Last Updated on October 5, 2023 by Urbex Underground
If you’re searching for ghost towns in California, we’ve got you covered! Below are 24 different ghost towns you can explore across the great state of California along with their status and exact GPS coordinates.
We rate ghost towns in California based on their status. Here’s how our system works:
- Abandoned: Is abandoned with ruins and structures in a decayed state. Great for urban explorers.
- Historic: Preservation efforts have been made and sometimes plaques installed. Great for everyone.
- Barren: Almost nothing remains of the town. Ideal for metal detectorists.
- Commercial: Is commercially owned with amenities, restaurants, and stores. Great for families.
- Semi-Abandoned: Abandoned areas with a small population in the area.
- Privately Owned: Tours might be available but not open to the general public.
- 1. Bodie
- 2. Shasta
- 3. Empire Mine
- 4. Cerro Gordo
- 5. Keeler
- 6. Ballarat
- 7. Darwin
- 8. Rhyolite
- 9. Amboy
- 10. Calico
- 11. Silver City
- 12. Panamint
- 13. Goffs
- 14. Drawbridge
- 15. Chemung Mine
- 16. Old Chinese Camp Town
- 17. Gold Town
- 18. Kelso
- 19. Llano del Rio
- 20. Masonic
- 21. Skidoo
- 22. Timbuctoo
- 23. Vallecito
- 24. Wrights
- What is the most famous ghost town in California?
- Are there any abandoned towns in California?
- Where is the ghost town in California that you can't visit?
- How many abandoned cities are in California?
Bodie, California, is a well-preserved gold-mining ghost town located in Mono County, east of the Sierra Nevada Mountain range. The town was named after William S. Bodey, who discovered gold in the area in 1859 but unfortunately died in a snowstorm the same winter.
While the decline of Bodie began in the early 20th century, external factors such as Prohibition and the Great Depression hastened its fall. By the late 1940s, Bodie had become a ghost town, drawing only those interested in its storied past. It stands today as one of California’s most iconic ghost towns.
The Bodie Cemetery is the resting place of “The Angel of Bodie,” a three-year-old girl accidentally killed by a miner’s pick. The town has no permanent residents other than park personnel and offers no commercial amenities like eateries or replica saloons.
However, the Bodie Museum is open to the public and offers a variety of souvenirs, including books and postcards. The town itself remains in a state of “arrested decay,” preserved but not restored, making it a compelling destination for those interested in history.
Situated along a prominent highway, the red-brick Southside Ruins stand as one of the intriguing remnants of California’s gold rush era. These ruins once constituted the core commercial center of Shasta, a town once dubbed the “Queen City of Northern California” in the 1850s.
The area, now a 23-acre state park, features historic landmarks such as the Courthouse Museum, Litsch General Store, Blumb Bakery, a pioneer barn, a blacksmith shop, and several old cemeteries. During its heyday, Shasta was a bustling hub, welcoming newcomers via stagecoaches, while a local sawmill processed logs and businesses thrived from miners’ patronage. The town even had nearly 2,000 working mules at its peak.
Today, the park continues to draw a variety of visitors, ranging from school groups and locals to international tourists intrigued by American history. The grounds offer a tranquil setting ideal for snacks or picnics. The Litsch Store, operational from 1850 to 1950, has been converted into an 1880s retail museum.
Additionally, the blacksmith shop sometimes hosts live demonstrations, further enriching the visitor experience. Shorty’s Eatery has succeeded the Blumb Bakery, offering contemporary refreshments while preserving a sense of the past.
3. Empire Mine
In October 1850, George Roberts discovered gold embedded in a quartz outcrop on Ophir Hill. However, he sold the claim to Woodbury, Parks, and Co. for $350 the following year, an amount roughly equivalent to $11,000 today when adjusted for inflation. The discovery of hard rock gold in California attracted miners from Cornwall, who brought with them extensive experience in hard rock mining from tin and copper mines in their homeland.
