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12 eerie ghost towns in the USA you can actually visit

You might actually see a spirit at these long-forgotten, abandoned ghost towns in the USA

Written by
Shoshi Parks
Sarah Medina

As if frozen in time, you’ll find an array of ghost towns in the USA scattered across the landscape from the untamed West to the Eastern seaboard. In some of these abandoned communities, residents got out of town so fast they didn’t even bother to clear the dinner table.

A few of America’s ghost towns share similar stories of financial crisis or environmental disaster, while the bulk of abandoned communities were once bustling mining towns that shuttered after their mines tapped out. In some of these desolate places, you’ll find eerie stories of tragedy and, if you can believe it, even a few ghostly souls who stuck around to spook the occasional tourist.

These ghost towns are among the most creepy places in the country but they’re far from the only spots that’ll make the hair on the back of your neck stand up straight. If you’re a fan of the paranormal, check out our collections of the scariest real-life haunted houses and the most frightening ghost tours. And if that’s not quite spooky enough, you could always spend a night with a bunch of restless spirits at the country’s most disturbing haunted hotels. Go ahead, we dare you!

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Ghost towns in the USA

Centralia, PA
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1. Centralia, PA

A trash fire gone seriously wrong led to this modern ghost town that’s still in flames northwest of Philadelphia. In 1962, a fire accidentally spread to the town's old, underground mines and created sinkholes that spewed smoke and toxic fumes across the community. In 1981, the entire town was evacuated, and by 1992 its real estate was claimed under eminent domain and condemned by the state (delivering the final blow, the ZIP code was officially recalled in 2002). Despite the fact that Centralia is still burning today — and expected to burn for another 250 years — six residents still live in the doomed town (sounds like they’re playing with fire, if you ask us).

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The population of this gold mining town, located deep inside Idaho's Challis National Forest, peaked in 1896. Home to a massive stamp mill, the town had eight saloons and a tiny Chinatown complete with laundry services, a shoe store, and a joss house (a Chinese place of worship). But just 15 years after its boom, Custer's mills shut down and its residents had no choice but to leave their remote mountain home; by 1911, just two families remained. Most of the town still stands, however, and in 1981 it was added to the National Register of Historic Places. Its buildings are open seasonally for visitors and the original school now serves as a museum.

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Bodie, CA
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3. Bodie, CA

This Gold Rush-era town near Yosemite has stood eerily untouched for almost 100 years. Although it already showed signs of decline with dwindling numbers at the start of the 20th century, a series of fires forced the last remaining residents to flee the town, leaving it almost exactly as it was in the early 1900s. Dinner tables are still set, shops are still stocked with supplies, and restaurants are still poised to serve long-forgotten meals. Be warned: bad luck is said to befall anyone who shoplifts while visiting Bodie.

Visit Bodie, Yosemite and Lake Tahoe on this tour.

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Kennecott, AK
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4. Kennecott, AK

This preserved-in-time copper mining town is located at the end of a 60-mile-long dirt road in the middle of Alaska's Wrangell–St. Elias National Park (the largest national park in the USA). In its heyday, from around 1910 to 1940, Kennecott processed nearly $200,000,000 worth of copper. By 1938, however, the mine was empty and the Kennecott Copper Corporation abruptly abandoned the operation, leaving everything behind. Despite once having enough infrastructure to indulge a skating rink and even a hospital, only a 14-story mill and the power plant remain today (well, that and the eerie voices of long-lost miners).  

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Rhyolite, NV
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5. Rhyolite, NV

Tucked in Death Valley, this ghost town was once a bustling mining community at the turn of the last century. After gold was discovered in the early 1900s, Charles M. Schwab invested, and by 1905 Rhyolite boasted a hospital, an opera house, and even a stock exchange. Unfortunately, following the 1907 financial crisis, the town was almost completely abandoned by 1912. Today, Rhyolite is perhaps best recognized as the set for many 1920s Westerns, as well as 1965's The Return and Michael Bay’s sci-fi thriller The Island.

