15 Ghost Towns With A Fascinating Past

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America is littered with ghost towns where time feels like it is standing still. Each town has a fascinating history of boom-to-bust events or catastrophic disasters that led to them being abandoned.

Each of these places is still around today and can be visited by those who want a peek into the country’s history. Some are right along highways, while others take a little more ingenuity to reach.

Ride along as we travel from coast to coast to visit some of America’s most infamous ghost towns.

Centralia, Pennsylvania

Graffiti highway in Centralia Pennsylvania
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Centralia, Pennsylvania is perhaps the most famous ghost town in America that wasn’t the result of a mining boom-to-bust story. Instead this ghost town on the east coast was abandoned due to a coal mine fire that has been burning beneath the town since 1962. 

Five hearty souls still call this town home, but it probably won’t be long before it is officially a ghost town for good.

Bodie, California

Bodie is a ghost town in the Bodie Hills east of the Sierra Nevada mountain range in Mono County, California, United States
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The ghost town of Bodie, California, is perhaps the best-preserved ghost town in the country. At its peak over 140 years ago, the town had over 2,000 structures and was home to 8,000 people hoping to strike it rich in the eastern California hills.

Today, the town is a California state park where you can wander through its remaining buildings and experience its Wild West history.

Bannack, Montana

Ghost town, in old gold mining settlement, Bannack State Park. Hotel Meade.
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Bannack, Montana, was home to the first significant gold discovery in the state. Shortly after the discovery, the town of Bannack grew to support the rush of miners, hoping to strike it rich. The last residents left the town over 100 years later, and today, the town is a National Historic Landmark and is a Montana state park where visitors can visit and see how a wild west town was run.

Kennecott, Alaska

The abandoned and spooky remnants of the Kennecott Copper processing mill building at the former Kennecott Copper mine in Alaska.
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Kennecott is one of Alaska’s most remote towns on the road system. This was because it was the home of the largest copper discovery in American history, with the mines producing over 1 billion pounds of copper.

The mines eventually closed in 1938, and the site was eventually acquired by the National Park Service. You can now visit the Kennecott Mines National Historic Landmark to get a glimpse into this part of Alaska’s past.

Thurmond, West Virginia

Thurmond Ghost Town, West Virginia
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Thurmond, West Virginia was a town that capitalized on its location with railways passing through and abundant coal being mined in the hills surrounding the town. This strategic position meant the town was able to grow at an astonishing rate and at one point was home to multiple hotels and banks.

As coal fueled trains were phased out the town slowly faded away. Today the town stands as a piece of history within the New River Gorge National Park.

Calico, California

High Angle View of Calico Ghost Town in Mojave Desert, California
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Calico is a classic California silver mining ghost town with a quick boom-to-bust cycle that occurred over 130 years ago.

Today, the town, which lies just Northeast of Los Angeles, is a popular state park with camping, ghost town tours, and mountain biking trails.

St. Elmo, Colorado

Remaining buildings in the silver mining quasi-ghost town of St. Elmo near Buena Vista, Colorado, U.S.A.
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Sitting at nearly 10,000 ft high in the Colorado Rockies it is easy to see why St. Elmo turned into a ghost town once the gold and silver mining dried up in the 1920s. This town was once home to over 2,000 hearty souls who braved the extreme mountain weather to have a chance at striking it rich in the mines.

The town remains in remarkably good shape thanks to a few folks who still call it home during the summer months.

Nevada City, Montana

The Star Bakery and other wood building in Nevada City, MT
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Nevada City was considered a ghost town for decades after the mines shut down in the late 1800s. Between 1945 and 1978 the town was meticulously restored and today stands as a living museum to give a glimpse into life in a mining town in the late 1800s.

You can even stay within the town during the summer months as there are operational B&Bs, a coffee shop, and a bakery.

Blue Heron, Kentucky

Blue Heron Mining Tipple - Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area, KY
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While most mining ghost towns were built up and abandoned before the turn of the 20th century, Blue Heron is a far newer company town that still faced a similar fate.

Blue Heron, Kentucky, was a company town run by one of the area’s coal mining companies. Whle most of the original buildings were lost to time, some of the towns main buildings were recreated and are now a part of the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area.

Independence, Colorado

Independence Ghost Town in Colorado mountains at autumn, USA
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Independence, Colorado is one of the few true ghost towns within the state where any buildings still remain. Because of the brutal conditions where most of these ghost towns sit (Independence is at almost 11,000 feet) it doesn’t take long before the old log buildings are lost to time.

Luckily, groups have worked over the years to help restore the buildings in this historic town, which ensures it can be visited by curious travelers for years to come.

Glenrio, Texas

a ghost town on old Route 66.
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Glenrio sits smack dab on the border between Texas and New Mexico along the historic U.S. Route 66 highway. The town originally served the railroads that passed through the area but once Interstate 40 was built just to the north the town quickly went into decline.

If you visit, your kids may pick up on the abandoned Glenn Rio Motel as it was depicted in the movie Cars.

Cerro Gordo, California

Cerro Gordo in California State
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The Cerro Gordo ghost town, which sits high above Death Valley, has become one of the more well known ghost towns in recent years thanks to it being the center of a Youtube channel called Ghost Town Living. The channel chronicles one man’s efforts to restore the town to its heyday and explore the mines and history of this fascinating place.

Eventually the town’s hotel will rebuilt and will welcome guests who want to stay and experience life in a ghost town.

Ashcroft, Colorado

Row of abandoned buildings in historic Ashcroft ghost town near Aspen, Colorado
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Ashcroft is another one of Colorado’s ghost towns that sits in the hills outside of the well-known ski resort of Aspen. This town faced a similar cycle of a rise to prominence in the 1880s and became an official ghost town when the last official resident passed away in the 1930s.

In the 1930s, there was some interest in developing the area into a ski resort, but those plans fell through. Today, all that remains of the town are a few abandoned log buildings.

Rhyolite, Nevada

The ghost town of Rhyolite in Nevada
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This gold boom-to-bust town lies just on the Nevada side of Death Valley National Park. At its peak, it was home to a three-story bank, a stock exchange, and a board of trade, as well as the usual schools, restaurants, saloons, and rail depot.

As with most mineral boom towns, the mine quickly went bust, and everyone packed up and left this desert outpost. Today, you can still see some remains of the 3-story bank along with a few other buildings that have survived over the years.

About the author
Derek Carlson
Pacific Northwest native, cross-country skier, hiker, mountain biker, wannabe fly fisherman, writer and owner of Roam the Northwest