Haunted Places to Visit in Appalachia, America's Spookiest Region
The Blair Witch, Mothman, and an underground coal fire still haunt these hills.
Hollywood has long painted Appalachia as a hotbed of banjo-strumming inbreds with rotting teeth and unintelligible twangs. Run out of gas in these backwoods and you're liable to be the next victim of a bloodthirsty, Mountain Dew-drinking gang. A real-life Wrong Turn situation.
Yes, this place is terrifying—take it from me, a born-and-bred Appalachian—but chainsaw-wielding hillbillies are hardly the reason.
In reality, the Appalachian region, spanning 13 states from New York to Mississippi, is a warm, inviting place with homey comfort food, breathtaking hikes, and fall colors to knock your socks off. But there are authentically spooky parts, and good reason for it. The region was once a bustling corridor of lively coal towns, crowded psychiatric hospitals, and penitentiaries. Then, the mines closed, and many areas were abruptly abandoned.
Where I'm from in Athens, Ohio, curtains still hang from the windows of the state's largest psychiatric hospital. Peak through the barred windows and you might see a single, sepia-toned bed amid peeling walls—a familiar scene in "haunted Appalachia." From a deserted theme park to a haunted mountaintop and an old coal mining village 60 years ablaze, you won't have to look too hard for ghosts around these parts.
Search for the Blair Witch in Maryland's Black Hills
Since 1999, paranormal enthusiasts have frequented an unassuming Maryland town looking for the ghost of Elly Kedward—aka the Blair Witch. It's actually a fictionalized story concocted by the makers of the cult-classic film, but that doesn't stop swarms of fans from searching for Kedward's spirit in the Black Hills outside of Burkittsville.
More than 20 years since the movie debuted, Burkittsville, home to just 170 people, is still known as the heart of "Blair Witch Country." Deep in the forest, you'll find the famous Coffin Rock, a flat boulder with a true horror tale that also made an appearance in the film. As local legend goes, a search party was found disemboweled and bound at this rock after the eight-year-old girl they were looking for returned. Later, the bodies mysteriously disappeared.
Visit an abandoned theme park in the sky
Maggie Valley, North Carolina
Ghost Town Village is a fitting name for an abandoned theme park set 4,600 feet high in North Carolina's Great Smoky Mountains. There, you'll find a recreated Old West town, complete with saloons, stagecoaches, old-timey general stores, and a little white schoolhouse. Some of the most noteworthy landmarks are the roller coaster (called Red Devil Cliffhanger) that stretches out toward the rippling horizon or the defunct House of Terror, which still contains disemboweled mannequins, blood-splattered walls, and coffins.
The park opened in 1961 and remained popular throughout the '80s, but a series of ownership changeovers thereafter left it bankrupt. Dozens of attempts have been made to resurrect Ghost Town Village since it officially closed in 2002, but none have had much success. In 2019, the park changed ownership again, and there are new plans to restore it to its former glory. As of now, though, you can still visit the mountaintop park while it's quiet, if you don't mind hiking up Buck Mountain.
Find out what haunts the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum
Weston, West Virginia
The tiny, industrial town of Weston, West Virginia, is home to the most famous psychiatric hospital in Appalachia. Like many mental institutions of its era, the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum features long, rambling wings joined by a looming clock-tower-topped central block. The enormous edifice sits on—wait for it—666 impeccably manicured acres.
At its most extreme, the asylum was packed with thousands of supposedly “mad” patients, sometimes exceeding its 250-person capacity tenfold. Thousands of experimental ice pick lobotomies were performed at the hospital, resulting in many deaths, so it's no wonder the place is now a magnet for dark tourism. Today, you may meet the ghosts of patients past on a paranormal tour from April through mid-November.
See the eternal inferno that burns underground in Centralia
A once-buzzing borough in eastern Pennsylvania, right on the edge of Appalachian territory, has bid goodbye to 99.5% of its population since the early ‘60s. Why? A coal mine caught fire and has been continuously burning underground for 60 years since.
For decades, the strangest scene in Centralia was a splintered highway, covered in colorful graffiti, with smoke always billowing from its cracks. The highway was dubbed "Graffiti Highway," because everyone who visited seemed to tag it. In 2020, the proprietors laid the post-apocalyptic attraction to rest, burying it under dirt they hope will one day host a forest. But you can still see smoke from the inferno that burns 300 feet below, pouring out of hotspots around town.
See what's hiding in the darkness of Mammoth Cave
Edmonson County, Kentucky
Caves are inherently creepy, with their pitch-black bends, tight spaces, ambient breathing sounds, and the lurking eyes of creatures too concealed to even have names. Appalachia has a high concentration of these natural voids, including the world's longest. Mammoth Cave in west-central Kentucky spans 420 miles—more than twice the size of the second-longest, Sistema Sac Actun in Mexico.
It’s likely, though, that Kentucky's underground tunnels are much longer. Explorers are constantly discovering new passages, tacking on even more miles to the cave's already-astonishing dimensions. An additional eight miles were just mapped in 2021 after volunteers climbed, squeezed, and crawled their way through an uncharted corridor, a National Park Service statement said. The NPS offers tours of a very small portion of the cave near Brownsville.
Come face-to-face with the Mothman
Point Pleasant, West Virginia
In the center of a small West Virginia town where the Ohio River meets the Kanawha, you'll see a human-sized statue of a red-eyed, birdlike figure with beaked mouth agape and four pointed fingers outstretched. That's Point Pleasant's local celebrity, the Mothman, reportedly seen in the area from November 1966 to December 1967. Toward the end of the winged creature's reign of terror, the Silver Bridge in Point Pleasant collapsed, killing 46 people. The creature’s connection to the deadly incident became the plot of a 2002 film, The Mothman Prophecies, starring Laura Linney and Richard Gere.
Today, Point Pleasant cashes in on its urban legend with Mothman-themed cafe specialties, a museum and research center, and an annual festival where locals dress in their best moth-inspired garb.
Look for 'ghost lights' on Brown Mountain
Burke County, North Carolina
On a clear night in the Linville Gorge Wilderness of western North Carolina, you might see lights glowing across the valley on Brown Mountain's barren peak. The mysterious illuminations have been sporadically bobbing in the distance since the dawn of Appalachian civilization, and still nobody has an explanation, despite several investigations conducted by the U.S. government.
Cherokee legend has it that the lights are spirits of women searching for loved ones lost in a battle that occurred on the mountain in 1200 CE. That the Brown Mountain "ghost lights" were reported long before the industrial revolution discredits the leading scientific hypothesis that they're simply headlights from cars or trains.