Top 15 Ghost Towns You Need to Add to your US Itinerary
Who here likes history along with a little bit of spookiness? Reading about the past in books is one thing, but it’s a whole ‘nother adventure actually walking through a historic and abandoned town on your own. One that has been left from the previous years which accurately resembles what life once was.
During our travels across the United States, we not only searched for nature destinations, but we also wanted to find some of the countries best ghost towns.
Between the 2 of us, I (Shelby), absolutely love anything spooky, eerie, or Halloween related. While ghost towns aren’t themed purposefully to be scary, I still love exploring the abandoned environment of a town once booming but now deserted.
Plus, many of these ghost towns were once historic mining towns during the Old West era of the late 1800s. Which is another huge perk as we both love the aesthetic of the Wild West!
From what we saw during our travels, we made a list of our top 15 most fascinating ghost towns across America. Ranging from those completely abandoned & dilapidated, to others refurbished and still alive today.
Both “living ghost towns” and deserted ghost towns scattered throughout dry deserts and lush forests.
The variety of towns along with the interesting history of each make these some of the most memorable stops on our trip!
15 FASCINATING GHOST TOWNS TO SEE ACROSS AMERICA
The list below is in no particular order. It’s hard to say which one is our favorite as each town is so unique in their own way.
Be mindful of weather and seasons. Some ghost towns may be inaccessible during winter with heavy snow.
1. Bodie – California
If you’re looking for an abandoned ghost town that’s greatly refurbished, then look no further than Bodie Ghost Town. This is actually known as the “Most Well Preserved Ghost Town in all of America!”
Otherwise known as Bodie State Park, this historic town is located in central California just east of Yosemite National Park.
Bodie Ghost Town is named after Waterman Bodey who discovered small amounts of gold in the nearby hills around Mono Lake in 1875. This lead to the creation of a mine and the establishment of the town Bodie.
From here, the town flooded with people, reaching as high as 10,000 residents. Roughly 800 buildings were constructed and the town flourished from 1878 to 1882. Following mine closures, prohibition, and the depression in the early 1900s, the town started to decline.
A huge fire in 1932 pushed out the last remaining residents. Because people vacated in a hurry, furniture and personal items were left behind in many of the buildings.
Today, you can roam the deserted streets of Bodie and still see many of these old furnishings left behind in old homes. Actually seeing the belongings of past settlers still sitting in their original spots really gives you a better understanding of what life was like.
Just don’t take anything home with you. People say those who steal relics from here have and will be cursed! No seriously, you can find letters of past tourists returning items and explaining all the bad luck they’ve had since they left. Such as illness, disease, and career loss. (woah)
For more details of Bodie, check out our detailed blog post of Bodie Ghost Town.
2. Jerome – Arizona
Unlike other abandoned ghost towns, the town of Jerome is quite the opposite.
From the many current residents, this town was reborn as a popular historical city. Surprisingly, Jerome is also known as America’s largest ghost town, or I suppose, “living ghost town.”
With only 3 main streets and a few side streets, this small city on a hill is chock full of history.
You can find Jerome 100 miles north of Phoenix, sitting in between Sedona and Prescott. The first miners began mining rich ore deposits in the late 1800s. This lasted for around 70 years and Jerome’s copper mines were extremely successful producing millions of dollars.
Eventually gold was discovered in the mines which added even more to Jerome’s boom. The population expanded from 250 people to over 15,000 people in the 1920s.
Because of the large population, establishments like saloons, restaurants, hotels, brothels, and even an opera house were built. Over time, the city was dubbed “The Wickedest City in the West,” due to the many deaths over gunfights, brawls, overdosing, or committing suicide.
In 1953, gold and copper started to disappear and the mines eventually shut down.
Today, many of the original buildings are still standing and in use by the new found residents. In 1970, the town was given a second chance by being refounded by the Historical Society, which preserved and restored Jerome.
Enjoy walking up and down the hilly streets, grab a beer at any of the saloons, or dine in at Haunted Hamburger. A spooky themed restaurant with excellent views on the patio overlooking the valley.
For more things to do and see at Jerome, check out our detailed blog post of Jerome, Arizona: Visiting America’s Largest Ghost Town.
