A haunted forest, the perfect scene for camping, hiking or the scene of a book’s plot, of course. Imagine wandering through an ancient woodland where dark things lurk in hidden dells and the umbral undergrowth. Where men have gone before but never came about again. Many folktales began in haunted forests and still capture the imagination of all who hear their stories. Haunted forests have long been popular settings for myths and stories, and with good reason. The great mass of trees limits the sight, the mighty canopy obscures the sky and the freedom it represents, and, let’s not forget, dangers of all sorts do stalk among the towering timber. Here are the best haunted forest books and locations.
The Haunted Forest in Night Demon
Much of Night Demon takes place in a snowy forest or in deep caverns underneath the forest floor. Demons often prefer deep and uninhabited forests as their refuge. They can hide unseen and do not have to worry about accidentally becoming visible to spooked humans. The Aware and, worst of all, Eis Sofos can see them always. At the same time, many small villages reside in the middle of such forests. These provide the hiding demon with a hunting ground. No wonder that most myths of haunted forests are often rural. Villagers disappear in the dead of night or never return from a hike.
Some demons never come out of the forest, choosing to lay in ambush for the occasional victim. Others use it as a hideout while making forays into suburbs or towns. Some demons specialise in tracking other demons and prowl the haunted forest for their own kin, knowing their prey is well-fed on humans. Most demons haunting a forest, though, do so out of necessity. These lack the strength to confront other demons and would be easily dispatched by Eis Sofos. Even an ordinary human armed with a pistol, hatchet or large club might prove dangerous.
Not only demons in Night Demon haunt the forests. A more ancient threat lurks in misty bogs and inundated woodlands, the Wight Women. Appearing as shards of mist or lights in the fog, they confuse and lure travellers into the marshes, where they disappear forever.
The best books with haunted forests
Here is my selection of best books with a haunted forest as its main setting or as an important setting for its story. Oddly enough, not many contemporary horror books are set in haunted forests. The best horror books will, at best, only have forested terrain as a tangential backdrop. This is a lost opportunity because much ancient folklore and the progenitor of horror ─ fairy tales ─ are set in forests.
#1 Haunted Forest Book: Night Demon by Stephen Wolberius
Are you looking for a good 50/50 mix of urban Gothic horror and a haunted forest in winter? Night Demon has exactly what you need. Here is the blurb:
Lilian, a thirteen-year-old factory worker in an industrialising town plagued by a serial killer, can see an invisible affliction within other people. When her search for her missing best friend ends with a confrontation with a demon — and learning that the affliction turns humans into demons — another demon named Lucian saves her life and promises answers. Her first clue is that demons are responsible for the many murders. Unfortunately, Lilian’s new lead has problems of his own — Demon Hunters, who claim Lucian is the serial killer and who see Lilian as an accessory.
Can her ability to communicate with these creatures be used to solve the crimes? Or will her connection to the Netherworld prove to be her own undoing…
#2 Haunted Forest Book: The Ritual by Adam Nevill
Four old university friends find themselves marooned in the vast Scandinavian forest close to the Arctic Circle. Although formerly friends and this trip was supposed to be a bonding moment, the years have made them drift apart. They can do nothing but quarrel and decide to take a shortcut back out of the wilderness. Little do they know that this new route will lead them into a living nightmare. Lost, cold and hungry, they stumble upon an abandoned house and inside, they find the remnants of pagan rituals. An ancient and savage predator stalks these haunted forests, one which now preys on them.
#3 Haunted Forest Book: The Ghost Woods by C.J. Cooke
Pearl Gorham is due to give birth and is sent to Lichen Hall for the delivery and then adopting out of her baby. During her stay, she gets to know the owners of the property, the Whitlocks, an elderly couple who lost their son to a car crash. All is not right with the ramshackle compound. One whole wing is off-limits due to a fungal infection taking over the floors and walls. There are also rumours of an ancient witch roaming the surrounding, haunted forest. Another woman, Mabel, was dropped off at the mansion six years before Pearl’s arrival and witnessed many of the same oddities.
During their stay, weird things start to happen, like young boys playing in the hallway in one moment and vanishing the next. Strange creatures who don’t seem to belong to the region prowl the vicinity. Mushroom circles appear in strange locations. All this and more speak of something sinister about to happen at Lichen Hall.
Real-Life Haunted Forests
Not enough to read about haunted forests? Why not visit one, instead!? Here are the top haunted forests where you can hike relatively safely amongst the ancient trees that sprouted fairy tales and tales of horror.
Schwarzwald (Black Forest), Baden-Württemberg, Germany
The deep, misty forests of Germany are the inception point of fairy tales and in effect, are the cradle of modern horror. Many folktales of Western origin, also those exported to the United States, find their origin in the Schwarzwald, or Black Forest of Baden-Württemberg. After all, the brothers Grimm gathered their folk and fairy tales in these parts. Lone witches and supernatural predators are said to stalk these parts.
The Black Forest is huge, but you can hike there in safety and enjoy the beautiful German scenery. Although it used to be a mixed forest, it was largely deforested and reforested in the Middle Ages. Although this is a sustainable method of lumber production, it left the Black Forest with a monocultural forest of mostly spruce trees. The forest covers a low mountain range, with some flatter areas but mostly slowly rolling hillocks, which then rise steeply up covered mountain slopes. The terrain is intersected with cleared pastures which surround a small town or village.
The whole area is picturesque and a miniature time-travel back to the dawn of modern Western civilisation. To a time when science hadn’t yet answered the secrets of nature and when wild beasts, faeries and wisps roamed the darkest reaches of the forest. The Schwarzwald is the original haunted forest!
Aokigahara (Blue Tree Meadow / Sea of Trees), Yamanashi Prefecture, Japan
On the slopes of Mount Fuji, there grows an ancient forest by the name of Aokigahara. Fujisama, the name of Mount Fuji, is revered as a God and towers serenely above the trees of the forest. Aokigahara lies nestled on the three sides by mountain ranges, and the third side rests against Lake Saiko. The forest floor rests on a bed of volcanic rock, and the site has a slight uphill slope towards Fujisama. Despite this, the whole forest is quite traversable; anyone with good boots and stout legs could walk the distance in a day.
The forest is lush, with lots of green and mixed conifer and broadleaf trees, relative light undergrowth and the occasional bed of large boulders. For the average hiker, the scenery is stunning, but everywhere you look, you’ll find evidence of more sinister dealings. Aokigahara is also known as “Suicide Forest”. You will run into the last evidence of people who went there and took their own lives. Shoes, taken off just before the final moment (the Japanese take off their shoes when they enter a home), litter the forest bed and abandoned tents because their previous occupants no longer need them.
Although the “popular” infamy of Aokigahara is relatively recent, folktales speak of a Yurei haunting the forest. Yurei are the spirits of the dead, bound to the material plane because of strong emotions when they departed, like envy, hate or love. It is believed that the spirits of those who took their own life join the Yurei since they must have had some unfulfilled emotion to start with.