For those who love the outdoors, a job like a park ranger or a wildlife research assistant that brings one into nature often can be enjoyable and fulfilling. They have probably seen the best sunsets, encountered stunning living beings, and taken in the best views. But with every career comes a few drawbacks. With nature's great beauty comes great danger, and even if they know the lay of the land, a ranger may not be able to predict everything that's out there. These outdoor workers share their most terrifying encounters in the wilderness that left them grateful to have made it out alive.
All content has been edited for clarity.
"I was working in a forest in East Africa for a while. It was getting seriously dark and we were hiking back to the car. The wind was quite strong, but you could still hear some ruffling in the leaves. As I turned around, I saw something quite big in the shrubs. It was a leopard.
I shrieked and some guy from the group shot into the air to scare the animal away. I'm glad he didn't shoot the animal but was still glad when the animal bolted out of there."
"I work for a cruise ship company, a famous one in the river cruising business. Sailing on a river cruise looks safe. It's smooth, there’s almost no current and waves, wind is usually not an issue, ships are built to be stable in these kind of waters. Yet tourists refuse to understand safety drills or the precautions we take or why we do it until something bad happens.
Well, a few weeks ago there was an incident in Budapest, Hungary, where a small ship was hit by one of our vessels and sank. You can read about it everywhere online because 20 people found their death in the Danube river after the collision and 8 are still presumed missing. The recorded time of sinking is 7 seconds, which is extremely fast. Nobody has a clue yet why everything happened so fast. The ship I am on was one of the first responding to the scene. We were pulling people out of the water. It doesn't get scarier than that in this business.
People need to remember that even a river that is not that deep with a current that is not that strong is still a killing body of water."
"I used to work for a humanitarian organization. We were sent to assess the damage and emergency assistance needed at a remote village, which was swept away by a deadly flash flood with the death toll increasing as each day passed.
We were walking around the site with a group of guys who were looking for trapped bodies when they suddenly rushed to a small mound of debris of boulders, tree trunks, and mud created by the flash flood and started to madly dig with their hands and shovels. Ten minutes later, one of them, who was hoisted into a small hole they had dug, yelled at them to stop and he quickly scrambled out of the hole and told the group to leave.
Before leaving the site though, the guy who yelled took out a candle from one of his pockets, lit it up, and laid it beside the mound.
Turns out they heard someone call for help (female from what they say), saw a muddy hand waving from one under a small opening and thought someone was still trapped inside. But when they dug out most of it, they realized it was just full of mud and debris. No trapped person.
I quickly noped out of there after finishing our work."
"This took place in the Australian bush around 10-11 at night.
I was 17, leading a staggered column of about 60 Cadets to our detachment campsite. Due to light discipline rules, only myself at the very front of the group and the other flight commander at the rear had torches on. This was so that any vehicles coming along the trail could see us and so that most of the cadets could maintain their night vision (we were camouflaged up and thus difficult to see at night).
As we walked along, I periodically looked to my sides, and kept seeing what looked like dew drops on the ground. Almost like tiny blue gems glinting in my torch light on either side of the road. I had to maintain my position in the formation, so I couldn't get a good look at what they were.
However, after a while we stopped for a very brief break, and I took the opportunity to have a closer look. Walking over to the side of the trail I spotted a small cluster of the 'diamonds' and focused my head torch on them. Rather than seeing diamonds or dew drops or anything remotely pleasant, I instead saw a group of about 5 large spiders just crouching in the leaf litter and staring at me. They looked like huntsman spiders, which are about the size of an adult's hand. Sweeping my head around, I realized there were thousands of the things. All over the ground, some on the trunks of trees, and everywhere around me, glaring at the light affixed to my head.
I had a very brisk walk back to the formation and attempted to play it cool while screaming in my head. Being a massive Arachnophobe, I have no clue how I managed to set up a tent and spend the next week in that cursed forest."
