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6 best Bay Area hikes for spotting ghosts, cryptids and scary haunted Halloween experiences

Feb 23, 2024Feb 23, 2024

People in horror movies get so much exercise. All that jumping around and running from psychotic killers plodding right behind – somebody should make that into a workout routine. Around here, we tend to opt for bike rides and hiking through the gorgeous outdoors. But for those who want to combine horror with their hikes, several destinations in the Bay Area are downright spooky, creepy-crawly or stalked by grumpy cryptids. Here are a few good ones:

Did you know the Bay Area has its own special flavor of Sasquatch? Michael Rugg, who runs the Bigfoot Discovery Museum in Felton, recounts an itinerant cyclist’s 2002 sighting near Highway 1 and Santa Cruz: “As he wheeled past and looked down into the gully he saw what he first thought was a person dressed in white rags, cutting a swath through the brush with his arms swinging scythe-like in front of him to clear a path. Then as he watched incredulously, he saw the figure appear to just step over a fence without breaking stride, and at that point, he decided he was looking at a heavily built being that seemed to be about 8-feet tall and covered in white or gray hair (rather than rags as he first thought). At this point he decided to pedal on out of there as fast as possible….”

Where would such a Bigfoot be hiding around them parts? Well, a good guess would be among trees just as towering as he is at the Henry Cowell Redwoods. A great (and easy) way to experience this natural wonder is the Redwood Grove Loop Trail that snakes among living giants more than 1,500 years old. Look carefully and you might spot the “Phantom of the Forest,” one of the few albino redwoods that grow in the park and are ghostly white due to chlorophyll deficiency.

One of the most majestic vistas in San Francisco is littered with reminders of the dead. During stormy weather, strong waves uncover tombstones on Ocean Beach, transported here in the early 1900s as the city cleared cemeteries for urban growth. Start somewhere lower on the beach trail and make your way north.

Eventually, you’ll reach the atmospheric remains of the Sutro Baths, a saltwater swimming complex that burned down in the 1960s. It’s filled with murky pools you’d expect to harbor Swamp Things. During low tide, it’s possible to see forlorn shipwrecks embedded a little ways off the coast. Head to the sea cave up from the shore for another dark treat: This narrow tunnel into the rock, echoing with pounding surf, is rumored to have been used by Satanists and is supposedly haunted. Carry a candle in, the legend goes, and something will snatch it from your hand and throw it into the water.

Got a friend who suffers from severe entomophobia? Now’s a fantastic time to take them to the Reinhardt Redwoods and wax lyrical on the gruesome beauty of ladybugs. During the cold season, these colorful insects cluster around the Creek Trail in giant gobs that weigh down vines and coat surfaces like crimson truck bed-liner paint. Did you know a group of ladybugs is technically known as a “loveliness”? Or that they emit foul liquid from leg joints when threatened? Or they can play dead only to suddenly rise like zombies? Now you do, and so does your former friend.

Shadowy nooks and crannies, remnants of 1800s and 1900s mining activity in the East Bay, are all over this wild park. Yawning shafts descend at steep angles seemingly into the center of the earth. (You can enter some of the mine tunnels, if you schedule a guided tour.) Caves dot the sides of trails – a few are home to bats, which flit in and out in the summertime. The morbidly inclined can visit Rose Hill Cemetery, the resting place to “children who died in epidemics, women who died in childbirth, and men who died in mining disasters and of other things,” according to the East Bay Regional Park District.

If there’s indeed an “albino fortress” harboring these guys, as rumored, it might be in Almaden Quicksilver, a pleasant recreational area dotted with old mercury-mining infrastructure. Take some time to enjoy the sights and 37 miles of hiking trails, almost half of it biking-accessible. Just don’t stop on any cattle grates, cautions one believer, as that’s when “they’ll come out and grab you.”

What should be one of the East Bay’s spookiest places, in reality is a sanctuary for quiet contemplation of life and nature. Designed by Frederick Law Olmsted of Central Park fame, Mountain View rises above the surrounding neighborhoods and is threaded with walking paths through diverse, post-life neighborhoods. You can cool down in shadows cast by huge, bookshelf-like columbariums, then pass by a small Jewish cemetery and Asian plots situated to improve feng shui, all the while enjoying the background rustling of squirrels and Canadian geese. Near the top are hulking tombs of the rich and famous – the so-called “Millionaire’s Row” – giving folks like Oakland mayor Samuel Merritt and chocolate-maker Domingo Ghirardelli eternal views of the shimmering Bay. (Public visiting hours change, but as of now it’s 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays.)

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