Stranger Things: Visit the spooky real-life 'Mirkwood' in Durham – and other real spots from the show

26 June 2022

— Did you know many of the spooky locations of major events in Stranger Things are based on real-life places right here in the Triangle?

Ahead of the rest of Season 4 being released on Netflix next weekend, you can visit the eerie crossroads of Kerley and Cornwallis in Durham – a heavily-wooded intersection near Duke Forest, which is the exact spot known as Mirkwood in the show, where Will Byers is first chased by the demogorgon before vanishing into the Upside Down.

Mirkwood isn’t the only spot referenced in Stranger Things, whose writers the Duffer Brothers grew up in Durham, attending Charles E. Jordan High School. There’s also mention of the iconic restaurant Enzo’s, the Eno River, Jordan Lake and the iconic neighborhood with “the good Halloween candy” known as Lochn’ora. There are also theories that the rock quarry where ‘Will’s body’ is found is the same quarry that Durham students visited at the Eno River – and that the Dungeons & Dragon panic of Season 4 could reference urban legends and a true crime murder case centered around the NC State steam tunnels.

Lake Norman has a legendary monster beneath the surface.

In fact, much of Hawkins is based on Durham and the Triangle itself – and the childhood memories of Ross and Matt Duffer.

“These places are within a mile or two radius of each other,” says Heath Jones, a YouTuber known as Uncle Clockwork who grew up in Durham in the 1980s.

Just like the Stranger Things kids, he spent his adolescence in ‘Hawkins’ – even playing Dungeons & Dragons in his mom’s basement with his friends. He has investigated many the show’s ‘hidden references’ to the Triangle – some well-known, and others a little more mysterious.

With his guidance, you can also take a tour of Hawkins’ creepiest locations before watching the final episodes of Stranger Things Season 4.

Real-life locations from Stranger Things in Durham

Jones’ adolescence was very much like the kids in Stranger Things. He even attended the same high school as the Duffer Brothers.

“The show really strongly brought on flashbacks from my childhood,” says Jones. “When they dressed up as Ghostbusters in Lochn’ora, that was my favorite movie that year. They were playing Dragon’s Lair, and that was one of my favorite games. The kids in the show are doing exactly what I was doing in the 1980s.”

He made a video visiting some of the locations in Durham referenced in the show, and shared some of his insights and childhood memories.

“You can actually find fan-made maps and official maps of Hawkins online, which show how everything is laid out,” he says. “You’ll start to see all kinds of different Durham landmarks.”

Stranger Things: Visit the spooky real-life 'Mirkwood' in Durham - and other real spots from the show

1. Mirkwood

Mirkwood is one of the most popular real-life places to visit on a Durham Stranger Things tour.

In the show, the kids tell police that Will Byers disappeared around Mirkwood, which is their personal nickname for the place “where Kerley and Cornwallis meet.” The kids choose the nickname Mirkwood based on the largest forest in Lord of the Rings, because the intersection is at a creepy stretch of road surrounded by heavy forest.

Eagle-eyed viewers like Jones immediately recognized the intersection of Kerley and Cornwallis as being a very real intersection that exists in Durham.

Just like the intersection in the show, the real intersection is also surrounded by a very eerie-looking, heavily-wooded area near Duke Forest. One can almost imagine kids rummaging through the thick, wild woods searching for their friend Will.

It makes one wonder if the Duffer Brothers grew up telling ghost stories about the woods near Kerley and Cornwallis when they lived in the area.

Real-life locations from Stranger Things in Durham, NC

2. Lochn’ora

Loch Nora is the neighborhood with the good Halloween candy, where people give out “full-sized candy bars.”

Loch Nora is known as a wealthy community in Hawkins. In Durham, not far from Kerley and Cornwallis, there’s a neighborhood known as Lochn’ora, which is also a large neighborhood with beautiful homes.

Even more evidence it’s meant to be the same spot: The curved brick sign and lettering at the neighborhood’s entryway on the TV show closely matches the real-life entryway sign.

Can anyone from Durham confirm – does this neighborhood also give out good Halloween candy?

Antique headstones are around Cabelands Cemetery, but only 12 graves have official markers.

3. Jordan Lake, the Eno River (and Rock Quarry)

In Season 2, Will Byers creates a series of drawings that are eventually assembled into a map revealing secret underground tunnels. Bob Newby identifies two bodies of water that Triangle-ites found instantly familiar: The Eno River and ‘Lake Jordan.’

However, Jones has also uncovered a potential mystery. Jones believes the rock quarry where ‘Will’s body’ is found in the first season could potentially be a reference to the Eno Rock Quarry.

“There’s a park located off Howe Street near I-85, and if you walk through the woods you’ll find the rock quarry,” he says.

Jones says all the students from Jordan High School, where the Duffer Brothers attended, used to visit the rock quarry for Senior Skip Day, so it would have been a popular location, likely well-known by the brothers.

