If you grew up in America and ever went to summer camp, or had an older sibling, or a particularly macabre set of school bus friends, you've probably heard some of these spooky campfire stories before. In fact, you probably still wake up in a cold sweat most nights, thinking you can hear the distant scraping of a hook against a car door. And even if you had a pleasant childhood and therefore never heard any of these gruesome stories... grab your acoustic guitar and some s'mores, because here are 10 terrifying campfire stories that still freak us out.
Even if you weren't much for pitching tents and starting bonfires, you might recognize some of these creepy campfire tales from Alvin Schwartz's Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. That's because Schwartz, like many ghost story writers before him, drew inspiration from American folktales and urban legends (and then he added those horrific illustrations from Stephen Gammell, to more effectively haunt our every waking thought). Most of these scary stories have no known origin, and no original author on record. They're good old fashioned oral tradition, kept alive around campfires, at sleepovers, and in the dark places beneath playground equipment.
So here are some of the most memorable campfire stories that still make us feel all weird inside to this very day:
1. The Hook
A pair of attractive teens are parked at Make Out Point (or Lover's Lane, depending on your version of the story), an isolated spot on the edge of town. The boyfriend switches on the radio for some mood music, and the two start canoodling. But just as things are getting hot and heavy, they're interrupted by a breaking news story: A murderer has escaped from the nearby state asylum. He's armed and dangerous, and he has a hook in place of his right hand.
The girlfriend is obviously frightened, and wants to go home straight away, but the boyfriend insists that they'll be fine. He locks all the car doors and tries to kiss her again. She calmly explains that no means no, and that she wants to go the hell home. Annoyed, the boyfriend slams the gas pedal and drives her back to her house. It's only when they both get out of the car that he notices something dangling from the door handle — a bloody, steel hook.
2. Bloody Mary
This one might be slightly more popular at sleepovers than campfires, but I bet that you're still just a little scared to actually try it. The story goes that if you look into a mirror in a darkened room and chant "Bloody Mary" three times, you'll see the ghostly visage of Bloody Mary herself staring back at you. That, or she'll pop out of the mirror and kill you. The real Bloody Mary was actually Queen Elizabeth's ill-fated older sister, and she's probably not coming to kill you — but staring into a darkened mirror for a prolonged period of time can cause very creepy hallucinations.
3. Wolf Girl
As a kid, I knew this story as "The Blonde Wolf," which is admittedly not the creepiest of titles. But the story goes that a pregnant woman went into labor in a remote part of Texas. Her husband went for help, but both of their bodies were discovered the next day, ravaged by wolves. The baby was nowhere to be found. Over the years, sightings were reported of a little girl living with a pack of wolves, and later a grown woman, covered in hair, nursing wolf pups... and finally sightings of a strange-looking wolf with suspiciously human-like features.
4. Don’t Turn on the Light
Two college roommates are in the same science class, and the big midterm is tomorrow morning. Marie wants to stay in and study, but Tara wants to go out and party with a cute guy from the lacrosse team. She leaves Marie to her studies. When she gets home very late that night, Marie is in bed and the lights are off. Tara goes to bed without turning the lights on, trying not to disturb her studious friend. In the morning, she goes to wake Marie so they won't be late for the test... but Marie's body lies stiff, and her bed is soaked in blood. On the wall above her, scrawled in blood, are the words "Aren't You Glad You Didn't Turn on the Light?"
5. The Keyhole
A man is staying in a hotel for the weekend. On his way to his room, he notices a closed door with no number on it. When he asks about it, he is told that no one is allowed in that room. Curious, he stops to peer in the keyhole on the next night, and sees a normal hotel room, with a very pale woman lying on the bed. He goes on his way. But the next night, he's just too curious and looks through the keyhole again: this time, all he can see is red. Just red. He goes to ask the woman at the front desk about the room again, and she finally tells him the truth: a woman was murdered in that room years ago. An albino woman, with white skin... and red eyes.
6. The Clown Statue
A babysitter has been hired to watch two children for the night. After she puts the kids to bed, the parents ask that she watches TV in their bedroom upstairs, because the children have been having nightmares recently. She puts the kids to bed easily enough, and settles in the parents' room to watch TV. But in the corner of the room there's a large, creepy clown statue, about life-sized. She tries to ignore it, but it's just too creepy. Finally, she calls the dad to ask if she can watch TV downstairs instead. "Sure, but why?" he asks. She tells him that the clown statue is just creeping her out too much. There's a pause. "Get the children and leave the house," says the dad. "We don't have a clown statue."
7. The Hitchhiker
"The Vanishing Hitchhiker" might be the most famous campfire story of all time. A couple are driving late at night, when they notice a girl hitchhiking. They pick her up, and she thanks them profusely and gives them a nearby address. They drive her home, trying to make polite conversation. But after a few minutes, the girl falls silent. The driver asks if they've reached the right intersection, but when they turn to the backseat the girl is gone. She's vanished without a trace. When they reach the address she gave them, an elderly couple greets them at the door. They don't know of any girl... but their own daughter was killed in a car accident many years ago, just a few miles up the road.
8. Doggy Lick
A girl is just a little afraid of the dark, so every night her dog sleeps under her bed. When she's afraid, she puts her hand down, and her dog licks it to reassure her. One night, she wakes to hear a strange dripping sound. She puts her hand down, and feels the dog lick it, so she feels better and goes back to sleep. The next morning, she wakes to find the body of her dog hanging in the middle of the room, dripping blood. On the wall someone has written, "Humans Can Lick Too!" (The same murderer as that dorm room one? Possibly.)
9. The Ribbon
A man marries his beloved: a beautiful young woman who always wears a black, velvet ribbon around her neck. On their wedding night, he asks why she never takes the ribbon off. "If I do, you'll be sorry," she says, and goes to sleep. Night after night, he keeps asking, but she always gives him the same reply. He begins to go mad with curiosity. Finally, one night, while she's sleeping, he steals the scissors from her sewing box and cuts through the ribbon himself. The black ribbon falls away... and her head rolls right off her neck and falls to the floor with a sickening thud.
10. The High Beams
A young woman is driving home late one night, when she notices a truck driving up directly behind her. No one else is on the road. She waits for the truck to pass her, but instead it stays directly behind her, and flashes its high beams. She becomes unsettled. No matter how fast she drives, or which back roads she heads down, the truck stays close behind her, flashing its high beams every few minutes. Terrified, she speeds home, with the truck right on her tail, and pulls into her driveway. She leaps out of her car and tries to run to her front door, but the truck driver gets out too—and he's holding a gun. He points the gun in her direction and shoots. The woman screams, but the bullet wasn't for her: she turns to see the body of a man fall out of the backseat of her car, clutching a butcher's knife. The shaken truck driver explains that he noticed the man in the backseat of her car, and was trying to signal to her. Every time the man raised his knife to stab her, he flashed his high beams.
Editor's note: This story was updated from its original version on July 30, 2018.