Perhaps nothing conjures the perfect idea of camping than sitting around a crackling fire in the evening, roasting marshmallows, and exchanging campfire stories. Tales of jilted lovers, lost boys and girls, and spooky ghosts are a staple of campfire stories. According to historians, campfire stories mostly came from frontiersmen or soldiers who often exchanged tales at night to stay awake during their lookout shifts.
No matter how these classic tales came to exist, they are an integral part of modern camping. Some of the most famous ones have been told and retold for centuries. Let's dive in and discover popular campfire stories, including ones for kids and some that are more funny than scary.
The Hawaiian Night Marchers
Said to march in a single line, carrying a single torch, and beating a single drum, the Hawaiian Night Marchers is a spooky tale that is perfect for sharing during your next beach camping trip. The story goes that the Huaka’ipo, or warrior spirits, rise from the ocean at night and march forward, claiming anything in their paths that look at them. The best way to protect yourself, it is said, is to lie facedown, unmoving, until they pass. Campers are warned to be on the lookout for torchlight and chanting as it's a tell-tell sign of the approaching danger.
The Smiling Man
This short tale became famous in an unlikely way and is the newest campfire story being told. The Smiling Man is told from one man's point of view. As this man was walking down the street late one night, he encountered a man staring at the sky, smiling. Although there is nothing particularly violent or dealing with death, as in most campfire stories, this story is unnerving and keeps the audience on their toes from start to finish.
This short tale is perfect for sharing around a campfire if you have a group with younger kids. The story recounts a summer camp with a rule for campers to stay with the group. A curious boy, Tony, wandered off while following a few rabbits and got lost. The story goes on to tell that while Tony was found the following day asleep in his bunk, the counselor that went looking for him never returned.
This is the perfect campfire story for encouraging younger kids to stay with an adult. If you're sharing this with older kids, have someone call out Tony's name at the end for added excitement.
The Seventh Barn
This scary campfire story is probably the most unnerving urban legend. The seventh barn is supposedly a murder site in Ohio where a man killed his entire family. The legend tells that the man was so distraught after the death of his wife and infant during her pregnancy that he murdered his remaining six children and himself. The land was sold, and all his barns were torn down except one. The farmer is said to haunt the farm and barn still today.
La Llorona, or the weeping woman in English, is a classic tale in Mexican folklore. The tale is the perfect spooky campfire story for campsites along the river's edge. That's because the weeping woman is said to haunt the river after her children drowned. She often takes children close to the river, mistaking them for her own, and no one sees the kids again. While the story is an excellent choice in campfire tales for older children, it may be a little too scary for a younger crowd.
The Deer Woman
Famous in Native American mythology, the Deer Woman recounts the story of a shape-shifting medicine woman who lures unsuspecting single men to their death in the woods with her siren call. Shapeshifters, or skinwalkers, can be found throughout many stories across Native tribes. They are said to attack people in their homes, bang on doors throughout the night, and peer straight through windows. Because skinwalkers are powerful shamans, they are difficult to kill, and the only way to do so is to call it by its name. Good luck figuring it out, though!
The Green Ribbon
One of the most popular children's campfire stories is The Green Ribbon. Based on a French story, the Green Ribbon was popularized in the book "In a Dark, Dark Room and Other Scary Stories" and is perfect for older children. The story follows Jenny, a girl who always wore a green ribbon around her neck, and Alfred, her childhood admirer. Alfred always wants to know why Jenny wears the ribbon, but Jenny says she can never tell him. On her deathbed, after a long life of marriage to Alfred, Jenny finally removes the ribbon. However, poor Alfred got more than he bargained for.
The Bell Witch
If you're camping near the Great Smoky Mountains, perhaps no campfire story is more famous there than the haunting of the Bell Witch. John Bell, a farmer in the hills of Tennessee, was notably haunted by an evil spirit from 1817 to 1821. Numerous historical records show the activity of the spirit, and the haunting was well known throughout the community. Speculations of witchcraft in the Bell Cave, located on the Bell Farm, started circulating throughout the town, and for years the Bell family were considered pariahs. Today visitors come from all over the world to explore the Bell farm, which is still standing.