Skip to main content

Road-trippers in search of settings both scenic and spooky could do no better than North Carolina. Between the shadowy Appalachian hills and hollers, lonely fields across the Piedmont, and profusion of chilling sea stories around the aptly named Cape Fear, the Tarheel State offers spectacularly creepy sightseeing. For thrill-seeking travelers, here are four haunted roads in North Carolina.

Beware of strange sights and sounds on Helen’s Bridge in Asheville

Creepy roads North Carolina, Asheville, Blue Ridge Mountains autumn
Blue Ridge Parkway near Asheville, North Carolina | George Rose/Getty Images

Road-trippers wishing to see fall colors — or wanting a taste of top-quality country music and Carolina barbecue — often visit the beautiful western North Carolina city of Asheville. For travelers uninterested in tunes or tasty eats, Helen’s Bridge is a perfect reason to drop in.

Two stories vie to justify the bridge’s name. One tale claims Helen was a bereft mother who survived a fire that killed her infant. Another version says Helen had been pregnant by a coldhearted man who turned her out of the nearby Zealandia Mansion, now a tourist destination.

Both stories come to the same sad end. Poor Helen hanged herself from the bridge that now bears her name. Locals claim lights and the sound of weeping haunt the area.

Cars do strange things on Gravity Hill in Richfield, North Carolina

Not every road trip must begin with a haunted historical horror. Gravity Hill has no ghosts or grim history, just a quirk of the landscape straight out of science fiction.

If a driver starts up Gravity Hill and shifts the car into neutral, it will roll uphill, not down. Hence the name — on Gravity Hill, gravity seems to work backward. The consensus among unbiased observers is that the phenomenon is an optical illusion. The hill’s topography gives the impression of forward motion even as the car rolls backward.

To state the obvious, we do not endorse putting a car in neutral and letting it coast. That can be dangerous and illegal. Gravity Hill is an interesting quirk of a lovely part of the country, not an opportunity for amateur myth-busting. Drive with care.

2 haunted roads in Saxapahaw, North Carolina, are linked to an evil plantation owner

Like many ghost stories in the South, the legend of Payne Road begins with the real horrors of slavery and racism. Per folktales, Edward Payne was a slave-owning, devil-worshipping monster. Upon discovering his daughter had become pregnant by one of his enslaved workers, Payne slaughtered the man’s family and then burned the plantation, killing his workers and himself.

His victims’ spirits supposedly wander the grounds. One innocent motorist is even said to have crashed his 1930s Ford hot rod not far from the chapel that Edward desecrated with devil worship. The driver burned to death while a supernatural force trapped him in his car. Locals say his headlights still shine on dark nights.

Whether those tales are true is well beyond the scope of this article. However, one issue of fact remains unsettled: There’s some question whether the stories apply to Payne Road or nearby Edwards Road. Ghost hunting sounds like an excellent excuse to cruise both byways, taking in the leafy, rolling hills of central North Carolina in all the splendor of autumn. Snap plenty of pictures.

4th Street in Wilmington, North Carolina, hosts 2 ghosts

Fourth Street in the seaside city of Wilmington has an unbeatable offer for the terror-minded traveler: two ghosts for the price of one.

The first is the unfortunate Samuel Jocelyn, born in the early 1800s. One fateful day, Samuel had a falling out with relatives. He stormed out of the house and was lost for days before being discovered ice-cold and unresponsive in a nearby swamp. Family and friends, notably one Alexander — some stories call him “Sandy,” a period-accurate diminutive of that name — laid him to rest at St. James Episcopal Church Cemetery. 

However, terrible nightmares plagued Sandy for days. At last, half-crazed, he dug up his friend and found scratches on his coffin and soil in his lungs. Poor Sam had been buried alive.

“That conclusion was supported by findings of the coroner and is a matter of record of Wilmington,” John Scott, a tour guide on Wilmington Ghost Walk, told WWAY-TV.

Locals swear the nights still echo with Samuel Jocelyn’s screams and scratches.

Mere blocks away, the Baldwin House on Fourth Street hosts a more laid-back spirit. Emma Baldwin died of natural causes about a hundred years after Samuel. No horror binds her to her house — apparently, she just stuck around.

By all accounts, Emma is a busybody, disapproving of unwed couples and similar early-20th-century faux pas. But she limits her criticism to noises, broken household objects, and similar mild paranormal activities. The family now living in the Baldwin House seemingly meets Emma’s approval, describing a general sense of her presence but no overt unpleasantness.

A polite reminder when cruising haunted roads in North Carolina

These stories are all unproven, based on folklore, not fact. For anyone seeking a haunted road trip this autumn, visit by all means, but do so conscientiously. Ghostly tales aside, every place listed above is in a real community full of real people. Please treat them with respect, don’t venture onto private property without an invitation, and stay well within the law. Happy ghost hunting!