The Biggest Missing Hiker Stories Of The Last 50 Years

Whether they've planned a trip to a breathtaking destination or are simply enjoying a familiar walk on their own doorstep, most people would assume going for a hike through a natural beauty spot would be entirely safe. After all, hiking isn't as extreme as mountaineering or bouldering — as long as you are relatively fit, have the right footwear and clothing, and are carrying enough water, you should be fine, right?

Yes, in the vast majority of cases. But as figures show, heading out for a hike — especially in the wild — can be a dangerous activity. As revealed by Outside journalist Jon Billman, though there have been attempts to construct an official database of people who have gone missing on National Park Service land, no reliable government-approved figures exist. Nevertheless, those interested in the phenomenon of missing hikers estimate that some 1,600 people disappear each year in American National Parks.

And while this is just a small portion of the estimated 600,000 people who go missing in the United States each year according to figures from the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, stories of missing hikers that have made the news in recent decades prove that misfortune can befall wanderers of all experience levels, and in a wide range of locations around the world. Here are some of the biggest missing hiker stories of the last 50 years.

Paul Fugate (1980)

Not all of those who go missing in the United States' national parks are inexperienced in navigating the outdoors. In 1980, 41-year-old naturalist Paul Fugate was working as a ranger at Arizona's Chiricahua National Monument, per KGUN 9, a position he had held for some time despite tensions with his managers. On January 13, he headed out from the monument's visitor center alone to undertake a patrol of the wilderness ... and never returned, with extensive searches yielding no trace of him.

As a contemporary report in The New York Times describes, Fugate's family and friends believed that the case of the missing ranger had been badly handled by the Parks Department, who attempted to cease payments to his wife, Dody, on the grounds that Fugate must have "abandoned his post" when he went missing. Meanwhile, a group known as Friends of Paul Fugate called for a wider investigation into his disappearance, claiming that there was a good chance that he had been murdered; as noted by KGUN 9, drug traffickers were known to operate in the area at the time, and some believe that Fugate may have become a victim after happening across a criminal operation.

There is still no solid evidence of what happened to Fugate, and appeals continue to this day, with a reward of $60,000 for information regarding his whereabouts (via National Parks Traveler).

Stacy Ann Arras (1981)

The year after Paul Fugate disappeared, Yosemite National Park hit the headlines after 14-year-old Stacy Ann Arras vanished while hiking near the Sunrise High Sierra Camp on a group trip led by her father. As described by news reports compiled by the National Parks Service, on July 17, 1981, Arras had been traveling on horseback with the group before setting up camp and telling her father that she was going for a walk to take photographs of the surrounding area. After a brief conversation about footwear, Arras changed from her thongs into a pair of hiking boots, set off with her camera, and never returned.

The ensuing search involved rangers, specialists, and dozens of volunteers scouring the land around Sunrise High Sierra Camp. However, the widespread search was officially called off after nine days, according to a report in The Fresno Bee (via the same source). All that was ever found of Arras was the lens of her camera.

As noted by Vice, the Arras case has become something of a phenomenon on the internet in recent years, with countless online sleuths attempting to reach a conclusion as to what exactly happened to the teenager on that fateful day more than four decades ago. In fact, many people point to her disappearance as evidence of the paranormal, with the fringe theory that Arras came into contact with a creature resembling Bigfoot having taken root in online communities.

Thomas Flamm (1990)

German hiker Thomas Flamm was 27 years old when, in the summer of 1990, he undertook a challenging solo trek through the Valais Alps of neighboring Switzerland. According to the German news outlet Deutsche Welle, Flamm was both an experienced hiker and mountaineer, who, despite planning to travel alone for days on end through the Swiss mountains, was deemed more than capable of navigating the rugged terrain. His route began at Mount Blanc, France, and was due to end in the Italian city of Domodossola, where he planned to meet up with a friend. However, Flamm never arrived. His mother reported him missing to the authorities, but in the months that followed investigators could find no trace of him, and the search was called off at the end of 1990.

Tragically, it took until 2022 — 32 years after Flamm's disappearance — for his friends and family to finally find out what happened to the missing hiker. As Deutsche Welle reports, in August of that year, two mountaineers were ascending Switzerland's Stockji glacier when they noticed colored objects that looked unnatural. On closer inspection, they saw Flamm's mummified body, frozen in the glacier, and later noted the '80s-style outfit of the deceased hiker. The two descended to alert the police, who recovered Flamm. Later, experts revealed that the glacier was especially soft at the time of Flamm's disappearance, possibly explaining how he had fallen through, while the glacier receding in recent years meant that his body had become exposed. His death was ruled a tragic accident.

