This Halloween season, lace up your boots - and pack in a little extra courage - as you set out on these infamous 5 haunted hikes across the Detroit region's most obscure outdoor destinations!
October in Michigan engages all of the senses. The warming smell of damp leaves in the morning sun. The vibrant sight of a maple in full regalia. The tangible crunch of a fallen leaf along your favorite trail.
A fleeting glimpse of something moving through the evening fog, just past the tree line.
Another hiker or biker? A deer? Way too big for another squirrel. Wait, did I even see anything at all? I swear that it looked...human.
These questions and more cloud your mind as you continue your trek, but amazingly you're not frightened. To the contrary, you're exhilarated. October also has a perennial habit of igniting our perceived "supernatural sense" - our affinity for the macabre, obscure, and paranormal. Right in step with the changing leaves and football tailgates, October's progression entails downtown skeletons, jack-o-lanterns, horror movie marathons, haunted hayrides, and Halloween's takeover of the social events calendar (#SpookySZN).
We in the outdoor community are equally - if not especially - susceptible to this autumnal phenomena. Beyond Halloween themed-5Ks and haunted festivals, our naturally curious, intrepid, and active spirits seem to find camaraderie with similar spirits from this world - and beyond. Think about it: the best campfires feature ghost stories and the most memorable hiking tales include an inexplicable encounter in the backwoods. Even hit podcasts like "Park Predators" attract seasoned outdoor enthusiasts to tune due to our integral curiosity about "worst case scenarios" in North America's most idyllic destinations.
To our most fearless and adventurous readers: we've curated this article on Detroit's most obscure outdoor destinations specifically for you. Each of these destinations provide an opportunity for "haunted hiking," where you may very well find your hiking companion to be a transcendental traveller or restless sentient.
From battlefields to barriers, homesteads to deserted islands, the paranormal history of the Detroit region's outdoors provides a wealth of other-worldly discovery opportunities this Halloween season...if you dare.
1. HAVEN HILL ESTATE | Highland State Recreation Area | Highland, Michigan
Rationale for Infamy: The Destruction of the Ford Family's Wilderness Estate
Haunted Hike: Haven Hill Loop Trail
As you stand in the midst of the ruins of the Haven Hill Estate, you almost get the sensation that you're intruding. Yes, you fully know that you're in the great outdoors as you glance at the ruinous stonework and brilliant foliage surrounding you. The informational signs further evidence that you are well within your recreational rights to explore this famous area of Highland State Recreation Area.
And yet...there you are. A modern guest standing in the ruins of the Ford Family's wilderness refuge. A destination of utmost privacy utilized brilliantly by the Fords to escape from an intrusive 20th century America. A lodge in the woods that hosted inventors, foreign dignitaries, and celebrities of a bygone era. A monument to luxury and extravagance, lost in a matter of moments to an all-consuming fire in 1999. One can only imagine what world-changing conversations must have occurred next to the skeleton of the still-standing hearth, or the grand business ideas that originated throughout Haven Hill's trail system.
Who knows - maybe the spirits of those great men and women still continue those hikes and conversations, all the while perplexed by our blatant intrusion. Regardless, we wouldn't mind being joined by a ghost or two on our haunted hikes around the beautiful Haven Hill Estate this fall.
EXPLORE HIGHLAND STATE RECREATION AREA WITH US THIS FALL
2. PECHE ISLAND CITY PARK | Windsor, Ontario
Rationale for Infamy: The Curse of Peche Island
Haunted Hike: Peche Island Natural Trail
Our sole Canadian inclusion on this haunted hikes list certainly claims the top spot as the most cursed destination. Now owned by the City of Windsor, Peche Island consists of 86 acres that largely serves as a protected wetlands habitat for native and rare migratory birds. Expeditious visitors to the island can paddle to its beaches and spend the day swimming, fishing, or walking its sole trail. There are no permanent residents on the island - and for good reason, per adherents to the Curse of Peche Island.
