Long Distance Hikers Share Horror Stories From The Trail
Image by Hermann Traub from Pixabay

There's something really majestic about hitting a trail and backpacking through the mountains or the wilderness. The sights you see? They can be incredible. The feeling of independence as you keep walking, unencumbered by the pressures of everyday life? They can feel fulfilling. The horror stories? Terrifying.

Believe it or not, they happen, especially if you're not careful as we learned after Redditor EinnVon asked the online community, "People who have done a multi-day hiking trip, what is your horror story from the trip?"

I'm a city boy. I think I'll stay right where I am.

"First night out."

Night 1 of a trip at Sleeping Giant in Canada, I believe. First night out, I'm always a little jumpy because it takes a while to get used to the sound of the woods, and this was no exception. It was a solo trip, so just me in a little tent on the edge of the forest, looking out onto a small slope down onto a pebble beach.

I was having some real trouble getting to sleep, the woods were just so loud and my mind kept jumping to 'serial killer' instead of 'normal wildlife'. I was trying to convince myself otherwise when I hear some heavier footsteps. Breaking twigs. My heart is in my throat because I just know I'm going to die all alone in the Canadian backwoods.

Then I hear a crash and some falling rocks directly outside my tent, and I work up the courage to turn on my flashlight and unzip the door to have a look... at which point I catch a glimpse of the very clumsy woodland elk that had just fallen down the slope onto the beach right in front of me.

Didn't die.


Thanks for the clarification.

"Spent the whole night half asleep..."

Great Dividing Range in Australia. Doing it in summer, so we didn't take tents - just slept in sleeping bags in the open, under the stars. (We had tent flies with us in case it rained.)

Gorgeous. Except for the one night when we camped near a huge infestation of caterpillars. Fuzzy hairy ones. Spent the whole night half asleep, and peeling tickly fuzzy things off my face.


That's a big nope from me, dawg. Call me a wuss, but I hate dealing with bugs.

"My wife and I had set up camp..."

I was on a canoe camping trip, on a long narrow lake. My wife and I had set up camp about halfway along the lake, and all was well.

After dark, I went to wash my face in the lake, and I see two lights on the other side of the lake! (It was only like 50 meters wide). As I'm watching, their headlamps fade and die. And then something big starting snorting over there. A moose or a bear? It was pretty loud.

It was a still night, and so I called out to them: "Hey are you alright?"

It turns out they had accidentally started hiking from the wrong parking lot (delaying them an hour or two) and then when they got to the lake, they had hiked down the wrong side of the lake.

So I offered, and then went and picked them up in my canoe, and lent them a flashlight so they could set up. I think they were pretty relieved to have gotten away from whatever animal that was. If I hadn't been there, that would have had hours of hiking to get to the next campsite! Without lamps!


"I barely remember the rest of the tour..."

I went out to Muir in CA to see the redwoods. I did one of those old-person tours and that was one of the stops. Everyone in my group stayed on the ground trails, but I decided to take the elevated trail up and around. I was having a blast with my camera and relished the solitude within the forest. I suddenly realized that everything around me had gone quiet. Deadly silent. The only thing I could hear is the ringing in my ears and my own heartbeat pounding because I knew that meant a predator was in the area.

I did the same thing you did, and kept saying to myself repeatedly, "I'm not ready to die. I'm not ready to die," as I slowly made my way down. I didn't want to run because I didn't want to start a chase, but it was HARD resisting the urge to just scream and run for my life.

Suddenly there were birds singing around me again, and I heard a bunch of kids running and yelling up the trail behind me.

I barely remember the rest of the tour. The other people on the bus kept asking me how it was up there so I showed them photos from my camera but I was definitely in shock. The bus driver noticed something was up, I could tell he looked a bit worried. But I would crack jokes to distract him from questioning me.


"As we walk backwards..."

I was doing a one-night backpacking trip with a friend a few years back in some woods we didn't know very well. It was a very popular area for such things, and not particularly remote, so we weren't worried. The sunset snuck up on us a bit, so we were making camp in the dark. I was gathering some firewood by the light of my headlamp when I spot the unmistakable shimmer of a pair of eyes maybe 100 feet from me. My dumb @ss is excited because cool; wildlife! After staring at these eyes for a minute though, it becomes clear this is not a harmless raccoon; it is something big.

I don't have any sort of weapon and don't know how best to scare away my mystery animal. I call out to my buddy, who shines his brighter light in that direction. Turns out our visitor is a mountain lion. Maybe the fear distorted things but MAN that thing looked big. I didn't know much about them but I knew that if they attack you, they are spectacularly deadly. We decide to try and make a fire as quickly as possible since we figure we can't outrun the murder kitty.

As we walk backward toward our campsite, that damn thing kept perfect pace with us and never broke its gaze. The more of it I could see, the more I wished I couldn't. That cat was absolutely pure muscle. Luckily we had supplies to get the fire going very quickly, which had the effect we hoped; our stalker stopped slowly advancing on us. It appeared to think for a minute about its next move and then decided to maintain its current distance but circle us for a while. So now it's a stalemate.

