Last updated on February 13, 2023 by Wandering our World
The United States has always been somewhat of an enigma to the rest of the world. However, with so many intriguing and sometimes downright strange events going on, it’s no surprise the USA is a must-see tourist destination for wanderlust folk. After all, sometimes the idea of a trip to Costco in itself can feel like an experience in the land of freedom.
But we started to think, with the abundance of tourist traps in the USA ranging from architectural feats and national parks to Disney and Hollywood, what kind of secrets is this country hiding?
Well as it turns out, there are countless unique, terrifying, and downright bizarre Dark Tourism destinations in the USA that are ready to be explored. Even in just one city like San Francisco, you can find many creepy tourist sites – as we’ve written about before.
To help you find the strangest and creepiest places throughout the USA, here’s some of the best Dark Tourism destinations that we think you should check out. From ghosts and witchcraft to urban legends that seem too real to be fake….
The Macabre, Strange and Interesting Dark Tourism Destinations of The USA
1. Badlands National Park
The Badlands National Park is known for its remote and seemingly hostile environment. However, the strange, almost alien environment has been an alluring attraction to people who enjoy the stranger side of life.
The geological shapes make it seem like a scene from Star Wars more than an earthly place. Canyons, rock formations, and an abundance of fossils show the rich and diverse natural history of the Badlands.
But it didn’t end there; when settlers came to the Americas, it became a site of conflict between Native Americans and Colonizers seeking to take control of the land.
The land saw its fair share of bloodshed and brutal history, and a few patches of cursed land were rumored to be hidden amongst the canyons and old hunting grounds.
Tourists are often urged to take tours with knowledgeable guides; like many of America’s National Parks, there have been disappearances and incidents of hikers getting lost.
But if you’re up for the adventure and want to visit somewhere entirely out of this world, you won’t be disappointed with Badlands National Park.
Location: South Dakota
Tags: Dark History; Strange Tourism
2. Saint Elmo: Ghost Town
While the term Ghost Town might garner some excitement from the likes of the Winchester Brothers from Supernatural, we’d like to restate the rumors.
St Elmo’s is not an undead stronghold and, surprisingly, has very little rumor of paranormal activity.
So what makes it so interesting? Well, Saint Elmo is the most well-preserved Ghost Town in the United States. Once a flourishing town founded in 1880, this was a booming part of the Silver Mining Industry. Unfortunately, this was short-lived, and the town was abandoned entirely in the early 20th century.
It now offers a unique perspective on life in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, as well as allows our imagination to take us back to the Wild West, where cowboys and shootouts are the order of the day.
There are guided tours, but for the most part, the town and its surroundings (which are stunning, by the way) are open for exploration!
Location: Chaffee County, Colorado
Tags: Dark History
3. The Shanghai Tunnels
Underneath the city streets of Portland sits a vast network of tunnels dating back decades.
They were not a part of the city’s original plans and were, in fact, created as an escape and transport network for criminal activities—namely Shanghaiing.
Unsuspecting men would be forcibly kidnapped and transported through these tunnels to awaiting ships to work as slave crew. Not to mention that when the Prohibition Era hit, they were a pretty good way to sneak contraband liquor around the city for Gatsby-esque soirees.
These tunnels form a dark part of Portland’s heritage but are still part of its history as far as tourism is concerned. The tunnels are only accessible through a few points and with guides.
And we wouldn’t recommend you try to enter any other way. Why? Aside from their history of illicit activity, they have also earned the nasty title of one of Portland’s most haunted destinations.
So it’s best to travel in groups and let the tour guide keep you safe from the things that creep around the tunnels because we promise you rats are the least of your worries.
Location: Portland, Oregon
Tags: Paranormal; Supernatural; Dark History
4. Waverly Hills Sanatorium
We don’t need American Horror Story to help us realize that abandoned hospitals in any way, shape or form are some of the creepiest things to exist.
Waverly Hills Sanatorium is no exception to the rule. Once a treatment facility for Tuberculosis, y’know, before we discovered a cure, the sanatorium was the final resting place for hundreds of patients who succumbed to the contagious disease.
This leaves quite an invisible scar on the building.
And after a cure was discovered and the hospital became insignificant, everyone abandoned it except former (deceased) patients, doctors, and nurses whose spirits still roam the halls.
It’s become a popular destination for ghost hunters, paranormal enthusiasts, and tourists. But, if you’re brave enough, you can take a tour and explore the creepy old building for yourself.
