For Condé Nast Traveler, by Caitlin Morton.
Thanks to fairy tales and legends of the Blair Witch variety, a dense, dark forest can elicit feelings of dread. And while most spooky moments can be chalked up to our campfire imaginations running wild, some places around the world carry legitimately terrifying histories that are much harder to brush off with a nervous laugh. From woods with high-pitched screams echoing through the trees to the tragic site of hundreds of deaths, these seven forests are certainly not for the faint of heart.
1. Epping Forest, Essex, England
The size and density of Epping Forest have made it a popular hideout for criminals and an infamous burial spot for bodies. Notorious highwayman Dick Turpin hid there in the early 1700s, and more than a dozen murder victims have been discovered in the woods since the 1960s. It's no surprise then that the forest has developed a reputation for spooky sounds and ghostly apparitions (including Turpin himself). Some people also claim that if you drive to Hangman's Hill and park in neutral, your car will slowly be pulled uphill. Even if you don't believe in the myths, just the appearance of the woods is likely to send a chill up your spine. The pollarded trees haven't been cut since the late 1800s (thanks to the Epping Forest Act), giving them an overgrown and bulbous look that you won't find anywhere else.
2. Aokigahara Forest (aka Suicide Forest), Japan
This seemingly serene forest at the foot of Mount Fuji has a tormented past. Colloquially known as “Suicide Forest,” Aokigahara is the world’s second-most popular site for suicides (after the Golden Gate Bridge): In 2010 alone, 247 people attempted to take their own lives here, and 54 of them were successful. Some blame this trend on the forest’s association with demons in Japanese mythology. Others point towards the density of the trees, which muffles sound and makes it easy to get lost. In fact, many hikers will mark their path with tape or string to make it easier to find their way back out again. The sprinkling of clothing and letters left throughout the labyrinthine woods gives Aokigahara that extra touch that will leave you in a cold sweat.
3. Pine Barrens, New Jersey
The heavily forested Pine Barrens spans over one million acres and seven counties in New Jersey. The area thrived during the colonial era, host to sawmills, paper mills, and other industries. People eventually abandoned the mills and surrounding villages when coal was discovered to the west in Pennsylvania, leaving behind ghost towns — and, some say, a few supernatural wanderers. The most popular Pine Barrens resident is without a doubt the Jersey Devil. According to legend, the creature was born in 1735 to Deborah Leeds — her thirteenth child — with leathery wings, a goat’s head, and hooves. It flew up the Leeds’ chimney and into the Barrens, and it has been killing livestock and creeping out South Jersey residents ever since.
4. Hoia-Baciu Forest, Romania
From the moment a military technician captured a photograph of a UFO hovering over the forest in 1968, Hoia-Baciu has gained paranormal notoriety around the world. The area has become known as the “Bermuda Triangle of Transylvania,” as some believe it to be a portal that causes visitors to disappear. Other people who have passed through the forest (without being zapped into another realm) reported rashes, nausea and feelings of anxiety. The curved trees in some parts of the area further lend to an off-putting aura.
5. The Black Forest, Germany
Hardly any sunlight breaks through the dense fir trees of the Black Forest and the myths surrounding these woods are more fantastical than paranormal: A headless horseman riding on a great white steed, a king who kidnaps women to take them to his underwater lair where he lives among the nymphs, friendly dwarves and lurking werewolves. Is it any wonder the Brothers Grimm set so many of their fairy tales here?
See the complete list of Haunted Forests Around the World on CNTraveler.com
More from Condé Nast Traveler: