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6 California’s Real Ghost Towns That Aren’t Just Tourist Traps!
- May 14, 2021
Nothing is more fun than spooking adventures and exploring ghost towns in California!
They have something for everyone, whether it’s exploring the haunted hallways of an abandoned building, visiting their historical museums, or discovering creations left by modern artists.
California has, by some estimates, more than 275 ghost towns that weren’t able to withstand the test of time. The quick rise and fall of the gold rush left miners no choice but to abandon entire settlements through out the state.
All, however offer a glimpse into the state’s rich history and make for the perfect spooky season day trip.
Despite their prevalence, abandoned towns can still be difficult to find as they are often located far from modern cities and highways. Furthermore, finding one worth visiting is even tougher as many contain little to no buildings or attractions at all—talk about boring.
We looked for abandoned settlements with the most fascinating history, the creepiest hauntings, and the most interesting attractions.
And here are the 6 most stunning and authentic ghost towns in California that would make for great road trips this summer, along with tips on what you should bring with you and where you can camp nearby.
What is a Ghost Town?
Ghost towns are villages, towns, or cities abandoned by their residents. In other words, people no longer live in them.
They are characterized by their deserted buildings, empty streets, and disintegrating man-made structures. People will also refer to them as deserted cities, or abandoned cities.
Why are they abandoned?
Often times a town, or city, is abandoned because the economic activity that supported it failed.
For instance, Bodie Ghost Town in California was deserted due to the fact that it’s nearby gold mines dried up. People could no longer make money living there. So, they left.
Other times a town, or city, is abandoned due to a more sudden, and possibly violent reason. These include natural disasters, nuclear fall-out, disease, or war.
It’s important to do your research before visiting a ghost town. Some may still be dangerous to explore.
For example, due to lethal levels of radiation the ghost town in Ukraine, called Chernobyl , is off limits to visitors.
Are they really haunted?
Maybe—it’s sorta up to you.
Whether or not ghost towns are actually haunted is up for debate. Abandoned buildings, quiet landscapes, and old graveyards have been popularized as haunted places in movies, books, and TV shows for hundred of years.
That just means you’ll need to visit a ghost town, and decide for yourself if it’s haunted. Bring a flashlight.
Why Visit a Ghost Town?
As we mentioned earlier ghost towns are a popular travel destination because they have something for everyone.
You can explore abandoned buildings hunting for ghosts, take a stroll through history by walking down their streets, or marvel at new art installations hidden in their dusty grottoes. You’re pretty much guaranteed to have a good time.
If you’ve ever watched Ghost Hunters , or other paranormal television, you’ve probably already seen ghost towns.
Shoot, it’s probably why you want to visit one. Many people try to visit these towns at night to increase their chances at finding ghosts and ghouls beneath the moonlight.
Please take the proper precautions if you decide to ghost hunt in an abandoned city.
Bring a flashlight, make sure doing so is legal, and let someone know where you are in the event that something happens to you. Other than that, have fun, and safe ghost-hunting!
Knowing Their History
Ghost towns are places frozen in time. Residents might leave in such a hurry that they even leave furniture behind.
Therefore, they’re a much more intimate and authentic place to learn about history than a museum.
Read some articles about the ghost town before you visit so you can impress your friends and family with knowledge about specific spots in the abandoned city.
Artists travel to ghost towns because they’re a quiet, and private place to practice their art.
Therefore, abandoned cities are often home to graffiti, murals, and even sculptures. Keep your eye out for hidden art pieces, or create one of your own!
Ghost Town Checklist
Ghost towns are abandoned for a reason. They’re often in hostile environments with little to no modern conveniences.
In order to be safe, and have a good time, there’s some things you should bring. Here’s our recommendations for your ghost town adventure checklist:
- Sunscreen – Many of these ghost towns are in the desert. The desert is hot. Protect your skin by applying sunscreen every hour.
- Water – Bring a gallon of water for every day you’re spending in the ghost town. All the walking will dehydrate you, and the hot sun overhead won’t help either
- Thick-soled shoes – No flip flops. Ghost towns are home to broken glass, rusty nails, and thorny bushes, none of which you want in your foot.
- A Flashlight – Even if you visit during the day you may want a flashlight when entering abandoned buildings. Many will not have artificial lighting.
- Food – No modern amenities means no McDonalds or Walmart. You’ll need to bring food for every meal you plan on eating during your visit.
- Camera – There’ll be plenty of opportunities to take pictures. If you bring the right clothing, you might even be able to dress like an old miner, and fool your friends into thinking you bought a time machine.
9 Creepiest Ghost Towns In California Worth a Road Trip
Alright, now that you know everything there is to know about ghost towns lets talk about which ones are the best.
We found the abandoned cities in California with the most fascinating history, the highest levels of haunted activity, and the best natural settings for exploration.
We even included a place to camp nearby so you can explore these stunning abundant ghost towns in California for as long as you want.
1. Bodie Ghost Town
If you want to see one of the most preserved ghost towns in America than Bodie is the place for you.
It’s a historic park that California has kept in a ‘state of arrested decay’ for 70+ years. It’s a little more touristy than other ghost towns on this list, but it’s still one of the best.
Bodie was established in 1861 after William Body discovered gold in the hills surrounding nearby Mono Lake.
A sprawling city of 10,000 people quickly sprouted up, and then dried up just as quick after the gold ran out.
Today, 110 abandoned buildings stand, some still containing the furniture or goods left behind by those who deserted them.
