In the United States National Park System alone there are more than 84 million acres (35 million hectares) of preserved woods, deserts, mountains and other wilderness, so it's no surprise that in the past 100 years there have been a number of cases of hikers going missing. Many of those who vanished were young children and inexperienced hikers, but some were healthy and seasoned outdoorspeople. But is there more to these disappearances than just kids wandering off, or hikers becoming disoriented?
What could cause someone to seemingly vanish into thin air? There are two approaches people take to explaining these mysterious disappearances: earthly and supernatural. Most hiking experts would say that these missing hikers made common mistakes like taking on more than they could handle or failing to time their turnback to beat the sunset [source: Stevenson]. However, some disappearances have become a focus for urban legend, online message boards and nonfiction books. In fact, "Missing 411" author and former police officer at Yosemite National Park, David Paulides, thinks something more intriguing is afoot. His books examine more than 1,100 cases of people who mysteriously vanished in United States national parks [source: Hiltner].
The National Parks Service doesn't collect data on how many visitors disappear within the vast expanses of these parks. Indeed, most people turn up on their own accord a few days later. In 2020, Paulides estimated that there had been over 1,600 unexplained disappearances in North America [source: Strange Outdoors].
Let's be honest – although it might be fun to imagine monsters or something spookier, no proof for any supernatural disappearance has ever been provided. But there have definitely been some mysterious disappearances both in the United States and abroad in formal, federal government-run national parks, as well as in related spaces like national forests, recreation areas, state parks and more. Here are some of the most fascinating cases to date, starting in the early 20th century.