5 Creepy Ghost Towns in California
There’s gold in them there hills! Or at least there was.
The California Gold Rush of the mid-1800s drew thousands of people way out west in search of fortune, and it changed the course of United States history. Many of them moved on after the boom and the communities went bust, leaving ghost towns behind to give us a modern glimpse at this bygone era.
Not all of the deserted towns in California were places where they mined for gold or silver, but most of them were.
More than 300 of them remain in some form or another today, and many of them are popular tourist attractions. These abandoned communities are fascinating places to visit, so we’ve put together a short list of 5 Must-See Ghost Towns in California along with great places to camp nearby.
What is a Ghost Town?
In many ways, a ghost town is a look into the past. Generally speaking, it’s a town, city or village that’s no longer inhabited.
A lot of ghost towns are former mining towns, while others were abandoned because of pollution or some type of disaster.
As an exception to the general rule, some places that were once ghost towns were revived at some point and have a second life. Ghost towns often have a colorful history, and many of them continue to tell their stories to new generations of people.
Bodie Ghost Town
In California’s high desert region, this once-thriving community near the Nevada line is a state park. Bodie stands almost as a monument to the gold mining era. It is truly frozen in time, and today’s visitors can revisit those mining days in many ways.
The 500-acre Bodie State Historical Park is a popular place – during the peak summer months there can be up to a thousand visitors a day! (A word of warning: there are no concessions in the park, so bring some drinks and snacks.)
Today, visitors to Bodie can:
- Learn about the discovery of gold here in 1859.
- See shops, hotels, and homes that have been carefully preserved.
- Visit the town’s cemetery to “get to know” who lived here.
- Take a self-guided walking tour.
- Check out the very interesting bookstore and grab some souvenirs.
Nearby Camping: Willow Springs Motel and RV Park
Just five miles south of Bridgeport is the cool and quaint Willow Springs Motel and RV Park. It has retro charm that evokes the 1950s and opportunities for hiking, fishing, swimming and 4-wheeling. RVers can expect 24 pet-friendly sites with full hookups and wifi, clean laundry and showers, a community campfire area and even a place to pitch horseshoes.
Calico Ghost Town
At its peak, Calico had more than 500 silver mines that generated around $20 million during its very lucrative heyday.
Since the 1950s, this town near Barstow in the Mojave Desert has had a new life as what can be described as a ghost town theme park. This is because of the efforts of Walter Knott, the same man who established the famous Knott’s Berry Farm amusement park. He restored many of the old buildings, so it truly gives a clear picture of the way things used to be.
Calico is a truly one of the most unique ghost towns in California.
But there are modern conveniences here, too – there’s even a Starbucks in one of the historic structures!
Today, visitors to Calico can:
- Tour the Maggie Mine to learn how silver ore was extracted.
- Explore antique mining exhibits and classic photographs of the operation.
- Take a paranormal tour (yep, some believe there are ghosts in this ghost town).
- Climb aboard the Calico Odessa Railroad for an 8-minute trip.
- Be amazed and puzzled inside the famous Calico Mystery Shack.
Nearby Camping: Calico Ghost Town Regional Park
The Calico Ghost Town Regional Park has cabins and bunkhouses for rent as well as RV sites, some with full hookups. Many visitors take advantage of fishing, hiking and kayaking opportunities, also. It’s a bit rustic, with good views of the mountains. Some of the narrow sites are more level than others.
Once a big producer of silver and lead, the Cerro Gordo mines were later a bustling tourist attraction before falling silent again. The town is now home to a fellow named Brent Underwood, who bought it in 2018 with hopes of reviving it for more visitors looking for an authentic ghost town experience.
High above Death Valley in the Inyo Mountains, Cerro Gordo (which means “fat hill” in Spanish) has some spooky stories to tell. Cerro Gordo was a violent place in its mining days that historians say averaged a murder a week. Cerro Gordo definitely tops the list for must-see ghost towns in California!
A trip to Cerro Gordo is for the truly adventurous because getting here isn’t easy – it’s 30 miles from the nearest store and 7 miles down a mountain road that’s narrow and unpaved.
Today, visitors to Cerro Gordo can:
- Visit remaining buildings, including a general store.
- Count bullet holes in the walls of the saloon.
- Get a personal tour from the caretaker and hear his incredible stories.
- Take photos so your friends will believe a place like this exists.
Nearby Camping: Boulder Creek RV Resort
Boulder Creek RV Resort is just 23 miles away in Lone Pine with full hookups and roomy dirt sites with a fire ring and small picnic table. There’s a pool, a playground and well-stocked store Also, the wifi is good.
Allensworth’s unique history is quite a bit different than the others on our list. This farming community in the San Joaquin Valley (halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco) was established in 1908 by African Americans trying to avoid the discrimination they found elsewhere.
The founder, U.S. Army Col. Allen Ainsworth, used Tuskegee, Alabama as his model. The town was abandoned after there were problems with its water supply. Most of the buildings were torn down after arsenic was found in the soil. Since 1974 it has lived on as a State Historic Park.
Today, visitors to Allensworth can:
- Enjoy a guided tour of the park.
- See the exhibits in the park’s visitor center.
- Learn about the few buildings that exist from the town’s past.
- Pack a picnic lunch and have a peaceful outing.
- Watch sandhill cranes at the nearby Pixley National Wildlife Refuge.
Nearby Camping: Colonel Allensworth State Historic Park
The Colonel Allensworth State Historic Park has15 large RV sites with asphalt pads and shade structures, a picnic table and fire ring. There are also bathrooms and showers on site. They even have great cell service.
Once a resort playground, the community of Bombay Beach near Palm Springs was left for dead when the Salton Sea, which was once California’s largest lake, began drying up. As it evaporated, it left large open beaches that were no longer part of a shore, and there was also an unpleasant odor from dying fish.
Improbably, it has revived itself in the last decade as a destination for artists and their creative endeavors. With offbeat paintings and metal sculptures all over the place, it’s desolate but beautiful in many strange ways. (You have to see this place for yourself before you can even imagine it!)
- Stop in at the visitor center to better understand the history.
- Peel your eyes for the unusual at The International Banana Museum.
- Visit the Polaroid Museum filled with vintage snapshots.
- Tour the Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge.
- Grab a beer at the Sea Inn, the only public bar in town.
- Check out the washed-out remains at the Bombay Beach Ruins.
Nearby Camping: Fountain of Youth Spa RV Resort
The natural artesian hot springs at the Fountain of Youth Spa RV Resort are acclaimed for their restorative and healing qualities. A great place to relax? You bet.
On top of that, you can expect over 800 sites with full hookups and luxury accommodations like full-service kitchens, a fresh produce market, convenience store, RV and car wash… They also have a grooming station for dogs!
Our list of ghost towns in California is literally just scratching the surface. There’s so much to see in this enormous state, and its heritage is incredibly varied. But checking out these ghost towns for yourself will definitely give you a different perspective on history, and many of them are surrounded by gorgeous scenery. It’s educational and eye opening, and it’s just good fun!
Here are more spooky ghost towns across America:
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