- Hours of Operation: 9am-6pm (May 15th – Oct 31st); 9am-3pm (Nov 1st – May 14th)
- Cost: $8 Adults; $4 Children (Ages 4-17); FREE Toddlers (Ages 3 and under)
- Pets Allowed: Yes, except in the Stamp Mill and Museum
- Location: Bodie, California
Top 3 Things to See and Do
- Tour the Standard Mill & Gold Mine —Tour the Standard Mill where they processed the gold and silver found in the mines. You can learn a lot about the history of the gold mine as well as the process of acquiring it.
- Bodie Museum —Learn about Bodie’s colorful past which included robbers, prostitutes, gunfighters, and miners. It’ll help you understand more about the structures within Bodie as you explore.
- Bodie Methodist Church —Check out this picturesque wooden church while visiting this ghost town!
Where to RV camp while visiting?
Paradise Shore RV Camp
Why you’ll love it? Besides being one of the closest RV parks to Bodie Ghost Town, Paradise Shore is also centrally located next to tons of other outdoor activities and places to see.
These include, Mono Lake, Yosemite National Park, and the Sierra Nevada Mountains. You can find plenty of opportunities for hiking, fishing, and more!
Location: 2399 CA-182, Bridgeport, CA 93517 (22.1 miles from Bodie)
- Cost: Starting at $38/night
- Number of sites: NA
- Showers/Laundry: Both
- Pool/Spa: No, but it’s within walking distance of a lake
- Full Hookups: Yes
- Propane: Yes
- Pets Allowed: Yes
- Max RV length: 40 feet
2. Calico Ghost Town
What happens when a theme park tycoon purchases an old, abandoned city? Find out by visiting Calico Ghost Town!
This dusty mining town was purchased by Walter Knott, the founder of Knotts Berry Farm, in the 1950s. He decided to bring the dead town back to life with his massive fortune.
If Bodie is considered touristy than Calico Ghost Town is the definition of a tourist trap. Walter Knott did not preserve Calico Ghost Town, he restored it.
All the old buildings were refurbished and rebuilt to recapture the town’s lost glory.
Walter Knott certainly took some creative liberties with it’s restoration, implementing several modern conveniences into the old buildings, including a Starbucks. Nonetheless it’s a great place to take the family!
- Hours of Operation: 9am to 5pm Daily, except Christmas Day
- Cost: Starting at $2 for kids and $3 for adults – Full list of prices on their website
- Pets Allowed: Yes, leashed dogs welcome
- Location: 36600 Ghost Town Rd, Yermo, CA 92398
- Tour the Maggie Mining Company Mine —You can go on a self-guided tour where you’ll learn about the history of the mine as well as the process of procuring silver. It’s an easy 1000-foot, handicap accessible, walk.
- The Calico Odessa Railroad —This8-minute train tour takes you around to see several historical sites, mining equipment, and hear some interesting historical facts.
- Pan for Gold like a real miner —The Calico Gold Panning Adventures offers visitors the opportunity to learn about gold panning. Afterwards, you’ll pan for gold in the nearby river. Everyone strikes gold—well, fools gold. The park gives every visitor a bit of iron pyrite, also known as fools gold.
Calico Ghost Town Regional Park
Why you’ll love it? You get to camp inside the park! It’s walking distance from the ghost town, and will give you a more authentic overall experience. This is great for people that enjoy a more primitive camping style. The best part? Camping here gives you free admission into the town!
Location: 36600 Ghost Town Rd, Yermo, CA 92398 (Less than 0.1 miles away)
- Cost: Starting at $30/night
- Showers/Laundry: Showers
- Pool/Spa: None
- Propane: No
- Max RV length: 50 feet
3. North Bloomfield Ghost Town
This abandoned town lies at the heart of Malakoff Diggins State Park in Northern California. Once called Humbug City, this well-preserved ghost town dates back to the 1800s.
Many of the original buildings still stand, preserved by California rather than restored. It’s not touristy like Bodie or Calico.
Tours of the town are held daily throughout the summer and on weekends during the off-season. During these tours you’ll learn about the residents who call this place home in the 1800s.
You’ll also discover how mining came to the town, why it was abandoned, and other interesting historical facts
- Hours of Operation: Open Daily, sunrise to sunset
- Cost: $10 per vehicle
- Pets Allowed: Yes, friendly, leashed dogs welcome
- Location: North Bloomfield, CA
- Tour North Bloomfield Ghost Town —You can go on a self-guided tour, or attend a tour with a guide by checking the information at the visitor center. Learn about the quick and interesting history about this 150-year-old ghost town.
- Explore Malakoff Diggins State Park — This 8-minute train tour takes you around to see several historical sites, mining equipment, and hear some interesting historical facts.
- Hike Across Edwards Crossing Bridge —This historical landmark is a great place to visit in the summer. It’s a local watering hole with opportunities for cliff diving, swimming, and fishing.
Willow Creek Campground & RV Park (Call for Reservations – 530-288-0646)
Why you’ll love it?
You get to camp inside the park! It’s walking distance from the ghost town, and will give you a more authentic overall experience.
This is great for people that enjoy a more primitive camping style. The best part? Camping here gives you free admission into the town!
Location: 17548 CA-49, Camptonville, CA 95922 (25.6 miles away from North Bloomfield)
- Number of sites: 40
- Pets Allowed: Yes ($5/day)
- Max RV length: 35 feet
4. Ballarat Ghost Town
Located in Panamint Valley near Death Valley National Park lies this forgotten Ghost Town. There’s no company or government entity running this abandoned place.