According to local legend, the curse dates back to 1883. Shortly after September 26, 1882, the family of Hiram Walker were in the process of purchasing the entirety of Peche Island from the Laforet family. Utilizing hostile and allegedly coercive bargaining tactics, representatives of the Walker family "convinced" Rosalie Laforet, a widow at this point, to deed her third of the island to the Walkers. Legend states that when it was time to leave, Rosalie got down on her knees and cursed both the Walkers and Peche Island, stating the "No one will ever do anything with the island!"
Despite the Walkers' grand plans to convert Peche Island into a resort rivaling nearby Belle Isle Park, "The Curse" apparently took hold shortly after Rosalie's arrival to the Canadian mainland. Willis Walker, the lawyer who had handled the purchase of the island, died soon afterwards at the age of 28. Hiram Walker, Sr. also suffered poor health while on the island, leading to his transfer of the property to his daughter Elizabeth in 1895. Elizabeth was unable to maintain her father's grand plans, leading to her sale of the island to the Detroit and Windsor Ferry Company in 1907.
Even the removal of the Walkers from Peche Island could not lift The Curse. Walter E. Campbell, the president of the company, died in the island's mansion built by Hiram Walker within months of purchasing the island. The mansion itself burnt to the ground in 1929 after reportedly suffering a lighting strike. Peche Island gradually was abandoned throughout the 1930s, and by 1955 it was utilized largely as a hunting and fishing destination by Bob-Lo Company security guards (Bob-Lo purchased the island in 1939). The last attempted development failed in 1969, resulting in Peche Island remaining as parkland since the early 1970s.
Is The Curse real? History sure seems to verify its existence, but fortunately it only seems to apply to developmental schemes - not recreational. So enjoy your haunted hikes on the island, fellow outdoor enthusiasts. Just remember to leave your vacation home aspirations on the mainland.
3. EIGHT MILE WALL | Alfonso Wells Memorial Playground | Detroit, Michigan
Rationale for Infamy: The Terror of Segregation
Haunted Hike: Eight Mile Wall Mural Walk
Certain sectors of Detroit's Wyoming neighborhood are verifiably haunted. No - not by curses, ghouls, werewolves, vampires, or any other apparitions that tend to parade around the Detroit region this time of year. These particular haunts are tangible, visible, and long-standing for the whole world to witness.
This neighborhood remains permanently haunted by the most visible scar of Detroit's segregationist past: The Eight Mile Wall.
Dating back to 1940s, developers erected the half-mile long wall in order to preserve the value of a planned "white neighborhood." The Federal Housing Administration ("FHA") deemed the prospective development as being too close to an existing "black neighborhood," which under the FHA's redlining policy meant that the developers would forfeit an opportunity to obtain federal funding for the project. Thus began the idea for the Eight Mile Wall, and the barrier remained the de facto racial divider for residential development between Mendota Street and Birdwood Avenue until 1968.
While the Fair Housing Act abolished redlining for good, the Eight Mile Wall remains a living relic of Detroit's tragic history that continues to haunt its present. Urban explorers can visit the wall and embark on haunted hikes around its community murals at the Alfonso Wells Memorial Playground, just north of Van Artwerp Park, in Detroit.
4. BELLE ISLE PARK | Detroit, Michigan
Rationale for Infamy: The Legend of the Lady in White
Haunted Hike: Belle Isle Lighthouse and Blue Heron Lagoon Trail
It's no secret that Detroit's most famous park has long captured the world's attention as a must-visit destination in the Motor City. With its wealth of natural beauty, historical structures, and cultural resources, Belle Isle Park has hosted nearly two centuries of recreationsists. Beyond Belle Isle's stunning views of Detroit to the North and Canada to the South, most casual visitors also enjoy frequenting the James Scott Memorial Fountain, the Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory, and the Ralph Wilson Gateway (which serves as the official southern trailhead for the Iron Belle Trail).
