10 American Ghost Towns You Can Visit

A street in Bodie, California
A street in Bodie, California
iStock.com/Richard Vinson

Towns populated with actual people are so overrated. Why elbow your way through crowded hotels and restaurants when you can stroll through eerie ruins and have the place all to yourself—except for maybe a few spirits? The 19th century saw hundreds of resource-based towns spring up across the American West, many of which died when the resources dried up. Others emptied out after natural disasters such as floods and earthquakes, never to be rebuilt. And while there are ghost towns all over the world (Japan’s Battleship Island was once the site of a vast coal mining facility; the diamond mining town of Kolmanskop, Namibia, was full of grand buildings before the desert started swallowing it up), the ghost towns of America have a special flavor. Here are 10 you can (safely) visit, as long as you don’t mind a few spooks.

1. Bodie, California

Founded during the Gold Rush by prospector W.S. Body, who discovered deposits of the precious metal in 1859 in nearby hills, Bodie is a ghost town preserved in a state of “arrested decay.” At its peak, this Wild West boomtown had a population of 10,000 people. Mining activities started to decline during the early 20th century, before shutting down completely by the 1940s. Today, Bodie (the spelling change apparently came from a painter’s mistake) is a State Historic Park, with more than 100 deserted buildings. Interiors are left just as they were when it became a historical landmark in 1962, and while you can’t go inside the buildings, you can peer through the windows of the still-stocked stores to see products your grandparents might have used. But watch out: Legend has it that anyone who takes an artifact from the town will be visited by a curse—though that might just be a sly preservation strategy.

2. Dunton Hot Springs, Colorado

Want to rent an entire ghost town for a wedding or corporate retreat? You're in luck. This former mining camp, whose population peaked at a few hundred people around 1905, once comprised about a mile of log structures along the West Dolores River. The mines were exhausted around 1918, when most people left the town, but two residents purchased the whole thing a few years later and began operating it as a cattle ranch. In the mid-20th century the place became a dude ranch for tourists, before being purchased by German investors in the 1990s and undergoing a major renovation. The new owners describe it as a “perfectly restored ghost town” where you can enjoy some rustic, old-fashioned ambiance alongside your meals, massages, and high-speed internet (but no cell phones, please).

3. Thurmond, West Virginia

The old depot in Thurmond, West Virginia
The old depot in Thurmond, West Virginia.
Brian M. Powell, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

Back in the days when America ran on coal, Thurmond thrived as a classic Appalachian boomtown. Area coal fields brought in more revenue than anywhere else on the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway, and local bank accounts bulged. At its height, during the early decades of the 20th century, Thurmond boasted two hotels, two banks, restaurants, a movie theater, and plenty of stores. But when coal usage declined and diesel took over, the town slipped into a decline. At the last census, the population was listed at 5. Today the National Park Service owns much of Thurmond, and has been repairing and stabilizing the abandoned buildings; they restored the local train depot as a visitor center in the 1990s.

4. Kennecott, Alaska

The Kennicott copper mine complex
The Kennicott copper mine complex

The abandoned buildings of the Kennecott mining town are nestled in America's biggest national park, Wrangell–St. Elias (at 13.2 million acres, it's bigger than Switzerland). During its boom years at the beginning of the 20th century, the mine produced about $200 million worth of copper ore, and the town had its own hospital, school, and skating rink, among other structures. Declining profits forced the mine to close in the late 1930s, and it decayed for decades, until the National Park Service bought it in 1998. The park service is now stabilizing the buildings, and runs a visitors center in the old general store.

5. St. Elmo, Colorado

A scene in the ghost town of St. Elmo
A scene in the ghost town of St. Elmo
Rolf Blauert/Dk4hb, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Once home to almost 2000 people lured by the area's gold and silver mines, St. Elmo was founded in 1880 but abandoned in the 1920s. Locals say the residents left on the last train out of town, and never came back. The place used to be home to dance halls, a school, hotels, and even a telegraph office, but is now mostly picturesque-looking dilapidated wooden structures. However, you can shop in the general store in the summer, rent ATVs, and stay in one local “semi-rustic” cabin.

