Alcatraz prison at night

It used to be if you wanted to visit a dilapidated, run-down, obviously haunted building, you had to do a little trespassing, but that’s always been a pretty terrible idea. You could trip on a disintegrating stairwell, fall through a rotten floorboard, get crushed by your friend who just fell through a rotten floorboard … and then you might end up joining those resident spirits, doomed to haunt that terrible place until the end of time. Or, you might get fined for trespassing. Either way, not a good outcome.

Fortunately, hauntings are big business now. Every city seems to have its own haunted walks, overnight investigations, and gaslamp tours, so you don’t have to trespass to have a ghostly encounter. But where you choose to go can make a big difference — if you’re going to pay good money for a ghost tour, you at least want to maximize your chances of actually seeing (or hearing) something spooky. Well, here you go. We compiled this list of the most haunted places in America using information from travel and history websites, television ghost-hunting programs, and our own personal experiences. So prepare to be scared, in the most commercialized and legal way possible.

The R.M.S. Queen Mary

R.M.S. Queen Mary in Long Beach Harbor

The R.M.S. Queen Mary is a retired ocean liner with an eerie resemblance to the R.M.S. Titanic, but that’s not what makes it so scary. Today, the ship is permanently docked in the harbor at Long Beach, California. As of 2022, it’s undergoing renovations, (mostly to keep it from sinking to the bottom of the harbor at Long Beach), so you can’t stay in the onboard hotel or eat in the restaurant, but you can book a tour.

According to Legends of America, the Queen Mary has accumulated around 150 ghosts over the years, which is weird since only around 50 people have actually died there. Still, that makes it quite possibly one of the world’s most haunted places. The center of the ship’s paranormal activity is the engine room, where two people were crushed to death by "Door 13" on two separate occasions. Spirits can also be seen hanging around the pool and an apparition in first-class likes to turn the lights and taps on and off just to keep things interesting for overnight guests. There have also been reports of ghostly odors, cold spots, and the usual door slamming and knocking that spirits tend to get up to. Finally, beware of the man hanging around outside the ship who won’t let your kid use the bathroom. He’s not a ghost, but he can make your experience eerily unpleasant.

The Winchester Mystery House

Aerial view of the Winchester Mystery House

Sarah Winchester inherited the Winchester Rifle fortune when her husband died in 1881, but she was not a happy heiress. She thought the ghosts of Winchester rifle victims had conspired to murder her husband and infant child. Her solution to this problem: build a mansion in San Jose, California for the spirits to live in and keep building it forever and ever like some eternal "Property Brothers" and "Groundhog Day" mashup. And it wasn’t just, "let’s keep adding rooms," Winchester also designed staircases that don’t go anywhere, doors that open to reveal brick walls, and chimneys that aren’t actually chimneys (via How Stuff Works). Why? Popularly, she was afraid the spirits would want to hang out with her, so she designed the house to be as navigationally confusing as possible. The truth is probably much more boring: she wasn’t an architect, so these might have just been mistakes.

Sarah Winchester died in 1922 (of natural causes, not paranormal ones), but the spirits of all those dead gunshot victims never left her weird house. In fact, there are some who say Sarah Winchester joined them — according to "The Big Book of California Ghost Stories," she’s been seen roaming at least one of the home’s many hallways.

According to the Winchester Mystery House’s own website, some of the mansion’s most-seen specters include the "Wheelbarrow Ghost," who occasionally pushes a ghostly wheelbarrow around the basement, and a spate of shadow people who are often seen floating down hallways or standing in windows.

The White House

The White House at night

The White House is a notable addition to this list not just because it’s very old, and thus the perfect habitat for ghosts, but also because the people who have seen these ghosts tend to be the sorts of people who don’t make up stupid stories to get attention. The White House’s spirits have been seen and heard by such notable people as Harry Truman, Winston Churchill, the Queen of the Netherlands, Ronald Reagan, and the Obamas. According to the Washington Post, Truman and the Obamas all reported hearing sounds with no apparent origin — for Truman, it was early morning knocking on his bedroom door. For the Obamas, it was strange noises in the hallway. The Obamas also say they’d sometimes feel something gnawing on their feet, which doesn’t even bear thinking about, really (via the Los Angeles Times).

In 1942, the Queen of the Netherlands was sleeping in the infamous Lincoln Bedroom when she heard a knock and opened the door to reveal the ghost of Abraham Lincoln. The sight of the long-dead president hoovering in the doorway evidently made her faint. And Winston Churchill reported strolling into the Lincoln Bedroom after a bath — still naked — to find Lincoln’s ghost standing by the fireplace. "Good evening, Mr. President," Churchill said. "You seem to have me at a disadvantage."

You can’t really explore the halls and bedrooms of the White House with the same freedom as presidents and important guests, but you can book a free public tour.

Goatman’s Bridge

Goatman's Bridge in the daytime

You’re probably not going to get possessed, attacked, or followed home by any of the spirits you’ll meet on a public ghost tour. So, maybe you want something a little more dangerous, a little more terrifying … If that’s you, skip the public tours and go straight to Goatman’s Bridge in Denton, Texas. Time your arrival for 3 a.m.