Geraldine Largay (2013)

Geraldine Largay was another experienced hiker who tragically went missing. As described by The Guardian, the fit and healthy outdoors enthusiast from Brentwood, Tennessee — who had taken on the moniker "Inchworm" among her hiking buddies because of her slow pace — was hiking the Appalachian Trail, tackling the 2,168-mile route in chunks as part of a thru-hike over the course of several months, with her husband driving her to the trail and meeting her along the route with supplies.

On July 22, 2022, the 66-year-old Largay was hiking the trail and left the track to go to the toilet out of sight of other hikers. She never returned to the trail. In the months that followed, authorities undertook a widespread search and appeal for information, but Largay could not be found. Per CNN, a hiking buddy of Largay's had previously been concerned about the hiker's sense of direction; it appeared that she had become hopelessly lost while away from the trail.

It took two years for Largay's body to be discovered, inside her zipped-up tent several miles from the trail. Among her effects was her cell phone, which revealed that she had tried to message her husband for help and to send SOS messages in the days after she had gotten lost. There was also her journal, which revealed that Largay had survived for 27 days in the wild before succumbing to starvation and exposure, according to CNN.

Kris Kremers and Lisanne Froon (2014)

The 2014 disappearance of Dutch students and best friends Kris Kremers and Lisanne Froon is a disturbing tale that has received a huge amount of interest from mainstream news outlets, investigative journalists, and online sleuths who still to this day are searching for answers as to what exactly happened to them.

As reported by the BBC at the time of the women's disappearance, 21-year-old Kremers and 22-year-old Froon had traveled to Panama for an extended stay, with the intention of working with local children in the western region of the country, which is generally considered safe for tourists. However, the pair disappeared from a mountain path they were hiking on April 2, leading to a huge search party made up of Dutch specialists with search dogs, and a combined reward from Kremers' and Froon's parents worth $30,000 for information regarding their whereabouts.

Months later, the first evidence of the fates of the two women was found: clothes along a jungle riverbank, a backpack containing their phones, and a camera, with strange photographs apparently taken at random at night, per The Daily Beast. According to an investigation conducted by the outlet, these creepy images have fueled much of the speculation as to what happened to the women in the days after their disappearance. Fragments of their bones were also discovered, and while some have claimed that the women were murdered, a recent investigation by authors Marja West and Jürgen Snoeren concludes that the women died accidentally as a result of flash floods (via the same source).

Kenny Veach (2014)

In 2014, outdoors enthusiast and YouTuber Kenny Veach became the subject of an internet mystery after he went missing while searching the Nevada desert for what he called the "M Cave."

As told by Nevada Magazine, Veach had piqued the interest of his viewers by describing in a YouTube comment a strange incident when he entered a cave on a hiking expedition — the entrance of which was shaped like the letter M — and felt his entire body vibrate unexplainably. At fellow YouTubers' behest, Veach planned to return to the site and attempt to rediscover and explore the cave, camera in hand. His return mission was published on his YouTube channel in October 2014, though he was unsuccessful in finding the "M Cave" again.

A few weeks later, Veach told his family he was setting out for a hike and would be camping overnight. He never returned, though his cell phone was later discovered by a search party at the site of his last "M Cave" video. Speculation ran rife among Veach's followers and a growing army of online enthusiasts who claimed that he had stumbled across secret military technology, had encountered aliens, or had lost his life in a cave or mine shaft. To this day, no solid answers have emerged, though Veach's partner has taken to the internet to suggest that he may have taken his own life (via Nevada Magazine).

Rachel Lakoduk (2019)

In October 2019, 29-year-old Rachel Lakoduk left her home in Moses Lake in Washington State to travel to the North Cascades National Park, a three-hour drive from Seattle. She planned to undertake a solo hike to a remote lookout cabin on a mountain where she wanted to spend her birthday taking in the rolling views, according to CBS News.

However, Lakoduk never made it to the cabin. After her family reported her missing, search teams assembled on the mountain, and discovered her car at the start of the trail leading to the cabin. According to experts, it seemed that the hiker had faced a sudden change in weather and had been unable to make it to her destination due to the poor conditions. After the official search ended, Lakoduk's family and friends started a GoFundMe campaign to try to ascertain her whereabouts, per the same source.

Sadly, it took a full two years for Lakoduk's remains to be uncovered, with a private search party that included a former Marine first coming across her backpack and sleeping gear, per The Seattle Times.

Esther Dingley (2020)

British hiker Esther Dingley went tragically missing in the Pyrenees mountains in November 2020, prompting a huge search of the route she had taken in an attempt to find the 37-year-old alive. According to an information pack released in the wake of her disappearance, Dingley had hiked some 1,000 miles with her partner, Dan, earlier that year, and the experienced hiker was still looking for new adventures in locations unaffected by the COVID-19 lockdown restrictions gripping Europe at the time.