Instead, you’ll find an old graveyard, several crumbling building, and a general store run by Roc and his dog.
They’re the last two residents in this town that used to boast a population of 2,000 people. If you’re looking for a ghost town that you can explore without regulations come to Ballarat.
There’s no true open or closing time, and no real efforts have been made to preserve the city.
In other words, it’s truly authentic, and provides a glimpse into what will surely happen to every city once we’re gone.
- Hours of Operation: 24/7
- Location: Ballarat Rd, Trona, CA 93592
- Visit the Burned Remains of Barker Ranch —This is where the Manson Family lived for several years. It’s also the place where the infamous Charles Manson was arrested for the final time. It burned down in 2009, but you can still visit the site where it lay. You’ll even see the remains of the Manson Family truck.
- Look for Ghosts in the Ballarat Cemetery —If you’re looking for ghosts the best place to search are cemeteries. Go at night, and really test your courage.
- Hike to Telescope Peak —This is the tallest peak in Death Valley, and a pretty strenuous hike. It’s a 14-mile round-trip which will take you 7 hours to complete. Your reward will be breathtaking views of the entire valley. Bring plenty of water, food, and sunscreen.
Mahagony Flat Campground
Why you’ll love it? This RV campground is as primitive as they come. You’ll only find a picnic table and a fire pit for your amenities.
It supplies you with great views of the valley, and at night, astonishing views of the night sky.
Location: 36600 Ghost Town Rd, Yermo, CA 92398 (31.4 miles away from Ballarat)
- Number of sites: 10
- Showers/Laundry: No
- Pool/Spa: No
- Full Hookups: No
- Max RV length: 25 feet
5. Bombay Beach Ghost Town
This perhaps the fascinating ghost town on the list. In the early 1900s the Colorado River went rogue and dumped a 15-mile by 35-mile lake into the Salton Sea Trough.
This accidental body of water eventually attracted millions of visitors, who called it a “miracle in the desert”.
A resulting flood of businesses, yacht clubs, and hotels opened in the 1950s to support the tourism influx.
Unfortunately, in the 1970s the lake bed began to dry up, and pollution got so bad that people no longer came to visit. Soon the city was almost entirely abandoned.
There’s still a few residents in Bombay Beach, but the bulk of it’s citizens have disappeared. The result? A destination straight out of an apocalypse movie.
- Location: Bombay Beach, CA
- Attend Bombay Beach Biennale —This Burning Man like event caters to everyone. You can find a number of activities, including: lectures, art shows, live music events, museum tours, and more. It spans 3-days, and it’s free, but get a wristband fast because the event only has 500 openings available.
- Check out the permanent art installations —If you can’t attend Bombay Beach Biennale then look out for some of the permanent art exhibits it leaves behind. Artists construct beautiful sculptures from reused pieces of trash. Just walk, or drive around the ghost town to see what I’m talking about.
- Lounge on an apocalyptic beach —Grab a chair, a book, and go catch some sun on the shores of the Salton Sea. It’s not the prettiest beach in the world, but the surrounding apocalyptic environment will make for some unique pictures and memories.
Fountain of Youth Spa RV Park
Why you’ll love it? It’s the perfect paradise for RV campers. You’ll find a number of activities and events at this resort. They even offer access to a hot spring in the Chocolate Mountains.
If you get bored at the RV park, you can go enjoy the endless outdoor activities the area has to offer, or cruise around Bombay Beach.
- Location: 1500 Spa Rd, Niland, CA 92257 (6.5 miles away from Bombay Beach)
- Cost: Starting at $28
- Number of sites: 200+
- Pool/Spa: Both
- Max RV length: 65 feet
6. Allensworth Ghost Town
This ghost town probably has the coolest history on our list. Colonel Allen Allensworth (almost sounds like a made-up name), and four other settlers established the town in 1908.
It was a town founded, financed, and governed by African Americans. Unfortunately, after it’s founder was killed in a motorcycle accident, and the Pacific Farming Company failed to deliver water to the city, it began to be abandoned.
Made into a state historic park in 1974 this ghost town has been nicknamed, “The town that refused to die”.
This is due to the fact that a few inhabitants still call it home, refusing to leave despite it’s financial failure.
Today a collection of lovingly restored and reconstructed early 20th-century buildings—including the Colonel’s house, historic schoolhouse, Baptist church, and library.
- Cost: $10 Day Fee
- Location: Grant Dr, Earlimart, CA 93219
- Visit Delano Heritage Park —Check out the history of the area. It’s a small museum so you can walk in an hour or so.
- Explore Pixley Wildlife Refuge —This is a great place for birdwatchers or those looking for an easy hike. The small, wetlands area features a number of species, including: threatened Tipton kangaroo rat, blunt-nosed leapord lizard, the endangered San Joaquin kit fox, and in the winter months, the Sandhill Crane.
Colonel Allensworth State Park Camping
Why you’ll love it? It’s a small campground at the heart of Allensworth State Park. You can leave your RV, and literally walk around the large park.
It provides a primitive experience with just picnic tables, fire rings, flush toilets, and a few showers.
Location: Grant Dr, Earlimart, CA 93219 (Basically inside Allensworth Ghost Town)
- Cost: Starting at $20
- Number of sites: 15
- Showers/Laundry: Shower
Truth be told, there’s probably over a hundred ghost towns hidden throughout California. If we missed your favorite please let us know! You can leave your story in the comments below.