"I used to dog-sit for a friend who went away a lot of weekends. She had a MASSIVE golden retriever. Maybe mixed with something else, but he looked purebred Golden to me, just about 30 lbs bigger than he should have been.
Like most Goldens, total loverboy. Just a big goofy snugglebutt who would do anything to make you happy.
I was out walking him near her house one night and we went through the park where I'd sometimes let him off leash because there was a fence on 3 sides by the ball field. I'd throw a ball for him and let him run himself crazy and then we would go home.
He's running full tilt boogie back to me, happy and goofy and ball in mouth like, 'Who's a good boy? I'm a good boy, got the ball, yep I do!'
Stops dead about 10 feet in front of me. Drops the ball. He's frozen in place. I call him. 'Remy, come on! What's wrong boy? Get the ball! Come on!'
His hackles go up and he snarls at me. What the heck?? He's NEVER acted like this. I've spent so much time with him it's basically a shared custody arrangement and he's as much my dog as he is my friend's and he's never done this.
'Remy. Dude. Not cool. Come on. What's the matter?'
And then he charges me. Or so I thought. Right when I think he's lost his mind and is maybe secretly rabid and is about to lunge and rip my throat out, he goes running PAST me, teeth bared, trying to make himself look bigger than he is and he's already big, and runs into the bushes behind me.
I hear a scream and a struggle. I hear Remy yelp. I see a man running away and Remy comes out bleeding from the hip. Clean, long cut. Deep. Thankfully we're only like 3 blocks from home so I take my jacket and tie it over his hip, pack him in the car and run him to the emergency vet.
46 stitches later, we go home and call the cops. Cops roll their eyes like, 'The dog cut himself on something and you think it was foul play?' But they go check it out.
Further into the bushes where Remy had gone, they find what looks like a homeless camp. Except along with a sleeping bag they find several bloody knives, dead animals, children's clothing, some items that had been reported stolen from a home robbery.....
Whoever this dude was had been lurking in the bushes 20 feet behind me. For who knows how long. Planning who knows what. Remy hadn't cut himself. He was stabbed.
I'd love to say it was the big break in a series of child abductions or unsolved robberies but they never found anyone. What I do know, is Remy was the goodest of all boys who probably saved my life that night by risking his. I don't know what he saw or smelled or how he knew but if I hadn't had that 100 lb lunk with me that night, or even had a smaller dog, we would probably both be dead."
"This happened to me and a close friend of mine when we were camping in the hills of Buena Vista, CO. We work at an outpost that takes groups on week-long backpacking trips, so we were glad to go out on our own for once.
One night, around 2 or 3 am, we were woken up by flashes of light that we could see through our eyelids, but never saw when we looked clearly. We assumed it was lightning in the distance, so we paid little attention to it and closed our eyes. This continued on for about 15 minutes until it stopped.
It doesn’t get creepy until the next morning. Neither of us mentioned the light just because we assumed again that it was lightning and nothing out of he ordinary. My buddy and I were sitting outside our tent waiting for water to boil when his face went white like he’d just seen a ghost or a dead body. He was looking at his phone when this happened.
I asked what was wrong and he couldn’t speak. He was petrified. I walked over to see what he was looking at and I understood his terror. On his phone’s camera roll were 15 or 20 photos of he and I sleeping in our bags in our tent from the night before.
Needless to say we packed up faster than you’d think possible and jogged our way out of there at blistering speed."
"I work as a desert Park Ranger and have had many experiences.
One time volunteers at one of my parks called us to report a still smoldering/smoking car in one of our remote campsites. It was normal for stolen cars to be abandoned and burned. Well, we went to look and gawked a couple minutes while waiting for the fire department. After a couple minutes of just standing there it became very apparent that there was a body in the front seat.
After an additional look around, food wrappers, rope, and numerous other strange items were found. It seems like whomever was in the front seat had been bound and shot. Police came and cleaned it up, didn't find any answers. We refer to that as the haunted site now, it is the most popular in that tiny park.
