When you hear the term ghost town, you might think of a radioactive city such as Chernobyl or Fukushima. But you don’t have to travel around the world to visit a ghost town. Below are 19 of the best ghost towns in the USA.
Here are 19 of the most isolated ghost towns in the USA.
1. St. Elmo, Colorado
Kicking off our ‘Ghost Town In The USA’ list is the small town of St. Elmo that’s sat tucked in Colorado mountains since 1880.
Like many ghost towns, St. Elmo was a town built off the back of the great mining boom in in the late 1800s.
Over the years, 150 mines were opened up and extracted over $60 million dollars worth of gold! St. Elmo was made up of nearly all men, so there plenty of saloons, dance halls, and brothels for the miners entertainment.
What more could a miner ask for?
In 1881 the Denver South Park and Pacific Railroad were built through St. Elmo. This not only increased it’s population, but paved the way for hotels, restaurants, and even a newspaper to be built.
Overtime, the metal mines began to close, and by 1910 the town was on a significant downward spiral. By 1926 the railway was torn up and turned into a road. The only people that still called St. Elmo home was the Stark family.
The Stark’s held on, and believed that the town would boom again. They rented out cabins to tourists and travelers while also just barely keeping the general store afloat.
The Stark family eventually died off, and the town was left to a close friend of theirs. The town officially became a ghost town in 1952 when the post office closed it’s doors for good.
Ever since, claims of ghostly children playing around the hotel have been reported. There have also been several sightings of the now passed Stark family roaming among the buildings.
St. Elmo is one of the best preserved ghost towns in the USA.
2. Bannack, Montana
Bannack was founded just after a massive gold deposit discovery in 1862, and quickly grew in size towards the end of the 1800s. The town was cut off from all other cities, and only accessible via the Montana Trail.
In Bannack’s heyday, the mining town boasted 10,000 residents. It had bakeries, blacksmith shops, saloons, and even it’s own brewery.
The town was also home of Henry Plummer, who served a Bannack’s sheriff. However instead of protecting his town, he was secretly robbing them blind. Henry ran a gang of highwaymen called The Innocents.
These men would rob stage coaches as well as caravans and leave them for dead. It’s claimed The Innocents were responsible for over 100 murders.
The citizens of Bannack eventually caught on, and rallied a group of vigilantes to bring Plummer and his gang to justice. By 1864, Plummer’s rein of robberies and murder would come to a swift end.
Plummer, was hanged on his own gallows on January 10th. The vigilantes would up and hang another 22 bandits that were associated with Plummer. Like most ghost towns in the USA, Bannack was ripe with both crime, and vigilante justice.
As the gold in the mines dissipated, so did the people of Bannock. By 1954 preservationists had purchased the land, not to open it as a tourist attraction, but to save it as it was over 100 years ago.
3. Steins, New Mexico
The dusty ghost town of Steins was founded in 1880 after gold and silver deposits were discovered in the Peloncillo mountains.
The town grew as the Southern Pacific Railroad ran a rail line to the growing community. In 1905 a rock crushing plant was built nearby as well to help support the tracks.
Steins was so isolated from civilization, that their only source of water had to be brought via train. Even then, people lived and thrived in the town all the way up until the 1940s.
As World War II came to and, the quarry in Steins would also close. With the quarry ceasing operations, they would no longer be subsidizing the water that was coming into the town.
The locals were left with a choice. Leave everything behind, or eventually die of dehydration in the New Mexico desert. Steins is truly one of the most isolated ghost towns in the USA.
The railroad allowed for free transportation out of town, but residents could only take what they could carry. The town was completely deserted for 40 years until it was purchased by Larry and Linda Link.
They operated ghost tours from the property until Larry Link was unexpectedly murdered in 2011. The tours have since ceased, and the town sits vacant.
4. Castle Dome Landing, Arizona
Right on the California Arizona border sits the remains of Castle Dome Landing. When American’s first discovered the Castle Dome Mountains, there was already evidence of mining that had taken place, most likely by Native Americans.
