A Guide to the Ten Best Ghost Towns in the United States
For many people, Halloween scares consist of movies and Halloween parties, with the occasional haunted house thrown in for good measure. However, there are more options for those seeking their Halloween thrills and one of the more exciting ways to enjoy Halloween is to visit a nearby-or not so nearby-ghost town.
Ghost towns are towns that were abandoned for any number of different reasons. In most cases, ghost towns are abandoned because they fulfilled their original purpose. Almost always, that original purpose was economic, for example, a town in the West that sprung up around a gold mine but was later abandoned because the gold was mined and the town’s residents moved elsewhere. Ghost towns carry a wide range of remnants of their former glory that can include simply bricks and rubble to completely abandoned structures or monuments to a town’s past glory. Depending on the town, explorers may be able to enter those buildings whether as part of a guided or unguided ghost town tour. Often, these ghost towns have local legends and ghost stories relating to the towns.
For Halloween, exploring a ghost town can be a fun option as it brings people closer to something that is really haunting. When visiting a ghost town, you can’t help but wonder why the town was abandoned, if it is haunted, and whether you are entirely safe from the supernatural while visiting.
With its vast expanse of land and shifting economic fortunes and trends over time, the United States is home to many ghost towns, particularly in the West and in the logging regions of the North and Midwest. The following guide to the best ghost towns will give you some options to visit.
Elizabethtown, New Mexico – Elizabethtown is one of the best ghost towns in the United States. It was a town that once thrived with over 7,000 residents but it was abandoned by 1917 once the gold that fueled its initial growth dried up. These days, visitors can see wide variety of remains of buildings and they can visit a museum that details the city’s history. It’s a good combination of ruins and historical preservation that will appeal to anyone interested in ghost towns and history.
Tombstone, Arizona – While not a completely abandoned town, this legendary western town is far past its glory days. The town still exists (it was founded in 1878), although the mining that propelled the town’s original fortunes has long since ceased. There are many buildings and sites reminiscent of the city’s past. Visitors will want to check out the Boot Hill Graveyard to see the graves of many outlaws, restored theatres and saloons, and the various museums. Because it’s still inhabited and because there has been ongoing restoration projects, it’s one of the more accessible ghost towns.
Cripple Creek, Colorado – Like Tombstone, Cripple Creek is a town that is still inhabited and one that pays homage to its more glorious past. The town was founded in 1891 as a gold camp following the discovery of gold near Pike’s Peak. In the intervening years, it boomed and even had its own stock exchange. By the 1940s, the mining all but ceased and the population dwindled. The town’s remaining residents have cultivated its rich history by restoring buildings and opening a variety of museums dedicated to preserving the town’s history.
Bodie, California -Bodie, California doesn’t look a whole lot different than it did in the past. The town boomed in the late 1800s and early 1900s, despite the fact that recurring fires damaged much of the town. A 1932 fire destroyed 95% of the town’s buildings and it never really recovered as most residents moved out of the town. It has been preserved by the State of California as a State Park and has been designated a National Historic Site. Many of the buildings still stand and there is park staff that can provide visitors with tours and information about Bodie legends and hauntings.
Canyon Diablo, Arizona – Located near Tombstone, Canyon Diablo was a city that was at one point more rough than the storied Tombstone and Dodge City. The town was founded when railroad construction came to a halt in 1890 because of an impassable canyon. It was characterized by lawlessness-gun fights, brothels, and saloons were the norm-because it was over 100 miles from the nearest law enforcement officers. However, once the railroad bridge was finally built over the canyon, the town began to die. Today, you can see-if your vehicle can make it along the rough and rocky road-the remains of the town’s cemetery, the trading post, the train depot, and many other buildings.
Two Guns, Arizona – If you are visiting Canyon Diablo or Tombstone, Two Guns is a ghost town worth checking out. The town is a bit different than other ghost towns on the list: it’s boom time was far more recent. The town was founded around the same time, but it grew to prominence once Route 66 and the National Highway Trail came to town. When Route 66 was in its heyday, the town was home to a thriving souvenir shop, restaurants, and even a zoo. However, once Interstate 40 was built and bypassed the city, it entered a period of slow decline and is now entirely abandoned although many buildings and even the zoo remain.
Garnet, Montana – Garnet is a true ghost town: it has no current inhabitants. Like so many ghost towns, the town came to prominence in the late 1800s when gold was found in the town’s vicinity. Gold fueled rapid growth and the town grew to 1,200 people at its peak. It declined when the gold ran out and the final nails in its coffin were a fire in 1912 that wiped out much of the town and the job opportunities offered elsewhere due to World War I. The town is now managed by the Bureau of Land Management who offers guided tours of the town. There are thirty buildings that remain, many of which have been restored. There are also stories of several haunted places in the ghost town-making it a great choice for a Halloween visit.
Cisco, Utah – Cisco was once a prominent railroad town. It offered a watering stop for the railroad that traveled between Grand Junction, Colorado and Salt Lake City, Utah and a town quickly grew up around the depot and water tank. In the 1920s, oil and gas discoveries further increased the town’s growth. However, the town began to fizzle when the railroad industry switched to diesel engines in the 1950s that rendered the need for water to power steam engines obsolete. While the town stayed around for several years due in part to the discovery of uranium in the region, it continued to decline and lost prominence as I-70 bypassed the town and the railroad stopped using the town. Now, it is completely abandoned, but there are several ruins for visitors to check out. It’s also worth noting that the town was used as a location in several films, including the popular Thelma and Louise.
Okaton, South Dakota – Most of the ghost towns in this list of the best ghost towns in the United States have been old frontier towns that are typical of what one thinks of when they think of the so-called “Wild West.” Okaton is an interesting ghost town that is an exception to that stereotype. The town-now almost completely abandoned minus a general store-is a farming town situated in the middle of the plains. There are several crumbling buildings including the city’s grain elevator and various houses. The town was established in the early 1900s as a base for railroad workers and many homesteaders followed suit, and for a few years, the town was a thriving railroad and farming community. But, railroad construction eventually moved further west-and with them many of the town’s residents-and homesteaders had difficulty in the harsh winters. The town is still inhabited, but few residents remain and there are plenty of crumbling buildings to see and photograph.
South Pass City, Wyoming – South Pass City was purchased in 1966 by the state of Wyoming who recognized the ghost town as an important aspect of the state’s history. Today, the town is home to 23 restored structures that contain some 30,000 historic artifacts. The city appears much as it did during its heyday and there are numerous tours offered for visitors. The town was founded in 1867 and was an important gold mining site with several different mines and thrived for several years, housing a U.S. military outpost and becoming a stop on the storied Oregon Trail. The town declined as mining veins dried up and became a ghost town in 1949 when the last of its permanent residents moved away.
If this list didn’t contain any ghost towns near your home, you might try the website GhostTowns.com which contains a comprehensive list of ghost towns across the country. While these might be the best ghost towns in the country, there are ghost towns in almost every state, leaving plenty of options for some good Halloween fun.
Ghost Towns and History of the American West, GhostTowns.com
Legends of America: A Travel Site for the Nostalgic & Historic Minded, LegendsOfAmerica.com