The Cornish miners’ introduction of the steam-powered Cornish engine was particularly noteworthy, as it effectively managed the mine’s ongoing water seepage issues. The mine’s operations were halted on October 8, 1942, when the U.S. Government’s War Production Board declared gold mining to be “non-essential” to the wartime effort.
The Empire Mine site has since been converted into a state historic park, where visitors can explore preserved buildings, old mining equipment, and educational exhibits. The park provides a valuable insight into the mining technologies of the time, especially the Cornish contributions. It serves as a unique destination for history enthusiasts interested in the Gold Rush and the evolution of mining techniques.
4. Cerro Gordo
Cerro Gordo, located on the western slope of the Inyo Mountains in California, was Owens Valley’s first significant silver discovery. Before the town’s official establishment, Mexicans were already exploring the mountain, known as Cerro Gordo or “Fat Hill,” in search of silver. Early prospectors faced violent confrontations with local Indigenous people, resulting in three prospectors being killed and two others taken captive.
They were eventually released on the condition that they never return. In 1862, after the construction of Fort Independence, Mexican miners returned, facing less resistance from Indigenous groups. Between its prosperous early years and 1938, Cerro Gordo’s total production amounted to approximately $17 million.
Cerro Gordo remains a privately owned mining town situated near Lone Pine, California, in Owens Valley. The town played a pivotal role in connecting Los Angeles to vital silver resources, thus aiding in the city’s growth. Today, the town is accessible for various types of guided tours, including those focused on photography, mineralogy, education, and history. Visitors can explore original buildings and view artifacts that paint a vivid picture of the town’s storied past.
Developed on the shores of Owens Lake in the early 1870s, Keeler was originally known as Hawley and functioned as a rival freight station to the one in Swansea, six miles to the north. Some accounts suggest that the town’s foundation was triggered by the Lone Pine earthquake of March 1872, which altered Swansea’s shoreline.
However, the true narrative centers around a business rivalry between Mortimer Belshaw, a prominent mine and smelter owner based in Cerro Gordo, and the Owens Lake Silver-Lead Company, which operated a smelter in Swansea. Over time, the mineral industries dwindled, and Keeler’s train station was closed in 1960, with its rails removed the following year. This led to Keeler becoming a ghost town.
Today, Keeler is a small, quiet town with only a few dozen residents and no active businesses. One notable site for visitors is the Keeler Cemetery, which sits directly across the highway from the town itself. The cemetery serves as a solemn reminder of the town’s more bustling past.
Established in 1897, Ballarat, California, was a bustling town at its peak from 1897 to 1905, housing 400 to 500 residents. Amenities included seven saloons, three hotels, a Wells Fargo station, a post office (opened in 1897), a school, a jail, and a morgue, although there were no churches. It served as a rest and resupply stop for miners and prospectors.
The town’s decline began when the Ratcliff Mine in Pleasant Canyon closed. This led to other nearby mines also shutting down, and the post office followed suit in 1917. Seldom Seen Slim (Charles Ferge) was Ballarat’s lone resident from about 1918 until his death in 1968.
Today, Ballarat is home to only one full-time resident named Rocky, who manages a general store during weekends and afternoons for tourists. The town serves as a staging ground for four-wheel-drive trips into the Panamint Range and Death Valley. Up to 300 people can camp in the town’s grounds during the winter months. Additionally, Ballarat has been used as a filming location, most recently to tell the story of the Ballarat Bandit.
Darwin, located on the western fringes of Death Valley in Inyo County, California, was once the county’s most populous city. Founded in the early 1860s, a prospecting expedition led by Dr. E. Darwin French set out from Visalia, California, originally searching for the Lost Gunsight Mine and “Silver Mountain.”
Instead, they discovered rich silver outcrops, staked several claims, and returned to Visalia to register them. In 1878, Darwin suffered from a smallpox epidemic and felt the impacts of a national economic downturn. As mining operations slowed and wages were cut, tensions in the community escalated. The newspaper office closed in September 1878, signaling its transition to a ghost town.
Today, Darwin is a semi-ghost town with an estimated population of around 35 people. Visitors can find remnants of the company camp, including deteriorating rows of company cottages, Quonset huts, and mill buildings on Mt. Ophir’s hillside, located about a half-mile northwest of what is considered “downtown” Darwin.