Mineral and gold deposits were found up and down the Colorado river in the 1860s. Quickly prospecting camps sprouted up and Castle Dome Landing was born. Serious mining was delayed until nearly 1870 due to attacks by the Native Americans.
Castle Dome Landing was a hub for ore shipments to be sent out all across the county, but primarily to California. Soon the population would grow to nearly 3000 residents. Castle Dome was one of the first stops for steamboats traveling up the Colorado river. But like all boomtowns of it’s era, that was about to change..
By 1884 mining in the area had dwindled almost entirely.
It wasn’t until the beginning of World War I and II that the land was reused to produced lead for ammunition.
The town would continue to fluctuate in populate as the price of silver rose and fell. By 1978 the last mine had shutdown and there were no residents left. The original site of Castle Dome Landing has been flooded, but many artifact have been rescued and can be found in the Castle Dome Museum.
5. Bodie, California
Bodie is arguably one of California’s most famous ghost towns in the USA, and with all of its well preserved buildings, it’s easy to see why.
The town formed like all the other boomtowns, centralized around deposits of gold and silver. By 1879 Bodie had a population of nearly 7000 and all the amenities that would accommodate large towns.
But as time went on, other more promising mines would tempt miners with ‘get rich quick’ jobs. This lured many miners away, but the mines in Bodie were still strong.
The real decline started in 1920 when the Bodie Railroad was abandoned and scrapped. Nearly all the mining companies had left and all that remained were 120 residents, mostly family of miners who wanted to settle.
In 1940 nearly everyone was gone, and the threat of vandalism and arson loomed as the abandoned town sat unprotected. Caretakers were hired to protect the historic town, and by 1960 the Bodie State Historic Park was formed.
Today 110 original structures remain standing for anyone to explore. If you’re looking for ghost towns in the USA with plenty of buildings to explore, Bodie is your place!
6. Garnet, Montana
Tucked away in the sleepy hills of the Garnet Mountains is a cluster of decaying buildings that have manged to withstand the tests of time for over 100 years.
By the mid 1800s the gold rush was in full swing. Miners had panned the nearby rivers so much, its was deemed unprofitable. Luckily a few found gold rich veins in the Garnet mountains, and the town seemed to pop up over night.
By 1898 nearly 1000 people lived in Garnet. Buildings were quickly and hazardously constructed often times with little to no foundation. There was not time for that, there’s golden nuggets to be found!
But the fortune finding was very short lived. By 1905 nearly a million dollars worth of gold was removed from Garnet, and as more ore was extracted, the mines quickly became less profitable
Only 150 people remained in the mostly abandoned town, and by 1940 it was completely empty. It’s now open to explore and remains in a state of arrested decay.
7. Calico, California
Unlike most ghost towns we’ve covered, Calico was known mostly for it’s vast amount of silver. Yet, that still couldn’t save it from it’s eventual demise.
Calico was home of the states largest silver mines, the Silver King Mine which produced the most silver in all of California. By 1890 the town had 3500 residents and a diverse population of Americas, Chinese, English, and French.
Unfortunately as fast as Calico boomed, it would bust.
In that same year, the Silver Purchase Act was enacted, driving down the price of silver. Silver would eventually bottom out at 0.57 cents per ounce. By 1900 the schools had closed their doors, and the post office had ceased operations. Calico was officially dead.
The land the town was on was bought privately, but then sold to the state in 1966. Ever since it’s been a historic landmark and has hosted ghost hunts, camping, and other seasonal events.
8. Centralia, Pennsylvania
Known for being the inspiration for the film Silent Hill, Centralia is one of the most infamous and modern ghost towns in the USA.
Centralia wasn’t known for its treasures or rare metals, but an equally vital resource of the time, coal.
The town was settled in the mid 1800s, as several coal mines and a railroad were created to support this new community.
But there was trouble from the start..
In 1878 members of the Molly Maguries, an Irish secret society assassinated the founder of Centralia Alexander Rae. The leaders of the gang were hanged in 1877.