6. Bannack State Park, Montana

Hotel Meade in Bannack, Montana
Hotel Meade in Bannack, Montana
U.S. Department of the Interior - Scenic Montana, Wikimedia // CC BY-SA 2.0

Bannack was named the first Territorial Capital of Montana in 1864, two years after a prospector named John White struck gold on Grasshopper Creek. (Bannack didn’t stay the capital for long, however—that title was transferred to Virginia City, Montana, shortly after gold was found there too.) Mining continued at Bannack in fits and starts until the 1930s, although the town wasn't entirely abandoned until the 1950s. It's now a well-maintained state park with more than 60 structures, many of which you can explore—a rare opportunity for a state-run ghost town.

7. Rhyolite, Nevada

The abandoned General Store in Rhyolite, Nevada
The abandoned General Store in Rhyolite, Nevada
Pierre Camateros, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

This town on the way to Death Valley was named for a local pinkish volcanic rock, but it was gold that drove its brief boom—and subsequent bust. Thousands flocked to Rhyolite after prospecting discoveries in the early 1900s, and no less than Charles M. Schwab invested in infrastructure that brought the town water, electricity, and the railroad. By 1907, locals even had an opera house. But local mines were quickly exhausted, and after the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 and the financial panic of 1907, most of the miners and their families decamped for greener (or golder) pastures. Rhyolite managed to stage a second act as a movie set for "Old West" pictures in the 1920s, and today there's an outdoor sculpture park, the Goldwell Open Air Museum, near the entrance to the town.

8. Cahawba, Alabama

A building in Cahawba, Alabama
A building in Cahawba, Alabama

toml1959, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

People once had big plans for Cahawba (also spelled Cahaba), Alabama’s first permanent capital, but its location on the confluence of two major rivers made it a major flood hazard. The town lost its capital status in 1826, but briefly rallied as a distribution point for cotton and the site of a prison for Union soldiers. After the Civil War, it became a popular community for freed slaves. But floods continued to bedevil the area, and by the early 20th century most of the buildings were abandoned. Today it’s Alabama’s best-known ghost town and an archeological park where visitors can see the abandoned streets, cemeteries, and other historic ruins.

9. Garnet, Montana

A miner's cabins in the ghost town of Garnet, Montana
A miner's cabins in the ghost town of Garnet, Montana

About a thousand people called Garnet home around the turn of the last century, but by 1905 the gold was running out. A massive fire in 1912 didn't help matters. Some of the population hung on until after World War II, but today the town is owned by the Bureau of Land Management, which works to stabilize the remaining two dozen buildings. The place is said to be Montana's most intact ghost town. In 2015, the BLM issued a call for live-in summer volunteers, but were so flooded with applicants they had to stop taking inquiries almost immediately.

10. Calico, California

Calico had a brief but shining heyday as a silver mining town in the 1880s and 1890s, with over 500 mines and $20 million of silver ore produced in 12 years. But when silver lost value in the 1890s, Calico lost its residents. In the 1950s, Walter Knott—of Knott's Berry Farm fame—bought the town and restored many of the buildings to their 1880s glory. It's now a major tourist attraction. In 2005, then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger proclaimed it "California's Silver Rush Ghost Town." (Not to be outdone, Bodie, California, was recognized as the state's “Official Gold Rush Town.”) There's a museum, a mine tour, a historic train tour, gold panning, and something called a "mystery shack," which promises to amaze and confuse with its optical illusions. This list was republished in 2019.

Journey to the Monarch Mosh Pit

iStock/Spondylolithesis
iStock/Spondylolithesis

Each fall, millions of migrating monarchs return to Mexico to wait out winter. The gathering makes Woodstock look like a business conference. Here’s how they get there.

