SAN DIEGO — About an hour from the city in rural East County, the San Diego region is home to a lake with a long history of giving campers and hikers a fright.
Lake Morena County Park, the most remote reservoir in all of San Diego County, has been deemed one of “the most haunted campgrounds in the U.S.” and appears on lists of spooky spots for paranormal meddlers of the internet.
“More than Fish Haunt Morena,” declares the headline of an archived San Diego Union article from October 1983. The piece was written by the paper’s Helen Shaffer with a bit of tongue-in-cheek flair, relaying the tales of terrified nature lovers who made haunting sightings at the park.
They included Walter Stucker, a park volunteer who enjoyed unlimited fishing privileges at the lake, staying in a trailer a mere 50 feet from the water.
“All went well until last fall. One night he suddenly awakened and looked out the open window by his bed in his motor home,” Shaffer wrote. “He found himself looking ‘right at a tall man standing outside by the window.'”
Shaffer describes Stucker’s horror as the man turned and walked toward the lake, “taking very deliberate steps” yet seeming as if “his feet weren’t touching the ground.”
Stucker said he had several more concerning encounters that season, similar to the man who “walked on air.” He finally walked himself to the ranger’s station, handed over his keys and said he was leaving the lake.
To his surprise, the ranger he spoke with didn’t doubt the quitting volunteer. Far from it, he told Stucker he’d had some spooky encounters himself, including the sound of running footsteps at the ranger station, a jiggling door knob and a disappearing logbook, according to the article.
Other park employees and residents told the paper of even more disturbing sights, including tales of a baby’s christening gown floating across their living room toward a house guest in the night.
The newspaper story from the 1980s helped Lake Morena gain its reputation, but more recent visitors have also reported spooky happenings in the nature area. The lake’s campground is a popular stop-over on the Pacific Crest Trail, and a 2021 post on a Reddit forum for PCT travelers contained some startling reports.
“I heard some horrible sounds when I camped there,” wrote user realiztik. “Second night on trail. Sounded like horrible screaming, told myself it was coyotes; glad to know it was ghosts.”
“There was one time me and a buddy rented a cabin to go fishing the next morning and in the middle of the night I woke up and felt something malevolently staring at me… like I could feel the hatred,” wrote another user, Gwuana. “I just clutched my pocket knife and waited till morning. When we got up the door to the cabin was wide open!”
As with most paranormal perturbances, Lake Morena’s ghost stories are sensational but unsubstantiated. Park officials say the lake remains a popular (and safe) spot for fishing, boating, kayaking, hiking and more.
Because of its location southwest of the Laguna Mountains, the park has characteristics of desert, coastal and mountain habitats, according to the county. It features 8 miles of multi-use trails, a playground, pavilion and activities for kids. You can also rent motor boats right there at the park.
Learn more about visiting Lake Morena — if you dare — via the county parks department.
Looking for a spooky tour closer to home? The “most haunted house in America” is right here in the Old Town neighborhood of San Diego. The Whaley House reopened for tours late last year after a hiatus for the pandemic.