Lightning strike at night
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The Wildest and Craziest Camping Disaster Stories

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Lightning strike at night
Pexels

Nature of the Beast

Ah, camping: A relaxing opportunity to sleep under the stars and enjoy the sights and sounds of nature. Exposure to nature has been shown to pack a slew of health benefits, but the unpredictable elements of weather and wildlife — and other humans, of course — mean not every camping trip goes as planned. From pushy wildlife to scary weather and sheer bad luck, here are some of the wildest, craziest stories of camping trips gone wrong.


Related: These Are the Worst (and Best) States for Camping

Polar bear
Polar bear by Tim Ellis (CC BY-NC)

Polar Bear Attacks

It's hard to imagine a more remote, pristine area for camping than Norway's Arctic Svalbard Islands — where a sleeping Czech tourist discovered in 2015 that being in a six-person group campsite didn’t keep a polar bear from attacking and dragging him out of his tent. (The bear was driven away by gunshots and later killed.) Maybe a bigger campsite would be safer? Nope. A French visitor to the same archipelago was attacked by another polar bear last month in a 25-person site. She was evacuated by helicopter and treated at a nearby hospital for "minor" injuries. Debate on instituting a Svalbard camping ban goes on.


Related: Natural Wonders to Appreciate Before They're Gone

Utah Zion National Park
Wikimedia Commons

RV in a Flash Flood

Heavy rains sent a newly formed river surging straight through the campsite of a family in Utah's Zion National Park last year. Check out the video — it's intense. The family managed to ride out the flooding in their camper. "It just kind of made me realize how fast things can occur, and how people can just be so unprepared," camper Lola Thomas told 2KUTV. The floods were so mighty that they deposited piles of debris, including fender-deep mud and chunks of broken asphalt, that had to be cleared before the campers could drive on to their next adventure.


Related: RV Nightmares, From Annoying to Messy to Costly

Angry wolf
Angry wolf by Tambako The Jaguar (CC BY-ND)

True Cause to Cry Wolf

Animal attacks also happen closer to home. A New Jersey family discovered this when a wolf ripped into their tent in Alberta, Canada’s Banff National Park and tried to drag the husband away. A nearby camper heard the struggle and came running to the rescue, helping drive the wolf off. NBC News quoted one of the family as saying the incident "was something out of a horror movie."


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Black bear
Black bear by Jitze Couperus (CC BY)

When Animals (Probably) Attack

Attacks can be spooky as well as dangerous. A Nebraska biology professor camping in Minnesota's Itasca State Park with about 10 students scattered among nearby campsites in 2007 woke "to his head being tossed back and forth," the sheriff's department told The Bemidji Reporter. Though the attacker may have been a small black bear, authorities couldn't find animal tracks, and nothing else in the campsite seemed disturbed. Did it happen? The claw-style "swipe" cuts to his face say yes.


Related: Hiking Horror Stories — With Happy Endings

Lightning strike at night
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Shocking Experience

Experts say not to stand by trees during a thunderstorm, but at a campsite near California’s heavily forested Sequoia National Park, there’s not much choice. A lightning bolt hit the tree over a dad and his 12- and 9-year-old kids, sending them into the air, tearing off their clothes, and knocking them unconscious. They were airlifted to safety with some injuries — severe burns, punctured eardrums, and brief paralysis. In a video that captures the instant, you can see the strike across the lake, looking and sounding like an explosion.

Night camping
Night camping by Jef132 (CC BY-SA)

Stalked Into Sleeplessness

Nighttime visitors can be nerve-wracking enough to turn a night of camping into a disaster. Consider the tale of this Pacific Crest Trail thru-hiker, who set up solo camp in California's Lassen National Forest in 2016 only to hear rustling and a strange moaning in the underbrush. Shining a headlamp into the night reflected a pair of glowing eyes. The mystery animal stalked the camper until he retreated to find other human, then circled that second campsite. Was it a cougar? Coyotes? Nobody knows. That’s good, because it means the mystery animal — or whatever it was — never came close enough to make contact.