3. Thurmond – West Virginia
The abandoned town of Thurmond in West Virginia lies directly on the New River. It was known back in the day for being the “Heart of the New River Gorge.” Unlike other ghost towns that bloomed from mining, Thurmond was a prosperous town for it’s coal and rail industries.
Easy to see from the large railroad tracks running straight through the city.
Thurmond grew as a town in the late 1800s when the completion of the Southside Junction railroad bridge crossed the New River, allowing locomotives to conveniently access the town.
In 1903, the town’s population and economy boomed from the popular steam engine repair shop. It was actually one of the town’s primary reasons for success.
However, when more roads arrived in 1917, the town experienced a downfall. The main railway running through town was used less once roads were introduced. On top of this, 2 large fires burned through Thurmond which destroyed much of the town, making residents and businesses move away.
What finalized the town’s death was when the C&O Company purchased its first diesel engine. After this, steam engines soon began to fade out.
Thurmond today is owned by the National Park Service and remains open to the public. Visitors can freely roam around the old train tracks and see a few of the buildings still standing today along the railways.
4. Goldfield – Arizona
Nestled on a small hill between the Superstition Mountains and the Goldfield Mountains, Goldfield Ghost Town is one of the more scenic desert towns of Arizona.
The epic view of the Superstition Mountains off in the distance paired with the surrounding Saguaro cacti equals a desert lover’s paradise.
Goldfield was founded in 1892 when, you guessed it, high grade gold ore was found! The town had 3 saloons, a boarding house, a general store, blacksmith shop, a school, and even a brewery.
Sadly, Goldfield only boomed for around 5 years with around 1,500 residents. The vein of gold ore quickly started to die out and the miners eventually moved on.
Later in 1966, the old abandoned town of Goldfield was rediscovered by Robert Schoose and was rebuilt.
Now a “living ghost town,” visitors today can walk along the many reconstructed buildings and enjoy the amenities on the property. Such as the saloons, restaurants, mine tours, shops, and more.
Goldfield is now a commercialized ghost town restored for the public for those wanting to step into the Old West.
5. Cahawba – Alabama
Jumping further east, Cahawba Ghost Town is one of the more lush ghost towns we’ve seen yet.
Roam among decaying buildings surrounded by green grass, mossy trees, and an overall eerie haunted vibe to this forested landscape.
Originally Cahawba was the first permanent state capital of Alabama from 1820 to 1826. It was also a prospering river town as it’s situated directly next to the Cahawba River. Unfortunately, it was the river that lead to the town’s evacuation.
Due to the low elevation of Cahawba, the town experienced regular seasonal flooding. Obviously this led to a an environment difficult to live in.
In 1826, the capital was moved to Tuscaloosa. Soon after, the town of Cahawba became deserted.
Today, you can visit Cahawba Ghost Town and see many of the remaining buildings left behind. The area is preserved and maintained by Old Cahawba Archeology Park.
On site, there is a museum, a historic cemetery, and all kinds of old buildings and deteriorating foundations scattered across the large grounds. You can even rent a bicycle from the museum should you prefer to roam the grounds more freely and easily over a car!
Walking is doable but would take you much longer to cover the area.
Prepare for mosquitoes in the summer as the they are ruthless! Especially for those traveling by bicycle. My legs were practically eaten alive. Okay, a little dramatic, but you understand.
6. Calico – California
Calico Ghost Town in southern California is a western lover’s dream. Known as a “living ghost town,” Calico is far from abandoned and almost looks like something straight out of a theme park.
Despite the touristy appearance, Calico has its own rich history and is still an interesting place to wander for any history buff.
This once bustling mining town arose in 1881 during the time of the largest silver strike in California. Calico constructed over 500 mines and produced over $20 million in silver ore all in just 12 years!
Once demand for silver diminished, the town rapidly declined. In the mid 1890’s, the town quickly lost residents as miners packed up and quickly moved away. Leaving the town abandoned for many years.
In 2005, Calico was refounded and proclaimed as “California’s Silver Rush Ghost Town” by Arnold Schwarzenegger. Walter Knott, founder of the amusement park Knotts Berry Farm, also funded and helped rebuild the site to be a historic ghost town open to the public.
