Only in 2018 does a former horrific site have favorable TripAdvisor reviews. For a country so relatively new, America certainly has no shortage of terrifying places. Each state has something uniquely grim to offer — from cult leaders and civil war criminals to crazy men with axes and voodoo queens. Even the high San Francisco rents can’t push the ghosts out of Alcatraz, and for that we are thankful.
These 20 places across America put a whole new meaning into “land of the free, and home of the brave.” Rest assured: the White House didn’t quite make this list, but it certainly deserves an honorable mention.
The Cecil Hotel (Los Angeles, California)
In a city as populated as Los Angeles, it’s surprising that a space so haunted is still standing – and has a three star TripAdvisor rating. The Cecil Hotel was built in 1924 and remains so terrifying it inspired American Horror Story: Hotel (whose only saving grace was bringing us Lady Gaga’s acting career.)
The TripAdvisor reviews for the Cecil read like a modern day ghost story, and its past is peppered with tragedy and crime. Most recently, the hotel and hostel surfaced in the news after the mysterious death of Elisa Lam. The 21-year-old was found dead in the hotel’s water tank after guests had been complaining about funny-tasting tap water. Her harrowing, inexplicable surveillance video and the fact that guests were unknowingly drinking what was essentially cold brew corpse tea, is enough to give anyone the creeps.
Heaven’s Gate (Rancho Santa Fe, California)
San Diego’s Rancho Santa Fe suburb is one of the most affluent zip codes in America. It’s not really the type of place to host mass suicides, yet here we are. Ever wonder where the phrase “drinking the Kool-Aid” comes from? This is it.
In 1997, the Heaven’s Gate cult believed that aliens chasing the tail of the Hale Bopp comet would bring their souls to heaven, so the only rational thing to do was drink poisoned Kool-Aid as the comet glowed in the moonlight. The toll for the ride was reportedly $5.75, and the bodies of all 39 members were found with this exact amount of change in one pocket. They were all wearing black sweatshirts and Nike sneakers (solid product placement) with a purple cloth covering their faces. Though the multimillion-dollar mansion where the mass suicide took place has since been torn down, the vacant lot remains a creepy tourist attraction.
The Stanley Hotel (Estes Park, Colorado)
Anyone who has ever seen Stephen King’s epic horror film The Shining knows that the Stanley Hotel is just about as terrifying as it gets. While the real-life, 142-room stunner might not have demonic twins in matching outfits, guests can look forward to a real-life haunting of their own should they dare book a room. It’s unclear if the ghostly rumors existed before Stephen King’s novel or surfaced after The Shining hit theaters, but the hotel currently offers ghost tours.
King developed the idea for his famed novel after vacationing at the Stanley with his wife. It’s hard to deny the hotel’s creep factor as the sprawling estate stands alone in the middle of rural Colorado. Strangely enough, it doesn’t actually appear in the film. The outdoor shots are of the Timberline Lodge in Mount Hood, Oregon.
The Jonathan Corwin House (Salem, Massachusetts)
The Jonathan Corwin House, also known as the Witch House, is a relic of colonial Massachusetts. It’s one of the only remaining structures with ties to the infamous Salem Witch Trials. Judge Corwin purchased the home in 1675 before he was called to investigate claims of insidious behavior and witchcraft. He ultimately ordered the death of 19 alleged witches, all of whom maintained their innocence until their very last breath.
Today, it’s been restored and houses a museum. Guests can take a Witch House tour, and while it might not be haunted (it’s not not haunted), you can’t deny that it’s filled to the brim with bad juju.
St. Louis Cemetery (New Orleans, Louisiana)
New Orleans has a long history of voodoo and witchcraft. What better place to discover the creepiest parts of a city’s past than one of its oldest cemeteries? New Orleans cemeteries have a scare factor like no other. Burial plots are shallow and bodies rest in above-ground tombs because of the city’s high water table. If you dug six feet into the ground, the caskets would float. This creates a winding maze of burial chambers and mausoleums ripe for the haunting.
If you believe the lore, more than a few ghosts walk through the winding footpaths of St. Louis Cemetery. The most famous is Marie Laveau, New Orleans’ resident Voodoo Queen. Unsurprisingly, Laveau served as an inspiration behind her eponymous character in American Horror Story: Coven.
Casey Moore’s Oyster House (Tempe, Arizona)
Seafood restaurants don’t really scream ‘American ghost story.’ Let’s be real: the only thing scary about Red Lobster is the idea of all-you-can-eat shrimp. The same thing can’t be said for Casey Moore’s Oyster House, where if you don’t see a ghost, you’ll at least get some decent fish and chips.
Casey Moore’s Oyster House serves up a seafood menu peppered with a haunting history. The famed Irish pub has taken numerous shapes in its 106-year existence — as a private home, boarding house, and possibly a brothel. It’s also haunted by at least two well-dressed ghosts. Neighbors have reported seeing a dapper ghostly couple dancing in the upstairs bedrooms. They’re thought to be the joint’s original owners Mary and William Moeur.
