Are These the Most Haunted Trails in Southern California?

If we’re being totally honest, the most haunted “trail” in Southern California is Hollywood Boulevard at 3 a.m. And that’s whether or not you believe in ghosts. But today, in honor of Halloween approaching on the not-too-distant horizon, we’re speaking to our more spiritually-inclined readers. We’re taking a closer look at the most haunted trails in Southern California and the tragedies that gave them so much jumpscare juice. When you hike these trails, your heart will be beating faster… one way or another. 

Turnbull Canyon Trail

Photo credit: Ormr2014

The Turnbull Canyon Massacre

Deep in the Puente Hills of Whittier winds the Turnbull Canyon Trail, an allegedly haunted hiking trail steeped in murder most foul. Or so the stories claim. The most notorious legend asserts that Spanish missionaries from Mission San Gabriel (yes, the same one referenced in our Olvera Street blog) slaughtered the indigenous Tongva people. However, the Turnbull Canyon massacre doesn’t stand up to contemporary scrutiny. Sure, tensions between Spanish settlers and indigenous Native Americans regularly spilled over into violence. It just didn’t happen in the Puente Hills; not at such a scale anyway. 

Murder in the Puente Hills

Yet, a reputation for darkness still precedes Turnbull Canyon Trail. No doubt it was helped along by the suspicious death of the trail’s namesake in January 1888. When Robert Turnbull fell from his horse after a night of serious drinking, authorities arrested him for his public state of intoxication. The next morning, he returned home brutally beaten and disoriented. The coroner would later credit Turnbull’s disorientation to an aneurysm he suffered, allegedly prompted by blunt force trauma to the head. In his haggard state, Turnbull wandered off a bridge near his land. When the coroner determined his death a murder, it raised questions that never found their answers. But haunted trails surely require more than one murder, right? Turnbull Canyon Trail has had its fair share of those over the years. More recently, the area has been the site of shootings, stabbings, and other fatal acts of violence. 

The Phantom Plane Crash

Perhaps most of the trail’s legacy of eeriness is owed to a mass tragedy that occurred on April 15, 1952. At 10 a.m., a local rancher was passing through Whittier Heights when a bold shock of pitch black smoke caught his eyes. It was rising against the blue morning sky from the verdant hills of Turnbull Canyon. Unbeknownst to this rancher, LAX had fallen out of contact with incoming flight 416 from New York which was scheduled to land in the wee hours of the morning. When he climbed a ridge to get a better look, he found the blazing twisted metal remains of the missing plane. All-in-all, 29 people died in the plane crash… mercifully, as fate would have it, on impact. 

Photo credit: Envato

Most people would agree that those passengers’ suffering ended in an instant. Yet, there are hikers of Turnbull Canyon’s haunted trails that swear they hear percussive explosions and see phantom plumes of smoke decades later. Can a crashing hunk of steel leave behind an apparition? Can a tragedy? We won’t even get into the otherworldly rhythmic tribal drums and screaming attributed to the Puente Hills. For anyone that believes in the paranormal, Turnbull Canyon Trail has more than enough of that spooky stuff. 

Black Star Canyon

A Haunted Trail By Any Other Name…

A name like Black Star Canyon practically advertises haunted activity. This Orange County canyon gets its name from the Black Star Coal Mining Company that set up shop in its carbon-rich ravines circa 1879. And a name isn’t the only thing they left behind. The area is littered with rusting hulks of antiquated mining equipment, not to mention the occasional abandoned mining shaft. 

This Time, a Real Massacre

But the bloody details of Black Star Canyon’s history date back even further. Presumably before this haunted trail had any ghosties, it was home to several groups of Native Americans including the Tongva, Acjacheman, Serrano, and Payómkawichum. With few reliable records to go on, it’s difficult to say precisely what prompted the massacre of 1831. But it was in that year that American fur trapper William Wolfskill led a group of his fellow trappers into Black Star Canyon to basically commit genocide. And, unlike the massacre at Turnbull Canyon, this one was for real. Likewise, a highly publicized murder in 1899 reminded the public of a shadow over the rustic area. 

The Remote Haunted Trails of Black Star

Photo credit: Justin.Johnsen

Black Star Canyon has become one of those places so steeped in legend that it’s often regarded as one of the most sinister spots in Southern California. But for those of us who don’t really believe in haunted trails, it’s just a vigorous hike with some character. And that may even be a factor in the perpetuating claims of otherworldly happenings that radiate from the area. It’s not very close to anything, nor is it convenient to hike. You have to traverse six solid miles of the Cleveland National Forest before you reach Black Star Canyon’s most storied spots. And a lot of that is dense nature, as unmarked as it is unrestrained. 