Centralia thrived much longer than most boomtowns, and reached a population of nearly 3000 people by the turn of 1900. The stock market crash of 1929 would challenge the towns economy, as 5 major coal mines closed. The town would inevitably survive another 50 years.
In the spring of 1962 the town would burn it’s garbage as it has always done in the past, however this action would be the entire area’s downfall.
Hot ash from the fire ignited a strip mine below and would start an underground fire that is still burning to this day. As time passed the fire slowly spread through the vast network of coal veins below the city.
While the fire burned on noxious smoke poured from small holes in the ground and sinkholes began swallowing portions of nearby roads and homes.
As the turn of the century approached the people of Centralia were divided. One half wanted the leave, the other half didn’t think the fire was a true threat. But it wouldn’t matter. By 1992 the government evoked eminent domain and relocated nearly all of the residents.
Nearly everyone took the relocation offer accept for 7 residents who fought to keep their home, and their land. After many long drawn out court hearings the 7 residents won.
They were awarded roughly $340,000 for the value of their homes are were allowed to live in their homes for the rest of their lives.
Even today on cold nights you can see smoke billow up from parts of the abandoned highway, or at the fire ventilation pipes just south of town.
9. Kennecott, Alaska
The ghost town of Kennecott takes us to the far reaches of the Alaskan wilderness where explorers and investors try to tame the land for the sake of fortune.
A prospector by the name of ‘Tarantula Jack” and another man who clearly doesn’t have a cooler nickname, stumbled upon a massive stretch of malachite. A closer look revealed that this area was rich in copper. Then men and their company would stake claim to the land.
Soon after, funding was secured to develop the area, and the Alaskan Syndicate was formed and 30 million in startup capital was secured to extract the precious copper.
Soon, railroads were built, steamship lines were formed, and the town of Kennecott was born in 1911. At it’s peak year, the mines were able to generate over 34 million dollars in revenue.
The mining operation was in full swing until a geologist in 1925 determined that that high quality copper ore was dwindling quickly. By 1938 all the mines had closed Kennecott was officially a ghost town.
It wasn’t until 1980 that the area was considered a protected natural park preserve. Fun fact, some of the best preserved ghost towns in the USA are protected by national parks.
10. Batsco Village, New Jersey
Batsco village’s history dates back all the way to 1776 when an iron master by the name of Charles Read built the first iron works along the river. The area was plentiful with bog ore and other natural resources that made the land a perfect place for a village.
Unlike the ghost towns, there was no boom here. No massive gold, or silver rush. Batsco’s economy was primarily dependent on the iron ore stored along it’s river. Eventually by the mid 19th century demand for iron had fallen and the town needed a new source of income.
Around 1878 a businessman purchased the struggling town and restored many of the buildings and properties that were falling into disrepair. This effort however did not bring back the population the town once had in it’s heyday.
During the 1960s the village was considered historic and protected. A few families remained that were descendants from the original founder. The last family left as late as 1989.
11. Two Guns, Arizona
Two Guns has an ancient and bloody past that dates all the way back to 1050 AD where native American’s first called this land home.
The land was recognized as a great place to pass the Diablo Canyon and was a natural meeting point for drifters and travelers making their way out west. Two Guns has the most unique history of any of the ghost towns in the USA.
Apache Death Cave
In 1878 a group of Apaches hid out in a cave from their Navajo enemies. They were spotted by the warring tribe and surrounded. The Navajo lit sagebrush on fire at the cave exit.
Any Apache that tried to escape was shot, and the rest asphyxiated to death. In total 42 Apaches died. The cave is now known as the Apache Death Cave.
Billy The Kid & The Wild West
Two Guns fell into the spotlight again as infamous outlaw Billy The Kid used the nearby ruins as a hide out to avoid the law after a stagecoach robbery.
In the late 1880s the Santa Fe Railway ran right along Two Guns, making this place even more of a settlement for gamblers, drifters, and outlaws. In 1889 four bandits stole over $100,000 worth of currency as well as jewelry, silver and gold for a train passing through Two Guns.