Another time one of our cubicle farm chiefs got a call from a guy threatening to kill himself. He said he had a lot of weapons and was going to end it, then gave a location close to our park. Two of my coworkers got sent out to 'investigate.'
By the time they got there, another rangering entity had found the scene first, they told my coworkers to leave before there was a ton of complicated paperwork they'd have to do. The guy had shot himself, semi-successfully, then tried to walk for help. Large clean up scene. Felt bad for the responding park ranger. She wasn't with us but had just dealt with her husband (another ranger) killing himself the month before. She also found his body.
By far the scariest thing I ran into, though: I had just moved out there and was taking care of two parks by myself (both closed). These parks are about 30 miles from the nearest occupied houses and, even then, those couple of homes are usually empty in the summer time. I decided to hop in my car and drive to the darker park to take in a meteor shower and learn to play my banjo (because that is totally normal and not creepy at all). I am out there on a picnic table plucking away (terribly) under the stars and got this really uneasy feeling. My mind starts rattling off what-ifs.
'Was that a shadow? What if someone shows up?'
'What if someone is listening and starts singing?'
'This is the burned car park. What if they came back?'
As I am drowning in the silence with occasional string plucks to distract myself I hear muffled voices in the brush, quick mumbles then rustling. My heart dropped and my neck grew cold. There is no way this will be a normal interaction... My eyes struggle with the dark, scanning bushes trying to find shapes. The sounds grow closer and seem eerily high pitched. Children? WHAT?? 'Park Ranger dies of heart attack, found 3 days later still clutching Banjo' will be a good headline.
That is the day I learned that Coyotes have the run of the desert and don't have to worry about being quiet. Three of them bound through the creosote bushes with a yip or two, pass me close. Didn't care at all. That is the last time I ever played the banjo there."
"I was in archeological field school, living in a tent for 6 weeks at 7,500 feet and the closest paved road was ten miles away. One night, I woke to a huffing/snorting kind of sound right outside my tent. Next thing I know, whatever it was, was bumping my head.
I froze for a second. Then on pure instinct I did an overhead punch. Definitely felt contact. Whatever it was went away. This was on US Forest Service grazing land, so it could have been a cow with insomnia, but it could have been a mountain lion or black bear. I wasn't even tempted to go out and see what it was. I preferred the 'safety' of my tent.
It was most likely a bear. Whatever it was it was big. Mountain lions aren't that curious and I didn't keep food in my tent, but we cooked on a big central camp fire so I may have had some odors on my clothes."
"I was working as a research assistant in a rainforest in SE Asia many years ago. One of the things we did was trap moths at night. You'd sit in front of a a big white sheet with a lamp in front of it, powered by a generator and then periodically go and see what insects had been attracted to the sheet (incidentally, the insects attracted frogs, which attracted snakes, which attracted bigger things). Due to the noise and light, the trap was about a mile away from camp, so you'd be there at 3am, all alone in the middle of a jungle.
One cloudy night there wasn't much happening on the 1am-3am shift. I heard a rustle in the woods beside me. This wasn't unusual, but it was a bit bigger than I was used to hearing. The rustle got closer, and I started getting tense. It got closer still, and I was starting to think that I was going to get eaten by a tiger.
Suddenly a disembodied face broke out of the tree line, screaming in an unintelligible language. I practically pooped myself, screamed a little, and the disembodied face disappeared back into the woods issuing high pitched giggles.
It was only after my heart slowed that I realized one of the local lumberjacks had given me a jumpscare using a torch under their face for spooky lighting.
I wasn't even mad. It was hilarious."
"I was working as a camp worker when this happened to me. Other than me, there was also a guy Navajo my age working. Our job was to look after the horses and campers, make food, keep the site clean for the next set of campers, etc. The company we worked for had a set of emergency semi-automatics set up in the trailer we used, along with two guard dogs.
