National Park Oddities: Cannibal People, Conspiracy, or Wildlife?
A Deep Dive into Strange Outdoor Occurrences, as Documented on TikTok
Diablo Lake: North Cascades National Park, WA - Photo Credit: Scott Carnahan
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National parks have historically been places that inspire morbid curiosity and rampant imagination. With acres of dense, often unexplored forest, many fear what could be lurking inside. These fears are not entirely irrational either, with 2,727 deaths in U.S. national parks over the past twelve years. Recently, many people have taken to TikTok to attempt to explain this phenomenon. Some claim those responsible for these deaths are hordes of feral cannibal people, living in the depths of National Parks, killing and eating people. This theory has been trending on the video platform TikTok, where outdoor enthusiasts and conspiracy theorists alike have been sharing their own stories of national park visits, ranging from mildly creepy to downright terrifying.
TikToker @chroniclesofolivia posted a video detailing her experience at Lena Lake in Washington State, in which she found hundreds of what she described as “humanoid footsteps”, at the top of the mountain she was climbing. After filing an official report with no conclusive evidence, Olivia still contends that the footsteps she found belonged to humanoid creatures that the government is hiding due to their lack of official species classification. Mysteriously, her TikToks describing her experience have been deleted (though her videos are still available on her YouTube channel)...
Sierra Del Carmen: Big Bend National Park, TX - Photo Credit: Scott Carnahan
In January of this year, another TikToker going by the name of @thepresentbeliever claimed to hear blood curdling screams during her visit to Big Bend National Park in Brewster County, Texas. While camping with her husband and daughter, Ariele heard multiple people screaming deep within the wilderness of the park, yelling phrases such as “we’re gonna die!”, “call a ranger,” and “I love you, just know that.” Ariele and her family reported the incident to the police and park rangers, who found nothing. There has been no documented evidence of this incident, but her story has made the rounds on TikTok and has inspired many others to tell their stories as well.
Badlands National Park, SD - Photo Credit: Chris Blake
After TikToks like these went viral, hundreds of other videos have surfaced of people telling similar stories of creepy happenings in National Parks and near National Park lands, and with the help of conspiracy theorists and groupthink, many have jumped to the same conclusion: the existence of feral, cannibal people. These theorists assert that due to the dense and largely undiscovered nature of National Parks, that a subhuman species of people have been living in these areas and occasionally terrorizing locals and visitors alike - refusing entirely to take into account the existence of dangerous wildlife in these disappearances. TikToker @garcious even claims that there are several eyewitness accounts of these creatures, and that police are neglecting to investigate. As rumors run amok, an increasing number of people have stated that they will never enter a National Park again, for fear of these creatures.
Sustainability scientist and content creator, Alaina Wood (known as @thegarbagequeen on TikTok) also contributed to this conversation through her TikTok, doing her best to debunk some of these rumors with a far more plausible explanation - you can view her video below:
In her TikTok, Alaina reacts to a video of another TikToker filming herself while camping in the Great Smoky Mountains, where creepy noises can be heard in the background. Alaina, as a resident of the Tennessee Mountains, explains her familiarity with wildlife noises such as the ones coming from coyotes heard in the video. She goes on to debunk the cannibalistic people theory, and explains that many of these “spooky” happenings in National Parks can be chalked up to animals like bears, bobcats, cougars, and other wildlife.
Cades Cove: Great Smoky Mountains National Park, TN - Photo Credit: Chris Blake
Other natives of the Appalachian Mountains area have also come forward to speak out about this, claiming that much of these stories come from folklore and myth that have been around for years. Many note that conspiracy theories like these uphold harmful stereotypes about Appalachian people, and circulate unnecessary fear-mongering about the often misunderstood population. It is likely, those native to the area note, that much of the hysteria around killer cannibals comes from long retold pieces of folklore that are just now reaching the mainstream.
However, instances of missing people in National Parks are still all too real, and a string of cold cases leaves unanswered questions about those who were never found. Former police officer and investigator David Paulides released several books and one documentary on this subject, titled Missing 411. This series chronicles many disappearances that Paulides investigated throughout his career, all of which took place in National Parks, and none offering any plausible explanation.
Morton Overlook: Great Smoky Mountains National Park, TN - Photo Credit: Chris Blake
One of the most famous cases from his series is that of Dennis Martin, a 6-year-old boy who in 1969 hid behind a tree during a game of hide and seek with his famIly in Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee. As if into thin air, Martin disappeared and could not be found through the aid of his father and accompanying family. Later, the police and national park service began a full investigation of him but he was still never found.
Dennis’ story is a parental nightmare. Little evidence was found to support any plausible explanation for the boy’s disappearance - save for a set of children’s footprints leading to a stream, believed by some police officers to be Dennis’. However, the footprints were dismissed as evidence as there were investigators in the area when they were found... although no children were with them at the time. Because of this, many consider Dennis’ investigation to be a failure and even though this could be a reasonable explanation for how he disappeared, by falling into the lake, there are no concrete answers.
Besides the footprints, only one piece of anecdotal evidence was found but was again, largely dismissed by police. One hour after the time of Dennis Martin going missing, a neighboring family claimed to see a bear in the same area. However, the creature's furry appearance was the only thing likening it to a bear, as the family described the creature ducking and weaving around trees and running like a human, while seeming to carry a child over his shoulder. Again, this testimony was never brought into evidence by the police, and the connections between the two incidents were only made later by Paulides while researching for Missing 411. To this day, no concrete conclusions have been given for this case, and the rest of the Martin family remains bewildered.
Crater Lake National Park, OR - Photo Credit: Chris Blake
Another case that raises eyebrows is that of 2-year-old Keith Parkins, who disappeared while visiting his grandfather’s ranch in the middle of Ritter, Oregon by Umatilla National Forest. His disappearance launched a full investigation by local authorities, which led to him being found twelve miles away from the ranch and lying unconscious in the snow! As a toddler, Keith had no way of moving this far on his own and without warm clothing, it’s surprising that he even survived. Years later as an adult, Parkins was interviewed for Missing 411, and claims to have no recollection of the event. The case leaves many questions that remains unanswered, and many are still fascinated by it. No one has figured out how a young child could have moved such a far distance in the middle of the night through such adversity, and some wonder if a person or creature was responsible for moving him. Like these, there are many other cases that have been documented similarly in National Parks. For more information, check out Missing 411 either on Hulu or as the book series.
Phenomena like these are undoubtedly interesting, bewildering, and indeed somewhat creepy. However, many of these stories have plausible explanations, even if you have to do some digging to find them. Some swear that these instances are all a part of a large government coverup of something heinous going on in these parks, while others blame disappearances simply on bears. Do you think there is a connection between these events? That things may not be as they appear, or that the wilderness is full of naturally dangerous elements? Whatever you think, do your research and look into these occurrences a little closer - they may not be as scary as they may first appear. Why not go see for yourself what they’re all about?
Pathloom Intern Justine Imburgio majors in Secondary Education and English at Temple University in Philadelphia, PA. Look for more of Justine's writing about National Park Oddities and other outdoors topics in the Pathloom blog!
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