When visiting today, expect numerous gift shops, a couple restaurants & saloons, a historic school house (my favorite spot), a few mines, and other activities (at an extra cost). Activities and tours such as a short train ride or a walk through the Mystery Shack or Maggie’s Mine.
There’s a good amount of things to see and do in Calico. With that said, expect to spend a little bit of money and a slightly touristy vibe.
For more info, check out our other blog post on the 6 Top Things to Do at Calico Ghost Town.
7. Garnet – Montana
Garnet Montana, a scenic mountain mining town established in the 1890s. It was the main residential and commercial center for the mines between 1870 and 1920.
Originally named Mitchell, the town only had a few buildings to its name. It wasn’t until 1897 that the town became known as Garnet.
The boom began in 1898 after a rich vein of ore was hit just west of the town. Since 1,000 people lived in Garnet, establishments quickly began to rise. Such as stores, hotels, stables, schools, a doctor’s office, and even 13 saloons. (Now that’s a lot of liquor!)
20 years later, the gold depleted from the mines and many people left. Then a fire in 1912 destroyed half the town and it was never rebuilt.
Today you can drive up into the mountains via a gravel road to see what’s left of Garnet. Despite many of the buildings falling apart, the scenery here is beautiful. What’s left of the town sits on a beautiful green mountain side. You can walk inside a few of the old buildings, but little artifacts remain.
We spent an enjoyable afternoon walking around the old streets, sightseeing the old structures, and sitting on a bench overlooking the gorgeous mountain landscape. Certainly one of the more scenic ghost towns we’ve seen across the United States.
8. Tombstone – Arizona
Tombstone Arizona is most likely the closest you’ll find to an authentic old western town. This dusty city is located between Tucson and the other historic town of Bisbee, close to the border of Mexico.
Many already know of Tombstone from the popular western film Tombstone made in 1993. Let’s just say you should definitely give it a watch before you visit. Much of what you see in the town relates to the film which is all based on a true story.
Tombstone was founded in 1877 and became a boom town as word quickly spread about the findings of silver. The town grew immensely and reached a population of 15,000 to 20,000 by 1881.
Numerous establishments were built like restaurants, schools, churches, theaters, a red light district, and over 100 saloons.
“The Town Too Tough to Die”
Surprisingly there were 2 large fires, one in 1881 and another in 1882, that destroyed most of the town. Although after each, Tombstone was rebuilt and continued to keep growing. It soon became known as “The Town Too Tough to Die.”
It was in the early 1930’s when the town started to decline. Mine shafts were dug too deep which reached the water table resulting in flooding of the mines. Soon, the mines were no longer in use and the population decreased to around only 150 people.
Today, Tombstone is home to around 1,350 residents. Fueled by tourism, it’s one of the most popular and lively ghost towns of the country. Similar to Calico but bigger.
Expect gift shops, gun shows, restaurants, saloons, museums, and even horse drawn carriages you can ride through the streets. The Birdcage Theater being one of the more talked about historical & haunted museums in town.
To learn more about Tombstone, check out our post on the 8 Best Things to Do in Tombstone Arizona.
9. Bannack – Montana
The town of Bannack, now known as Bannack State Park, is an abandoned ghost town but also an operating park. Unlike other ghost towns that became commercialized, Bannack is more of a walk through museum.
Protected as a National Historical Landmark and provided to the public for education and exploration.
Bannack State Park is located in the southwest region of Montana, right off of Grasshopper Creek. The town was founded in 1862 and named after the local Bannock Indians.
Gold was found among Grasshopper Creek which drew in many prospectors and businessmen to Bannack. This was a major site of gold discovery and even served as the capital of Montana Territory for a brief amount of time.
Later in 1863, gold was discovered near Virginia City which resulted in many prospectors leaving Bannack. Still, some people stayed and continue their mining operations. This continued until the 1950s when the demand for gold slowed down. Eventually Bannack was abandoned.
Today, there are over 60 structures that remain standing. Many of them you’re even encouraged to go inside!
During our visit, we were able to explore the interiors of the Hotel Meade, a couple of saloons, some of the resident’s housing and stores, and even the school house. Being able to walk inside these historic structures adds a whole new layer of ghost town admiration.
You can even sit in the school desks and spin on the carousal outside the school house.
With all the childish play, there is still an overall eerie vibe in the air. Which we love!