One night after a long trail ride we had gotten back to camp only to discover there was a single coyote patrolling it. We watched it from a distance before it saw us and it scurried off. I don't know why, but my Navajo friend and I had this really bad feeling after seeing it. The other workers didn't seem bothered, but they weren't the ones who had to live in the site 24/7. Maybe it was just nerves, but both of us had this feeling of being watched the entire evening. So eventually night comes and we all fall asleep.
We wake to a banging on our door and a someone wailing outside. We get up to investigate. My Navajo friend goes and checks the blinds and sees that it's the campers, so he lets them in. They come inside and they are terrified. They tell us that one of the girls had heard what sounded like her friend outside hurt, only to step on her as she was making her way out of the tent. That's when the wailing began, which woke all of them up. It had apparently gone on for 20 or so minutes before the had come to wake us up.
So as they're telling us this, we hear it stop, only to start back up in a different spot much closer to the camping site. At this time, we notice that the dogs with us are bristling. So, both of us, being not very brave, take down the weapons and exit the trailer with the dogs and make our way to the middle of the camp. From here, you could tell the sound was coming from just beyond the edge of the camp, where the area was pitch black. We gather some of the wood sitting next to us and start the fire back up and that's when it gets bad. I have never been more terrified in my life.
As soon as the wood catches, from all around us the wailing starts up. The dogs just stand next to us and start growling really loudly. I had absolutely no idea what was going on, so I chambered a round into my weapon, in which my friend follows suit. After that it goes dead quiet. I mean, dead. Like nothing was being heard.
I don't know if it was from how scared I was or what, but the next thing I know, I hear my name calling out from the dark to my left. I admit that at that moment, I wet my pants. It was and still is the most terrifying moment of my life. I look at my friend and he is wide-eyed and his face is pale. He's looking between me and where my name came from just as terrified as I was, if not more. We both back up closer to the camp fire before he takes one of the burning branches and hurls it towards the name calling spot. We hear a rustle and see something scurry away only to have the dogs start barking right then. If there was anything left in my bladder at that point, it had come out. I look at my friend until he points at something making its way slowly towards us. He points his weapon and fires at hit, hitting whatever it was. After the initial shot, we kind of went crazy, firing at whatever had made a sound in the brush.
So, we stay outside of the trailer for the rest of the night until the other workers come up. They see us both tired, still clutching the weapons and ask what happened. We go over everything and they go to investigate. After a little while, they come back with two coyote bodies. Apparently, what had happened was that the current set of campers had brought a large amount of meat to grill with, but hadn't thought to properly seal the containers, attracting the coyote pack. I had had some fantastical things going through my brain, ranging from skinwalkers to ghosts, so to see the actual creature causing it was actually more terrifying then anything else.
As for the name thing, that probably wasn't a coyote. It was most likely just from freaking out and my mind started playing tricks on me. It also was probably one of the workers who came to investigate all the commotion and when we starting firing he booked it (the other camp was in walking distance). It could have been my imagination playing up on me or something else. I only know that a couple days afterwards I went and asked my friend and he said he heard it too, so I can say that I have no idea and I would rather it go unsolved for once."
"I was working at a remote mountaintop microwave radio site near Prince Rupert BC in January. The road to the site was impassible even by snowcat due to deep snowdrifts. I had to be dropped off by a helicopter in the morning and get picked up at end of day. The building was small, single story, maybe 30x40 ft., windowless, with a metal front door.
I'm puttering away with music on but otherwise not making a lot of noise when there is a knock on the door. I thought it a bit odd someone else would be up here with me but go to answer the door. Nobody there.
I go out and look around, nope nothing there, no prints or tracks. I figured maybe some ice had fallen and made a knocking sound, go back inside and resume what I was doing. A couple minutes later there is a knocking on the door again, but longer duration this time.
I open the door, nobody. I go out and look around, nothing.
Go back to work. A minute later knocking again. This time it sounds like someone is angrily pounding on the door to be let in. This time I open the door with my crowbar in hand, there was no doubt someone was there. Open the door, nobody. Step out and look around, no sign of anyone again.
