Alabama has truly become a destination for hikers with plenty to explore — breathtaking panoramic vistas from high atop rock outcroppings, thundering waterfalls hidden deep within lush hardwood forests, and dark and mysterious canyons that beg exploration.
Now, add to those trails a good dose of folklore, strange mournful sounds, and unexplained occurrences and you have the making of some fun haunted hikes.
Here are six haunted hikes in Alabama that will have you looking over your shoulder wondering who — or what — is following you.
1. Nancy’s Mountain — Franklin
The easy walking 2-mile out-and-back hike up Nancy’s Mountain is a pleasant walk in the woods. There are no spectacular views, no thundering waterfalls. It’s just a nice, peaceful walk up the hillside, especially in the fall when the hardwoods spark to life with the vibrant colors of autumn.
The hike is located on the banks of the Alabama River in the town of Franklin and is part of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Haines Island Park. The site has been used as a landing for riverboats throughout most of the state’s history and is still used today by the Davis Ferry, a boat that is pulled across the river by a thick steel cable and carries only a single vehicle at a time.
What makes this a haunted hike is the story of Nancy who lived on the mountain with her husband and son. Her son left the homestead to fight for the Confederacy during the Civil War. Months went by, during which the couple never heard from their son. Every day, she would walk down the mountain with a bucket of water and wait by the river’s edge for her son’s return on one of the many riverboats that passed by, but he never arrived.
As his wife sank into a deep depression, her husband made the decision to go out and search for the boy. One day, Nancy received word that her husband was found frozen to death next to the grave of an unknown soldier in Tennessee. Not long after, Nancy herself disappeared and was never seen again.
Well, actually, that’s not true. Park superintendents over the years have reported that people hiking the mountain were seen running for their lives because they had seen an apparition — a woman dressed in period clothing “floating” down the trail with a lantern in her hand.
My rescue Labrador Archer T. Dog and I have visited the trail. Normally, Archer is ready for a hike but not on this trip. He laid down at the trailhead, started shaking and whimpering. Did he sense the spirit of Nancy?
Pro Tip: The park is located on Ferry Road in Franklin and is open from sunrise to sunset. The trailhead is located on the left just before you reach the river. The trail is at its creepiest in the early morning when a fog rolls in from the river
2. Blue Mountain Shelter — Talladega National Forest
From the top of the state’s highest mountain, Cheaha, it is a pleasant hike through the woods along the moderately difficult Pinhoti Trail to the Blue Mountain Shelter, an unassuming 3-sided trail shelter where overnight hikers and long distance backpackers spend the night. As the sun disappears and the forest turns into an eerie darkness, an incessant scratching on the shelter’s walls can be heard. It’s the sound of mice trying to get into your backpack and your stash of food, right? Look around. There are no animals to be seen.
Then, in the middle of the night, people wake up and see strange shadows lurking around the building. Enough people have seen these shadows that they have inscribed on the walls, “there are shadow people here!”
Pro Tip: You can hike to the shelter via a spur trail that connects the park’s Boardwalk Trail to the Pinhoti Trail or hike from the Cheaha Trailhead 2.1-miles (one way) on the blue-blazed Pinhoti. Visit the Pinhoti Trail Alliance website or contact Cheaha State Park for detailed directions.
3. Old Cahawba Archaeological Park — Orrville
Walking the dirt roads at “Alabama’s most famous ghost town,” Old Cahawba Archaeological Park, you get a true sense of what life might have been like back in the early 1800s when the town was a bustling cotton distribution hub along the Alabama River.
In 1820, Cahawba became the first state capital and then during the Civil War, this property became the site of a major prison that housed Union soldiers. As you walk the tree-lined dirt roads, their branches covered in beautiful flowing Spanish moss, you may come face to face with some of the town’s past residents, including the spirit of a key slave.
As the story goes, one of the site’s directors was leading a group of paranormal investigators on a tour of the “New Cemetery” where the white residents of the town were buried. One of the investigators had a voice recorder and when they played it back, a voice was heard to say, “Don …Key.”
The next morning, one of the park’s maintenance men named Don met the park director and mentioned that he couldn’t find his keys. The missing keys were later found on the other side of the park in the old slave cemetery. They were laying on the grave of a man who would often steal the keys from visitors to the city.
With so much history, one can only imagine who else you might meet along the way.
Pro Tip: The park is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The informative visitor center is open Thursday–Monday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The staff love to tell other stories of the unusual as well as park history so be sure to stop in. Admission is free.
4. Old Cahawba Prairie Tract — Orrville
Adjacent to the Old Cahawba Archaeological Park on Cahawba Road in Orrville you will find the Old Cahawba Prairie Tract. The preserve is owned and managed by the Alabama Forever Wild program and protects a true prairie habitat and provides outdoor recreation including birdwatching and hiking along 11.6 miles of trail.
Besides being a birding destination (the tract is part of the Alabama Birding Trail), the land has a hidden secret — a long-lost cemetery.
The property was once owned by Alanson Saltmarsh, a very wealthy resident of Dallas County. On the northern section of the property, there used to be a well where slaves who worked the land would drink. One day after drinking from the well, all of the slaves died due to poisoning.
Saltmarsh passed away in 1861 and was buried in a family cemetery on the land. Years later, the tombstones were removed and the cemetery site was most likely plowed under by farmers. The markers have since been recovered but the graves have never been found.
Roam the trails on the tract and maybe you will hear the voices of those whose final resting place has been disturbed.
Pro Tip: The trailhead is located on Cahawba Road one mile west of its intersection with County Road 9. Hunting is allowed in the fall. Visit its website for dates and restrictions.
5. Kinlock Shelter and Falls — Bankhead National Forest
The Kinlock area of the Bankhead National Forest is a historic region of the forest that holds a wealth of beauty including a 1-mile moderate hike to the tremendous Kinlock Shelter (a towering and deep rock overhang and cave) and a short half-mile walk to the spectacular Kinlock Falls that cascade down into a pool that has been a popular swimming hole for years. It is also where we find the spirit of aunt Jenny Brooks.
Willis Brooks married Jenny in the 1840s and had nine children. There are conflicting stories about how her husband and oldest son John were killed, possibly after being caught aiding Confederate deserters or perhaps by refusing to fight for the Confederacy. Whatever the reason, the woman who became known as “aunt Jenny” wanted revenge and with her five remaining sons set out on a quest to kill every member of the squad that killed the two men.
Legend says that Jenny would hang trespassers on her property. Jenny passed away in 1924 but her spirit allegedly lives on along the trails in the Kinlock area where hikers have seen green orbs and hear strange sounds and voices. And if you visit her grave or her home, you may hear Jenny yelling, “get off my property!”
Pro Tip: Kinlock Falls and Shelter are located on Kinlock Road in the forest. Poplar Spring Cemetery is 4.7-miles north of the falls. Wild Alabama holds regular guided hikes to the Kinlock Historic Area. Visit its website for the latest dates.
6. Tuskegee National Forest — Tuskegee
The smallest national forest in the state, Tuskegee, features one great trail, the easy walking 8.5-mile Bartram Trail that closely follows the footsteps of 18th-century botanist William Bartram. There have been reports of strange sounds being heard as hikers walk the trail.
According to accounts, Devil worshippers once used an old house in the forest for bizarre meetings and ceremonies. In the early 1990s, the local sheriff’s office raided the house and property. Today, hikers have reported hearing strange voices in the woods, perhaps those of the purported ceremony victims?
Pro Tip: Hunting is allowed in the forest. Visit its website for dates and restrictions as well as trail maps.
For Alabama hikes without any spooky attributes, visit these areas: