A little way up the narrow valley, before they reach the woods, the PCs notice the squat, tumbledown buildings by the riverside. They are hardly big enough for a human to stand in, and the complex cogs and shafts that occupy the central cavity of one of the buildings are perplexing. What were these buildings? And how safe are they to explore?
Alternatively a desolate place is the perfect setting for a derelict chapel or croft. There needn't be any actual physical encounter involved, but it adds atmosphere to a place to see its dead history. For instance, in the Outer Hebrides there are whole deserted villages which were razed to the ground by the English during the Clearances. Such stories give a setting authenticity and character.
Magic is the lifeforce of all living creatures, and it is from it that all life is made - in areas with lots of undead, magic might actually be missing or weak, which puts a whole new spin on how dangerous the undead are. Even simple zombies can be troublesome if you're relying on mages and you hit a pocket of undead making a low-magic zone...