About Author / Aaron Richardson
Aaron Richardson is an expert RVer and the co-founder of RVing Know How. Aaron, along with his wife Evelyn, has been living and traveling in their Keystone Fuzion RV since 2017. Their adventures span across the country and beyond, including memorable RVing experiences in Mexico.Aaron's passion for the outdoors and RVing shines through in his writings, where he shares a blend of travel stories, practical tips, and insights to enhance the RV lifestyle.
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Eagle Mountain, CA
Ghost town in california, where is eagle mountain california.
The remains of Eagle Mountain, California lie 13 miles north of Desert Center. Now just a fenced off ghost town, it's slowly decaying, frequented only by the small security staff that watches over it. The only building still in use is the Eagle Mountain School, located outside the fenced area, which provides education for children in the locale.
Watch DesertUSA’s Video About Eagle Mountain, CA
Henry Kaiser and the Eagle Mountain Iron Ore Mine
In 1948 Henry Kaiser opened the Eagle Mountain iron ore mine here, which would become Southern California's largest iron mine. A rail line moved the ore to the Fontana California Iron Works for processing. Homes and a town were built to serve the numerous workers at the mine.
At the height of mining production, Eagle Mountain had a population of 4,000, many living in over 400 homes in the town. Mobile homes and trailer parks also served as housing.
Why Did Eagle Mountain Mine Close?
In 1981, after 35 years of production, Kaiser Corporation closed its mining operation. As the main source of income in the town dried up, most of the population left. Eagle Mountain's last store closed in 1982, and then the Post Office as well, in 1983.
Eagle Mountain’s Abandoned Prison
A few attempts were made to bring the town back to life. In 1986 the Department of Corrections converted a shopping center in the town into a private prison for low risk inmates. It operated from 1991 to 2003, providing income for the locals.
After the prison closed, the town emptied out again as there was no employer to pay a wage.
Sanitary Landfill Proposal
In 1989 Kaiser Ventures, the successor to Kaiser Steel, proposed to turn the open pit mine into a sanitary landfill. Garbage would be shipped in on the rail line from Fontana to Eagle Mountain. Many disapproved of the idea of garbage disposal right next to Joshua Tree National Park however, so the lawsuits began. In 2011, the lawsuits were still proceeding, but the plan was dropped by the landfill owners – effectively ending the landfill proposal.
The railroad ties and rails were pulled up and sold for recycling; all that remains now is the old bed for the tracks.
Renewable Energy - Hydropower Project
In 2015 Eagle Crest Energy Company purchased the rights to the old pit mines. The company proposes to use the old Kaiser mining pits for a $2 billion hydropower project that would boost renewable energy use in Southern California and lower greenhouse gas emissions. Eagle Crest would build an upper lake and a lower reservoir in the mine pits. Pumping water to the upper lake in the day, then letting the water flow back at night would generate electricity.
Another Abandoned Mining Town
The plans have been approved but no work has started at the site as of May 2019. With construction still years away, the license lapsed at the end of June 2018. Eagle Crest will have to seek a new license, which may trigger an additional environmental review. Environmentalists fear the company's plans to use well water to fill the lakes will impact the groundwater in the area, endangering the unique plants and wildlife in Joshua Tree National Park. The project was canceled.
Meanwhile the wind still whistles through the empty streets of Eagle Mountain.
Eagle Mountain, CA. Sold for $22.5 Million in April 2023
On April 17th, 2023, the land and mining site of Eagle Mountain, California, were purchased for a staggering $22.5 million by California-based Ecology Mountain Holdings. The buyer's intentions for the area remain unknown, leaving many intrigued about the future of this abandoned ghost town. Read more about the purchase of Eagle Mountain in April of 2023.
Black eagle mine road desert center, ca – colorado river aqueduct – kaiser permanente - racetrack george s. patton memorial museum – chiriaco summit, ca chuckwalla valley racetrack in desert center, ca, near by cities & towns.
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17 Best Ghost Towns in California, from Spooky Old Gold Rush Towns to Abandoned Cities
We’ve compiled the best ghost towns in California for those who love eerie old gold rush history.
If you love ghost towns, you’ll love exploring California . The region’s gold rush history gives the Golden State a uniquely high number of ghost towns.
These towns sprung up quickly to support the mining industry but promptly fell to ruins as soon as the mines dried up.
Getting to these ghost towns isn’t as hard as you might think. Many of them are just off the highway, and four of them exist today as state parks.
I love ghost towns because I enjoy digging into California history (pardon the pun), and there are actually a bunch of California ghost towns within driving distance of where I live.
In this article, I’ve brought you the best ghost towns in California. Plus, how to get to each one and where to stay nearby.
Note: this post contains affiliate links, which help run this site at no extra cost to you so I can keep providing free travel advice and tips.
Table of Contents
Map of Ghost Towns in California
#1 Bodie State Historic Park
Why it’s worth visiting : It’s one of California’s most famous ghost towns. Address : Highway 270, Bridgeport, CA 93517 How to get there: Turn east onto Bodie Road off Highway 395, seven miles south of Bridgeport, CA. Bodie State Historic Park is 13 miles down the road. Nearby accommodation: Lundy Canyon Campground (28 mi), Lake View Lodge (32 mi)
Bodie State Historic Park may be one of California’s most famous mining towns. Bodie ghost town is situated south of Bridgeport, CA and north of Lee Vining, CA.