Belle Isle has also evolved into a popular destination for "obscure tourism," which appeals to travelers searching for the world's most unique, unusual, and often bizarre destinations. Popular sights on the Isle within this genre include the Nancy Brown Peace Carillon (dedicated to the memory of an anonymous peace advocate) and the Belle Isle Aquarium (the oldest continually operating aquarium in America). An even rarer bread of tourist, however, frequents Belle Isle this time of year for another obscure rationale: ghost sightings.
With a park as old and storied as Belle Isle, it's only natural that the island would be rumored to be haunted. More specifically, Belle Isle's bridges are allegedly haunted by an apparition known commonly as the "Lady in White." Legend states that Ottawa Chief Sleeping Bear had a daughter so beautiful that the chief did not allow her to see any of the suitors incessantly pursuing her. Just like any rational father, Chief Sleeping Bear decided to permanently banish her to Belle Isle under the watchful protection - for all of time - of the Great Spirits.
And so she remains - a wandering spirit clothed in white, still longing for the life that was unjustly taken from her. Apparently you can summon her by parking on one of Belle Isle's many bridges, honking three times, and waiting for her to appear. Who knows, maybe she'll make for a perfect companion on one of your haunted hikes this fall...
EXPLORE BELLE ISLE PARK WITH US THIS FALL
5. BATTLE OF BROWNSTOWN | Lake Erie Metropark | Rockwood, Michigan
Rationale for Infamy: The Forgotten Rout of U.S. Soldiers
Haunted Hike: Downriver Linked Greenways Trail (East West)
While researching this article, we stumbled across a wide breadth of fascinating - and largely entertaining - scholarship on hauntings, ghosts, and paranormal activity. One article involved an analysis on "ghosts" vs. "spirits," with "ghosts" being apparitions that are"tied to the location of their death, usually a sudden or tragic one, and they often don’t realize that they are dead. . . in most cases, they have 'unfinished business' as the deceased person does not accept the way in which they died." Now there's a fun fact to whip out at your next Halloween party.
In the spirit of this analysis (pun intended), the Detroit region has only a handful of locations where mass, confusing deaths occurred within a finite window of time. Most involved young men, fighting for the continued existence of their fledgling country in the wilderness of one of its newest territories. Those instances occurred during the War of 1812 - one of America's least taught and fundamentally perplexing conflicts - in unfamiliar terrain and at the hands of an unconventional enemy.
And of the battles that contained those deaths, there's one that the history books have all but forgotten: the Battle of Brownstown.
On August 5, 1812, within what is now Lake Erie Metropark, 200 U.S. soldiers were ambushed by Shawnee Chief Tecumseh and roughly 25 of his warriors. Despite the notable superiority of the U.S. force, Chief Tecumseh routed the soldiers and pursued them for several miles as the U.S. retreated north to Fort Detroit. By the time the Americans had reached Detroit, their regiment had lost 18 men, sustained 12 wounded, and were missing 70. Only 1 Native American warrior died.
Now place yourself in the boots of one of those fallen American soldiers. Despite being in the prime of your life, your final moments were spent engulfed in panic, trudging through marshland, and evading an unseen enemy that rained bullets and arrows upon your position. During a battle that historians have classified as an "early skirmish" within the context of a poorly understood conflict.
I don't know about you, but given those abhorrent circumstances, I would certainly have "unfinished business" with the location of such a death. We can't confirm if there are any ghosts conducting their own haunted hikes along the East-West Downriver Linked Greenways Trail of Lake Erie Metropark, but if there are, we wish them the best in processing what occurred over two centuries ago.
This article features content originally featured on Atlas Obscura, a user-generated media platform intended to showcase and catalogue thousands of hidden gem attractions around the world. Heralded as a "millennial's National Geographic," Atlas Obscura curates its listings to focus on "the weird and wonderful,"and more specifically on global destinations with hidden places, incredible history, scientific marvels, and gastronomical wonders. We at Expedition Detroit fully endorse their mission to inspire wonder and curiosity about the incredible world we all share.
Looking to experience the wonders of Detroit's outdoors firsthand? Check out our upcoming guided trips to rediscover our region's hidden natural gems along our most beautiful trails!