Ghost towns are usually thought of as being old, abandoned settlements in the middle of nowhere. The truth is that ghost towns exist in remote areas and some of the most populated regions on earth. Los Angeles County alone has at least 16 ghost towns within its borders. This includes places like Santa Monica, a booming beach resort town until it became the victim of runaway development. However, upon closer inspection still home to many wealthy people who enjoy living close to all the amenities LA has to offer while maintaining their privacy.
let’s look at various ghost towns in California,
Bodie is located on the edge of Bodie State Historic Park. There are two ways to get here. One is by car, which takes about one hour from Bridgeport or Lee Vining. The other way is via the Bodie Stages, which operate daily during the summer months between June 1 and September 15. This bus tour provides an excellent overview of this old mining town and runs about 45 minutes in length with a 10-minute stop at the visitor center/museum.
The trip is very scenic, with great views of Mono Lake and glimpses of the ghost town when you hit some clearings in the forest cover.
Although Bodie is steeped in history, it does not attract the tourist hordes that other ghost towns do. Part of the reason for this is that Bodie is harder to get to and hasn’t been turned into a theme park-like some of the others. So instead, it’s nice and clear that you are walking on what used to be someone’s home.
2. Calico Ghost Town
Calico was founded in 1881 as one of many silver mining camps popping up around the region during the California gold rush days. Like most boomtowns at their peak, Calico had its own opera house, schools, post office, and even a railway station (now gone).
Calico has been beautifully restored and preserved and contains many original structures, including hotels/brothels (for miners and other visitors), a general store and corral, and a mine office.
It is all very charming and fun to explore, but it’s also interesting to note that Calico was the first one-hundred percent solar-powered town in America. Solar panels still dot the rooftops as evidence of this fact (although if you poke around, you’ll find that most of them don’t work anymore).
Columbia is located on an island 1,500 feet from shore, accessible by boat or helicopter only. It started as a small mining camp for gold and borax before becoming home to Hollywood movie stars and millionaires who enjoyed its isolated existence away from the hustle and bustle of Los Angeles around 30 miles away.
Columbia is long gone now, but many of the old buildings remain and are open to exploring. It’s an eery experience walking around here, particularly when considering how much money used to be in this town. Today, not much remains except for some tools, equipment, and even furniture left behind by the residents who fled at a moment’s notice when the rising lake began flooding their homes.
My first ghost town visit was Goldstone in the Mojave Desert. This is a small rail stop that contains only a few buildings and not much of anything else. It did, however, contain some interesting graffiti and weathered old signs that give it more character than some other ghost towns.
Goldstone has been on my radar for quite some time, but I had never visited despite getting close to it numerous times via CA 138. I finally stopped here on the way back from California City (another story you can read about below). The best part about stopping at Goldstone is that there’s nobody around, and you’re free to explore all you like without any restrictions or rules to follow. It’s mostly flat and easy to walk around.
The most exciting building is called the “Cactus Hotel.” It’s a small, abandoned motel built in 1945 that has been long vacated for some reason or another, and it appears no one is coming back. Weeds already cover its windows and doors with graffiti scrawled all over its exterior walls. It didn’t take any effort at all to get inside — there were huge holes in the ceiling from termites doing their work, or whatever kind of weather caused this damage.
However, upon closer inspection, I discovered a tiny bar tucked away in a corner on the second floor behind a broken window pane. The bar was crafted from wood, and it looked like you could sit down at it with some friends for drinks… decades ago.
5. Goler Wash Roadside Park
Located off the I-15 freeway near Baker, CA, is a roadside stop that consists of a small campground and nothing else. Well… except for about twelve deserted buildings from the 1930s and 40s that are all boarded up but still accessible to visitors if you’re looking for a break from driving on this busy highway or if you want to escape the summer heat by seeking solace in a place with a bit of shade.
To get there, find exit #113 on I-15 Northbound (heading toward Barstow), take Stratton Ave until it becomes Daggett-Yermo Rd/Old Highway 58/E Main St., and follow E Main St through Baker until you see the green “Goler Wash Roadside Park” sign on your right. Turn here and follow this stretch of gravel/dirt road (if you dare) out to its terminus, where twelve abandoned buildings await.
I’ve only visited these old structures once, but it’s easy to imagine that they were once gas stations or maybe even motels, given how many of them contain small living quarters in the back. Nearby are the foundations of some other defunct businesses with barely legible signage on their remains. These would look very interesting at night when illuminated by moonlight, so if you ever get a chance to visit again after dark, let me know how it goes!
Driving by the tiny town of Keeler is a bit like going by a ghost town in most ways, and yet… it’s not. Most of its buildings are still occupied, and some of them even have new businesses inside. There’s also been new housing construction around Keeler, but you wouldn’t know that from looking at the place because all of the building is outside town limits. You can tell when you’re about to leave “Keeler” because there’s a brick wall complete with a guard tower erected right before the city entrance sign.
