Hundreds of people go missing at national parks across the United States every year. Some of these disappearances are never solved.
The deeper you dig into Yosemite National Park, the stranger details you find.
Like many national parks, Yosemite has a history of bizarre sightings, experiences, and legends. One of the most fascinating (and disturbing) of these stories is about hundreds of missing children.
The almost supernatural circumstances surrounding the disappearances make this one of the most unexplained and peculiar sagas in the history of a revered national park.
This is the story of the missing children.
In February of 2013, retired police officer, David Paulides, released a book titled Missing 411-Western United States and Canada: Unexplained disappearances of North Americans that have never been solved (not an affiliate link).
Tipped off by a park ranger, Paulides spent four years and 9,000 hours investigating missing persons.
The mysterious disappearances involved adults and children, with the vanishings sometimes occurring in broad daylight surrounded by friends and family.
One of the most important findings from his research is uncovering geographical clusters of missing people. Including clusters of children that vanished from Yosemite National Park without a trace.
Disappearances that are both baffling and often underreported by the national park system.
A New York Post article by Eric Spitznagel published in 2020 describes the massive problem:
According to NamUs (National Missing and Unidentified Persons System), more than 600,000 persons go missing in the United States every year. Anywhere between 89 percent to 92 percent of those missing people are recovered every year, either alive or deceased. But how many of those disappear in the wild is unclear. Neither the Department of the Interior, which oversees the National Park Service, or the Department of Agriculture’s US Forest Service keeps track.
When loved ones vanish without a trace, therapist Pauline Boss calls the aftermath “frozen grief.” The National Institute of Justice (NIJ) tellingly refers to it as “the nation’s silent mass disaster.”
In many cases, the disappearances are explained by mental illness, animal attacks, bad weather, or other natural dangers in the wilderness. Some people voluntarily choose to run away from their lives.
Paulides and a few others focus on the clusters of missing person cases that defy easy explanation.
Or any explanation at all.
During his investigation, Paulides discovered a disturbing trend at Yosemite National Park. Hundreds of missing children, some who were never seen again, and many with bizarre stories to tell.
All of the disappearances shared strange details that shocked veteran investigators and left Paulides with unanswered questions. After examining hundreds of cases, unexpected patterns emerged.
Here are some of those patterns:
The missing children being young is no surprise. Curious kids like to explore, easily get lost, and make small prey for predators of both the human and animal variety.
Since there were no signs of struggle, Paulides concluded that no abduction occurred or that the abductors surprised the kids. Weather patterns sometimes explained the inability of tracking dogs to find a scent.
However, the weather didn’t appear to always be a factor. And why would the missing children go up a mountain?
One of the most perplexing details of the missing children is where many survivors were found — far outside established search perimeters.
In an exclusive interview with Kron4 News in San Francisco, Paulides explains it this way:
Sometimes these kids that I write about are found, like a 2 or 3-year-old, are found 10–15 miles from the point they were last seen, or they’re found 5,000 feet higher in elevation than where they disappeared. And as a parent, you’ll know, my kid wasn’t going to make that distance in this amount of time or climb that elevation in this period of time. So it doesn’t make sense.
Other survivors are inexplicably found in areas previously searched multiple times by large search parties. Searchers rescued some missing children on the other side of mountain ranges.
Even experienced outdoorsmen scratch their heads at how these children traveled so far, often in severe weather, across harsh landscapes. It seems utterly impossible.
In one notable missing child case in Oregon, celebrity survival expert Les Stroud — known as “Survivor Man” — tried to replicate a child’s nighttime journey. In the middle of the experiment, Les said, “I couldn’t do this. This isn’t right, the kid didn’t do this on his own.”
Yet, the missing children cases in Yosemite get even more baffling. The surviving children tell stories of friendly bears or “big wolves” who took care of them.
And that brings us to Bigfoot.
Oddly, the best data available on people who go missing in national parks comes from Bigfoot hunters. Bigfoot, as you might know, is a legendary ape-like creature said to lurk deep inside forests.
There is no conclusive evidence that Bigfoot — or even a creature like Bigfoot — actually exists.
However, that doesn’t stop thousands of believers. Some of the more passionate believers formed official groups like Olympic Project and the North American Bigfoot Search, an organization in which Paulides participates.
Yes, Paulides is a Bigfoot hunter.
These groups reportedly take a research-based approach using fossils and DNA. They also explore vast areas of wilderness, including national parks. That’s why many people unintentionally find themselves teaming up with Bigfoot hunters to find missing loved ones.
And, to the Bigfoot hunters’ credit, they are pretty damn good at finding missing people.
I don’t like to write about missing children. For me, there has always been a natural flinch away from the subject.
However, the first time I heard of these missing children, I couldn’t get the stories out of my head. I had to write about them. I had to release the pull they had on me, to unleash the grip.
Thankfully, Paulides’ work triggered a petition for the national parks to more effectively track missing persons. Something certainly needs to change.
More than anything, under whatever circumstances, I’m grateful that some of these children were found safe and alive.