The Myrtles Plantation (St. Francisville, Louisiana)
Like all good haunted locations from the creepiest urban legends, The Myrtles Plantation was built on an ancient burial ground that belonged to an indigenous tribe from Canada. In other words, it’s been doomed from the start – and that’s before you bring in the murder of slave girl. Ten deaths have reportedly occurred on the property, so it shouldn’t be surprising that people think the place is haunted.
Guests who’ve stayed at the Myrtles Plantation report a number of strange, inexplicable sightings. There’s the curly-haired woman who appears and disappears, a couple of ghostly children, the mysterious handprints that randomly appear on mirrors, and the cold spots hovering above beds at night. One guest claimed her closet rattled so loudly that she couldn’t sleep (as if the noise is what would keep us awake in that situation.)
Lizzie Borden Bed & Breakfast (Fall River, MA)
You may recognize the name from Christina Ricci’s creepy lifetime movie Lizzie Borden Took an Ax, but the murder trial that inspired the film actually happened. Lizzie Borden was the primary suspect in the brutal 1892 murder of her father and stepmother. She was tried and acquitted but remained an outcast in Fall River before dying from pneumonia at the age of 66. More than a century later, people still speculate about whether or not she committed the heinous crime.
Today, the site of the Borden family murder has been transformed into a bed and breakfast, and paranormal activity has been reported among the many Borden family photos that line the walls.
The Villisca Ax Murder House (Villisca, IA)
The Villisca Ax Murder House is a testament to two things: how undeniably evil the human race can be and how little there is to do in Iowa. As the story goes, an anonymous intruder broke into the home in 1912. He or she subsequently murdered Josiah and Sarah Montgomery Moore, their four children, and two sisters who spent the night after church. The six murdered children were all between the ages of 5 and 12, and the killer has never been found. Presumably, he could still be on the run if someone who murdered a family in 1912 is even still alive (they probably aren’t, but their ghost might be.)
If you’re into murder houses, the Villisca Ax Murder house offers tours and overnight stays. In the very least, it’s probably the most interesting thing to do in Iowa besides listen to Slipknot and eat at Zombie Burger.
The Alaskan Hotel (Juneau, Alaska)
The Alaska Hotel holds a ghost story from the good old days of gold miners and jezebels. According to the legend, a gold miner’s wife lived here while she waited for her husband to return from the gold rush. After a long while, she thought she was abandoned and turned to a life of prostitution. The only problem was he didn’t actually abandon her — oops. When the gold miner returned, he was less than thrilled with her new career and murdered her in cold blood. She now haunts the hallways of the Alaskan, southeast of Alaska’s oldest hotel.
Guests of the Alaskan have regularly reported seeing the prostitute roam the hallways, and a TripAdvisor review urges visitors to “beware” — but the only thing “scary” about their stay was the dirty carpet and worn-out linens.
Yuma Territorial Prison (Yuma, Arizona)
There’s almost nothing creepier than a haunted prison, and Yuma Territorial Prison is reportedly filled to the brim with ghosts of angry criminals. The main building on this state historical park housed a hefty population of thieves, murders and polygamists during America’s westward expansion. More than 110 prisoners died within its walls.
Yuma has a couple of ultra-creepy corners. Cell 14, which housed a prisoner who committed “crimes against nature,” has been known to give passersbys a cold chill. The Dark Cell is even more insidious. It served as solitary confinement for Yuma’s worst prisoners, who were shackled to cartoon-like ringbolts in the blackened crypt. It was reportedly so traumatic that at least two of them were sent to an insane asylum immediately following their release.
Recently, a reporter tried to stay in the Dark Cell for two days. She chained herself to a ringbolt like everyone else who passed through the doors but lasted just 37 hours. She insisted she wasn’t alone in the cell.
Waipio Valley (Big Island, Hawaii)
Hawaii is filled with folklore and ancient traditions. If you’re looking to catch a glimpse of the ghost of ancient warriors, look no further than Waipio Valley on the Big Island.
Waipio Valley is home to some of the most picturesque views in the state, but it’s also reportedly haunted by the ghost of warriors stuck endlessly in battle. Okay, so all Hawaii is supposedly haunted by what Hawaiians call Night Marchers, but this valley is apparently a hotspot. If you go for a night hike (which by all accounts seems kind of dangerous), you may just hear the beating of their drums.
The Winchester Mystery House (San Jose, California)
This sprawling Victorian mansion in San Jose has all the makings of a haunted house – doors that open into walls, staircases to nothing, 160 different rooms. It’s a terror trap for lost souls desperately looking to escape – and that’s exactly how it was designed.
