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The 5 best scary movies about hiking (and the lessons you can learn from them)

The best scary movies about being on the trail

Haunted, scary trail
Image used with permission by copyright holder

When a scary movie takes away all the trappings of modern life and places its characters in the woods, the stakes are higher. There are no police to call or cozy neighborhoods to hide in. It is man versus nature, even if nature is a scary monster or deranged murderer. An emergency on the trail is scary enough without supernatural or psychopathic terrors hiding in the trees.

However, many of the problems in the best horror movies about hiking, camping, and outdoor sports start long before the monsters hit the screen. When the most knowledgeable and experienced member of the group takes a risk, the entire group often winds up suffering, and the monsters are simply exacerbating a problem that could have been avoided.

Here are some of the best scary movies about hiking, and what the characters could have done to survive the trail safely.

The Blair Witch Project (1999)

The Blair Witch Project
Horror, Mystery
Rei Hance, Michael C. Williams, Joshua Leonard
Directed by
Daniel Myrick, Eduardo Sánchez
Watch on Amazon
The original Blair Witch Project swept the country and kicked off the “found footage” genre. It follows three aspiring documentarians as they set off into the woods in search of the Blair Witch, suffering some very frightening nights as they run afoul of the titular character. The premise of the movie is that they are filming their progress as they go, inviting viewers on the hike with them as they find clues about the existence of the Blair Witch.

However, the worst blow comes when one of the trio admits to throwing away the map. He must have been possessed by the Blair Witch at the time, because your navigation tools are extremely important in the outdoors, especially in a survival situation such as the film students found themselves in. Not every outdoor adventure may need a map, but a handheld GPS or a compass at minimum is a vital tool, especially for inexperienced hikers. The recklessness involved in throwing away one’s only navigation tool is also a problem on the trail, where hikers need to keep an even temper, especially when in a survival situation.

The Ritual (2017)

The Ritual
Horror, Thriller, Mystery
Rafe Spall, Arsher Ali, Robert James-Collier
Directed by
David Bruckner
Watch on Netflix
This hidden 2017 Netflix gem follows Luke, Hutch, Dom, and Phil as they embark on the Kings Trail, a famous Swedish hiking trail similar to the Appalachian Trail. Hutch and Luke are more experienced than Dom and Phil, neither of whom was properly prepared even before they hit the trail, with clothing and equipment unsuited to the wilderness. When Dom stumbles into a hole and hurts his knee, Hutch leads the group on a shortcut through uncharted wilderness off the trail. Strange symbols, spooky houses, and violent effigies lurk in the woods as they try to escape while battling their own internal demons.

This was already a bad trip but they could have survived (with perhaps some friendships ended before the trail’s terminus) had Hutch not suggested they take the shortcut through the woods. Moving along with an injured person in uncharted territory isn’t a good idea. Veering off the trail makes it less likely hikers will be found in an emergency, even if the group has reported to the lodge. There is also a danger of natural obstacles and perils, such as rockslides, wild animals, and swampy ground. Inexperienced hikers who are healthy would have difficulty through unknown terrain, but an injured hiker who expects to be found should stay on the trail.

Nobody Sleeps in the Woods Tonight (2020)

Nobody Sleeps in the Woods Tonight
Horror, Thriller
Julia Wieniawa-Narkiewicz, Wiktoria Gąsiewska, Stanisław Cywka
Directed by
Bartosz M. Kowalski
Watch on Netflix
Nobody Sleeps in the Woods Tonight is a Polish horror movie about a camp for teens addicted to technology. They are divided into smaller groups and expected to make a three-day hike through the forest under the guidance of their camp counselors. Almost immediately, things are amiss when the group discovers a mutilated deer. Iza, the camp counselor, dismisses the find and continues on with the group. What they find is a danger so unimaginable that it forces the group into a deadly confrontation with unspeakable horror.

Iza may be a competent trail guide, but she is too quick to dismiss the situation around her. When even her inexperienced charges knew something was wrong, it was incumbent on her to listen to them. As unusual circumstances arise that even Iza can’t dismiss, she still finds a way to assume that the abnormal is normal. The campers, all teenagers, are relying on her, just as any trail leader would be seen as an authority. Had Iza been more open to what her charges were trying to tell her, the group could have avoided their collision with disaster.

Wrong Turn (2021)

Wrong Turn
Horror, Thriller
Charlotte Vega, Adain Bradley, Bill Sage
Directed by
Mike P. Nelson
Watch on Showtime
The seventh film in the Wrong Turn series, released in 2021, departs from the other films by following a group of hikers in Virginia on their way to the Appalachian Trail. Along the way, they have a tense encounter with the locals, including a mysterious woman and her young daughter. Once on the trail, the group decides to veer off and explore. They are soon attacked by the people who live in the forest, a secluded society that doesn’t take kindly to outsiders. For this group of hikers, even escape may not be salvation.

The hikers veering from the trail was already a big mistake, but the perils of the trail are not just from nature. Other people on the trail might not be as scrupulous as you are, and with no emergency services, that means a hiker who is attacked by another hiker is all alone. The majority of people a hiker may encounter on the trail will not be malicious or dangerous, so it’s not necessary to shun everyone one meets, but hikers and hiking groups should be ready to protect themselves from theft, assault, and other human dangers.

Deliverance (1972)

Drama, Adventure, Thriller
Jon Voight, Burt Reynolds, Ned Beatty
Directed by
John Boorman
Watch on Amazon
Four Atlanta men take a canoeing trip in rural Georgia, hoping to enjoy the river one last time before it’s dammed. When they arrive at the trailhead, it’s clear they look down upon the locals, although one of them connects with a disabled boy in the famous “Dueling Banjos” scene. On the river, the group gets separated and two of them are attacked. The altercation leads to death and a harrowing journey to return to civilization, one which challenges all four men’s moral fortitude. Based on the novel by James Dickey, the movie is part of the U.S. National Film Registry and won three Oscars, including Best Picture.

Arrogance has no place on the trail, especially at the trailheads. It’s important to remember that locals live near or even on the trail, and hikers are merely visitors passing through. This includes steering clear of private property and treating anyone encountered on the way to the trail with courtesy and respect. The local people are the ones called upon if a hiker gets into trouble on the trail and are also full of wisdom about the local environment and how to survive in it because they do it every day.

Happy trails!

These scary movies showcase avoidable mistakes that the hikers made that helped lead them into the grip of whatever evil they faced. While the consequences may not be as dire as murderous mountaineers, mythological monsters, or creepy cults, life and death could still be on the line if these mistakes are made on your own adventures. Be safe on the trail with the protagonists from these movies as a guide on what not to do.

Movie images and data from:
Jennifer Asencio
Jennifer Asencio writes about everything but loves hiking, entertainment, and spirituality. When not studying at Harvard or…
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