They fled on horseback but captured shortly after. The stolen good were never recovered. Years later one man confessed that the treasure was buried in the canyon rim near Two Guns. The gold and money have never been found.
Chief Crazy Thunder
In 1925 Harry Miller leased the land in Two Guns and wanted to capitalize on it’s history as much as possible. He declared himself as Chief Crazy Thunder and began clearing out the Apache Death Cave. He sold the their skulls as Indian relics.
Miller built a zoo with mountain lions, snakes and cougars to bring even more travelers in. Electricity was ran through the death cave and tours were given from the cave to along the canyon.
In 1926 the road running by Two Guns was named the now famous Route 66. That same year Miller had a falling out with the land owners and shot and killed Earle Cundiff. He was later acquitted of the murder.
Miller left the state and the zoo animals were relocated elsewhere. The only thing to takes it’s place in the coming years would be a service station in the 1960s. That eventually burned down and the place has been abandoned ever since.
Today you can explore the ruins of the old cottages, the burned down gas station as well as the Apache death cave itself.
12. Picher, Oklahoma
Picher was formed in the early 1900s as massive deposits of zinc and lead ore where discovered on the land. The demand for zinc and lead has high and lasted all the way through both World Wars. Picher is one of the more modern ghost towns in the USA.
During this time, there was no regulations restricting mining, or any environmental protections to protect the land and people of Picher. Slowly large chat piles formed as they were removed from the mines during zinc and lead extraction.
The residents would slowly find out that this chat would be responsible for their contaminated drinking water as well as their air quality.
As people began to get sick and underground mine collapses created massive sinkholes, the towns population quickly diminished. A few residents stuck it out and refused to leave.
In 2008 a tornado ripped though what remained of the battered mining down and destroyed much of what was left. By 2010 all remaining residents were offered federal aid to relocate as the town was deemed uninhabitable.
The chat piles still remain and you can find a few empty home tucked away in the corners of former communities. You can read more about the story of Picher here.
13. Rhyolite, Nevada
On the edge of death valley sits the ghost town of Rhyolite, which rose just as fast at is fell. Founded in 1905 it was built primarily for miners who were chasing the dream of striking it big in the Bullfrog Mining District.
Industrialist Charles Schwab bought the nearby mine and heavily invested in electricity, piped water, telephone systems, and even a stock exchange. These investments contributed greatly to the rapid growth of Rhyolite.
But by 1907 investors were hesitant to continue their contributions, as massive earthquakes just hit San Fransisco and the panic of 1907 was in full swing. By 1911 the last mine was closed, nine years later the population would fall from 1000, to zero.
Ever since the town has sat empty and decaying. It’s now a tourist attraction, and sometime the ruined town is used as a backdrop for movies and music videos.
14. Goldfield, Arizona
Goldfield sits between the Superstition Mountains and was a classic boomtown during the gold rush era. Gold was discovered around Goldfield (hence it’s name) and thus the town was born in 1892.
The promise of riches brought in miners from every corner of the state. The mining continued on for five years until the gold ore dried up. Most miners moved on, but some stubborn ones stayed, insisting there was more that was missed. By 1920, everyone was gone.
Today the town is mostly a tourist attraction with zip-lines, restaurants, and train rides. Many of the buildings have been restored, but in my opinion the place feels too much like an amusement park, and less like a ghost town.
15. Terlingua, Texas
In the mid 1800s it wasn’t anything fancy that drew people to this section of Texas, it was a different kind of precious metal. Mercury.
Legend has it that the mineral cinnabar which contains mercury, was used by natives to create hieroglyphs. It wasn’t until the mid to late 1800s that large quantities of the material get processed.
Due to the mines running dry earlier than expected, and an overall lack of funding, the mining operations were cut short and the town around it fell into a state of disrepair. Miners left and took their families with them.
By 1940, the town was vacant. There are some original structures that still stand to this day. There are plenty of little stores and outdoor activities you can do if you’re nearby.
16. Thurmond, West Virginia
The ghost town of Thurmond is nestled away in the hills of West Virginia and as of 2010 only had 5 people living there.