Whether you believe Casper and crew are waiting behind the doors, the building is still eerie enough to send shivers down anyone’s spine.
Location: Louisville, Kentucky
Tags: Paranormal; Supernatural; Dark History; Disaster Tourism
5. Stull Cemetery
You might want to hold onto your hats for this one. Kansas is supposedly home to one of the Seven Gates to Hell.
Stull Cemetery, in Stull, is noted to be amongst the most haunted cemeteries in America and comes with enough warnings and local lore to turn brave men pale with fright.
But perhaps the most famous (or infamous) local legend is that Stull Cemetery is a gateway to Hell. And if you’re unlucky enough to be around on Halloween, you might come face-to-face with the Devil himself.
Of course, because the cemetery has attracted quite a cult following, local law enforcement has put rules in place. After all, it is a place that demands respect, regardless of our insatiable need to have our own Scooby Doo episode.
But when it comes to dark tourism destinations in the USA, you can’t get much more creepy than a literal gateway to the seven circles.
Location: Stull, Kansas
Tags: Paranormal; Supernatural; Dark History
6. Pine Barrens
Outdoor adventurers will love the diverse ecosystem presented by the Pine Barrens in New Jersey. Towering pine trees, cranberry bogs, and beautiful streams and rivers, it’s a paradise for hikers and nature enthusiasts.
But, as every outdoors person knows, you’re never alone in the forest, and the Pine Barrens has a reputation for strange behavior.
It’s infamous for its legends and folklore, and aside from avid hikers taking to the trails, you might find a few wild cryptozoologists on the hunt for the Jersey Devil.
The creature is a fable that strikes fear into the hearts of locals. A beast with a horse-like head, leathery wings, and the body of a goat, it is rumored to be responsible for plenty of strange occurrences and disappearances in the area.
The origins of the Jersey Devil legend are uncertain, but it is believed to have been part of New Jersey folklore for hundreds of years.
Over the years, numerous sightings of the Jersey Devil have been reported, and the legend has grown to become one of the most well-known and enduring legends of the Pine Barrens.
So when it comes to dark tourism in the USA, you can’t find a more unique example than this.
Location: New Jersey
Tags: Paranormal; Supernatural; Cryptozoology
7. Area 51
Area 51 is a mysterious and highly secure military base in the Nevada desert. Yet despite its reputation as one of the most secretive and secure places on earth, Area 51 has long been the subject of speculation and local lore.
As a result, it has become a popular destination for those interested in the strange and unusual.
The legends and rumors surrounding Area 51 vary, ranging from stories of aliens and flying saucers to tales of government experiments and secret technology. For those fascinated by the mysterious and the unknown, visiting Area 51 is a must-see dark tourism experience.
In fact, some overzealous Redditors previously decided to storm the base in an attempt to discover its hidden secrets, which simply resulted in a few strangers becoming friends over weird obsessions.
Regardless, you might not be able to get into the military base itself, but you can catch glimpses of it and explore some of the surrounding areas, where tour guides can explain more of the unique and exciting lore.
Location: Nevada Desert
Tags: Supernatural; Dark History
8. The Winchester Mystery House
The name Winchester isn’t just synonymous with the demon-hunting heartthrobs of Supernatural. In fact, Winchester is associated with another deadly force, the Winchester rifle.
Well, the creator of this rifle succumbed to TB in 1881, leaving behind his grieving widow in a large mansion all by herself. Or so she thought. Soon after her husband’s passing, she began to experience hauntings, and not by him.
She claimed that the victims of Winchester rifles had begun to haunt her. But instead of doing the logical thing, and moving house, she decided to build a labyrinth.
The Winchester Mystery House has been transformed into a maze of rooms, doors, staircases, and more. In fact, the internal workings are so disorientating that you can only enter with a trained guide.
She built such an elaborate and confusing space, hoping it would disorientate the ghosts, but there is also a rumor that she added rooms to house the victims.
Either way, the Winchester Mystery House is an absolute must-visit destination, if anything, to simply be humbled by the widow’s stubbornness to leave or hire an exorcist.
Location: San Jose, California
Tags: Paranormal; Supernatural; Dark History
9. The Cecil Hotel
The Cecil Hotel is a fascinating and intriguing destination for anyone interested in dark tourism within the USA.