William (Waterman) S. Bodey founded Bodie in 1859 after discovering a modest amount of gold in the hills around the town. By 1880, the city had grown to almost 10,000 and was famously lawless.
During the town’s heyday, there were a reported 65 saloons, not to mention several brothels and gambling halls.
Today the Wild West town is preserved in a state of “arrested decay” as a state park.
You can take a guided tour of Bodie Ghost Town or meander on your own with a self-guided walking tour among the 200 remaining buildings.
One of the neat things about Bodie Ghost Town is that some old buildings still have furniture and supplies.
For instance, the general store remains stocked the way it was in 1964 when Bodie became a state historical landmark.
Looking to visit more state parks? Reference our complete list of California state parks .
#2 Manzanar National Historic Site
Why it’s worth visiting : Learn the US’s history of Japanese internment camps. Address : Manzanar National Historic Site, 5001 Highway 395, Independence, CA 93526 How to get there : Go nine miles north of Lone Pine, CA or six miles south of Independence, CA. The historic site is on the west side of Highway 395. Nearby accommodation : Independence Creek Campground (6.7 mi), Mt. Williamson Motel and Basecamp (5.8 mi)
Manzanar National Historic Site isn’t your typical California ghost town because it isn’t related to the gold rush.
During World War II, the United States Government interned over 100,000 Japanese immigrants and American citizens of Japanese descent at war relocation centers around the country. Manzanar National Historic Site was one of 10 camps.
Up to 10,000 people lived in internment at Manzanar during the war in long barracks with a mess hall and a community building.
While the residents were more or less free to walk around the compound, armed guards patrolled the entire exterior.
I’ve visited Manzanar National Historic Site, which is well worth the stop. The park rangers have converted the old community hall into a visitor center.
The interpretive panels do a fantastic job of paying homage to this horrible chapter in American history.
You can also walk inside some of the original living quarters, check out the cemetery, or make the self-guided driving loop.
#3 Empire Mine State Historic Park
Why it’s worth visiting : It’s one of the “oldest, deepest, and richest gold mines in California.” Address : 10791 East Empire Street, Grass Valley, CA 95945 How to get there : Take Highway 49 24 miles north of Auburn, CA. Nearby accommodation : Inn Town Campground (4.1 mi), Flume’s End (4.6 mi)
Empire Mine State Historic Park might be my favorite of the ghost towns in Northern California.
Empire Mine State Park is one of California’s most famous ghost towns because it preserves an enormous old mining operation: the Empire Mine.
This old mine was operational from 1850-1956 and extracted 5.8 million ounces of gold.
The most mind-blowing fact about the Empire Mine was that it had 367 miles of tunnels in its heyday. That’s about the same driving distance between San Francisco and Los Angeles!
Today, the mines are closed and flooded, but you can still peer down the old mine shaft to the high water mark.
The mine’s original owner, William Bourne Jr., was one of the wealthiest men in the United States at the time, and his lavish estate remains immaculately preserved.
If you visit, take a guided tour of the estate, the gardens, and the mineyard.
The blacksmith shop is still on display and features six modern blacksmiths demonstrating early 1900s metalworking techniques.
Fun fact : Empire Mine had a “Secret Room” underground where the foremen kept a working model of the mine to help them manage the digging. Today you can see the model in the visitor center.
#4 Malakoff Diggins State Historic Park
Why it’s worth visiting : Witness the legacy of hydraulic mining and learn about the first environmental lawsuit in the US. Address : 23579 North Bloomfield Rd, Nevada City, CA 95959 How to get there : Take Highway 40 for 11 miles toward Downieville. Turn right onto Tyler Foote Road and follow the signs for the park. Nearby accommodation : Chute Hill Campground (in the park), North Bloomfield Cabins (in the park)
Malakoff Diggins State Historic Park preserves a unique moment in environmental history in the United States.
The Diggins site employed hydraulic mining, which uses blasts of water to wash away an entire mountain.
The resulting hillside looks slightly like the sandstone hoodoos in Bryce Canyon National Park (albeit smaller).
The disastrous environmental consequences of hydraulic mining eventually led to the first environmental lawsuit in the United States.
Today, you can explore 20 miles of trails around Malakoff Diggins State Historic Park or stop in at the visitor center or the museum, both of which are open seven days a week.
Malakoff Diggins State Park is northwest of Lake Tahoe and northeast of Nevada City, CA. It’s also very close to Empire Mine State Historic Park in Grass Valley.
While Malakoff Diggins preserves the remains of the mining site, the ghost town where those miners lived was North Bloomfield.
Founded in 1851, North Bloomfield was previously called Humbug, a slang term for a place where miners had struck out.
You can walk around the remaining buildings of North Bloomfield and also spend the night in a few of the cabins.
Note : Don’t follow your GPS to get here if you want to stay on a paved road. See the park website or follow my instructions above.
#5 Shasta State Historic Park
Why it’s worth visiting : It’s an easy stop off the highway! Address : 15312 Highway 299 West, Shasta, CA 96087 How to get there : Take Highway 299, six miles west of Redding, CA. Nearby accommodation : Sheep Camp Primitive Campground (2.5 mi), Americana Modern Hotel (10.4 mi)
If you’re visiting Redding, CA, you should stop at Shasta State Historic Park .
Just six miles from nearby Redding, Shasta State Historic Park preserves the former “Queen City” of northern mining towns.
Shasta, or “Old Shasta,” hit its boom shortly aft 1848, when pioneers discovered gold.