Goatman’s Bridge is formally known as the Old Alton Bridge. It’s an iron truss bridge with a wooden deck that looks as haunted as it’s said to be. The origin of the ghost story is somewhat questionable, though — according to legend, in 1938 a local goat farmer was hung from the bridge by the Ku Klux Klan, and the place has been haunted ever since. Atlas Obscura, however, says the legend doesn’t seem to be based on any known historical events, so it might have just been invented to explain the presence of a freaking demon with the head of a goat.

Yes, the spirit who haunts Goatman’s Bridge isn’t the lonely ghost of a murdered person, it’s something else entirely. Locals say it lurks around the bridge and in the creek below, where it can be heard splashing around and laughing in a sinister way. If you’re crazy enough to try crossing the bridge at night, you’ll see the demon goat standing at the other end, waiting for you. So you go right ahead, the rest of us will stay here where it’s safe.

Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum

Cast iron railings in the snow outside the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum

The Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum in West Virginia is exactly what it sounds like: a place where families could discard their most disagreeable relatives. It was in operation from 1865 to 1994, when mental health professionals finally realized that locking people up wasn’t exactly the best way to help them.

Anyway, the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum is haunted, because of course it’s haunted. And the old building appears to mostly still exist not just because of historical preservation but because there’s a lot of money in scaring the poop out of paying customers. The asylum’s most famous ghost is a little girl named Lily, who was born in the asylum and also died there, though accounts differ as to how old she was when she died and who her mother was (via America’s Most Haunted). There’s also the tormented spirit of a man who was murdered by his roommates, the ghost of a guy who died in a bathtub, and a couple of random Civil War soldiers (via the Washingtonian). If you want to meet up with any of these spirits, your best bet is to book the overnight ghost hunt, which runs from dusk until dawn.

The Stanley Hotel

Stanley Hotel with mountains

Writers often have muses, and for Stephen King, it was the Stanley Hotel. This very creepy place was the inspiration for the Shining, and not just because it looks haunted — it actually is haunted. Purportedly.

The 100-room Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado is a former private residence that was turned into a hotel in 1930. There wasn’t much money behind the venture, so the house fell into disrepair even while it was still inviting guests. Then, in 1974, Stephen King stayed there. Overnight, he dreamed his 3-year-old son was running through the hotel’s hallways, pursued by a ghostly fire-hose (hey, your dreams don’t make sense either). That dream was the inspiration for "The Shining," and King once wrote on his website that he believed an otherworldly presence was responsible for putting it in his head (via Vice).

There does seem to be something off about the Stanley Hotel, at least according to others who have stayed there. Some have reported seeing a spectral woman on the fourth floor, and others say the ghost of a chambermaid haunts the building, largely because she once broke both her ankles on the job. That doesn’t seem like a great reason to remain permanently tethered to the corporeal world, but whatever. Ghosts don’t really need reasons, do they?

The entire town of Virginia City

Old Washoe Club in Virginia City, Nevada

Virginia City is what every television wild west town says a wild west town is supposed to look like. It’s surrounded by tumbleweeds, it has a creepy old cemetery with disintegrating headstones, it has a wooden sidewalk and some very old, weathered buildings, some of which have been there since before Nevada was a state. It also has ghosts — loads of them — mostly leftover from the days when Virginia City was a silver boomtown.

The Old Washoe Club is probably the most famous of Virginia City’s haunted places. You won’t find any Caspars in the old place, which is so rickety that it almost certainly wouldn’t pass any of neighboring California’s health and safety codes. The Washoe Club’s ghosts include a "Lady in Blue" who haunts a spiral staircase and a prospector who finishes off abandoned drinks in the saloon (via the Travel Channel). The Washoe Club even has a crypt, which was used to store bodies in the winter when the ground was too frozen for gravedigging.

You’ll find a ghost in just about every one of Virginia City’s public buildings, but if you want to meet a friendlier spirit, we recommend booking an investigation at the Mackay Mansion, where Johnny Depp once encountered the spirit of a playful child.

Alcatraz

Cellblock inside Alcatraz prison

Alcatraz became a maximum security prison in 1933, back in a time when you didn’t have to give prisoners basic human rights. Conditions on the island prison were not only harsh, but they were also publicly advertised as being harsh, mostly because the U.S. government thought American citizens needed to be frightened into good behavior (via Federal Bureau of Prisons). A lot of the men who ended up on Alcatraz thought only death would free them and, well, it didn’t. At least not for everyone.

You don’t even have to be a believer to feel the presence of something trapped and vengeful in the dark, disintegrating cells where some of the most dangerous people in America once lived. According to Legends of America, some of Alcatraz’s most famous spirits include an entity called "The Thing," some kind of glowing-eyed demon that might have been responsible for the death of a prisoner in a solitary confinement unit. There is also the mutton-chopped spirit who once crashed a Christmas party at the warden’s house, reports of phantom smoke, ghostly cannon fire, and an entire phantom lighthouse.