10. Oatman – Arizona
Oatman Arizona is a dusty little ghost town sitting high up in the Black Mountains near the border of California. Conveniently, it’s also right off Route 66!
So if you’re road tripping down The Mother Road, make sure you make a stop in Oatman.
Roughly 100 years ago, Oatman was built as a mining camp and soon became a popular gold mining center. Unfortunately a fire in 1921 burned most of the town which caused several mining operations to be shut down. By 1941, all operations had been closed down due to the war effort.
Luckily, the ghost town of Oatman still lives today thanks to a tourism renaissance from the popularity of Route 66 and the nearby city of Laughlin.
To our surprise, this town is flooded with wild burros! (donkeys) Friendly ones of course.
Oatman is a living ghost town as there are current residents as well as gift shops, restaurants, and a saloon. You can even catch a gun show in the middle of the town that takes place daily, in the afternoon.
Despite the tourism, the desert scenery is absolutely beautiful out here. Not just from the spectacular drive up to Oatman but also the surrounding mountain views you can see from several vantage points.
To us, Oatman has a unique charm compared to other ghost towns. It might just be all the wild burros wandering up and down the streets.
Read more about this fun Route 66 ghost town on our blog post of Oatman Arizona.
11. Vulture City – Arizona
Vulture City was a mining town that once surrounded the Vulture Mine – a popular gold mine discovered in 1863.
This mine was actually the most productive gold mine in the history of Arizona! Producing 340,000 ounces of gold and 260,000 ounces of silver, the Vulture Mine lasted from 1862 all the way to 1942.
Vulture City had more than 5 boarding houses and several buildings including a cookhouse, mess hall, stores, saloons, and even a school. It’s estimated the town had a population of around 5,000 people during its heyday. Once the mine closed due to the demand for gold diminishing, the city was abandoned.
Visiting today, you can walk a 1/2 mile gravel path through the town that takes you alongside many of the restored buildings. There are also tons of remaining artifacts left on site you can rummage through.
One of the more iconic sites on the land is the Hanging Tree right outside Wickenburg’s Cabin. Incredibly, the tree is almost 300 years old and has taken the lives of 18 men. Those hung for the theft of rich gold ore and a few other crimes.
Strange that Henry Wickenburg’s cabin was built right next to this death tree. It was rumored that his cabin was purposefully built here to instill fear in the public.
12. Randsburg – California
The small ghost town of Randsburg is probably one of the quirkiest on this list. You can find Randsburg just 17 miles north of Ridgecrest in southern California.
This small mining town became populated in 1895 due to the gold and silver mining belt of Kern County. Randsburg is just one of the three mining district towns of the area.
Known as a “living ghost town,” Randsburg is only about 2 square miles with a current population of around 70 people. You can see a few of the historic buildings left on the rows which some now operate as functioning businesses.
One of them being a 100 old general store & soda fountain where you can order food or one of the specialty drinks at the antique bar. We tried the Green River Lime Soda Phosphate which was a “1897 Miner’s Favorite.” Not bad!
If you’re looking for something stronger, there are also 2 fully operating saloons in town.
Overall, it doesn’t take much time to see this ghost town. Still, it’s completely worth the stop if you’re traveling down Highway 395.
13. Rhyolite – Nevada
Rhyolite Ghost Town sits in the Bullfrog Hills of Nevada, about 120 miles northwest of Las Vegas. Also right on the border of Death Valley National Park.
Founded in 1904, Rhyolite was a short-lived boom town that only prospered up until 1916. During the gold rush, thousands of prospectors flooded the Bullfrog Mining District and settled in Ryholite with hopes of striking it rich.
By 1907, the town had electric lights, water piping, telephones, a hospital, a school, an opera house, and even a stock exchange. Obviously later in time compared to other ghost towns on this list.
Around 3,500 – 5,000 people lived in Rhyolite from 1907 – 08. After the richest ore was used up, the town declined rapidly. By 1911, the mine closed and many miners have already moved. Come 1920, the population of Rhyolite reached 0.
Those who visit today can expect a crumbling ghost town with only a few structures still standing.
Large empty foundations of the 3-story bank remain, as well as a general store and a few smaller buildings. Due to it’s scenic but eerie environment, the ghost town has even been used in a number of films.