Captain W.D Thurmond of the confederate army was awarded a hunk of land for completing a series of surveying jobs for the army. He settled on the land in 1873, and by 1888 Thurmond was a town of it’s own.
There were two hotels, a bank, and even a red light district in Thurmond. The town was built right around the railway and was only accessible via train up until 1921.
In 1930 the Dun Glen hotel burned to the ground, and marked the decline of the town. Over the years less people stopped by, or settled down in the region and the slow burn of Thurmond began.
Much of the area hasn’t changed since the early 1900s. It is free to explore and currently owned by the Thurmond Historic District.
The best time to visit is fall, when all the leaves are changing.
17. Bulowville, Florida
The swampy town of Bulowville was first carved out of the Flordia coastline in 1831. But this wasn’t a ‘town’ full of citizens. It was more of a plantation full of slaves.
A merchant by the name of Charles Burlow used slave labor to clear 2200 acres of land to plant rice, cotton, and cane sugar crops. This was no small operation, and required the use of 197 men, women and children to complete.
These slaves lived in 47 cabins that were build in a half circle around Burlow’s estate. There was also a community hall where the slaves sung songs, and passed on hidden messages to each other.
In 1836 tensions and violence between the Seminole tribes and white settlers peaked at an all time high. Florida was on cusp of the Second Seminole War.
Burlow disagreed with the decision to move the natives west of the Mississippi, so he did what any reasonable person would and fired a cannon at the state militia commanders home.
He was arrested for his actions, but released shortly after. Due to the hostility of the natives in the area, Burlow along with most other white settlers decided to abandon their estates and flee north.
As Burlow fled north the slaves escaped and the Seminole tribes burned the entire plantation and his estate to the ground.
Now all that remains are the charred ruins of Burlow’s sugar mill and a few wells. The plantation and cleared land has been retaken by nature and is almost unrecognizable to what it was over 100 years ago.
18. Bombay Beach, California
Bombay Beach was once a thriving community and summer getaway spot for Californians. It’s now a shell of what it was in it’s glory days and has less than 300 residents.
Bombay Beach in the 50s and 60s was an oasis where you could swim during the day, and party into the night. But all that changed when the Salton Sea suddenly turned sour. (say that three times fast!)
Since the Salton ‘Sea’ isn’t really a sea at all, but a massive lake there is no where for the water to go. Overtime agricultural runoff started to poison the water and increase it’s salinity dramatically.
Soon the beaches were filled with the foul stench of rotting fish that permeated the resorts and surrounding areas. People who lived in the area quickly left, and the resort was left abandoned.
Squatters and artists now claim the hollow and vacant structures along the coast of Bombay Beach. If you visit there’s a ton of art and interesting places to explore. I just wouldn’t go for a swim…
19. Oatman, Arizona
Oatman is a magical place, and truly one of my favorite stops along the infamous route 66. It’s filled with donkeys, abandoned mines, and ghost town relics. What more could you ask more?
Oatman was formed after two lucky prospectors stumbled upon $10 million dollars worth of gold in the area in 1915. The name Oatman was chosen to commemorate Olive Oatman, a girl who was kidnapped by natives in 1851. The story goes that she was sold into slavery, but then eventually adopted by another tribe. They tattooed her face, and took her in as her own.
For more than ten years Oatman was one of the largest producers of gold in the American West. The town was ravaged by a fire in 1921 but still continued produce and process gold ore.
In 1924 the mines were ordered to shutdown in order to help produce other metals for the war. By the time Oatman ceased mining operations, it had produced over $200 million dollars worth of gold in todays rates.
Oatman struggled to stay prosperous during this time. Luckily the town was able to cater to people passing through route 66 and build a reputation as a tourist stop.
If you’re traveling route 66 or find yourself passing near Oatman I would highly advise stopping by.
Other Ghost Towns In The USA
Believe it or not, there are hundreds of ghost towns in the USA. Not all of them have buildings left to explore, but you never know what you’ll find. If you’re looking for ghost towns near you be sure to check out Wiki’s list of ghost towns.