Look, I don’t like camping, okay? Sleeping in a tent for more than one night is not restful. Being hot and stinking of bug repellent is not restful. Peeing in a hole is not restful. Plus, ax murderers live in the woods, which is not restful. The closest I ever get to camping is booking a creepy motel room that is woods-adjacent. Last year I drove up to Duluth and the scariest part was the last leg north of Spooner that is mostly pine forest and nothing else. NOTHING ELSE. This is not my element. I kept checking my gas gauge even though I knew it was full. Miles and miles would pass without seeing another car. Should my rental break down I was certain that murderers and sasquatch lined the highway, just beyond my line of sight, I knew it in my bones! Imagine my relief when I spotted Superior in the distance after cresting a hill. Civilization. Anyplace with Kwik Trip stations every three blocks is civilized, you see. While I personally do not cope well with the wide-open spaces, and being for-real scared, I thoroughly enjoy being pretend-scared from the comfort of a rented room while on vacation. If I can see woods from the room, all the better. Below, I listed several books with spooky woods featuring heavily in the plot.
Small Spaces (2018) by Katherine Arden
Horror isn’t just for adults. That’s right, children can and should have the everloving hell scared out of them on the odd occasion. Books are a great way to scare your children. For instance, Small Spaces deals with the horror of grief as well as the more existential threat of wood-dwelling creatures that come out in the dark to eat you. Scary! Small Spaces is the first in a horror trilogy and I really think Arden gave us all a little gift with these books since parents and kids will both enjoy the series. The stakes are high and the woods are dark and dreadful. Age up with Arden and check out her gorgeous Winternight Trilogy which is basically Russian fairy tales updated for a mature readership. Save it for cold weather, tho.
In the Woods (2007) by Tana French
This is the first book in Tana French’s beloved Dublin Murder Squad series. One of my favorite tropes in mystery fiction is when the traumatized youth grows up to be seemingly well-adjusted but then must confront the source of their trauma. In this case, the protagonist’s childhood friend vanished without a trace twenty years earlier and now a similar crime has happened in the same woods. Dublin Murder Squad books can be read in any order, but I think In the Woods is the right place to start this astonishing series.
Near the Bone (2021) by Christina Henry
I love books about wreaking revenge on terrible men. I like books about monsters and being scared in the woods. Near the Bone combines all of these elements to great effect. A young woman and her husband live far away from civilization in the mountains. The man controls the woman’s every movement and has done for a very long time until an unseen and howling beast throws his carefully isolated life into chaos. Perhaps the unseen terror in the woods will mean salvation from the known horror of the young woman’s captor.
Watchers (1987) by Dean Koontz
This is not a good book, but it was a GREAT vacation read. The premise hooked me right away. Our protagonist crosses paths with a friendly golden retriever who manages to warn him from walking any further into the Oregon foothills. See, the golden retriever is super smart, see, and the laboratory that created him also made this super smart malevolent thing, right, that is basically the evil counterpart to the very good boy golden retriever, see. Oh and also the dog can tell if people are good or evil. And also also the creature has a psychic link with the dog! And it stalks the man and the dog! And there is a pretty lady in need of rescuing! I liked this book for a vacation read because it required very little brain power to enjoy or understand. My main criticism is that Koontz should refrain from writing sex scenes. This book came out in 1987 so maybe he got better at it, but lord was I a-cringing.
In a Dark, Dark Wood (2015) by Ruth Ware
The best mysteries feature isolated locales, unreliable narrators, and lots of wild twists and turns. Ruth Ware has a knack for just such a mystery. In A Dark, Dark Wood takes place of course, in the middle of an isolated wooded English settlement. A group of old friends gathers for a traditional “hen do” and piss-up before one of them gets hitched. Things start out fun enough but then something goes very, very wrong. How did the power get cut off if no one can come in or out? If a stranger came into the house, where are their footprints in the snow? And it goes on like that. Most satisfying.
Here are some additional spooky woods-adjacent books to enjoy from the safety of your hotel room. Poolside enjoyment is also acceptable:
The Box in the Woods (2021) by Maureen Johnson
The Twisted Ones (2019) by T. Kingfisher
Spider Lake (2019) by Jeff Nania
The Shadows (2020) by Alex North
Uprooted (2015) by Naomi Novick
Please, enjoy camping on my behalf. Just like Homer Simpson, I prefer to be where my food and bed is. If none of the above titles hold any appeal, please reach out to us for book recommendations or consider using our book recommendation tool Your Next Five Books which will provide you with personalized book picks. Either way, we love hearing from you.