The gold mining town was an important transportation hub for coach and train travel until 1873 when the new Central Pacific Railroad bypassed the town.
Shasta State Park is one of the most accessible California ghost towns because it’s so close to a major city (Redding) and right off the highway.
In addition to the state park, take time to explore the restored Courthouse Museum (open Thurs-Sun), have a picnic next to the Pioneer Barn , or visit the Blumb Bakery for 1870’s style baking demonstrations.
#6 Cerro Gordo, CA
Why it’s worth visiting : It’s the silver mine that built Los Angeles Address : Cerro Gordo Rd, Keeler, CA 93530 How to get there : From CA State Rt 136, turn east onto Cerro Gordo Rd. Nearby accommodation : Diaz Lake Campground (22.6 mi), Dow Villa Motel (22.4 mi)
The Cerro Gordo silver mining town is north of Death Valley National Park and southeast of Lone Pine, CA.
“Cerro Gordo” means “fat hill” in Spanish, and that’s precisely what it was in its heyday. In fact, this authentic silver mine helped create Los Angeles.
An 1872 edition of the Los Angeles News reported, “… Cerro Gordo trade is invaluable. What Los Angeles is now is mainly due to it. It is the silver cord that binds our present existence. ”
However, like all mining operations, the Cerro Gordo mines eventually dried up.
Today Cerro Gordo is privately owned, with a dozen buildings and scattered mining equipment. You can visit this abandoned town in California by booking a tour on their website.
#7 Keeler, CA
Why it’s worth visiting : See the remains of the Cerro Gordo tramway GPS coordinates : 36.488986657100895, -117.87394902392703 How to get there : Go 15 miles south of Lone Pine, CA, on Ste Rte 136 Nearby accommodation : Dow Villa Motel (14.6 mi), Panamint Springs Resort (35.8 mi)
Keeler ghost town, formerly known as Hawley, is another quasi-ghost town in California with around 60 remaining residents.
Keeler’s development was due to the nearby Cerro Gordo mine, and its success tracked with the mine and Owens Lake. Sadly, both the mine and the lake have seen better times.
Owens Lake once covered 100 square miles but diminished significantly after they diverted its main feeder river to provide water for Los Angeles.
At its peak, Keeler had a population of about 2,500. It was the southern terminus for the Carson and Colorado Railroad service, and the abandoned train depot is a popular fixture.
Keeler also had a bustling public pool, which is drained and abandoned today.
One of Keeler’s most unique ghost town features is the Cerro Gordo tramway, built to move ore from the Cerro Gordo mines. The tramway is broken off mid-air in an almost theatrical way.
#8 Ballarat, CA
Why it’s worth visiting : See the gravesite of famous prospectors “Shorty” Harris and “Seldom Seen Slim.” GPS coordinates : Ballarat Rd, Trona, CA 93592 How to get there : Turn east on Trona-Wildrose Rd (CA-178). Ballarat is 3.6 miles from the turnoff. Nearby accommodation : Panamint Springs Resort (29.5 mi, has tent camping and hotel accommodations)
If you’re looking for a lonely, dusty California ghost town with a spooky feeling, check out Ballarat.
Located south of the Panamint Springs Entrance to Death Valley National Park, Ballarat sprang up in 1896. But by 1917, it had fallen into disrepair.
The town’s most famous residents were Shorty Harris and Seldom Seen Slim. These men were the last of the Rainbow Seekers, prospectors from the Mojave.
When Seldom Seen Slim died in 1968, they broadcasted his eulogy nationwide. The epitaph on his gravestone reads, “Me lonely? Hell no! I’m half coyote and half wild burro.”
More infamous short-time residents of Ballarat were Charles Manson and his family. Today you can see an abandoned truck that belonged to Manson.
Ballarat isn’t entirely abandoned today–there’s one resident and his dog who run a small general store.
Fun fact : An Australian immigrant gave Ballarat its name after a town of the same name in Australia’s gold mining country.
#9 Darwin, CA
Why it’s worth visiting : Hit up Ballarat, Darwin, and Keeler on the same road trip! GPS coordinates : 36.267976126691615, -117.59186346193034 How to get there : From Hwy 190 into Death Valley National Park, turn right onto Darwin Rd. The town is just a few miles down the road. Nearby accommodation : Dow Villa Motel (37.8 mi), Panamint Springs Resort (23.6 mi)
Named after Darwin French, the ghost town of Darwin was an early miner/pioneer who discovered lead and silver deposits in the area in 1874.
As the story goes, French was part of an expedition from the east. By the time his party reached eastern California, they were desperately hungry and without a working gun. A Native American man saved them when he fixed it with a silver gunsight.
French returned to the area years later in search of the “Gunsight Mine.” While he never found the exact mine he was looking for, he still discovered enough to make the settlement prosper.
Darwin had two ore smelters within just a few years, 20 mining operations, a post office, a drug store, and 200 houses.
Darwin had around 3,500 residents at its peak, making it the largest town in Inyo County until 1878 when smallpox decimated the community.
Today, there are still around 35 residents of Darwin, making it more of a quasi-ghost town. If you visit Darwin, please be respectful of any private property or keep out signs.
#10 Panamint City, CA
Why it’s worth visiting : It’s a well-preserved ghost town if you can reach it. GPS coordinates : 36.11755413766455, -117.09524686931712 How to get there : Strenuous (15 miles, 3,600 ft elevation gain) hike up Surprise Canyon in Death Valley National Park. Start the hike at Chris Wicht’s Camp, six miles north of Ballarat. Nearby accommodation : ( Panamint Springs Resort (30.5 mi from Chris Wicht Camp Parking)
Panamint City is one of the California ghost towns inside Death Valley National Park . As the story goes, outlaws discovered silver there while using Surprise Canyon as a hiding place.
