilities, we’ve indicated which tribes were associated with each story, being careful to respect the sacred traditions of Indigenous beliefs. As we continued to dig deeper, we realized that cultures from every continent on the globe also have their own rich traditions of mythology that feature bizarre, creepy, and quirky legendary beings. We hope you enjoy our Legends of the National Parks designs and our Mythical Creatures from Around the World, too!”
It was difficult to choose the scariest urban legends from that collection (the collection has over 60 original illustrations of scary urban legends), so we picked the ones we became most frightened learning about!
Bigfoot of Mt. Rainier, North Cascades, and Olympic National Park
Undoubtedly, Bigfoot is the most famous American urban legend, with thousands of sightings recorded across the U.S. and in almost every state. And since several states across the U.S. have recorded Bigfoot sightings in the hundreds, there has yet to be a scientific consensus on where the elusive Bigfoot creature lives. Or are hundreds of “Bigfeet” out there roaming across the nation? While the speculation continues, it’s worth mentioning that no U.S. state has as many recorded Bigfoot sightings as Washington State. With about 676 recorded sightings this neck of the woods does seem to be the preferred home and the “stomping grounds” of the Bigfoot creature. Bigfoot sightings are so common in the forests and mountains of Washington State that nine out of every 100,000 Washington residents have seen Bigfoot!
Also, Bigfoot goes by many names, Sasquatch being one of them. Sasquatch is an Indigenous Salish word that translates to “wild men.” While many U.S. states and localities claim to be the home of the elusive beast, no place has as many recorded Sasquatch sightings as the critical space of land around Mt. Rainier National Park, including both North Cascades and Olympic.
Dead Horses of Canyonlands National Park
What could be more terrifying than a partially rotten herd of screeching dead horses brought back to life and sent to stampede across the desert landscape? As the legend has it, the area around Dead Horse State Park and Canyonlands National Park is haunted by the ghosts of dozens of dead horses. Back in the early-1800s, a group of cowboys corralled a herd of wild mustangs in the area of the park now known as “The Neck” or “The Gooseneck.”
After the cowboys chose the mustangs they wanted to keep, they left the area, forgetting to release the remaining horses. Sadly, dozens of horses succumbed to the elements, trapped in a makeshift corral and unable to reach the nearby Colorado River. To this day, visitors to the arid, remote regions in and around Dead Horse State Park and Canyonlands National Park report hearing the mournful sounds of horses whinnying at night. Some have even reported hearing the thunder of hooves.
Keelut of Denali National Park
Located deep in the Alaskan Interior, Denali National Park is a stunning wilderness with the giant peak of Mt. Denali as its focal point. While much of the park has been explored by park rangers and visitors alike, there is a darker, more mysterious element to the park; a mythical creature from Indigenous Inuit legend that is said to haunt the wild, unexplored areas of Denali. This is the Keelut creature.
A beast spoken of by various Inuit tribes ranging from Alaska to Baffin Island in Canada, the Keelut (also called “Qiqirn”) is a monster that resembles a huge, hairless black dog. According to the Inuit stories about the creature, the Keelut can access both the spirit and physical worlds. In addition to being endowed with magic and a fierce physical form, Inuit tribes-people say that the creature preys on lonely travelers and unfortunate souls who wander off the beaten path.
Mothman of New River Gorge National Park
Part man, part moth, this humanoid creature with insect/bird-like wings and a moth-like head, was the source of years-long investigations, research, stakeouts, law enforcement examination, and inquiry. The Mothman of Point Pleasant, West Virginia, first appeared in 1966, with dozens of eyewitnesses coming forward the following year, claiming they’d seen the beast.
Some believe the abrupt drop in Mothman sightings was because the creature had left Point Pleasant, West Virginia, perhaps going into hiding in nearby New River Gorge National Park. It’s hard to say where Mothman is now, but visitors to New River Gorge should keep an eye on the sky for a humanoid creature flying above, just in case!
The Rake of Grand Canyon National Park
Could the caverns in the Grand Canyon walls hide an elusive, possibly violent and dangerous creature? In September 2014, filmmaker and documentarian Bill Brock and his team traveled to Peach Springs, Arizona, to a cave called the Grand Canyon Caverns. Their mission? Follow up on whispers and rumors of a monster called the Rake that is said to live near the Grand Canyon. They did not find conclusive evidence of the creature, but spooky events mired their journey!