On November 21, 2020, Dingley passed from France into Spain. She had equipped herself for a five-day solo hike, having left her motorhome and hitched her way to the Pic de Sauvegarde mountain on the border, which she ascended. She stayed at a hostel on the Spanish side of the mountain and planned to return to the French side the next day, crossing over the peak again, at which point she messaged her loved ones to tell them she was safe.

But though the descent to the unstaffed refuge at which Dingley planned to stay that night was only an hour's hike, Dingley was never seen again. Six months later, search teams found a fragment of Dingley's skull (per the Daily Mail), followed by the discovery of the rest of Dingley's remains by her partner, who had been tirelessly searching the area since her disappearance. While an inquiry into her disappearance later confirmed that Dingley's death resulted from a tragic accident (via the BBC), few details of what exactly happened came to light, bar the fact that the hiker's footwear was not considered suitable for traversing the icy conditions.

Russell Hill and Carol Clay (2021)

A strange story of disappearing hikers came out of Australia in 2020, a story that has kept providing twists and turns in the months since it first emerged. As detailed in an extensive New York Times feature, Russell Hill and Carol Clay, both in their seventies, were camping in the Wonnangatta Valley when they disappeared without a trace. Their campsite had burned to the ground, and the remains of dead deer were littered throughout the valley.

The southern Australian mountains that the pair were enjoying are especially remote, and while theories abound that they could have met their end as a result of wild animals, locals referred to the existence of a local figure known as the Button Man in relation to their deaths (per the same source).

However, in a forensic account of their deaths released in January 2023, investigators posited that the pair had been murdered by a fellow camper, 56-year-old Greg Lynn, whom investigators believe got into a violent confrontation with the couple, who were flying a drone over the area. Investigators say that Clay was shot dead by accident as the two men grappled for Lynn's gun, and that Lynn — who has been charged — then stabbed Hill to death, according to The Guardian.

Cian McLaughlin (2021)

Irish outdoors enthusiast Cian McLaughlin was a mountain-lover who moved to Wyoming, where he could enjoy the exceptional beauty of the 300,000-acre Grand Teton National Park. According to RTÉ, McLaughlin taught snowboarding in the mountains near his home and also made an income working in a local bar. In his spare time, he went hiking.

Sadly, on June 8, 2021, the 27-year-old Dubliner set out on a hike toward Grand Teton's Delta Lake, never to return. A huge search and rescue operation began, with investigators appealing to the public to report any interactions they might have had with the friendly and talkative McLaughlin along the route in the hours prior to his disappearance.

Disturbingly, it was later reported via the same source that a local woman named Heather Mycoskie had given evidence to the police claiming she had seen McLaughlin at a certain location, leading investigators to invest hundreds of hours in searching the area. However, Mycoskie later admitted the statement had been a lie, a revelation that McLaughlin's family described as "upsetting." Mycoskie was fined $17,600 and banned from the park for five years. To this day, no trace of McLaughlin has been found, and the search continues.

Joel Thomazin (2021)

On September 6, 2021, 31-year-old Joel Thomazin set out on what he had told friends and family was a three-day-long solo hiking trip through Yosemite National Park, taking with him an inflatable kayak for exploring lakes and a hammock, showing that he expected the trip to be both an adventurous and relaxing one (via Yosemite National Park).

But when Thomazin failed to emerge from the park on September 9 and make contact with his loved ones, rangers were brought in to look for the missing hiker, along with search helicopters, search dogs, and water patrols, according to the Associated Press. Some experts argued that he may have decided to extend his journey to a farther destination, Cherry Lake, despite not informing his family, per the Turlock Journal. But he was never found.

Despite no evidence of what happened to Thomazin coming to light, it was announced in November 2021 that a memorial ceremony celebrating the hiker's life was to take place in his hometown of Denair, California, according to the Turlock Journal, which also reported that Thomazin left behind a wife of seven years and a 2-year-old son at the time of his disappearance.

Julian Sands (2023)

Unsurprisingly, the most headline-making missing hiker story of recent years involves the disappearance of a celebrity: the acclaimed British actor Julian Sands.

According to the BBC, the 65-year-old who is best known for his roles in "A Room With a View" and "Warlock" was reported missing after going hiking in the San Gabriel Mountains, a short drive from his Hollywood, California, home, on Friday, January 13, 2023. Search teams had been slowed in their rescue operation for several days due to poor weather conditions, though the actor's car was recovered by his family.

Per the same source, the San Gabriel Mountains had been battered by extreme weather in previous weeks, leading to high numbers of rescue callouts and an appeal for local hikers to steer clear of the area. The Guardian reports that two hikers were killed in the area known as the Mount Baldy Bowl in the weeks previous to Sands' disappearance, and that avalanches are common in the area. As of this writing, air searches by helicopter are still ongoing.