Regardless of who found the silver, then-senator William Steward invested in the project, and the town was born in 1873.
The silver mines in Panamint City once employed 2,000 people for the short boom period of 1873-1875.
Like many ghost towns from the California gold rush , the city was exceptionally lawless. The Death Valley website calls it “the toughest, rawest, most hard-boiled little hellhole that ever passed for a civilized town.”
In 1876, a flash flood destroyed much of the town and residents moved away.
Today Panamint City is accessible via a hot and strenuous hike (See OutdoorProject’s hiking description ). Once there, you’ll see the remains of the mile-long Main Street, which included saloons and a red-light district.
Due to the remoteness of the hike, the historic buildings and mining equipment are well-preserved.
#11 Rhyolite, NV
Why it’s worth visiting : It was the biggest mining town in the Death Valley area. GPS coordinates : 36.90183679549815, -116.82811700014577 How to get there : Go four miles west of Beatty, NV Nearby accommodation : Spicer Ranch (informal camping, 13.2 mi), Death Valley Inn and RV Park (6 mi)
Ok, I know this article is supposed to be the best ghost towns in *California*, but I had to include Rhyolite. It was one of the most significant mining settlements of its day and it’s a stone’s throw from the California border.
Plus, it’s a neat stop if you’re making a road trip from Las Vegas. I just drove through Beatty, NV, and I wish I’d known to stop in Rhyolite! It’s a lovely yet stark area.
Rhyolite’s heyday was 1905-1911. It had fifty saloons, nineteen hotels, two churches, a stock exchange, and even an opera house.
Today, one of the most popular original buildings is the Bottle House, made of beer bottles (donated from the 50 saloons in town).
Another popular excursion near this ghost town is the Goldwell Museum , which features outdoor modern art installations.
#12 Calico Ghost Town Regional Park
Why it’s worth visiting : See one of the biggest silver strikes in California and enjoy the developed amenities. Address : 36600 Ghost Town Road, Yermo, CA 92398 How to get there : Look for the signs just off I-15 in Yermo, CA Nearby accommodation : Calico Ghost Town Campground (on site), Travelodge by Wyndham Yermo (4.1 mi)
San Bernardino County runs Calico Ghost Town Regional Park , which is all that remains of this old west mining town.
Originally named “Calico” for the multi-colored hills that resemble calico fabric, this site was established for silver ore but abandoned in the 1890s after the price of silver crashed.
In the 1950s, Walter Knott purchased Calico Ghost Town and moved many of the buildings to his private attraction back east, Knott’s Berry Farm. The remaining buildings in Calico were restored to their original 1881 appearance.
Perhaps because of Walter Knott, Calico has a touristy feel and many more amenities than most ghost towns in California.
In Calico, you can tour the ghost town , eat at the restaurant, explore the Mystery Shack and the Lucy Lane Museum, and camp on site.
The Calico Odessa Railroad also still runs through the town. You can even explore the Maggie Mine, one of the few old mines safe for visitors.
This ghost town in the Mojave Desert is right off I-15 and is the perfect place to stretch your legs on a road trip between Las Vegas and Los Angeles .
#13 Bombay Beach, CA
Why it’s worth visiting : You can check out the edgy emerging art scene. GPS coordinates : 33.35090548856989, -115.72929835827749 How to get there : From Palm Springs , take Highway 111 South. Bombay Beach is off the highway east of the Salton Sea. Nearby accommodation : Mojo’s Slab Camp (22.2 mi), Glamis North Hot Springs Resort (7.2 mi)
Bombay Beach was a thriving resort town on the shores of the Salton Sea in the 50s and 60s but morphed into a ghost town in the 80s after the Salton Sea became toxic.
Well, pseudo-ghost town, I should say.
There are still around 200 residents of the dried-up little town, most of whom live in the area farthest from the water.
Unlike other ghost towns in Southern California, which are mainly mining communities, Bombay Beach is mostly old trailers and relatively modern homes.
The vibe around Bombay Beach is very “Mad Max,” and one of the biggest attractions in the area is the budding art scene, which utilizes the stark landscape and old junk as a canvas.
The Bombay Beach Biennale is a three-month season from January to March that celebrates art and community in Bombay Beach.
#14 Silver City, CA
Why it’s worth visiting : It’s one of the most haunted ghost towns in California. Address : 3829 Lake Isabella Boulevard, Bodfish, CA 93205 How to get there : Go 41 miles east on Highway 178 from Bakersfield, CA Nearby accommodation : Hobo Campground (4.3 mi), Barewood Inn and Suites (9.6 mi)
While many ghost towns in California have eerie vibes, Silver City is the only one listed in the National Directory of Haunted Places.
The ghost town owner reported seeing a historic lunch pail fly across the room (admittedly, though, he has a good reason to stir up intrigue). Visitors have also reported floating bottles and mysterious music.
Silver City has around 20 abandoned buildings from other ghost towns that came to Silver City to save them from demolition. These include a post office, general store, church, and private cabin.
The owners of the ghost town have elected to allow the buildings to exist in their dilapidated state, choosing to do minimal restoration.
That said, Silver City has been the site of film shoots for A&E, the History Channel, and even Nissan.