The Rake has been known to terrorize local farmers and feed on their livestock. While this mysterious creature has never been photographed or recorded on film, there have been whispers about its appearance. The beast is said to be hairless and bony, having long arms and legs, and looking like a goblin or demon from some terrifying realm.
Slide Rock Bolter of Rocky Mountain National Park
Hikers in Rocky Mountain National Park, beware! The Slide Rock Bolter may be waiting on a mountainside, eagerly anticipating an unfortunate soul who might wander by on the path below. This creature looks like a fish out of the water, or rather a whale out of the water! But don’t let appearances deceive you; the Slide Rock Bolter is incredibly agile.
As the stories go, the Slide Rock Bolter hides on the sides of mountains. As soon as hikers or tourists walk by in the valleys below, the creature releases its grip on the mountainside and comes sliding down the mountain, mouth open wide, devouring everything in its path.
Spearfinger of Great Smoky Mountains National Park
With over 200 ancient cemeteries dotting the mountainsides and valleys of the Great Smoky Mountains, it’s no wonder the region is home to its fair share of ghost stories and mysterious happenings. One of the oldest and perhaps most terrifying legends of Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the Indigenous Cherokee story of Spearfinger, a stone-skinned, witch-like creature with a long, sharp spear for a right index finger.
Spearfinger is said to stalk the forests and mountains of the Great Smoky Mountains at night, hunting for the livers of animals and humans alike. As the story goes, Spearfinger particularly liked to prey on Cherokee children, often appearing to them as a wise elderly woman but turning into a monster as soon as the children got close to her.
Wendigo of Voyageurs National Park
A cannibalistic beast brought to life by Indigenous Algonquin and Ojibwa folklore, explorers to the northern forests of Minnesota and Voyageurs National Park have good reason to fear the Wendigo. As the legend has it, the Wendigo was once a man, a hunter roaming the forest looking for deer. Driven mad by his hunger, the hunter resorted to cannibalism, which turned him into a gruesome beast that looked like a cross between a haunted, emaciated deer and a tortured, rage-filled man.
Not only is the Wendigo thought by some to be a real creature that roams the forests of northern Minnesota, but it’s worth noting that Indigenous Americans only began talking about the Wendigo after their contact with European settlers. Some Indigenous historians believe that the Wendigo once symbolized Euro-American greed, land theft, and violence against Indigenous peoples. Some believe that Indigenous elders began telling the tale of the Wendigo to their children to discourage them from pursuing a life of greed and self-interest.
Walking Sam of Wind Cave National Park
Walking Sam is quite the mysterious legend, a South Dakota folk story of a ghost-like bogeyman who is said to live in the caverns of Wind Cave National Park but comes out at night to “haunt” people in nearby communities. Sightings of Walking Sam have occurred all across the Dakota region. He is said to be a 7ft tall specter whose job it is to collect the souls of the dead. Walking Sam saunters along behind depressed persons, ready to take them away when their lives come to an end.
Truly, Walking Sam is a spirit to be on the lookout for, and if you see him during your travels to the Dakotas, check in on your family members and loved ones. The Walking Sam bogeyman seems to be a grim omen of depression, sadness, and potentially harsh times ahead.
White Walker of Acadia National Park
If you hear a shrill, shrieking cry in the forests of Maine’s Acadia National Park… beware! A White Walker may be nearby. This feral beast is said to be at least 7ft tall, looking quite like Bigfoot of the Pacific Northwest but clad entirely in white fur. Indigenous legends from the Penobscot, Micmac, and Passamaquoddy tribes say that every White Walker was once a man (that’s right, there’s more than one White Walker) but that if the man committed a terrible crime, dark magic would possess the man and turn him into this hideous creature.
Called “Kiwakwa,” which translates to “walks about the woods,” this creature may be cured by a Native American herbal remedy that can unfreeze its frozen heart, but it would take a brave soul to get close enough to attempt it!
The Scariest Legends in America Could be Anywhere…
Are you scared yet? After spending hours researching, sketching, rendering, illustrating, reading, and writing about these creepy urban legends, we’ll certainly be looking over our shoulder the next time we venture into a National Park or rural nature preserve!
Which scary urban legends are your favorite? Check out the collection to see the full set of National Park myths, and contact us if we missed any!
The next time you explore the 63 American National Parks, don’t forget to bring a flashlight and camera! You never know what you’ll see…
Anderson Design Group Staff Writer