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Cahaba, AL
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6. Cahaba, AL

Before the Civil War, Cahaba was a bustling trade city located at the junction of the Alabama and Cahaba Rivers (it was even the state's first capital from 1820 to 1825). After the war, the town became a community for freed slaves. By 1900, however, flooding caused the town to be completely abandoned. Today, you can still walk the streets of Cahaba and see the ruins—just make sure to keep your eyes peeled for the ghostly “orb” that's been known to appear in the garden maze at the home of C.C. Pegues.

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Glenrio, NM/TX
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7. Glenrio, NM/TX

Straddling the border between New Mexico and Texas, Glenrio was an action-packed stop on Route 66 for decades. From the 1940s until the 1960s, the tiny town's gas stations, diners, bars, and motels were always packed with road-trippers passing through the Southwest. But when I-40 was built in the 1970s, drivers no longer stopped in Glenrio, and the town fell into disrepair. Not all is lost, however: even though it’s closed, you can still swing by the State Line cafe and motel for a look at this former pit stop.

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St Elmo, CO
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8. St Elmo, CO

Like many ghost towns in the U.S., St. Elmo (originally called Forrest City) was once a thriving mining community. The end of train service to Chalk Creek Canyon in 1926 caused the town population to dwindle and by the 1950s it was a bonafide ghost town. Only seven people reportedly stuck it out in St. Elmo, including the family who ran the general store and the hotel—rumor has it they’re still around, haunting the town even today. The general store and guest house are still operating, surprisingly, which means visitors can spend the night in this ghost town even if the scene is a little, well, unlively

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Nelson, NV
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9. Nelson, NV

Early Spanish settlers first found gold in Nelson (then called El Dorado) in 1775. It took another hundred years for other prospectors — many of them Civil War deserters — to catch on, creating the largest booms Nevada had ever seen. When they did, all hell broke loose: disputes over the Techatticup Mine, the town's most notorious site, frequently to murder. Nelson's mines remained active through 1945, but once its gold, silver, copper, and lead had been stripped, regular flash flooding made the town virtually uninhabitable. Even after most people moved on, its buildings remained — the ghost town is now a thriving tourist trap and a rather creepy location for photo, film, and music video shoots.

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Bannack, MT
Photograph: Shutterstock/Karin Hildebrand Lau

10. Bannack, MT

Paranormal enthusiasts may already know about this desolate former mining town in Montana — it’s featured in the Travel Channel's Ghost Adventures. The Gold Rush-era city was known in its time for being a little rough (holdups, robberies, and murders were well documented on the route to nearby Virginia City) and the sheriff of Bannack was a rumored outlaw. The town was abandoned by the 1950s, but many of its original structures still stand and can be explored even today.

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Santa Claus, AZ
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11. Santa Claus, AZ

Sure, the middle of the Mojave Desert isn’t the first place you’d look for jolly old Saint Nick — and yet that hasn’t didn’t stop this abandoned town in Arizona from dedicating itself to all things Christmas. Realtor Nina Talbot founded the town in 1937 in an attempt to attract buyers to the desert, and while Santa Claus was popular with tourists for a bit, all the Christmas spirit wasn't enough to convince anyone to pack up and move. The town eventually fell into disrepair, and you can still see rundown red-and-white buildings along with forlorn tinsel for yourself (it’s not maintained, but you’re free to visit).

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Thurmond, WV
Photograph: Shutterstock/Malachi Jacobs

12. Thurmond, WV

In the early 1900s, the railroad kept this West Virginia town booming as a thriving depot for coal. As a major stop on the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway, Thurmond had it all — hotels, banks, a post office, and more. Sadly, the Great Depression, followed by the invention of the diesel train in the 1950s, put an end to Thurmond's prosperity. Less than 10 people still live in Thurmond today, and the train depot now serves as a museum and information center for travelers who come to raft along the New River.

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