“It was a senior tradition in my day,” says Jones. “But I went to that school about 15 years before they did.”

Stranger Things real life locations in Durham, NC.

4. Restaurants in Stranger Things: Enzo’s and Bullock’s

Two places mentioned in the series are real restaurants you can patronize in Durham: Enzo’s and Bullock’s.

“In the show, Enzo’s is a posh Italian place, but in real life it’s a pizzeria just down from Duke Hospital,” says Jones.

Bullocks isn’t specifically said to be a restaurant in the show; however, when Joyce suggests a place called ‘Bullocks’ as a landmark, Durhamites were immediately reminded of the popular barbecue place.

“On the map of Hawkins, it’s on Kerley Road,” says Jones. “In real life it’s near Hillsborough Road.”

Jones says visitors traveling into Durham to visit the Stranger Things locations can come catch a meal at Enzo’s or Bullock’s for the real experience.

Urban legends from the NC State steam tunnels closely relate to a storyline from Stranger Things' Dungeons & Dragon storyline. Clipping from News & Observer.

5. NC State steam tunnels: Dungeons & Dragons urban legends

Stranger Things’ most recent season centers around the ‘Dungeons & Dragons panic’ that was common in the 1980s.

While urban legends and scary stories about D&D were told around the country, one major urban legend centers around NC State University, right here in the Triangle.

Many students at NCSU have been told the urban legend about a group of D&D players that often played in the stream tunnels in the 1980s, which were kept off-limits due to their dangerous nature. Some stories say they became too connected with their magical characters and began trying to use real magic – or else lost themselves completely in the game. Some of the legends end with death.

The urban legend has survived from the very real ‘panic’ in the 1980s when the game was new, as well as two real true crime cases. At Michigan State, a student who played D&D went missing, and the newspapers presumed he may have gotten lost in the steam tunnels beneath the school while playing D&D with his friends. Meanwhile, at NCSU, a 19-year-old student named Christopher Pritchard planned the murder of his family with the hope of getting their inheritance.

A Washington Post article about the book and mini-series released about Pritchard’s true crime story described him as “high on drugs and deeply into the fantasy game Dungeons and Dragons.”

Haunted Raleigh: Ghosts of NCSU Yarborough Smokestack

The true crime story combined with the D&D panic made the urban legend of the NC State steam tunnels survive to this day.

Jones recalls being heavily impacted by the fear and paranoia people had for D&D players as a teen in the 1980s.

“My mom got a lot of flack from her church group for allowing her children to take part in such activities,” he says. “There was a stigma because it deals with dragons and demons and sorcerers. Those that did not understand were concerned – kids gathering in basements, dressing in weird clothes, pretending to chant spells. Panic based on ignorance.”

However, he says the game kept teens off the streets and out of trouble. His mother understood the game as utilizing math, grammar, creativity and even mythology and history.

“I was sitting at the kitchen table with friends instead of out on the street getting into trouble,” he says.

The "Road to Nowhere" near Bryson City, NC is a 6-mile mountain road that ends at a tunnel to nowhere.

6. Skull Rock

There is no confirmation of whether or not Skull Rock, a place in the show where Eddie Munson hides after being pinned as a ‘murderer,’ partially thanks to his D&D association.

However, Jones thinks Skull Rock could be a real place also.

“I’m betting that could be in the park near Whitfield Road, just down from Lochnora. On the right, there’s a park land. 10 minutes into the woods there are several outcroppings of rock,” he says.

Jones says locals have strange tales related to those woods, including ghost stories of seeing a little girl running along the riverbank with a man chasing her with an ax.

“Standard ghost stuff,” he says. “Strange lights. Orbs in the trees. Cold spots. It’s bizarre.”

The real Lydia's Bridge in Jamestown is one of North Carolina's most well-known hauntings.

7. Other Durham roads mentioned in Stranger Things

Plenty of other references to Durham have popped up in Stranger Things – including an overt reference to Durham in Season 4, when Murray says, “You are now calling from Durham, North Carolina” when hiding their actual location. A little map of Durham, NC is shown on a screen.

Other Durham roads and parks are mentioned as references in the show –– such as Forest Hills Park, Mt. Sinai Road, Randolph Road and others.

Hawkins is an amalgamation of Durham, Montauk and other eerie towns the Duffer Brothers watched in horror films growing up.

Like in Stranger Things, many neighborhoods have ghost stories told only by the children who live there. It leaves one to wonder what ghost stories the Duffer Brothers were told growing up in this area of Durham – and how many others made it into the show without us knowing.

Now you can go visit most of them for yourself to get psyched up for the release of the rest of Stranger Things season 4. Take a look at Uncle Clockwork’s Stranger Things Tour of Durham.

Did we miss any Stranger Things references to Durham locations?

Did we miss any locations that should be on this list? Email WRAL’s Hidden Historian at hleah@wral.com.

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