It has a long and storied history, with many strange and mysterious events having taken place within its walls. From serial killers to supernatural sightings, the Cecil Hotel is steeped in legends and rumors of the macabre.
Visitors can tour the hotel, learning about its fascinating history and exploring its dark and creepy corners. And for those who are feeling brave, you can even book a room hoping to see some of the resident ghosts.
But be warned, this hotel is synonymous with mystery and the macabre, having once housed the notorious Night Stalker, Richard Ramirez, and being the subject of the Elisa Lam cold case.
Nobody quite understands why this hotel has grown into a hotspot for strange occurrences; frankly, we don’t want to know. All we can say is, if you’re a fan of creepy buildings, the Cecil Hotel is not one to miss.
Location: Los Angeles, California
Tags: Paranormal; Supernatural; Dark History; Macabre Tourism; Murder Tourism
10. The Stanley Hotel
Most people have heard of Stephen King, the master of horror writing, and his famous work of art, The Shining. But did you know that the Overlook Hotel is based on a real place?
The Stanley Hotel in Colorado has a reputation for being one of the most haunted hotels in the country and is steeped in brutal history and shady happenings. Yet, despite the paranormal encounters, the hotel is still fully operational and accepting guests.
So if you’re feeling brave enough, you can grab a key card and be prepared for a night of spooky encounters. Of course, we can’t guarantee Jack Nicholson busting down your door, screaming, “HERE’S JOHNNY!”
But you might be able to have a drink prepared by the ghost of one of the former bartenders. Having worked hospitality ourselves, we’d just call that mad dedication.
There are plenty of infamous spirits haunting the hallways, including a small girl, a housekeeper, and the wife of the Stanley Hotel’s founder.
Location: Estes Park, Colorado
Tags: Paranormal; Supernatural; Dark History; Disaster Tourism; War Tourism
11. Lafayette Cemetery No. 1
New Orleans has always been a wealth of dark tourism destinations, but one of the most famous of these is Lafayette Cemetery No. 1.
This breathtaking cemetery is a gorgeous tourist spot to visit during the day, with rows of carved tombstones, crypts, and more giving us insight into the lives lost decades prior.
Nearly 7000 people are buried there, with the bodies of the Mayfair Witches, Lafayette himself, and legendary voodoo priestess Marie Laveau being amongst the most famous.
Occasionally, night tours are offered, with helpful and informative guides providing incredible insight into the cemetery’s history and the people buried there. Plus, if you’re lucky, you might have an up-close and personal encounter with one of the many resident specters.
Having visited this cemetery ourselves, in daylight, we can’t begin to describe the atmosphere. It’s a place for remembrance and immaculately well looked after; one might even say it’s hauntingly beautiful.
But this is still one of the best dark tourism destinations in the USA and a truly unforgettable experience, with or without ghosts.
Location: New Orleans, Louisiana
Tags: Paranormal; Supernatural; Dark History
12. Joshua Tree National Park
Joshua Tree National Park has quite a fanbase; but amongst the nature enthusiasts who can’t get enough of the breathtaking natural beauty are a following of paranormal researchers, xenoarchaelogists, or just people hoping to have an encounter of the fourth kind.
The park has a reputation for being a hotspot for paranormal activity. And we’re not talking about ghosts. We’re talking about out-of-this-world visitors.
People claim to see strange lights in the sky and UFOs flying overhead, and a few have even claimed to have come face to face with the infamous gray men! All we know is these rumors have attracted quite a fanbase.
It’s become one of the most infamous hotspots for alien activity in the USA, and nobody can really explain the phenomenon. But, of course, everyone has their theory, and among the most popular is that Joshua Tree once housed an ancient alien civilization.
People can’t help but notice the alien-like quality of the landscape and rock formations; it’s an isolated area and offers clear skies at night to stargaze and hopes to spot a glimpse of the mothership.
If you’re into that, of course; personally, despite finding E.T. to be as cute as a French bulldog, we can’t say we’d be keen to have an encounter with any of his friends.
Location: Joshua Tree National Park, California
Tags: Supernatural; Macabre Tourism
The Best Dark Tourism Destinations In The USA: Final Thoughts
So whether you’re giving in to morbid curiosity, or you seriously just grew tired of normal tourism, you can rest easy knowing there’s a whole bizarre world of Dark Tourism destinations in the USA waiting to be explored.
And you can start by visiting one of our favorites above!