Despite not being very remote, this area didn't have cell service back then, so we had no choice but to play the waiting game. We pitched our tent, made dinner, and tried to make jokes about the situation for the next few hours. The cat circled us for a long time maintaining his perimeter. At some point, though, he stepped behind a tree and we never saw him come out the other side. My friend and I had opposing reactions to this. I took the glass-half-full route and was relieved that it was gone. My friend's view was "well now he can be anywhere you idiot! It's not like we'll hear him coming if he charges us from behind!!" He was probably more right than me.

Eventually we are too tired to stay awake and aren't willing to risk burning the forest down so we let the fire burn out. No sign of our stalker for a while so we're hoping to sleep without being eaten alive. Luckily we did just that and I woke up the next morning well-rested and enjoying the act of breathing. As soon as I sat up in the tent and saw my friend though, it was obvious something was up. He was wide-eyed and looked pretty freaked out.

It turns out just as the morning light showed up in the sky, our feline friend came back to check on us. Apparently there was a funny yowly sound that woke my friend up and got closer to the tent over the course of 10 minutes or so. I didn't know at the time that mountain lions make a sound similar to a scream, which is very disconcerting when you're camping by yourselves.

Not that I cared though, my survival instincts were going strong as I happily slumbered. My friend hoped it was a bird at first but pretty much knew what it was. He didn't want to risk making any noise by waking me or getting out of his sleeping bag, so he just laid still hoping it would pass by. Apparently that harbinger of death got right the hell up on our tent and paused trying to figure out what it was. The windows were zipped shut, but my friend said it got close enough and there was enough light that he could see its shadow on the tent wall. It made another screech or two, sniffed around, and decided to move on.

So anyway, I wake up not knowing any of this, but just seeing my friend doesn't look good. I asked him what was up, and he says let's get out of the tent and he'll fill me in. I wonder now if that was because he didn't want to be the first one out of the tent. Maybe I had made too many jokes about how I could run faster than him, so he would likely be the tasty treat.

Luckily, the hike out was uneventful and this whole event was nothing more than education for us. We always carry a gun while camping now, though we've never seen anything else even close to that scary. Read up on your local predators ahead of time, kids. And definitely bring one really slow runner on every trip.


Why would I want to go somewhere I might be stalked by a mountain lion? I'm cool where I am.

"We found him again..."

Leading a youth group on a hiking trip. Lost a kid.

We found him again but I don't think anything will compare to the fear of losing someone else's child.


This has "horror film" written all over it.

Getting lost in the woods is not my idea of a good time.

"It was supposed to be..."

It was supposed to be a two night stay in the backcountry in Grand Teton National Park, with my parents. The day we hiked out, it rained the entire day and only got worse when we got to where we were camping. Everything was soaked through despite our best efforts (this was far from the first backpacking trip we'd been on), and we ended the day with sleet. I ended up wrapping myself in one of those emergency foil blankets inside my sleeping bag to get warm. We were so miserable the next morning that we threw in the towel and hiked back to civilization... in perfect weather. Every single person we crossed paths with the next day was shocked we'd even bothered going out the day before.

Moral of this story: if you compare your father to Ron Swanson on a regular basis, don't let him make decisions about activities if inclement weather is in the forecast.


"But the worst..."

When I was a kid (like 10ish?) my parents took us on a family vacation, a week-long backpacking trip through the Smokies.

It was mostly fine, I still look back on it fondly. But there were big millipedes everywhere and you had to be careful when packing up otherwise you'd probably roll one up in your tent or something.

But the worst was I went into my sleeping bag for the night and I felt something crawling along my leg. It felt like an inchworm, but it was, in fact, a bee. Somehow. Fortunately, I'm not allergic, but dealing with a bee sting in my calf right before bed some 10 or 15 miles from the trailhead... not fun.


"My only real horror story..."

My only real horror story was learning the lesson that the weather report for the nearest town does not reflect the weather at the top of the mountain where the open-face shelter is. When you pack for a low in the high 40's, sleeping in single digits is rough.

Also grew up in swampier parts of Florida. Wildlife can startle you. Not really "scary" once you know what to look/listen for. A cougar makes a horrifying sound if you don't know what it is. If you are near water in nesting season, always check for gator nests nearby. You don't want to find one while you're mid-dump. That does make a good laxative though.


"Did a miscalculation..."

Kepler Track New Zealand. Did a miscalculation on the number of calories two adults needed for the four-day trek. Had nothing but one jerky stick left and minimal water when we barely caught the last shuttle from the end trailhead back to Te Anau an additional 14K away. Whenever I think of the hungriest I've ever been it's the last half-day off that trek.

When we got back to our rented room we ordered two pizzas and a dessert made of berries, ice cream, and chocolate. I can not remember what the pizzas tasted like or even what we ordered. I only noticed the food going into my mouth at dessert. It was the most beautiful flavor I've ever experienced.


Have these stories put you off of hiking yet?

Here's a life tip: You can be a city boy like me and just not do it. It saves you a lot of trouble. (I'm being facetious, by the way.)

If these stories only further awaken the adventurer in you, then have at it.

Have some horror stories of your own? Feel free to tell us about them in the comments below!

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