Heading into the woods is such a classic story hook that it’s literally the title of a book about writing. A protagonist may venture into the woods to find a lost loved one, set out on a quest, or escape their past. Woods can be places of adventure or fantasy, but they can also play on our primal fears. Forests are easy places to get lost, liminal spaces where the world doesn’t seem quite real, and the home of creatures that are all too ready to hunt and eat unsuspecting adventurers.
Because of this, it’s unsurprising that there are a huge number of horror stories that take place in the woods. Horror stories set in forests let authors create a creeping, sinister atmosphere, ramping up the tension as their characters head further into the trees. They can be a perfect location for psychological horror as the protagonist has to confront something about themselves or their past, or a hunting ground as they’re chased by monsters, supernatural or human.
If you’re tempted to find your own way into the woods and enjoy some of the mystery and horror stories that are set there, there are many to choose from. Here are some of the best horror and mystery novels set in the woods. Just be careful, and remember to stick to the path…
10 Horror and Mystery Novels Set in the Woods
You’re Not Supposed to Die Tonight by Kalynn Bayron
The author of Cinderella is Dead moves from fantasy to slasher horror in this twisty-turny tale of summer camp gone wrong. Charity is a professional Final Girl, running immersive horror games at Camp Mirror Lake, an old summer camp deep in the woods, where guests pay to be part of a slasher scenario. On the final night of the season, staff members start turning up dead for real, and Charity and her girlfriend must fight to survive a masked murderer who’s stalking them.
Forest of Souls by Lori M. Lee
This fantasy horror follows royal spy Sirscha Ashwyn and her best friend Saengo as they navigate the terrifying Dead Wood. After Saengo is killed and Sirscha unexpectedly brings her back to life, the two friends have to do battle with malevolent trees and calm the spirits of the dead in order to avoid losing their world, and each other.
The Search Party by Simon Lelic
A little bit Blair Witch Project, a little bit detective story, The Search Party is the tale of a group of five school friends who set out into the woods to look for a missing teenage girl. As they get deeper into the forest, tensions begin to run higher, and the friends start to suspect that at least one of them may have more to do with the girl’s disappearance than the rest of them initially suspected.
The Forest of Stolen Girls by June Hur
In this historical thriller, estranged sisters Hwani and Maewol head into the woods to solve a mystery from their past. As children, the sisters vanished into the forest and were found near the scene of a horrific murder. Soon afterward, their detective father goes missing, trying to find 13 other girls who disappeared in the same forest but who were never found. As the two women go deeper into the forest, the memories of their original disappearance begin to come back, and unsettling truths are revealed.
Seed by Ania Ahlborn
Seed is a Southern gothic horror story with a deeply creepy atmosphere. As a boy, Jack had a terrifying encounter out in the woods; the evil that he thought he’d left behind in his past catches up with him years later, after he survives a terrible car crash along with his wife and children. With demons hiding behind every tree, Seed is a chilling horror tale that will stick with you.
Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
If you like your horror stories short and spooky, you’ll love Emily Carroll’s Through the Woods collection. A set of five short comics with a dark and frightening forest theme, Carroll’s story plays on primal fears and explores how frightening the woods can really be.
The Year of the Witching by Alexis Henderson
Fans of witchy stories will be pulled deep into the sinister world explored in The Year of the Witching. Immanuelle is a young woman living in a strictly patriarchal, puritan village, surrounded by a dark wood which is said to be full of witches. When Immanuelle follows her deceased mother’s path into the woods, she finds out there’s more to witches — and to the history of her town — than she has previously been told.
In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware
Leonora is a writer who tends to avoid other people, but when she is invited to a weekend retreat in the countryside, she can’t think of an excuse not to go. Heading into the woods to stay with her friends, old memories come back, and Leonora realises that she and the rest of her group are not the only things out there amongst the trees.
The Troop by Nick Cutter
A horror story that really doesn’t pull its punches, The Troop is a brutal read. A group of Boy Scouts are camping out in a Canadian forest when their campsite is invaded by a terrifying man who seems to have something deeply wrong with him. The boys soon realise that they have stumbled into the middle of an experiment gone wrong and that it will take all their skills to survive — and even then, it may not be possible.
Crater Lake by Jennifer Killick
Mystery and horror novels set in the woods aren’t just for adults — younger readers can also enjoy some forest-based thrills and chills. In Crater Lake, a school group goes on a trip to an adventure centre located in the woods, near a mysterious lake. Lance and his friends are expecting fun outdoor activities, but instead, they find themselves at the epicentre of an alien invasion, with only one surefire way to survive — don’t fall asleep.
Does cabin-in-the-woods horror have its hooks into you? Then try 10 Summer Camp Horror Novels to Keep You Up Past Lights Out. Horror doesn’t have to be limited to dark forests – have a look at our list of Daylight Horror Novels for Your Summer Reading Pleasure.