The home was built by Sarah Winchester, a wealthy widow who married into the Winchester repeating rifle fortune. She fell into a deep depression after she lost her husband and daughter to an illness, and visited a spiritual advisor to help her cope. The thing about being connected to a gun fortune is that guns kill. According to the advisor, Sarah’s family was cursed and would be forever haunted by the souls their rifles claimed. To keep the curse at bay, Sarah had to build a house that would trap them. She spent 38 years constructing the home – working 24 hours a day at its constant expansion. You can visit it today.
Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum (Weston, West Virginia)
The Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum has everything a horror addict could ever want – ghosts of Civil War soldiers and the mentally ill, insidious medical practices, noted paranormal happenings. This defunct asylum is half historic site, half paranormal oasis and more than a few frightened visitors have claimed they’ve felt the presence of spirits.
Constructed in 1858, the asylum is the largest hand-cut stone building in North America. It’s got two-and-a-half miles of hallway and more than 2,000 patients filtered through its doors. Remember: it operated in the days of lobotomies and electric shock treatments. Needless to say, the ghosts are probably at various phases of unrest. The asylum stopped seeing patients in 1994, but they offer guided ghost-hunting tours to people looking for a thrill.
Fort Delaware (Delaware City, Delaware)
There’s nothing more truly American than the ghost of a Civil War prisoner, and let’s be clear: prison in the mid-1800s was no Martha Stewart Club Fed. With all the amputations, gangrene and war-related PTSD and psychosis, it’s really not shocking that Civil War soldiers just can’t get over it more than a century after their deaths.
To make things even creepier, this Union prison was filled to the brim with angry confederate soldiers – and it’s safe to say there’s nothing angrier than a white man who perceives his privilege being taken away (i.e. the whole point of the war in the first place). If you’re brave enough to face the steaming ghosts of Confederate soldiers who finally got a taste of their own medicine, you can take a tour alongside paranormal investigators every weekend of October.
Scarywood (Athol, Idaho)
Scarywood isn’t actually haunted (probably), but it’s still one of the scariest places in America. During the month of October, The Silverwood amusement park transforms itself into Idaho’s largest haunted attraction. The property holds five expansive haunted houses that enlist a team of live actors and special effects to scare the pants off thrill-seeking theme park guests.
If you have certain phobias, this isn’t the place to go. Scarywood has “scare zones” set up throughout the park that take on creepy phobias like clowns, dolls and scarecrows. We’re crossing our fingers there’s not a trypophobia zone because that’d really cross the line.
Alcatraz Prison (San Francisco, California)
Alcatraz rests in infamy. The defunct, maximum security prison cuts through the fog as tourists gaze into the bay from one of San Francisco’s many hills. During its heyday, Alcatraz housed the country’s most dangerous criminals, but it may have always been haunted. The solitary confinement cell was reportedly always cold and an inmate was allegedly found dead after screaming about a creature that wanted to kill him.
Today, it’s one of California’s most popular tourist destinations, but the ghosts don’t seem to mind the company. Visitors report hearing moans and a mysterious banjo that’s allegedly played by Al Capone’s ghost. We desperately want to live in a world where notorious gangsters retire to an afterlife of leisurely banjo playing.
Stepp Cemetery (Benton, Indiana)
This tiny cemetery is only home to about 24 crumbling graves, but that doesn’t make it any less scary. If the legend is to be believed, the gravesite was built by the Crabbites. They were allegedly huge fans of sex orgies and animal sacrifices. Needless to say, their ghosts are kind of wild.
Stepp Cemetery is supposedly haunted by a Crabbite mother who was so upset after her infant died that she dug up the body and took her own life. Visitors have seen a woman wearing all black mourning over the child’s grave. The stump that marked the grave rotted away a few years ago, but the cemetery is small enough that you might be able to find it anyway.
The Lemp Mansion (St. Louis, Missouri)
The Lemp Mansion is one of family tragedy. In other words, it’s totally haunted. John Adam Lemp purchased the mansion in the early-to-mid 1800s after amassing a fortune with his successful brewery. Despite the wealth, stuff eventually went south. Lemp lived there with his wife and eight children, half of which died. Three of them took their own lives and one of them suffered from heart failure in his late 20s. Lemp also died by suicide.
Today, visitors can hang out in the mansion’s restaurant and tour the property. If they’re feeling particularly brave, they can opt for a ghost tour.
The Rosson House (Phoenix, Arizona)
Is there anything creepier than a haunted Victorian home? Why are they always Victorian? This one’s not even that old, but that doesn’t mean it’s lacking in paranormal activity.
The Rosson House was constructed in 1985, and it’s allegedly been haunted ever since its former caretaker was shot out front. Visitors have felt heat coming from cold fireplaces (because ghosts deserve to have a comfy fires, too) and doors that lock on their own. There are reports of inexplicable footsteps being heard creaking down the stairs, and there’s the fact that it just looks crazy creepy. What kind of psycho builds a Victorian mansion in the 1980s — not the 1880s— that ends up looking like a deranged dollhouse?This is one for the books – the Stephen King or Goosebumps books.