Mosh Pit

In the mountains of central Mexico, the butterflies crowd on the branches of oyamel fir trees. The trees provide a perfect microclimate that prevents the butterflies from getting too hot or cold.

Texas Toast

After winter, the butterflies fly north to Texas in search of milkweed, where they lay their eggs. Many adults will die here; northbound monarchs generally live only three to seven weeks.

Juice Cleanse

One of the reasons monarchs love milkweed? Protection. As caterpillars, they absorb the toxins in the plant, which makes them less tasty to birds.

Connecting Flight

Eventually, a new generation of butterflies will make its way north to Canada. It takes multiple generations of butterflies to reach their final, most northerly destination.

Dine and Dash

On the way, butterflies will eat practically anything. Sure, there’s nectar—but they’ll also slurp the salts in mud.

Catching Air

When fall returns, a new generation of monarchs rides the air currents more than 3000 miles back to Mexico. They navigate by calibrating their body clocks with the position of the sun. (An internal magnetic compass helps them navigate on cloudy days.)

Latitude Adjustment

Monarchs “are one of the few creatures on Earth that can orient themselves both in latitude and longitude,” The New York Times reports—a feat sailors wouldn’t accomplish until the 1700s.

Southern Charm

Miraculously, each generation of southbound monarchs lives up to eight months—six times longer than their northbound descendants. Their longevity might have something to do with a process known as reproductive diapause (which is a fancy way of saying that the insects won’t breed until winter ends).

9 Abandoned Islands Reclaimed by Nature

Hashima Island in Japan
Hashima Island in Japan
FROSTEYe, iStock via Getty Images

There’s something especially atmospheric about an island left abandoned. The ruined buildings, overrun by animals and climbing plants, hint at dark stories and forgotten chapters in the island’s past. Below are nine (mostly) abandoned islands that have been reclaimed by nature, and the stories behind them.

1. Ilha da Queimada Grande // Brazil

A golden lancehead viper
A golden lancehead viper
Nayeryouakim, Wikimedia // CC BY-SA 4.0

Ilha da Queimada Grande is a beautiful, wild island 90 miles off the coast of São Paolo, Brazil. But this island is no paradise—it's home to between 2000 and 4000 golden lancehead vipers, one of the world's deadliest snakes. The island was cut off from the mainland 11,000 years ago when sea levels rose, and with no known predators on the ground, the snakes evolved into their own species of pit viper. The golden lancehead vipers have also taken over the entire island: Rumor has it that the only family who ever lived there (they moved to the island to run the lighthouse) all died after being bitten by the snakes. Today, travel to the island is tightly controlled, but whether this is to protect people from the deadly snakes, or to protect the critically endangered snakes from people, isn't entirely clear. Whatever the reason, this island is one that looks set to stay abandoned.

2. Hashima Island // Japan

Ruins in Hashima Island, Japan
Ruins in Hashima Island, Japan
FROSTEYe, iStock via Getty Images

In the 1950s, the 16-acre Hashima Island—also known as Battleship Island—was almost completely covered in high-rise apartments by the Mitsubishi Corporation, built in order to house the thousands of people who worked in the undersea mine beneath the island. But once the mines closed in 1974 the island was left to ruin, and the place now makes for an eerie modern ghost town. Its haunting atmosphere was put to good use in 2012 when it was used in the Bond film Skyfall as the villain’s lair. In 2015, in light of its importance to industrial history, the island was added to the UNESCO World Heritage list—a decision that involved some controversy, given that some of those who worked on the island were forced laborers from Korea.