Several original buildings in the core area of the city remain, though they are now shuttered. Scattered across the area are rusted trucks and trailers, as well as the remains of the old Defiance smelter.
In 1904, prospector Shorty Harris, known for the Harrisburg mine, arrived in the area and discovered gold-laden quartz, commonly referred to as “bullfrog rock.” At its peak, the area had over 2,000 mining claims within a 30-mile radius and boasted a three-story skyscraper, a stock exchange, and a red-light district that attracted women from across the country.
The town was complete with hotels, shops, schools, two power plants, foundries, and a hospital. However, the financial panic in the years that followed took a heavy toll on the community. By 1910, only a few hundred people remained. The Shoshone mine, the most successful in the area, closed in 1911, and the town’s electricity was shut off in 1916.
Today, only a few structures remain, including the remnants of the three-story bank, the jail, a privately-owned rail terminal, and a renovated “bottle house.” Despite its dwindled population and infrastructure, the town still attracts tourists, making it one of the more visited ghost towns in California.
Amboy, though settled in 1858, was formally established in 1883 by Lewis Kingman, a locating engineer for the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad. It was the first in a series of alphabetical railroad stations planned to be built across the Mojave Desert. The town’s name was likely inspired by a location in the eastern United States. By 1940, Amboy’s population had grown to 65.
Amboy thrived through the Great Depression and World War II as it continued to serve passengers’ demands for housing, meals, and gasoline. Its fortunes changed in 1973 when Interstate 40 was constructed, bypassing Amboy and leading to its eventual decline as a ghost town in California.
Next to Roy’s, the former Amboy School still stands, although it closed in 1999 after the last pupils left. Amboy gained recognition as a filming location when it was featured in the 1986 film “The Hitcher,” starring Rutger Hauer. To the west of Amboy, there are two extinct volcanoes: Pisgah Crater and Amboy Crater. Amboy Crater is better maintained for visitors compared to Pisgah Crater, which has been affected by quarry operations.
Calico is an old West mining town in California that dates back to 1881 but was abandoned in the mid-1890s when the value of silver sharply declined. What was once a thriving community providing a decent living for miners lost its vitality and became a “ghost town.”
In the 1950s, Walter Knott purchased Calico and undertook a restoration effort, bringing all but five of the original buildings back to their 1880s appearance. In 2005, Calico received official recognition when then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger declared it California’s Silver Rush Ghost Town.
Calico is now part of the San Bernardino County Regional Parks system, drawing visitors from across the country and around the world. The Calico Ghost Town offers a range of attractions, including shops, restaurants, and recreational activities such as camping, hiking, and off-roading, in addition to its historical sites. Known for its family-friendly atmosphere, Calico provides a more accessible and less intimidating environment for exploring ghost towns in California.
11. Silver City
Status: Privately Owned
The Mills family initiated a remarkable project in the late 1960s and early 1970s, relocating historic structures from various Kern Valley settlements, many of which were slated for destruction, to the current site in Bodfish.
This composite town in Bodfish represents over twenty historic buildings, most of which are not visible from Lake Isabella Blvd. These structures were sourced from mining camps like Keyesville, Whiskey Flat, old Isabella, Claraville, Hot Springs, Miracle, Southfork, and other frontier settlements in the area.
The Corlews, along with numerous contributors, have dedicated more than 20,000 man-hours to the site’s restoration and rehabilitation, with special thanks to individuals like Hal Brown and Don and Emily Diggles for their labor, assistance, and supplies.
Today, Silver City stands as a museum that commemorates the rich and colorful history of the Kern Valley. The Apalatea/Burlando House, believed to be the oldest standing structure in the Valley, now hosts a bar and country shop. Throughout the property, thousands of items are on display, offering visitors a captivating glimpse into the past. Among the ghost towns in California, Silver City ranks as one of my personal favorites.