Lastly, you can find the Goldwell Open Air Museum right below the ghost town. There’s a number of bizarre artworks scattered across the desert land. The most famous being the 12 life-sized disciples with no physical bodies, but the shape of their bodies using white flowing robes.
Hella creepy to stumble upon this at night!
Oh and don’t forget the 20 foot tall pixelated nude women near the back. Definitely one of the more strange things we’ve found in the desert.
14. Grafton – Utah
The small ghost town of Grafton, Utah, located just outside Zion National Park, is a charming town overlooked by many. Mainly due to being on the opposite side of the river and only reachable by a 3.5 mile road, 2 of which are unpaved.
It’s also said to be the most photographed ghost town in the west!
Grafton was founded in 1859 as part of a cotton growing project. A group from the city of Virgin established the settlement and the town quickly grew in the first few years.
Unlike the other ghost towns on this list, gold or silver mining was not why settlers came. Farming was popular in Grafton and the residents dug irrigation canals for orchards, grew wheat, alfalfa, and cotton as well as farming large amounts of sill.
In 1866, the Black Hawk War caused fear of native american attacks to which the town was fully evacuated. Other complications included severe seasonal flooding which made settlement difficult.
If you’re visiting Zion NP, or just on a hunt for the countries best ghost towns, you need to add Grafton to your list. Around 5 large structures remain out of the original 30 buildings and each one has been restored by the Grafton Heritage Partnership.
You can walk inside a few of these buildings and see the cemetery on site that contains a few dozen graves from 1860-1910. Some even have inscriptions of the deceased which gives you a glimpse into their rough past.
Despite popularity, the scenery of the red cliffs among the peaceful forest make this a wonderful historic place to roam.
15. Castle Dome City – Arizona
Castle Dome City is located just north of Yuma Arizona. This small ghost town is actually a recreated town made from old buildings of what once Castle Dome Landing.
Mineral deposits were discovered in the Colorado River which lead to tons of prospectors staking gold and silver claims. The Castle Dome Mining Company was founded in 1863 and created Castle Dome Landing on the banks of the Colorado River. It was also used as a main shipping point for ore.
At one point, Castle Dome Landing peaked over 3,000 people which was almost double Yuma’s population at the time.
As mining boom towns go, the mining activity halted as demand lessened. The buildings of Castle Dome Landing were originally to be torn down as they were an eye sore.
However, Allen and Stephanie Armstrong wanted to preserve the town and purchased the property. The buildings were disassembled and then moved to a new land, where they were reassembled into the new ghost town of Castle Dome City. Or more specifically known as the Castle Dome Mining Museum.
This recreated ghost town is loaded with artifacts from the old mining days as well as fully detailed structures of an 1880s era mining town. The museum holds over 50 restored buildings, with seven of the buildings being original to the town.
Visitors can walk among the buildings along a wooden boardwalk and even venture inside to get a closer look at all the mining artifacts.
Overall, Castle Dome City is a wonderful spot for history lovers and western enthusiasts. Don’t let the fact that it’s a recreated town steer you from appreciating all the historic mining artifacts and other memorabilia.
Don’t Miss These Incredible Historic Ghost Towns Across the United States
Wow, now that’s a list! If you made it this far, you must be a real ghost town fanatic.
Those that travel across the US will discover a multitude of incredible places. One thing that you can find across the states are ghost towns left behind from the old gold rush era of the late 1800s.
We can only imagine what life was like for miners and their families who lived in these temporary boom towns. Walking along the same streets or inside the same buildings sparks inevitable curiosity of what once happened here so many years ago.
After all the ghost towns we’ve visited we can confirm that each one tells a different story and has it’s own unique environment. Some creepy & abandoned, others lively and still thriving. We honestly love the variety of each!
One more ghost town worth mentioning that is not on this list is Bisbee Arizona, located just 30 minutes from Tombstone. Bisbee was once a historic mining town that has now turned into an art town. We left it off this list as it’s a very populated city compared to the others and didn’t quite fit in here. Check out our post on 5 Things to Do in Bisbee Arizona to read more about it.
We hope you have a chance to see some (if not all) of these 15 amazing ghost towns across the US! Let us know which one is your favorite in the comments below!
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