St. Augustine Lighthouse

St. Augustine Lighthouse at twilight

There’s something spectacularly creepy about lighthouses, even the ones that aren’t supposed to be haunted. Perhaps it’s the lonely lighthouse keepers, living out their days on isolated, foggy shores, trying to save ships that venture too close to the rocks. But some lighthouses really are haunted, and the most famous of these is the St. Augustine Lighthouse in Florida.

According to the lighthouse’s website, the original St. Augustine structure was built in 1589, though it’s been torn down and rebuilt several times since then. That’s a lot of history, and a lot of opportunities for haunting, but the site’s most famous ghosts are a little more recent. The Pittee girls were killed in 1873 when the railway cart they were riding down a hill (like a very unsafe roller coaster) flipped over into the water, trapping them inside. Two of the Pittee girls and a friend who was playing with them drowned. The three girls still roam the house and can be heard running up and down the stairs and giggling. One former lighthouse keeper reported waking in the night to find one of the girls standing next to his bed.

The Crescent Hotel

Crescent Hotel porch in Arkansas

At first, the Crescent Hotel in Eureka Springs, Arkansas was an actual hotel, but in the 1930s a quack physician-slash-radio personality named Norman Baker bought it and converted it into a "cancer hospital." The catch: Baker had never been to medical school and had probably never even read a book about cancer. His cancer "cure" was a potion made out of carbolic acid, alcohol, brown corn silk, and watermelon seeds (via Crescent Hotel).

Shockingly, loads of people died under Baker’s care, but not before they’d paid him for his "cure." Agents assigned to investigate Baker later said they believed his treatments led to the death of those who suffered. In 2019, an archeological dig on the property uncovered a cache of Baker’s potion and jars labeled "medical specimens" (via America’s Most Haunted Hotel).

Desperation, suffering, betrayal, and the loss of hope are pretty compelling ingredients for a haunting, and that’s part of what has earned the Crescent a reputation as "America’s Most Haunted Hotel." The hotel’s ghosts include cancer patients, a doctor, a small child named Breckie, and a cat.

Iolani Palace

Iolani Palace at night

Hawaii once had its own queen, and she lived in a palace. Today, the palace still stands but Queen Lili’uokalani is long gone — her corporeal self, anyway. She got ousted by a bunch of American and European businessmen who wanted Hawaii to be a republic, for obviously unselfish reasons (sarcasm). Anyway, after the coup, Lili’uokalani spent eight months imprisoned in her own bedroom before making her way to Washington D.C. to unsuccessfully plead for the monarchy’s restoration. She never got her throne back (via History) and now she haunts the palace that was once her home.

According to Honolulu Magazine, the queen often appears on palace grounds around sunrise, and sometimes guards say they hear her playing the piano. People who are distantly related to the old Hawaiian royal family also say they’ve heard chanting and Hawaiian music coming from Lili’uokalani’s bedroom. Others claim to have seen her figure in the bedroom window.

Eastern State Penitentiary

Cells in Eastern State Penitentiary

The Eastern State Penitentiary was once considered state-of-the-art. In fact, it had central heat and running water before most private homes did (via Eastern State). It was also the world’s first "penitentiary," which meant a prisoner’s time there was supposed to produce feelings of penitence and remorse. To accomplish this, prisoners were put in private cells and had no contact with guards, other prisoners, or members of the outside world.

As the years passed, the prison got bigger and conditions got worse. At one time there were 2,000 people incarcerated there, and some of them were housed in underground cells with no windows and no light. The ones who died there became ghosts; the ones who didn’t probably go back to haunt the place anyway.

Today the prison no longer houses (living) prisoners, but you can visit as a tourist. If you’re lucky, you might encounter the ghost of Jimmy Clark, who was killed in the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre by Al Capone’s gang and allegedly came back to haunt the notorious gangster when he was incarcerated at Eastern State in 1929. Shadow figures have been reported by guards and prisoners as far back as the 1940s, and people have also reported hearing strange whispers, laughter, and shrieks of despair (via Legends of America).

The Cecil Hotel

The Cecil Hotel, rebranded as "Stay on Main"

This haunted hotel is sort of an honorable mention, because it’s not exactly open to the public, and it’s unclear if it will be at any time in the near future. But the place is the site of some pretty eerie goings-on, some of them ghostly and some of them otherwise. The Cecil Hotel is perhaps most famous for the role it played in the death of Elisa Lam, who mysteriously vanished shortly after a series of surveillance videos showed her behaving strangely in an elevator, almost as if she was being pursued by something the cameras couldn’t see. She was later found dead in one of the hotel’s rooftop water tanks.

A couple of dozen other people have died at the Cecil Hotel, which first opened in 1927 (via All That’s Interesting). The serial killer Richard Ramirez once rented a room there, and so did lesser-known serial killer Jack Unterweger. Today, the Cecil Hotel has been rebranded as the Stay on Main (via the Crime Wire), but it’s mostly abandoned, though evidently there are a few long-term residents still living there.

At the Cecil Hotel, paranormal investigators from the Travel Channel’s "Ghost Adventures" experienced phantom scratches, a faucet that turned on by itself, and general feelings of being in the presence of not-very-nice energy (via People). And there have been ghostly photos captured there, too, some from the streetside, which means you don’t even have to go inside to experience something terrifying.