Panamint City had its origins when three outlaws seeking refuge in the area stumbled upon silver in Surprise Canyon in 1872. It quickly gained a reputation as “the hardest, rawest, most hard-boiled little hellhole that ever passed for a civilized town.” Senators Jones and Stewart, known as the “Silver Senators” due to their extensive mining interests, established the Panamint Mining Company, backed by a capital stock of two million dollars.
By 1876, two of the area’s major mines had been depleted, and that same year, a devastating flash flood swept through the canyon, causing significant damage to the town. Even the “Silver Senators” eventually abandoned their efforts. Following a severe stock market panic in May 1877, the Panamint mill and the post office closed their doors, marking the town’s transition into a ghost town of California
The road to Panamint City was maintained by Inyo County until around 1983 when it was entirely washed out by a series of cloudbursts. Today, only a few foundations and the deteriorating smokestack of the Surprise Valley Mill and Water Company, constructed in 1875, stand as remnants of this once-thriving town.
Goffs is a ghost town located in the western part of San Bernardino County in southeastern California. Originally, the station was named Blake in honor of Isaac Blake, the builder of the “Nevada Southern Railway,” which extended north from there. However, in 1902, the station’s name was changed to Goffs, a unique name with a single known interpretation. The AT & SF railway designated these stations in alphabetical order, with Goffs being one of them.
The Goffs General Store, once the largest structure in town, remains standing but is in a state of disrepair. Although it underwent a full renovation in 2000, it was later abandoned and has since deteriorated.
During World War II, Goffs School House served as a canteen for troops training at the Desert Training Center. In 1942, Goffs was the Headquarters of the 7th Infantry Division, which later fought in the Pacific Theatre against Japan. A memorial with a plaque commemorates this history in the town.
In 1876, a small cottage was constructed for the operator of the narrow-gauge South Pacific Coast Railroad’s two drawbridges, which connected Newark with Alviso and San Jose on Station Island. Despite the absence of roadways, the town grew to have 90 buildings and was divided into two neighborhoods by the 1920s.
For years, the San Jose Mercury News incorrectly reported that the town was a ghost town and that residents had left valuables behind after the drawbridges were removed, leading to vandalism of the homes of those who remained.
The drawbridge has undergone restoration and is now part of the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge. It is no longer open to the public but can be briefly glimpsed from passing trains such as the Altamont Corridor Express, Capitol Corridor, and Coast Starlight.
Unlike most ghost towns in California, Drawbridge is surrounded by lush greenery and water, providing a stark contrast to the typical desert wasteland seen in other ghost towns.
15. Chemung Mine
The Chemung Mine was established in 1909 in the ghost town of Masonic, California. Although the area was continually overshadowed by the mining operations in Bodie, it was supposedly a good producer of gold, but legal concerns were a constant problem.
The structures were torn down and rebuilt three times before being abandoned in 1938, and the 20 workers who remained employed there lost their jobs. By the 1950s, the neighboring village of Masonic had also been abandoned, allowing Chemung to fall into obscurity and become a ghost town in California.
Chemung is said to be haunted by a poltergeist that causes havoc on Saturdays, according to local legends. However, visitors report that the only creatures haunting the area are a herd of free-range cattle that slowly encircle the parking area and make their way up to the mine to greet visitors when they decide it’s time to leave. With all these stories, Chemung Mine has gained infamy as one of the most haunted ghost towns in California.
16. Old Chinese Camp Town
The ruins of a famous California Gold Rush mining town are known as Chinese Camp. Thousands of Chinese immigrants arrived in the area between 1849 and 1882, hoping to find good fortune on the fabled “Gold Mountain.”
The community was once known as “Camp Washington” or “Washingtonville,” and Washington Street is one of the few extant roadways. The area became known as “Chinee” or “Chinese Camp” or “Chinese Diggings” after some of the first Chinese laborer’s arriving in California in 1849 were pushed from neighboring Camp Salvado and resettled here. The town had a population of 5,000 Chinese at one time.
Dolores Nicolini designed the current Chinese Camp School in the style of a Chinese pagoda, making it very distinctive. Since 1970, this school has been in operation. Previously, the school was housed in a structure next to the church. On May 4, 2006, this structure was destroyed by fire and this town officially became a ghost town of California.