I get the feeling somebody is watching me. I'm peering into the bush around me and see nothing. Something compelled me to look behind me and that's when I met the amused gaze of a raven perched on the roof edge, centered above the front door. They squawked a happy 'rawk rawk rawk' and flapped off to the tree line. Jerk."
"I worked as a tree planter in northern Ontario, living in tents in very remote parts of the forest, like hours away from civilization only accessible by logging roads.
The strangest experience was from a fellow planter who found a backpack in the middle of his area with shoes, clothes, a wallet with a school ID, and a film camera. How it ended up there is a total mystery because this is no place for hiking or camping.
We googled the kid's name but nothing came up, so no missing person report or anything. He tried to get the camera developed but it was too water damaged. I think we were all assuming it would be some plot from a horror movie but it was just a bizarre find in such a remote place.
The scariest for myself was waking up to my tent vestibule collapsed and a large bear claw rip which I apparently slept through, as well as turning a corner to a large wolf about ten feet away. And returning to a spot I’d planted about 5 minutes earlier to fresh momma bear and cub prints. Realizing a bear family had sauntered behind me while my back was turned was very unsettling because you do not want to mess with a bear and her cubs.
Canadian wildlife is scary."
"I was in Big Bend National Park about 20 years ago prepping for a backpacking series presentation for REI (Big Bend is the western portion of Texas that dips downward along the bend of the Rio Grande that forms the border with Mexico, its mixed high desert and smaller mountains, gorgeous place, great history).
I was hiking the area near Santa Elena canyon, probably a couple of hours before sunset, to try and get pics for the presentation. This area of the park opens into a comparatively flat section of the basin where the river broadens and the wildlife tends to be more diverse and obvious there (hence there I was).
I was several hundred meters away from my van which was parked in a designated lot at what passed for a trail head at the time. As I approached the river basin near the mouth of the canyon I saw something really unusual. So unusual in fact that it took a few seconds for my brain to sort the puzzle.
Something was moving on the other side of the river, and it was big. Man sized, BUT low to the ground. The color of a deer maybe? And shuffling along. It looked, for first impression, to be a medium sized white tail doe lying on its side and moving like a snake, but that's not a thing that happens so I moved a bit to improve my line of sight.
It was a mountain lion. A big cat. A BIG cat. It was creeping along, low slung, hunting something that was probably no more than a stone's toss from where I was standing. I'd never seen one before and when the visual information finally parsed I think my blood froze.
Then it looked at me. I'll probably never forget that bit. You could see that little calorie calculator turn on in its eyes.
I've never been so thankful for a river in my life. Granted at this time (and maybe still) the river was very low due to drought and unauthorized/unlawful irrigation practices upstream, and you could likely cross at several points at this location with minimal risk, but it was still quite broad and definitely looked the part of a potent water barrier.
DeathKitty does a series of double takes, head shifting from me to whatever the prey location back and forth rapidly, said calorie counter and risk calculator trying to get a fix on this evenings menu. I die a little inside, maintain my facing and begin slowly and quietly moving away.
Not sure if I wasn't worth it, if the river was too much of an x-factor, or if the big'un just really wasn't that into me, but no chase was given and after breaking line of sight, I was able to get back to the van just fine with no sign of pursuit and some mild tachycardia. That was a longest short walk I've ever taken.
Later that night, I was parked off of the main park road in an area where big cats commonly hunted. I'll always remember being parked there, in the middle of nowhere, munching on slightly stale Oreos and a bottle of water, listening to the occasional growl or scream of a big cat peal out of the darkness, and being thankful for my relatively fortunate position on the food chain.
Also one night I hallucinated on Nyquil (a side effect I regularly experience with the 'quils) after getting a respiratory illness and woke up screaming.
On a mountain.
At 3 am.
At the public camp site.
But that's someone else's scary camping story."