#15 Colonel Allensworth State Historic Park
Why it’s worth visiting : Learn about a Utopian experiment led by African Americans. Address : Highway 43, Earlimart, CA 93219 How to get there : Take Hwy 43 and go 30 miles north of Bakersfield, CA Nearby accommodation : John L. Whitehead Jr. Campground (in the park), Hyatt Place Delano (16.3 mi)
Colonel Allen Allensworth founded the town of Allensworth in 1908.
Allensworth was born enslaved, and his vision was to create a community honoring the “dignity of the human spirit.” He was the highest-ranking African American servicemember at the time.
The old 1912 schoolhouse remained in use until 1972. The town also included a library and a Baptist church.
Colonel Allensworth’s death in 1914 and a lowering water table made it difficult for the town to thrive. Nonetheless, several residents hung on for many years.
Today you can see the home of Colonel Allensworth and his wife Josephine, preserved in its 1912 condition as Colonel Allensworth State Historic Park .
Every year Colonel Allensworth State Historic Park hosts a rededication ceremony to honor the ideals of Allensworth on the second Saturday in October.
#16 Drawbridge, CA
Why it’s worth visiting : You can go bird-watching as you watch Drawbridge sink into the marsh. Address : Don Edwards Environmental Education Center, 1751 Grand Blvd, Alviso, CA 95002 How to get there : You can view the ghost town from a trail near the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge Environmental Education Center. Nearby accommodation : DoubleTree by Hilton Newark-Fremont (5.6 mi). There isn’t much camping nearby.
None of the ghost towns that I’ve mentioned on this list are decaying as quickly as Drawbridge.
Drawbridge is in south San Francisco Bay near San Jose and was originally just one home for the drawbridge operator on Station Island in 1876.
Over the next few decades, more residents accrued. By the 1880s, a thousand visitors came every weekend. People went hunting, fishing, and swimming; during Prohibition, the town featured a few speakeasies.
At its peak, there were around 90 buildings in Drawbridge. By the 1930s, the water table changed and the town began to sink into the estuary.
Today Drawbridge ghost town is closed to visitors for safety reasons.
You can see the remaining buildings from the Environmental Education Center in Don Edwards National Wildlife Refuge or you can watch the video below.
#17 Eagle Mountain
Why it’s worth visiting : It’s the largest ghost town in California GPS coordinates : 33.85566000380587, -115.48686417726853 How to get there : Turn north at the junction of Hwy 10 and Rice Rd (you can’t get too close to the town, though) Nearby accommodation : Cottonwood Campground (44 mi), Hampton Inn and Suites Blythe (61.5 mi)
A few ghost towns in California aren’t open to the public, and Eagle Mountain is one of them.
But because it’s the biggest ghost town in California, I couldn’t leave it out. Plus, you can check out the drone footage at the end to get a good sense of the place.
Henry Kaiser opened the Eagle Mountain iron mine in 1948, and it quickly became the most significant iron mine in Southern California.
They soon built a town with 400 homes to better accommodate the workers in this extreme remote environment (let’s just say Eagle Mountain is on the “butt end” of Joshua Tree National Park ).
At its zenith, Eagle Mountain had 4,000 residents. The town had a school, post office, gas station, and shopping center.
The iron mining operation dried up in the 80s and the town quickly followed suit. Today, there’s a fence around the town’s perimeter, but the school is still in use.
This video has excellent footage of the ghost town. It hypes up the mystery factor of the city, but the reason for Eagle Mountain’s abandonment is that the mine dried up–plain and simple.
FAQs About California Ghost Towns
What constitutes a ghost town?
A ghost town is an abandoned settlement. To be considered a ghost town, there must be at least a few original structures. Often ghost towns come to be after residents exhaust natural resources.
Is it safe to visit ghost towns?
It is generally safe to visit most ghost towns so long as you stay out of the abandoned buildings and mine shafts.
Mine shafts not only have physical hazards but can also accumulate toxic gases or be home to bats.
As there are many endangered bat species, it’s essential not to throw anything into mine shafts or shout into them to avoid disturbing roosting bats with babies.
Are there many abandoned cities in California? How many ghost towns are in California?
Because of California’s Gold Rush history, there are as many as 300 ghost towns in the state. Miners abandoned many of them after the mines became unprofitable.
Why are there ghost towns in California?
First, California has a rich history of silver and gold mining. Many Gold Rush era towns sprung up quickly, only to be abandoned after the mines dried up.
Second, much of California is dry and hot, which has helped preserve historic buildings and mining equipment.
What is the largest ghost town in California?
The largest ghost town in California is Eagle Mountain. The Eagle Mountain iron mine opened in 1948, but by 1983 the last businesses and the old post office had closed.
What’s the most popular ghost town to visit in California?
One of the best ghost towns in California is Bodie, located in Northern California. Bodie State Historic Park is known for its extensive collection of buildings preserved in a state of arrested decay.
What is the oldest California ghost town?
Many people list Bodie as California’s oldest ghost town, but the truth is that record keeping wasn’t excellent during the 1850s, and there may be older towns than Bodie.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Meredith is a biologist and writer based in California’s Sierra Nevada. She has lived in 6 states as a biologist, so her intel on hiking and camping is *chef’s kiss* next level. One of her earliest camping memories was being too scared to find a bathroom at night on a family camping trip. Thankfully, she’s come a long way since then and she can help you get there too!
Looking for more unique California travel recommendations? Check out these related articles below!
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