Everyone loves a good campfire story. And for those who love the spookier things in life, nothing is more bone-chilling than telling a ghost story around a campfire near a ghost town.
There is also something eerily romantic and quintessential American about exploring deserted homes and dusty artifacts — the remains of unfulfilled dreams, abandoned hopes and the reminders of our nation’s colorful past. In the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, the capricious promises of mining and other get-rich-quick ventures causes towns to spring up across the country seemingly overnight. Some towns boomed, many busted—leaving behind monuments of a bygone era scattered across the map.
This Halloween — if you dare — explore these 13 ghost towns.
While it’s tempting to take home a piece of history from ghost town ruins, consider yourself warned: Bodie, CA is protected by a curse. Anyone who takes an artifact from the ruins will have bad luck until the contraband is returned. Don’t believe us? State park officials say they received returned contraband at least a few times a month.
Bodie is a ghost town in Mono County, CA in the Eastern Sierras that sprang up during the Gold Rush in 1859. While the discovery of gold was slow to come to the town, it is believed that by 1880, Bodie was California’s second or third biggest city (though the US census denies this). As with many ghost towns, resources eventually dried up—get-rich-quick men were lured to other mining booms in the West and slowly the economy and population dwindled.
In 1962, Bodie became a Historic Park. Today, you can explore the 100-some remaining buildings of California’s official state gold rush ghost town.
Nearby camp: Paradise Shores Camp
Wild Irishman, and St. John, Colorado
The influx of the mining industry of the 19th century in Colorado is tangible in its over 600 remaining ghost towns. Two favorites are Wild Irishman and St. John, which are outside of Montezuma (close to Keystone) and accessible by the Wild Irishman Mine Trail, a favorite for hikers, 4×4 enthusiasts and backcountry skiers.
The trail begins in Montezuma, an almost ghost town that has somehow survived the inconsistent bust and booms over the past century. After a series of switchbacks on a 4×4 trail, you’ll come across a few cabins dating back to the 1860s—the remains of St. John. Keen observers will spot out a red brick chimney “stubbornly clinging onto a side of a hill,” the oldest shelter in Colorado, that was made with bricks and bricklayers that were shipped all the way from Wales in the 1860s (according to Lifedeathiron.com).
If you continue up the mountainside, you will eventually come across camps, dugouts and the remains of the settlement of Wild Irishman, an 1870’s silver mine. While there are signs of recent human activity—a newly painted outhouse and some trash (pack it OUT, folks), prepare to exploring these ruins alone, or if you’re lucky, with an unexpecting mountain goat.
Nearby camp: Glacier Mountain Camp
Centralia, Pennsylvania has a fiery history — literally. There has been an underground fire raging at this old mining town since 1962. No one knows exactly how the fire was started, but it’s believed that firemen regularly burned trash in the caves of old mines. This fire in particular was never put out.
According to author David Dekok, “This was a world where no human could live, hotter than the planet Mercury, its atmosphere as poisonous as Saturn’s. At the heart of the fire, temperatures easily exceeded 1,000 degrees. Lethal clouds of carbon monoxide and other gases swirled through the rock chambers.”
Today, you can still see steam seeping through the abandoned grounds. Most of the stores and homes are gone, but you can explore an eerily beautiful “graffiti highway” and the reminants of a town that was once alive and well only 50 years ago.
Nearby camp: Private Camp Under the Stars
Mabel and Wendling, Oregon
Two particularly spectral ghost towns in Oregon are Mabel and Wendling, both an hour or so south of Portland. Mabel was established in 1890 and was once the third largest town in Oregon. Like many of Oregon’s ghost towns, its livelihood stemmed from the logging industry. The ruins of its sawmill at the banks of Shotgun Creek still stand today.
Nearby is another ghost mill town: Wendling. At its height, Wendling had a population of 1000, over half of which worked at the local Booth-Kelly saw mill. In 1910, most of the town was destroyed by a fire, but the mill was saved, and the town went through a promising rebuild. It took two more fires and a labor dispute to eventually bring the mill town to its demise, but you can explore the ruins today.
Nearby camp: Tadpole Manor in Deadwood
Grossinger’s Cat Skill Resort Hotel, New York
Some ghost towns are newer than others, but hold a spooky allure nonetheless. This ‘ghost hotel’ is a particularly fun one because it was apparently the inspiration for the resort in Dirty Dancing. Grossinger’s Catskill Resort was a 1,200-acre Catskill resort that was abandoned in 1986 (the year before ‘Nobody Put Baby in the Corner’). During it’s heyday in the 1960s and 70s, the likes of Elizabeth Taylor and Jackie Robinson were ones of 150,000 visitors who vacationed at the resort each year.
It was famed for being the first place to use artificial snow for skiers in 1952, had its own airstrip, ballrooms and a golf course — but ultimately could not compete with the rising popularity of air travel, which discouraged vacationers to make the 150-mile drive from New York City. Today, you can explore the moss and graffiti covered grounds of the once-opulent resort.
Nearby camp: Field, Forest and Farm Camp
Poeville, Washoe City and Virginia City, Nevada
Like many states in the west, Nevada was a hunting ground for gold and silver in the 19th century. One mining town was Poeville, founded in 1864 by John Poe of Michigan, an alleged relative of Edgar Allen Poe (and what’s more Poevillian than ghost towns?). The town experienced a quick boom and bust when all the gold, silver and copper was eventually depleted.
