11 Famous National Park Disappearances
The United States of America is famous for its vast national parks. The parks feature stunning rivers, mountain landscapes, arid deserts, and lush forests. Each park is unique in its own way, depending on the region. They attract millions of tourists yearly from across the country and overseas. While they are great to explore, national parks can also be dangerous places where people get injured and go missing, with national park disappearances happening regularly.
Numerous unsolved missing person cases have occurred in national parks across America. Many disappearances arise because of the ample open space ranging from scorching deserts to heavily wooded areas. The seclusion, vast areas, and isolation make national parks a hotbed for strange disappearances.
In most cases, people who go missing are eventually found, but every now and then there are those unsolved cases that baffle authorities. The majority of these cases involve children or inexperienced hikers who wander off the beaten track and get lost. These missing people rarely leave behind any clues giving the slightest hint of their disappearance. It’s almost as if they just vanished into thin air. This often leads to theories suggesting serial killers or supernatural entities are involved in the disappearances.
So let’s journey through the majestic and breathtaking national parks of America and uncover some of the most tragic and terrifying mysteries.
11 Famous National Park Disappearances
1. The Disappearance of Glen and Bessie Hyde (The Grand Canyon National Park)
For centuries the Grand Canyon National Park has been America’s greatest tourist attraction. As a result of all the tourists, hikers, and thrillseekers, the Grand Canyon and the surrounding area are notorious for disappearances. Newlyweds Glen and Bessie Hyde disappeared on the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon on November 18, 1928.
The couple’s honeymoon began in the Hyde’s hand-built scow at the Green River in Utah. After making a hike to resupply, they met photographer Emery Kolb. He was the last to see the couple before they vanished from the face of the Earth.
A few days later, a plane discovered their scow drifting down the river intact, with all supplies still onboard. The most likely scenario suggests the rough waters swept the couple into the river. A more popular theory proposes that Bessie killed Glen and changed her identity, although there is little evidence to confirm this conspiracy theory.
2. The Disappearance of Dennis Martin (Great Smoky National Park)
On June 14, 1969, six-year-old Dennis Martin disappeared in Tennessee’s Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Martin, his older brother, father, and grandfather visited Smoky Mountains Park yearly on Father’s Day. His father last saw Martin playing a game with his brother and the other kids. When Martin failed to return with the other kids, his father searched the trail for two miles.
The Park Rangers and volunteers searched the area for hours in one of the most extensive in history. The search revealed a bare footprint belonging to a child, a shoe, and a sock. Investigators theorize Martin wandered off and died overnight because of exposure. His father disagreed, believing someone kidnapped his child. Other theories suggest an animal, such as a bear or feral pig, attacked and carried him away. His disappearance remains one of America’s greatest mysteries.
3. The Disappearance of Alfred Beilhartz (Rocky Mountain National Park)
On July 2, 1938, 4-year-old Alfred Beilhartz vanished from the Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado. Young Alfred had joined his parents and ten other siblings on vacation at the park during the summer. Alfred disappeared after falling behind as the family hiked a trail to Estes Park.
Park rangers and bloodhounds searched the creek and surrounding area for ten days but found no sign of the boy. There were possible reported sightings, but nothing was confirmed. His father believed his son was abducted and is still alive.
4. The Disappearance of Morgan Heimer (Grand Canyon National Park)
Inexperienced hikers and young children often disappear in national parks. On rare occasions, though, even experienced hikers disappear without a trace. 22-year-old tour guide Morgan Heimer mysteriously vanished on June 2, 2015. He was working for a rafting company, Tour West, and took a group on an eight-day trip up the Colorado River.
On the day he disappeared, Heimer spoke with the lead tour guide near a cliff at Pumpkin Springs in Grand Canyon National Park. The lead guide walked away from the ridge to talk briefly with a group member. When the guide looked back at the cliff, Heimer was nowhere to be seen. An exhaustive search of the area failed to turn up a sign of Heimer. The fact that Heimer had experience outdoors and was an excellent swimmer makes his vanishing all the more puzzling.
5. The Disappearance of Derek Lueking (Great Smoky Mountains National Park)
When 24-year-old Derek Lueking didn’t show up for work or answer his phone, his friends and family became concerned. Based on his Google searches, it appeared Lueking traveled from Virginia to Tennessee’s Great Smoky Mountains National Park. His family eventually found his car full of survival gear near the park, only making matters more confusing.
