In national parks around the world, so the story goes, there are abandoned staircases. Deep in the woods, where no man appears to have ever lived, you’ll find them – just a staircase, no other structure. Some of the staircases are brick, some in ruins, some perfectly sturdy, some cast iron spirals like the kind you’d find in a lighthouse, reaching up to nowhere.
At least, that is what one group of Reddit users would have us believe.
A thread about creepy happenings in national parks led to an unusual bit of folk lore emerging – user after user said they’d heard of the staircases, or had seen them, too, sometimes as far as 60 kilometres deep in the forest.
At first, the stories came from all over America – New England, West Virginia, New Hampshire, Montana, Detroit. Then sightings of the staircases came from as disparate places as Portugal, Brazil, Germany, Norway and the Philippines.
Sometimes a well-kept graveyard would be found nearby, too.
The first person to tell a story of the stairs was searchandrescuewoods, an American Reddit user who claims to be a member of a volunteer Search and Rescue (SAR) unit.
“I don’t know if this is true in every SAR unit, but in mine, it’s sort of an unspoken, regular thing we run into. On just about every case where we’re really far into the wilderness, I’m talking 30 or 40 miles, at some point we’ll find a staircase in the middle of the woods. It’s almost like if you took the stairs in your house, cut them out, and put them in the forest,” they write.
“I asked about it the first time I saw some, and the other officer just told me not to worry about it, that it was normal. Everyone I asked said the same thing. I wanted to go check them out, but I was told, very emphatically, that I should never go near any of them. I just sort of ignore them now when I run into them because it happens so frequently.”
They went on to explain one SAR officer had seen staircases that were, “flipped pside down. I guess it would be like if you had a doll house, and the stairs were a separate piece. Now take that, flip it upside down so the top step is stuck in the dirt, and put it out in the woods.”
Others quickly chimed in with similar experiences. “How about that. I didn’t realize the stairs were that common,” Reddit user jeepdave wrote.
They explained: “I came across a set in rural West Virgina. I don’t think I was quite 40 miles deep but at least 10 or better. I thought maybe a house had once stood there but there was no cellar or other debris that would indicate a home was there before. Just a set of stairs with a base that went up maybe one flight – 16 so steps if I remember right. And sturdy. Could barely shake ’em. I didn’t climb up though. Worried it might break or fall over and I was alone”.
One user, taylorannshazam, saw some in Michigan. They write: “An hour east of Iron Wood there is a clearing in the forest that has stairs. I was hiking and exploring with my cousins and we stumbled on a clearing about half a football field long. Had a few staircases but not against trees, just standing in the open”.
“They looked like stairs from a normal suburban home. Kind of old though. The older cousin decided to investigate. He walked to the stairs to see how they were being held up, couldn’t find anything which weirded him out. He made us all leave. Grass didn’t grow near the stairs either.”
One set of stairs was even found in the middle of a lake, with one comment claiming: “I distinctly remember finding a set of stairs coming out of the lake with my family. My father, sister and I had been on a trip in the boat. We were riding fairly close to the shore, rounded a corner, and came upon a set of stairs sticking 3-4 feet out of the water. Nothing else around at all”.
While most of the stories come from the United States, others around the world claim to have encountered the weird stairs too.
German Redditor TK622 is one of the few people to have snapped an image of the stairs they stumbled upon. They write: “I saw some stairs in the woods a few years ago. Didn’t know what to think of them and took a picture. They were covered in moss, but had railing on one side.”
While the stairs in the photo aren’t as grandiose as those imagined in other people’s tales, they still seem unnervingly out of place – just metal stairs, in the middle of the woods, surrounded by trees, leading nowhere.
One user, dosaki, claims to have seen the stairs in Portugal, writing: “About the stairs… I’ve seen a few stairs leading up to nowhere in Portuguese forests and fields. They don’t look creepy. Perhaps the only unsettling thing about them is that there were no visible signs of that area ever having a building.”
Norwegian Redditor Holyshitspace says they have come across the staircases too – and it scared them silly. “I made an account just to post this comment. A few months back, while visiting gramps in Lillesand (southern Norway), we went hiking. Nothing big, just a walk and a picnic in some woods. With us were my niece and nephew, who are both quite young, so I joined them in Hide and Seek while the proper grown-ups had coffee and whatnot,” they write.
“Me and my nephew were first to hide, but we split up, and I ran alone quite a ways into a thicket of woods. And I found a staircase. Nothing remarkable, riddled with moss, and made from what looked like really old concrete with large pebbles of rocks in it. It didn’t really seem out of place at the time, but thinking back… Anyway, I decided it was fit for a hiding place, but after only a few seconds of squatting behind it, I got up, and stepped back.”
“I couldn’t shake the feeling that I really shouldn’t be anywhere near it. I suddenly had this feeling of being severely unwelcome, and that I should get as far away from it as possible. So I to my family and didn’t look back at it. Thinking about it now it still gives me the same sort of… I don’t know, twisted, wrong feeling.”
There are several theories about what the stairs may be. Perhaps they are simply the foundations of fleeting and long lost settlements, particularly from America’s 1800s gold rush; sturdy staircases having survived two hundred years of weather, rot and erosion whereas wooden structures didn’t.
Others have more sinister ideas. Perhaps they aren’t stairs at all, but a pulpit for a preacher, holding some kind of darksided, clandestine gathering. Perhaps they’re a gateaway to another dimension, or to hell.
It’s hard to know, as few have ever dared climbed the staircases, with most who say they encountered them reporting feeling unnerved, unwelcome or even nauseous in their presence, leading them to flee.
However one brave Reddit user, based in Detroit, says they have climbed one such abandoned staircase, and the results were unsurprisingly spooky.
“I found the staircase while walking through foliage so thick I didn’t see it until it was almost underfoot. The stairs were made of loose cobble and moist earth like they were a work of masonry once, long ago,” Case_9 writes.
“I climbed the stairs thoughtlessly, half expecting there to be a landing to greet me at the top. There wasn’t though. Just another crumbly step and an unimpressive view.”
“Something caught my eye as I craned my head… the bushes were packed tight except where the stumps of dead trees formed sunken wells around them, and from one of the craters someone was looking at me. I remember clearly their dark, lean face, their round eyes black. No sooner had I seen the face than it disappeared again, only then did I have the foresight to take off down the steps and back through the bushes and brambles”.
Another user, oektem had a foreboding warning for those who come across the staircases, writing: “Stairs in the woods are a thing where I’m from, but we know that we shouldn’t go near them and avoid them when we run into one. That’s what I’ve been told by my family”.
Now there are few issues with the stories, compelling as they are. First of all, they were posted on Reddit’s /r/nosleep forum, in which users tell fictional stories presented as fact. The suspension of disbelief is meant to illicit a good scare, and both the tale’s readers and writers play along.
But while the staircase story seemed to begin as something that may be fictional, those who discussed their own experiences appeared to have dropped the facade of fiction and simply relayed weird experiences they’d had finding unusual structures in the woods.
However it’s telling that almost no photos exist of these staircases, just stories of people having seen them. Some have insisted the tales are no more than a “creepypasta” – a bit of scary folklore that spreads around the internet, and that is only vaguely based in fact.
Either way, the tales are compelling. There is something inherently discomforting about abandoned buildings and ghost towns, doubly so when they’re deep in the forest, miles from civilisation. They’re an echo of what once was, and has passed with little trace. A faraway time where our ancestors endured hardships we can barely imagine, leaving behind scant evidence of having existed at all – just some stairs in the woods and a faded gravestone.