By 1880, only 15 people remained in the town and dispersed to other boom towns in the area. The nearby Washoe City was a lumbering camp for Virginia City, another ghost town that was once a bustling center for silver mining. Many of the original buildings in Washoe County are still intact—ready to be explored!
Nearby camp: Stagecoach Acres
St. Elmo, Colorado
St. Elmo is one of the best preserved ghost towns in Colorado, only 20 miles south of Buena Vista. The gold and silver mining town reached its peak in the 1890s and was home to a general store, town hall, numerous hotels, saloons and dance halls, and even a telegraph office.
As is the case with many of these old Colorado mining towns, when the resources dried up, the population steadily dwindled. Today, the ghost town is actually still lightly inhabited as the area promises great fishing and 4×4 exploration on the old mining trails. In the summer, the old general store is even open to rent ATVs and buy memorabilia of the bygone era.
Nearby Camp: Thunderbird SpiritRanch
Old Shasta, California
Unlike many of the ghost towns in the area, Shasta was not a mining town but rather a shipping center. Considered the “Queen City” of northern California’s mining district, it was only six miles from the large city of Redding, making it the entry point to the rich mining towns in the backcountry of California and Nevada.
Nearby Camp: Mt. Shasta Ceremonial Site (spooky on it’s own!)
Glenrio, New Mexico
You may recognize this ghost town from the film adaptation of John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath. Glenrio is on the New Mexico-Texas border, and although its population never grew above 30, it became a popular tourist stop for travelers along Route 66, 10 miles to the north. Route 66 was laid in the 1930s after politicians and entrepreneurs decided that America needed a national highway system.
After serving as an important supply line during WWII, the historic road reached its peak popularity in the 1950s during the rise of American automotive culture. As families across the country packed up their cars to travel to destinations such as the Grand Canyon and Disneyland, Route 66 became known as “America’s Main Street.” Glenrio stands as a reminder of the golden era of America car culture.
Nearby Camp: JX Bunkhouse
Independence and Ashcroft, Colorado
Colorado has no shortage of interesting ghost towns to explore. Independence and Ashcroft are close to the famed ski resort Aspen and the still-intact mining town of Leadville (a historic site to see in its own right!). Ashcroft was founded in 1880 when prospectors Charles B. Culver (“Crazy Culver”) and W. F. Coxhead left the boomtown of Leadville in search of more silver deposits in neighboring hills.
The town boomed to a population of 2,000, but ended up only having shallow silver deposits and the town met the same fate many other promising mining towns in the area. The area regained interest in the early 20th century as becoming a European-styled ski resort, but the plans were halted by the onset of WWII and it was then used as a mountaineering training center for the 10th Mountain Division. After the war, the plans for the ski resort moved to Aspen and the site was deeded to the National Forest.
The ghost town of Independence is not too far and faced a similar boom and bust cycle. The few miners that remained in 1899 were forced to abandon the town for good after a brutal winter caused them to dismantle their homes, make 75 pairs of skis and escape to Aspen.
Nearby Camp: Kurt’s Yurt
Gleeson, Courtland and Pearce, Arizona
If you travel the “Ghost Town Trail” south from Tombstone, Arizona, you will come across the remnants of three towns: Gleeson, Courtland and Pearce. The area was traditionally mined by Native Americans for turquoise jewelry before miners moved into in droves at the turn of the 19th century.
The first mining camp, Turquoise, opened in 1890, but was soon abandoned when a large amount of copper, lead and silver was found in what would be established as Pearce. Various mining communities popped up around the area, including Gleeson, where you can still see ruins of a hospital, saloon, dry goods store, several houses, a jailhouse and a school.
Nearby Camp: Octillo Meadows
Rhyolite Ghost Town, Nevada
It’s not surprising that there are a number of ghost towns near Death Valley National Park. Rhyolite was born when Shorty Harris, a famous prospector of the Old West, declared the area the “banner camp of Nevada” in 1904. As you may have guessed, the promise of gold drove hopeful miners here in droves. The town of Rhyolite grew quickly and expensively, equipped with a $90,000 3-story building, a stock exchange, board of trade, booming red light district, hotels, electric plants, machines and a hospital.
During its glory days, the town held dances, baseball games, symphonies, pool tournaments. By 1907, even electricity had came to the town. The town’s demise was brought about by the financial downturn of 1907 and by 1916 the lights were turned out on the once bustling town.
Nearby Camp: Stargazing at Tranqvillium
Terlingua Las Ruinas, Texas
Terlingua was also a once thriving mining town in the 19th century, famous for its abundance of cinnabar (what mercury is extracted from). While it followed the typical boom and bust cycle of lots of mining towns, people have come back to Terlingua. Not miners, but instead eccentric artists, entrepreneurs and vagabonds who live out the American dream in the Chihuahuan Desert.
It is home to bars, a thriving, niche music scene, the ultimate American chili cook-off (first Saturday of every November) and is also conveniently right outside Big Bend National Park.
Nearby Camp: The Otter’s Den
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