Depending on who you ask, it’s not just mountain lions and rattlesnakes that deserve your wariness when hiking this allegedly haunted trail. Hikers frantically recount stories of being stalked by shadow people of supernatural darkness creeping from the brush. Some cite Black Star Canyon as popular stomping grounds for Santiago Sam, Orange County’s answer to Bigfoot. Others refer to the “Black Star Waddlers”; diminutive swarthy humanoids approximately two feet in height with a distinctive gait. There have even been reports of conquistador specters marauding through the forests at night. But one of the most persistent sightings of Black Star Canyon’s haunted trails is a pale, weeping woman bedecked in white. Parallels to the Mexican legend of La Llorona have further fueled interest in this apparent apparition. 

Those in paranormal circles credit the high supernatural activity around Black Star Canyon’s haunted trails as a result of limestone deposits. Limestone is believed by spiritualists to be a strong conductor of psychic energy. But if you’re not a believer, you’ll still need to worry about that challenging hike… arguably scarier than any ghost. 

Griffith Park

Photo credit: Downtowngal

Earlier this year, we went into great detail about the curse of Griffith Park. It goes without saying that an over 4,000-acre natural park in the middle of a city like Los Angeles is going to have some weird juju. But we didn’t fully get into it in that first blog. Now, we’re going to break down some of the creepiest corners and haunted trails of Griffith Park for you. And, no, we’re not talking about the Haunted Hayride. 

The First LA Zoo

Just walk beyond the Griffith Park Merry-Go-Round, and you’ll find the concrete and steel remnants of the first LA zoo. From its opening day in 1912 until its closing in 1965, the original LA zoo entertained guests with its captive menagerie on display. It started out with a mere 15 animals but gradually built its way up to thousands. When the curtains fell on LA’s first attempt at a zoo, the vast majority of the animals were donated to the current LA zoo. 

Of course, as is the case with any zoo, several of the first zoo’s animals died in captivity. You can climb into their cages for yourself to this day to give you an idea of their cramped quarters. It was no doubt an unfulfilling life for the beasts constrained to these enclosures. But reports conflict on whether these creatures also suffered abnormally harsh deaths. Legends persist of zookeepers euthanizing lions in the wake of tainted horse meat and penguins asphyxiated by chlorine fumes. 

Animal Apparitions

Photo credit: Junkyardsparkle

One thing we can all agree on: every animal that called the original LA zoo home is now dead. But some claim to have seen these very animals stalking the allegedly haunted trails of Griffith Park’s old zoo. Hikers have reported hearing guttural growls, bone-chilling roars… even majestic trumpeting as if from an elephant. Sure, it could be the current LA Zoo just a couple miles up the road. Or it could be the natural wildlife that populates the park. After all, until very recently, we even had a mountain lion that lived in those forests. But maybe, just maybe, the next time you pass by those vacant cages, take a closer look to make sure they’re truly vacant. And don’t be too surprised if you see any ghost ostriches. The original LA zoo was built over the area where Griffith J. Griffith’s private ostrich farm once stood!

Haunted Trails with a Capital “H”

For those who believe in ghosts, few in LA are as well-known as that of former aspiring actress Peg Entwhistle. Countless folks have watched her plunge to her death from the looming “H” of the Hollywood sign. But no one saw Entwhistle’s leap into the void when it actually happened one September night in 1932. This was a time when the Hollywood sign was the Hollywoodland sign. The text may have been abbreviated since then, but the town can be just as brutal with fragile dreams. That hasn’t changed. 

Entwhistle never broke through into the mainstream, but not for a lack of trying. Her best shot at stardom came when she was cast in an ensemble thriller called Thirteen Women. And while her role wasn’t huge, the production was massive compared to anything she’d snagged before. Entwhistle never got to see herself on the silver screen. Studio executives dramatically cut her screen time, which has retrospectively been attributed to her character being a lesbian… a major controversy at the time, even in Hollywood. Devastated by the news, Entwhistle climbed to the top of the “H”, a suicide note tucked into her handbag, and took her last bow. Or so it seemed. Depending on who you ask, she’s doing encore performances well into the afterlife. And the haunted trails of Griffith Park will take you right to the site of it all. 

A Picnic Table Reserved for Two

Finally, there’s the alarming and amorous account of Picnic Table 29. This legend of two randy and ribald youths details how getting lost in lust can turn you to dust. It was fittingly enough Halloween of 1976 when 20-somethings Rand Garrett and Nancy Jeanson decided to get in a little face time. Or, more accurately, sucking-face time.

The two were pretty much doing what any of us would do sitting beside the one we adore at a wooden picnic table as the spooky atmosphere of a chilly Halloween night served as an aphrodisiac. They must have been deep enough in the throes of passion that they never saw the tree tumbling toward them. It split right into the wood of Picnic Table 29, uniting the two lovebirds in perpetuity. Their remains were removed and cremated, their ashes sprinkled at the spot of their lascivious last moment, but the tree remains to this day. 

Yet, as the story goes, the tree was supposed to be removed. It’s just that every attempt at dislodging the fell flora has been thwarted by mysterious forces. Disembodied voices have viciously threatened tree trimmers and rangers with lethal repercussions for moving the trunk. Allegedly, some persistent trimmers have even disappeared. Emphasis on the allegedly. Then again, you won’t catch us up there with our chainsaws anytime soon. 

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