It tastes like an episode from The Twilight Zone. But make no mistake: this is a real place where real people live. I Stopped here during my first road trip through Death Valley, and I’ve always wanted to return to experience this place under different circumstances.
Next time I come here, it’ll be with a camera in my hands instead of just peering into the windows of abandoned structures or walking around them as if they were part of an amusement park attraction during off-peak hours. Because even though Keeler isn’t technically a ghost town, its “new” residents might not want you coming here snooping around so much as tourists often do at towns like Bodie.
7. Chloride & Hackberry
Some people claim that these two tiny mining towns (located 30 miles apart from each other) are the same place, and although their populations might have been similar once upon a time, they’re now quite different. Chloride is the cleaner and more “tourist-friendly” of these two cities, while Hackberry appears to be a little rougher around the edges with its unpaved streets and older buildings.
Both towns are located next to each other along Route 66, but Hackberry sits higher up on a hillside and can only be accessed by Chloride (even though plenty of dirt roads branch off from Route 66 at both places). You’ll also notice that many businesses in town have their names painted on the side of rocks near their front doors for some reason or another.
8. Calico Ghost Town
This former silver mining boomtown has been transformed into a type of Wild West Disneyland complete with fake gunfights, staged bank robberies, and saloon brawls.
When I went here on my first trip through Death Valley many years ago, the town was decorated with props for Halloween (like jack-o-lanterns near the entrance of every building). However, it still gave off quite a creepy vibe even without these decorations because so many of its buildings were boarded up and decaying.
The only thing missing from Calico’s “old west” atmosphere is an actual graveyard… which would have made it feel just like Bodie, another old silver mining boomtown that’s now completely abandoned except for its living history museum. Instead, since Calico has been transformed into this tourist attraction, most of its residents are park rangers and actors.
9. East Ely Ghost Town
At first glance, this ghost town might look like a fake movie set or maybe even some kind of outdoor museum that consists of nothing more than a few building foundations and some rusty equipment strewn about the desert. But as you can see from the photos on this page, it’s neither of those things… it’s an old mining town where no human beings live anymore.
The thing is, there aren’t any cemeteries nearby with tombstones to indicate how many people used to live here… so we have no way of knowing exactly how many people died in a place like East Ely during its heyday (other than resorting to estimates by mining experts who have studied this ghost town in depth).
Ghost towns from the old west often aren’t located near any cemeteries because their residents simply died wherever they fell during a shootout or were trampled by a runaway horse and buggy after being thrown from it. If one of these unlucky people were buried in a nearby graveyard, his remains would have been exhumed long ago when it became clear that he no longer had any family members left to tend to them.
10. Gold Point Ghost Town
One look at Gold Point might cause you to take notice of its colorful Victorian homes with flashy paint jobs… but the fact that each one has been abandoned for over half a century is what makes this “ghost town” so ghostly.
Since Gold Point was established in the 1870s, it’s been through many booms and busts typical of most mining towns. However, even though its population had already dropped to less than 100 people by 1940 (with only five residents remaining at the time), this town would still have looked pretty much like any other rustic little place back then if not for World War II.
The U.S. government took over ownership of the land where Gold Point stood until 1943 when it became a military bombing site used to try out various types of bombs on an old-fashioned train track bridge nearby… which is why some of its homes now sit empty with giant concrete slabs located right where their front doors used to be.
11. Goodsprings Ghost Town
This ghost town was named after settler Joseph Good, who discovered a spring near here in 1851 while guiding a group of immigrants from Illinois across the desert.
When I visited Goodsprings in 2004, this place seemed pretty lively because it’s been turned into a tourist attraction specializing in tours of its historic buildings and movie locations from the 1994 film “Casino” starring Robert De Niro and Sharon Stone (shot on location around Jean).
While I’m not an expert on this ghost town myself, my impression is that it’s one of those places where you can probably find at least a few pieces of old-fashioned mining if you looked hard enough… which might remain in Goodsprings’ future since it’s become a popular retirement destination in recent years.
12. Ibex Ghost Town
Sitting near the 3,000-foot-high crest of the Spruce Mountain Wilderness Preserve in Mohave County, this old mining ghost town was once known by its residents as “Little Chicago” because they were so close to Kingman that they sometimes heard police sirens from there at night.
The graves of Ibex are located several miles away at the site where it once stood… but even though this ghost town has been completely abandoned for decades now, you can still see some remnants of it lying around inside this wilderness preserve if you know exactly where to look (and how to get there).
13. Goldfield Ghost Town
From the moment you enter this ghost town, it’s evident that most of its business district is still in pretty good shape… which is why there are currently plans to turn it into a film location, if not an actual tourist attraction, someday.
