If you drive long enough around the U.S. — especially through the American West — you’ll likely come upon a ghost town or two, once-bustling communities abandoned when the gold, minerals and money ran out.
Stop, wander what’s left and ponder how life existed in the 19th century when the rush to strike it rich created these now-forgotten boomtowns.
Our search for the best ghost towns across the U.S. reveals various states of preservation and decay. Here are 10 of our favorite ghost towns across America, all places where you can escape the modern world and reminisce about life in days gone by.
In the 1880s, Bodie, California, was a thriving Gold Rush town with more than 2,000 buildings and a population of 10,000. Today, it’s a national historic site and the nation’s largest unreconstructed ghost town with about 100 original buildings preserved in a state of “arrested decay.” Bodie State Park’s remaining buildings include a preserved bank, jail, schoolhouse, saloons, dance halls and a gold mill. Although it might be tempting to take home a memento, be wary – rumors say bad luck befalls people who remove artifacts. Visit in the summer months – due to its high elevation in the Sierra Nevada range, Bodie is one of the coldest places in the contiguous U.S.
One of the most photographed — and recognizable — ghost towns in the West, Ryolite has been a favorite Old West movie location since Paramount pictures restored the Bottle House in 1925. Today you can find several remnants of Rhyolite’s glory days. Some of the walls of the three-story bank building are still standing, as is part of the old jail. The train depot is one of the few complete buildings left in the town, as is the Bottle House. Rhyolite, which straddles both federal and private land, is a good side trip from Death Valley, located about 40 miles north of the park.
A long-standing mining town founded in 1877, Ruby was the leading lead and zinc producer in Arizona from 1934-1937. Perhaps because of its long history, it is one of the best-preserved ghost towns in Arizona. About 25 buildings still stand, including the old jail, several houses, a school and playground and old mine machinery and buildings. Ruby gained fame with two double murders in 1920. The town is on private property south of Tucson and only recently opened to visitors, who can now hike, camp, and fish on the site.
Located on the Texas-New Mexico state line along old Route 66, Glenrio fell into disrepair in the 1970s when Interstate 40 bypassed the town. Today, the Glenrio Historic District includes the old Route 66 roadbed and 17 abandoned buildings. You can still identify the Little Juarez Diner, the State Line Bar, and the State Line Motel whose sign reads “Motel, Last in Texas” to travelers arriving from the east, and “Motel, First in Texas” to traffic entering town from the west.
Silver City lies in the Owyhee Mountains in southwestern Idaho. Founded in 1864, the original gold and silver mining town has 40 preserved buildings, and is a rare example of a ghost town that has not been fixed up for tourists or destroyed by modernization or natural disasters such as fires. Silver City had the first telegraph service and daily newspaper in Idaho. The old hotel still stands, with objects used by past guests still lying around the rooms. Although it is in disrepair, there are 20 rooms upstairs with modest modern facilities that guests can stay in. Instead of asking for payment on a room, the owner of the hotel asks guests to leave a donation if they had a good experience staying in a truly abandoned building in the midst of this ghost town. Be aware visiting this town that there are few guest amenities.
Located 20 miles west of Yellowstone National Park, Virginia City is a restored Victorian gold mining town protected as a National Historic Landmark. Very much an alive ghost town, performers wander the streets among its mix of abandoned buildings, functioning shops, and a period-style theater puts on nightly shows. Living history activities and events feature actors in period dress demonstrating historic skills and sharing old world techniques. Virginia City was the territorial capital of Montana for 10 years and served as an outfitting point for trips to the Yellowstone area.
Formerly called Home On the Range, Jeffrey City is a small town located in Fremont County, just off of the historic Oregon, Mormon and California Trails. The city flourished when uranium mines boomed during the cold war era and later busted when the mine closed in the 1980s. Today, a church, the Split Rock Bar and Café, and a pottery studio serve tourists and the population of 108 residents. Various derelict buildings, including a post office and a large school building and gymnasium remain in the town.
Nestled in a narrow canyon in the Ortiz Mountains, Madrid is an 1850s coal mining community and recovered ghost town now home to a vibrant artists’ community. Galleries, shops, restaurants, a bed and breakfast, grocery store, saloon and Coal Mine Museum fill once-abandoned storefronts. Preserved remnants of old mining houses are mixed with restored and functioning businesses in this town located along the Turquoise Trail, a national scenic byway linking Albuquerque and Santa Fe.
Settled in 1737 at the height of the colonial era, Monson Village was one of New Hampshire’s first inland settlements. Today, the restored 1856 Gould House and the foundations and cellar holes of several original homes are all that remain. More park than ghost town, this 221-acre site includes a network of trails, allowing you to follow the paths of the town and recreate what this village must have looked like as a thriving community.
Elk Falls, with a population of about 100 permanent residents, bills itself as the world’s largest living ghost town, a slogan that helped draw artists — and new life — to the southeastern Kansas region. The town is now home to Elk Falls Pottery, The Tannery and the Saw Mill. You too can experience what it’s like to live in a ghost town, with a stay at the 1879 Sherman House Bed & Breakfast Inn.