Lightning over lake
Lightning over lake by Fernando Flores (CC BY-SA)

Caught in a Storm

A pair of motorcycle campers in 2017 got caught in a severe thunderstorm that came rolling across Lake Michigan. With no vehicles to duck inside, they tried to take shelter in a public bathroom, but it was locked — so they ended up huddled against a wall to wait out a storm that was 100 miles long, 30 miles wide, and packed wind gusts of more than 90 mph. "Next time … we're taking the truck. Not the bike," the campers told Michigan Radio.

black bear approaching in grass
JenDeVos/istockphoto

Close-Quarters Encounter

A family of five black bears couldn’t take a hint after being relocated around Hope, Alaska, for raiding garbage cans and campsites and beginning to charge at humans. A van-camper trying to relax after a long day during a 2015 visit “turned around to find that one of the bears had entered the van," a Fish and Game spokesperson told the Anchorage Daily News. "That was very close quarters — feet, maybe even inches." The van occupants were fine — the bears ultimately weren't. They were put down as a public safety measure.

Uprooted tree
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Timber!

You may already know not to pitch a tent under a detached or dead tree limb that could fall — a so-called widow-maker. But what about when an entire, seemingly healthy, tree falls right onto your tent, roots and all? Three campers in Nebraska survived that in 2016 with one totally unscathed and the others somehow getting only minor injuries as the trunk of a tree fell across their legs, CBS Colorado reported.

Fog on lake
Fog on lake by Alex Kulikov (CC BY)

Stranded

In a tale of a fly-in trout fishing trip gone horribly wrong in 1964, the plan was for five days — but the fishers’ pilot was a no-show for their planned return flight. The next day a heavy fog swept in and stayed, keeping the pilot away for days. Then there was a fire accidentally started inside the cabin, and the fish mysteriously stopped biting once the campers desperately needed them for food. The fog eventually lifted, allowing the pilot to seize a brief weather window and retrieve them from the remote cabin. “Signing a disclaimer from holding the outfitter responsible for accidents was a clue we should have heeded,” freelance writer Tom Huggler recalled.

Hammock at base camp
Hammock at base camp by teejaybee (CC BY-NC-ND)

Sleepwalking Off a Cliff

A man camping in Kentucky's Red River Gorge drifted off in a hammock — then, watched by his friends, stood up and sleepwalked into a 60-foot fall, landing in a giant rhododendron bush, ABC News reported in 2014. According to rescuers, the bush may have not only saved his life but let him walk away healthy. “I was pretty shocked that I couldn't really find any discernible injuries,” a rescue ranger said of the camper, who was reached after three hours, put in a basket, and hoisted back up the mountain.

Black Bear Face Smile
mountinez/istockphoto

Boy Scout Chomped By Bear

A 12-year-old camping with his Boy Scout troop in New York's Harriman State Park survived a black bear chomping down on his leg. The kid screamed and kicked to drive the bear off, yet it came back in search of food. The troop moved to a nearby shelter and made sure their food was properly bagged to keep it out of the bear's reach, but they could see it coming close to snagging other campers' food. Ultimately, the bear had to be put down because of its aggressive behavior.

Frozen lake
Frozen lake by Tony Hisgett (CC BY)

Snow Issues

Winter camping can be beautiful and peaceful in a way a bustling summer season often isn't, especially in the backcountry, but two people well-prepared with skis, snowshoes, and winter gear in 2002 found themselves in dire straits when trapped on a lake that became a mix of ice, slush, and meltwater from a roiling combination of unseasonably warm weather, a thunderstorm, and a resurgence of cold, windy winter weather. “We crunch across the ice for a while. But soon there’s no crunch, just a mush … Brian steps and the rotten ice gives way,” David Sommerstein recalled of the long, treacherous walk to safety.