However, Goldfield itself was established by Chinese immigrants who worked for the Eagle-Picher Mining Company back when “gold fever” was building up steam in Arizona during the late 1800s. This place saw its golden years from 1901 through 1931… so many of its older buildings have been preserved since then in a state of arrested decay similar to other old mining towns throughout America.
14. Oatman Ghost Town
You’ll probably recognize Oatman immediately if you’ve seen the classic movie “The Car” starring James Brolin and Kathleen Lloyd, which was filmed on location here in 1971.
While this ghost town has been legally off-limits to visitors since 1933 after the removal of its last resident (a gold miner named Oatman), today it’s surrounded by a U.S. National Historic Landmark that’s popular among sightseers because it still looks exactly like what you’d expect an old mining town to look like… including some abandoned buildings that are thoroughly checked out of electricity, water, and natural gas service.
15. Cerro Villa Corona Ghost Town
Located on top of a tall hill in the Black Hills of Yavapai County, this ghost town was initially known as “Casa Blanca” (Spanish for “White House”) when it still had a small population.
Today, its most famous residents are several mules and donkeys who make their homes here among the foundations and rock walls left behind by long-gone miners… but you can still visit if you follow one of several hiking trails that lead around to all sides of this area.
16. Mineral Park Gold Ghost Town
This old mining ghost town sits right on top of rich mineral deposits just like many other parts of Arizona’s Superstition Mountains landscape… which is why almost every desert traveler has heard rumors about lost gold mines in these parts.
Mineral Park’s most famous resident was probably an outlaw named “Three-Fingered Jack” Dunlop, who lived in this area for years with his partner “Old Dad” Clanton (the latter of whom eventually turned him into the authorities). Today, you can visit this historic mining ghost town when it’s open to the public (for free). Still, please be very careful if you explore in its rugged backcountry without a trusted set of local hiking directions.
17. Bumble Bee Ghost Town
This tiny deserted ghost town in Yavapai County is known for many things… including the current status “Battleship Hill,” which is covered by so many mine tailings that it looks like a miniature Golden Gate Bridge from a distance.
As for the history of this town, which was initially named “Kelvin” since its founding in 1907… it’s been at least partially documented by inclusion in one of Arizona’s state park booklets, along with several other nearby abandoned mining towns that never managed to make much of an impact over time.
18. Hayden Ghost Town
This former silver mining settlement was established in 1891 near Pima and Santa Cruz Counties… and its main claim to fame is that it eventually became the site where the world-famous Phelps Dodge Corporation (the owner/operator of many mines throughout Arizona) finally closed down operations here around 1950.
However, you can still visit this ghost town today if you hike about one-half mile on foot to get here since it’s surrounded by the Coronado National Forest… not to mention plenty of dark canyons where you might hear some pretty spooky folklore being told around a campfire at night.
19. Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument Ghost Town
Forget just ghost towns in Arizona… this United States National Park focuses exclusively on preserved ruins of old farms and mining camps that once existed throughout an area of Sonora, Mexico, which is known as “Pig War Country.”
The most famous among these are at least five locations collectively referred to as “Ralph Cameron” (named after a local actor who helped make them famous). At the same time, many other pre-1960s buildings can be seen at a long list of different locations throughout the Park.
20. Double Hot Springs Lost Gold Mining Town
In addition to being part of the same U.S. National Park as Organ Pipe Cactus above, this historic spot is located immediately adjacent to land that’s been used for cattle ranching since the early 1900s… not mining or farming.
However, according to local folklore, there had been a “Lost Dutchman Mine” hidden away out here, which has inspired several searches over time… including at least one major excavation project by a couple of entrepreneurs who came up empty-handed after hiring a professional geologist to help them look around here back in 1973 (pictured). Nowadays, this area is better known as a place to hike and recreate… just don’t try looking for any buried treasure unless you have some kind of expert help on your side.
21. Tonto National Monument Gold Mining Ruins
There’s no actual town at this 4,857-acre property on the southeastern edge of Globe, which was initially set up by Presidential Proclamation way back in 1907… but it does feature the foundation remains of a stamp mill that was used to process ore from nearby mines on a location called “Sunnyside.”
In fact, over time, there were three different mines in the immediate vicinity, including the Old Dominion Mine (1891-1901), The Sunnyside Mill Company Mine (1896-1900), and the Gold Chain Mine (1903-1928).
The ghost towns in California are a great way to get away from the hustle and bustle of city life. They offer an opportunity for exploration, solitude, and relaxation. When visiting these places, you may feel as if you have traveled back in time while also experiencing nature at its finest. With some research on your part, you can find out more about what happened to each town that is now abandoned or deserted. You will be surprised by how many stories there are behind them all!