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16 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
Contributors
Sarah Medina
&
Erika Mailman
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Entering a ghost town in the USA provides the chance to see a snapshot of life in the past—it’s not always Wild West towns with the saloon door swinging open and closed; it’s sometimes a more modern place where everyone had to jam for some reason. You get to walk around and wonder about these mysterious lives and why people cleared out. You may find furnishings still intact, dishes still on the table as if the inhabitants just wandered away for a moment. Bring your camera to document the eerie rooms and yards where once, people bustled around leading busy lives. And sometimes, just like the name says, you might encounter a ghost still mulling over their tragic bad luck.

Don’t forget to visit the scariest real-life haunted houses, take yourself on a ghost tour or pay your respects at the most hauntingly beautiful graveyards.

Now, if you’re hardcore enough to spend the night where ghosts are ready to pounce, here’s our look at the most haunted hotels and Airbnbs.

Ghost towns in the USA

An underground mine fire gone seriously wrong led to this modern ghost town 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 1983, most of the town was evacuated, and in 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's fire is still burning today — and expected to burn for another 250 years — four residents still live in the doomed town as of 2020 (sounds like they’re playing with fire, if you ask us). Only five homes remain standing in this town. 

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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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 the schoolhouse still has lessons on the chalkboard. Be warned: bad luck is said to befall anyone who steals anything from the site while visiting. 

 

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. Today you can take a two-hour guided tour (the only official way to get into the town with its 14-story mill) with St. Elias Alpine Guides. Make sure to also visit the Root and Kennecott glaciers, too.

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This ghost town near Death Valley National Park was once a bustling ore mining community. In 1904, gold was found within its quartz (rhyolite is a silica-rich volcanic rock which contains quartz, hence the town name), and the game was on with 2,000 claims in a 30-mile area. Soon, Rhyolite boasted a hospital, an opera house, and even a stock exchange. In 1906, Charles M. Schwab spent several million on its Montgomery Shoshone mine. Unfortunately, following the 1907 financial panic, businesses were shuttered and residents began to move out. In 1916, light and power were turned off, and the town went ghost. Today, Rhyolite is perhaps best recognized as the set for ScarJo's 2005 sci-fi thriller The Island.

Cahawba was the state's first capital from 1820 to 1825, situated at the junction of two rivers. After the war, the legislature was moved to Selma and the town lost business and populationand periodic flooding wreaked havoc. Today, it's visitable as Old Cahawba Archeological Park, which honors the history of the Native American presence there, as well as the years when many freedmen  and women lived there. You can see abandoned streets, cemeteries and building 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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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 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: the Glenrio Historic District includes 17 abandoned buildings.

Like many ghost towns in the US, St. Elmo (originally called Forrest City) was once a thriving gold and silver mining community. When the gold and silver ran out and disease stalked the town, the population began to dwindle. The nail in the coffin was the end of train service to Chalk Creek Canyon in the '20s. A general store and Ghost Town 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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Early Spanish settlers first found silver in Nelson (then called Eldorado) in the 1700s. It took another hundred years for other prospectors — many of them Civil War deserters — to find gold, 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 led to murder. Nelson's mines remained active through the 1940s. Five miles away, an infamous 1974 flash flood destroyed the town of Nelson's Landing. Today, Nelson's buildings remain — the ghost town is now a popular location for photo, film, and music video shoots.

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 more than 50 of its original 1800s structures still stand and can be explored now that it's a state park.

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Sure, the middle of the Mojave Desert isn’t the first place you’d look for jolly old Saint Nick — and yet that didn’t stop this now-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 enough folks to move in. The decline of Route 66 sounded a death knell for the playing of Jingle Bells. 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).

In the early 1900s, the railroad kept this West Virginia town humming 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. Today, the National Park Service has restored the depot, and the town is on the National Register of Historic Places; you can take a self-guided tour of the now quiet town. Reach it by driving seven miles down a narrow, winding road.

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Calico once thrived with its busy silver mines, beginning auspiciously in 1881. But in the mid-1890s silver lost its value and the inhabitants skedaddled. Walter Knott purchased some of Calico’s buildings to disassemble and move them to Knott’s Berry Farm amusement park near Disneyland. He returned to purchase and restore Calico itself, which he later deeded back to the county; it’s now a county regional park that’s an accurate-looking ghost town if not wholly literal. There were once 500 mines here and now you can tour the Maggie Mine and 30 structures—shops, saloons, schoolhouse—and stay in a tent, bunkhouse or cabin overnight. In late October, watch for the “Ghost Haunt” weekend events.

This was your authentic Gold Rush mining camp, established in 1902, which at one time was the largest city in Nevada. The mines went bust and a flash flood spelled the town’s decline ten years before a fire put things to a conclusive end. Yet, about 250 people still live here among the remnants of the town with saloons, slanting homes, deserted hotel and shacks. It’s worth a visit to poke around this “living ghost town;” we especially recommend the said-to-be-haunted Mozart Tavern where locals treat visitors with especial kindness. Paranormal ghost tours take place here regularly, and the Goldfield Days in August temporarily fill the town back up to its boomtown population.

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There’s more than one Goldfield Ghost Town in the US, and this one in Arizona’s Superstition Mountains may provide less of that quiet contemplation of ruin and abandon than a ghost town usually provides; things are hopping here and the latest addition is a zipline. But there are tours of a legitimate century-old mine, a narrow gauge railroad, a walking ghost tour at night, seasonal historic gunfights over the contents of a Wells Fargo box, the typical gold-panning, and the not-typical chance to talk with a ‘floozy’ at Lu Lu’s Bordello. Bring the kids?

This place is huge, with 80 buildings and 300 mines (not all are safe to enter). It represents a salvaging of the once-booming mid-1800s settlement (only seven buildings are original), with reconstructions harking to the gold and silver mining claims enacted here. The tales here are impressive, with an 1863 mine owner attacked by 180 Apaches and left in an arroyo to be half-eaten by coyotes, and the wild chain of events that followed including an opium overdose, a stagecoach robbery and a fellow being shot trying to stop a lynching. There’s much more: an $800 million fluorescent minerals wall and a doomsday cult that wintered here, but we’ll just say it’s worth the visit.

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