Officially, Lueking disappeared on March 15, 2012, but what happened to him is still a mystery. Some theories suggest he went to a secluded area to commit suicide, although those close to him deny he had suicidal thoughts. A big fan of Man vs. Wild, it’s also possible he tried to emulate his hero Bear Grylls. The nature survivalist spends the night in the wilderness with no supplies on this TV show. This would explain Lueking leaving his gear and supplies in the car.
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6. The Disappearance of Stacy Arras (Yosemite National Park)
The historic Yosemite National Park in California is a famous tourist attraction in America. It’s also the site of a large number of disappearances. 14-year-old Stacey Arras vanished from the park on July 2, 1981. Stacey and her father, George, joined a group for a horse riding trip to the Sunrise High Sierra Camp.
After arriving at the camp, she decided to go for a walk with an elderly member of the group, Gerald. After a few minutes, Gerald needed to rest for a bit. Stacey kept walking to take some pictures, but Gerald began to worry when she didn’t return. A search of the surrounding area failed to turn up any sign of her. Since there were no signs of an animal attack, most theories leaned towards an abduction. Nobody saw Stacey or her camera ever again.
7. The Disappearance of Samuel Boehlke (Crater Lake National Park)
Since 1902, tourists, hikers, and campers have vacationed at Crater Lake National Park in Oregon. In addition to Crater Lake, the area is famous for supposed mythical and supernatural occurrences. On October 14, 2006, eight-year-old Samuel Boehlke disappeared while on a trip with his father. They played tag on a hill in the evening when his father lost track of Samuel, who ran ahead.
The park rangers extensively searched the area but couldn’t find Samuel. With no signs of a struggle or animal attack, there was no explanation for his disappearance, and he remains a missing person.
8. The Disappearance of Kieran Burke (Yosemite National Park)
Part of Yosemite National Park’s history includes mysterious disappearances. On April 5, 2000, Kieran Burke disappeared while hiking through the famous California tourist attraction. He was an experienced hiker visiting from Ireland who decided to go for a day hike through the historic park but failed to return.
It took park officials a day to notice Burke missing after he failed to check out of his cabin. Rescue teams quickly began their search but were disadvantaged due to the late start. Burke’s brother even flew in to help with the search effort with other volunteers. Sadly, Burke still remains missing over two decades later.
9. The Disappearance of Thelma “Polly” Melton (Great Smoky Mountains Park)
Along with Yosemite and Grand Canyon National Park, Tennessee’s Great Smoky Mountains Park has been the site of many disappearances. One of the most famous was the disappearance of 56-year-old Themla “Polly” Melton on September 25, 1981. Polly and her friends were on a leisurely walk when Polly picked up the pace. She left her friends behind and went over a hill.
When her friends reached the hill, they couldn’t find Polly. They returned to Polly’s husband, who hadn’t seen her either. Park rangers initiated a search but could find no explanation for her whereabouts. Some theories propose she committed suicide, had an accident, or ran away. Nobody will ever know what happened to Polly on the other side of that hill.
10. The Disappearance of Floyd Roberts (Grand Canyon National Park)
On June 17, 2016, Floyd Roberts disappeared while hiking with his friend and his friend’s daughter. They were part of a larger group hiking through the breathtaking Grand Canyon National Park. At one point, Floyd took a detour around a hill and agreed to meet with his friend and daughter on the other side.
They became concerned when Roberts failed to meet them. They retraced their steps but couldn’t find Floyd. Since they were far from civilization, they couldn’t get reception until the next day to inform park rangers. Unfortunately, the search couldn’t find a trace of Floyd, who appeared to vanish into thin air.
11. The Disappearance and Murder of Gabby Petito (Grand Teton National Park)
22-year-old Gabby Petito disappeared on a road trip with fiancé Brian Laundrie in the summer of 2021. After quitting their jobs due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Petito and Laundrie wanted to experience van life, documenting their road trip on social media. But it wasn’t all plain sailing, with Petito and Laundrie having a physical altercation on the street during the journey. When police arrived, Petito downplayed the situation despite bruising on her arms.
Petito’s mother last spoke with her daughter as she headed toward Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming. Laundrie later returned to Florida in August in the couple’s rented van without Petito and refused to discuss her disappearance. This sparked a massive media frenzy, with Laundrie the prime suspect in Petito’s disappearance.
An arrest warrant was issued, but Laundrie disappeared in September. Authorities found Petito’s remains in Grand Teton National Park not long agter. Later, they found Laundrie’s body with a self-inflicted gunshot and his diary admitting he killed Petito.
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