A Haunted Hike to the Witch’s Castle

The Witch's Castle in Portland's Forest Park

The Witch’s Castle in Portland’s Forest Park

On this All Hallow’s Eve, it seems only appropriate to share a story of murder and ghosts and haunted houses, right?

Lower entrance to the stone house.

Lower entrance to the stone house.

In Portland’s Forest Park, the largest natural urban forest in the United States, you can hike to the crumbling stone house known as Witch’s Castle. According to the legend, back in 1850, a man named Danford Balch filed a claim for 345 acres overlooking the newly established town of Portland. He needed help clearing the property so he hired a guy named Mortimer Stump to help him out.

Mortimer fell in love with the Balch’s 15-year-old daughter, Anna, but when he asked permission to marry Anna, her parents said no. The young lovers ran off to Vancouver, Washington, and got married anyway. A few weeks later, the newlyweds ran into Danford Balch in Portland. Claiming that his wife “bewitched” him with her nagging and complaining about the unsanctioned marriage, Danford pulled a gun out and killed his son-in-law.

Danford Balch hung for his crime, the first legal execution in the newly formed Oregon Territory. And while the stone house on his old homestead does not date back to the 1800s, people do claim to see fighting ghosts and floating orbs in this area. For a short time, a witches coven also reportedly used the crumbling structure.

Holman Lane Trailhead in Forest Park

Holman Lane Trailhead in Forest Park

These days the building sees a lot more action from joggers, families out for a stroll, and the occasional late night partiers. The hike to the Witch’s Castle is relatively flat and easy, but if you’re in a wheelchair, there are a couple of steep inclines where you’ll probably need some help. The ruins are right on the Wildwood Trail, easily accessed from the Holman Lane Trailhead. (Park in the neighborhood where Aspen Avenue dead ends.) You can also get there from the Audubon Society parking lot (this route was closed when I visited, though it’s supposed to open again before the end of the year) or climb up from the Lower Macleay Trail (but I think this route has stairs).

Wildwood Trail in Portland's Forest Park

Wildwood Trail in Portland’s Forest Park

Forest Park has more than 80 miles of trails within its 5,157 acres and you don’t even have to leave the city to get there. The park is open every day from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. Motorized vehicles are not allowed inside the park. Bikes and horses are permitted on specific trails. For more information, visit http://www.forestparkconservancy.org.


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  • quirkyglobetrotter 31 October 2017 at 9:08 pm

    What an eerie tale! (Perfect to get the heeby jeebies for Halloween!) It’s a beautiful structure though. Just a sad tale to accompany it.

    • Sherrie 31 October 2017 at 11:43 pm

      Yes, it’s a sad tale, but it seems to kind of fit those wild frontier times 🙂

  • James 1 November 2017 at 12:07 am

    It sounds like Danford was really disturbed by his wife’s nagging. The son in law paid the price for this nagging! It would be interesting visiting here alone at night looking for orbs through the cell phone!

    • Sherrie 1 November 2017 at 2:09 pm

      It could be cool to see the orbs, but I’m a wimp — I scare easily — so I’ll stick to daytime visits!

  • Shibu S. 1 November 2017 at 12:22 am

    It really is a sad tale which has turned into a scary one now!! I am intrigued by such places yet actually petrified to actually visit them 😀 Yet to add the US to my done list, but I’ll make it a point to visit the castle whenever I finally land my feet in Portland!!

  • Suzanne 1 November 2017 at 6:34 am

    This sounds like something straight out the Blair Witch project. Personally, I don’t like going out there looking for trouble. Legend or not, it certainly looks very spooky!

    • Sherrie 1 November 2017 at 2:11 pm

      Yes! Which is why I went in the daylight 🙂

  • Lisa 1 November 2017 at 7:27 am

    80 miles of trails in Forest Park is enough exercise for life surely! Thanks for the haunted tale for Halloween, it really put me in the spirit! A gruesome story, but a nice park!

  • Kate Storm 1 November 2017 at 10:26 am

    Looks like a fun hike! Definitely wouldn’t mind checking that out. Those ruins are definitely perfect for Halloween, though the story behind them is so sad.

  • Bhusha 2 November 2017 at 5:20 am

    Oh my! So sad what happened to that son in law… But then, it looks like a cool place to go, esp I’d love to venture here at night with a candle vigil, to see if I could spot any ghosts… Lolz…

  • Abigail Sinsona 2 November 2017 at 5:13 pm

    Haunted castles and buildings always have the most interesting history! It was fun to learn about this tale and while I am not into ghost tours, it might be fun to try once in a while. Even the look of the ruined castle is enough to give me goosebumps!

  • Raghav 3 November 2017 at 3:19 am

    Even though I’m one to get scared of ghosts easily, I love the idea of haunted places – only during the day. A hike to the castle would be perfect and the setting looks really eerie. What’s more, when there is a real backstory to a place being haunted, it makes it all the more special and interesting.


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