17. Gold Town
Gold Town (on topographic maps) or Oarville is a former settlement in Kern County, California. Within 2 miles of Gold Town, there are gold mines to the north and south. The Golden Queen Mine was active on and off from the early 1900s through the 1980s, employing open-pit, underground operations, and heap leaching techniques. Over the years, around 100,000 tonnes of tailings were produced. Some of these tailings have since reached the alluvial fan surface due to erosion. There is a significant amount of arsenic in the tailings.
Today, Gold Town is nothing more than a jumble of dirt roads, a few abandoned buildings, and some abandoned mines in the desert along California State Route 14. The primary paved road connecting Gold Town to California State Route 14 is known as Silver Queen Road. Gold Town stands as a testament to California’s mining history, with its remnants telling the story of a bygone era.
Kelso is a ghost town in the Mojave National Preserve in San Bernardino County, California, with a derelict train terminal. It was named after railroad worker John H. Kelso, whose name was chosen from a hat along with the names of two other laborers.
Because of its location and neighboring springs that offered ample water, the town was constructed in 1905 primarily as a train station along the rail line between Utah and Los Angeles, initially known as Siding 16.
The depot was still in use until 1986. The building began to decay after being exposed to the desert’s harsh elements. The railroad was on the verge of deconstructing the depot by the mid-1990s. After that, preservationists stepped in to save it.
It was refurbished in 2005 to become the visitor center for the Mojave National Preserve. Currently, the facility is closed for repairs, with plans to reopen in Spring 2023. Kelso’s restored depot serves as a historical landmark, providing visitors with a glimpse into the past of the Mojave Desert and its role as a transportation hub in the early 20th century.
19. Llano del Rio
Llano del Rio was a colony in what is now Llano, California, in the Antelope Valley of Los Angeles County, east of Palmdale. Job Harriman, a lawyer and socialist politician, founded the colony after failing to win the mayorship of Los Angeles in 1911. The site for the colony was purchased in 1913, and it was officially launched on May 1, 1914.
The settlement was abandoned in 1918. The water supply from Big Rock Creek proved erratic, and Llano del Rio was too far away from neighboring villages to build a sustainable business, leading to this town becoming a ghost town in California.
Llano is honored at Twin Oaks, a 100-member contemporary intentional community in Virginia. All of Twin Oaks’ buildings are named after towns that are no longer operational, and one of the communal kitchens is called “Llano.” The site of Llano del Rio is also recognized as California Historical Landmark #933, preserving its historical significance.
The town’s name comes from the fact that it was created by Freemasons. The post office, lodging house, and general store were all located in Middle Town, the largest of the three towns. It also held the offices of the Masonic Pioneer, the town’s newspaper.
The Lorena post office first opened in 1905, was renamed Masonic in 1906, closed in 1912, reopened in 1913, and finally closed in 1927, leading to its status as a ghost town in California.
In 1906, Masonic had a population of around 500 people. Before closing in 1910, the main mine, known as the Pittsburg-Liberty Mine, produced $700,000 in gold. Masonic mining was in decline by 1911, while some miners continued to operate until the 1920s.
Like many ghost towns in California, not much remains of Masonic today. However, for those who appreciate exploring old ruins and a taste of history, Masonic still offers opportunities to wander through the remnants of its past. Additionally, there is a campsite nearby for those interested in spending the night in this historical setting.
Skidoo is a prime example of the boom towns that sprang up in Death Valley in the early twentieth century. The Skidoo Mine, which operated between 1906 and 1917, served as the town’s primary source of income.
During those years, the mine yielded approximately 75,000 ounces of gold, valued at more than $1.5 million at the time. Skidoo’s mining history is commemorated by two unique objects. Initially, the town boasted the only milling plant in the desert, which was powered almost entirely by water.
The Skidoo Mines Company’s fifteen-stamp amalgamation and cyanide mill is a rare surviving example of an early twentieth-century gravity-feed device for separating gold from its ore. However, today, only the ruins of this once-thriving place remain, making Skidoo a perfect representation of a ghost town in California.
Timbuctoo was once the county seat of eastern Yuba County. The heyday of this ghost town was in the 1850s when it strategically sat on the Yuba River, close to its gold-bearing sandbars but elevated enough into the surrounding hills to avoid flood risk.
The town boasted a variety of amenities, including a Wells Fargo office, saloons, a church, hotels, and even a theater, in addition to regular merchants and businesses. It was established in 1855 and received its post office in 1858. However, due to a lack of economic opportunities, the community was abandoned, and by 1883, the post office closed its doors, turning Timbuctoo into a ghost town.
Timbuctoo is now recognized as a National Historic Landmark in California. Unfortunately, rumors that the town still held vast amounts of gold led to looters knocking down its walls in search of riches.
Today, behind a protective fence meant to shield it from further destruction, you can see its brick and stone ruins, topped with rusty remnants of the tin roof. Among all the ghost towns in California, Timbuctoo certainly stands out with its memorable name.
Vallecito, located in San Diego County, California, was a former town situated on the border of the Colorado Desert in the Vallecito Valley. This oasis, once a seasonal settlement for the native Kumeyaay people along a trail crossing the desert from the Colorado River, played a crucial role as a resting point for Spanish and later Mexican travelers recovering from the arduous desert journey between Sonora and New Mexico on their way to California.
In November 1850, Captain Samuel P. Heintzelman of the United States Army ordered a company of the 2nd Infantry to march to Vallecitos and establish a post with a storehouse, serving as a supply depot for the construction and support of Fort Yuma. However, the Vallecito post was eventually abandoned by the Army in 1853.
Over time, the United States Army Depot Vallecito expanded to include a store, a stage station, and a ranch house. Although the Station house fell into ruins, it was restored in 1934 and now serves as the Vallecito Stage Station County Park. The historic Butterfield Stage Station, also rebuilt in 1934, stands as the focal point of a 71-acre County Park, preserving this piece of California’s history.
Wrights, California (also known as Wrights Station), is a ghost town located in Santa Clara County, California. It is among several ghost towns that thrived during the latter part of the nineteenth century in the Santa Cruz Mountains.
The decline of Wrights, along with neighboring communities like Laurel, Glenwood, and Clems, was triggered when the Los Gatos-Santa Cruz railroad ceased its operations in March 1940. Additionally, the completion of State Route 17 in 1940 bypassed and isolated Patchen.
Patchen has been a Christmas tree ranch since the late 1960s. Wrights stands out among abandoned places as it still retains an accessible tunnel, which during the winter, freezes over and creates massive ice sculptures that appear otherworldly.
Regrettably, Wrights has entirely disappeared, leaving behind only the remnants of the old tunnel as a historical marker. In the dense forests, one can still uncover building foundations and remnants of the town’s debris. The site is now heavily overgrown and surrounded by woodlands, as observed from space and on the ground. The surrounding area has a sparse population today.
Go out and explore!
That concludes our list of ghost towns in California, but that doesn’t mean that’s all there is to find. Take the back roads, follow train tracks, and find some places for yourself. There are plenty of places I kept off this list so get out there and explore.
Last Updated on October 5, 2023 by Urbex Underground
What is the most famous ghost town in California?
The most famous ghost town in California is likely Bodie. Bodie is renowned for its well-preserved, authentic appearance, and it has become a popular tourist attraction over the years.
Are there any abandoned towns in California?
Yes, there are several abandoned towns and ghost towns in California. These towns were often established during the state’s gold rush era or had thriving industries that eventually declined, leading to their abandonment.
Where is the ghost town in California that you can’t visit?
One example of a ghost town in California that you can’t visit is Salero. Salero is not open to the public, as it is owned by Salero Ranch. While you can still see many of the original buildings from a distance and take photos, you cannot explore the town up close without specific permission.
How many abandoned cities are in California?
The exact number of abandoned cities or ghost towns in California can vary depending on the criteria used to define them. California has quite a few ghost towns and abandoned settlements scattered throughout the state, each with its own unique history and story of decline.