3. Pollepel Island // New York

Bannerman Island Castle, Pollepel Island, New York
Bannerman Island Castle, Pollepel Island, New York
karenfoleyphotography, iStock via Getty Images

Pollepel Island (also often called Bannerman Island) is a 6.5-acre island in New York's Hudson River. The island was purchased in 1900 by entrepreneur Francis Bannerman as a place to store his excess stock of military surplus items. Bannerman designed an eccentric Scottish-style castle to house his wares, but construction on the building ceased in 1918 after his death. In 1920, 200 pounds of shells and gunpowder exploded in an accident, destroying part of the castle. After the ferry serving the island sank in 1950, the island and its ruined castle became effectively abandoned. New York State purchased Pollepel Island in 1967, but another fire two years later left the castle dangerously unstable, and since 1968 it has been off-limits to the public unless you're on a guided tour.

4. King Island // Alaska

An abandoned village in King Island, Alaska
An abandoned village in King Island, Alaska
Ansgar Walk, Wikimedia // CC BY-SA 3.0

King Island sits in the Bering Sea, some 40 miles from Cape Douglas, Alaska. At first glance it seems impossible that anyone could have ever called this steep, rocky outcrop home, and yet for a number of years, an indigenous community of Inupiat lived in wooden huts on stilts built onto the cliff face. The village, known as Ukivok, was home to up to 200 people who spent their days hunting seal and walrus. But after the Bureau of Indian Affairs closed the local school in 1959, the community began to diminish, until by 1970 it was completely abandoned. Amazingly, the wooden huts can still be seen, clinging on to the rocky cliffs, long out-lasting their former inhabitants.

5. Okunoshima Island // Japan

Wild rabbits on Japan's rabbit island, Okunoshima
Wild rabbits on Japan's rabbit island, Okunoshima
grassflowerhead, iStock via Getty Images

This tiny island in Japan was once used to manufacture and test poisonous gases, but it was deserted after World War II. Rabbits introduced to the island (possibly as test subjects for the poison gas) have, well, bred like rabbits, and now the island is home to thousands of the furry creatures. The plethora of cute rabbits have caused the island to become a popular tourist attraction, and people now flock to this once-deadly location to get their fill of fluffy bunnies. For those of a more macabre bent, the island also now features a small museum on poison gas.

6. Poveglia // Italy

Ruins on the island of Poveglia, Italy
Ruins on the island of Poveglia, Italy
Angelo Meneghini, Wikimedia // CC BY 3.0

This island is known as one of the most supposedly haunted abandoned islands in the world, and with good reason. Found in the Venetian Lagoon, Poveglia was once used to quarantine those afflicted with the plague. As a result, thousands of people lived out their last, miserable moments there and the island’s soil is rumored to be filled with human remains. A mental hospital was also built there in 1922. Poveglia has been abandoned since 1968, and the old hospital buildings reclaimed by nature, with a pervading atmosphere of death, madness, and misery still hanging heavy over the island.

7. Clipperton Island // Pacific Ocean

Remote Clipperton Island is about 1300 miles off the southwest coast of Mexico. Over the years, the United States, Mexico, France, and England all attempted to stake a claim on the island to mine the valuable guano there for use as fertilizer—but Clipperton's remote location and inhospitable, rocky coast made it difficult to access. As a result, by the 1910s the island was inhabited by just 26 people. The small settlement was soon forgotten, and supply ships no longer stopped there. With only fish, birds, and coconuts to eat, the islanders began to die, until only a reclusive lighthouse keeper, several women, and their children remained. Then things got even worse: The lighthouse keeper, Victoriano Álvarez, pronounced himself "king." For the next two years, he ruled over the island, terrorizing and enslaving the women and children. His reign was brought to an end in 1917 when one of his victims murdered him. Soon after, an American ship rescued the emaciated women and children, returning them to their families in Mexico, and leaving the island and its terrible history forgotten.

8. Hirta Island // Scotland

St Kilda, Scotland
St Kilda, Scotland
RobertKelly1972, iStock via Getty Images

Hirta is part of the St Kilda chain of islands in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland. The island is so remote it can take 18 hours by boat to reach its sole accessible bay, but rough seas and harsh weather often leave the island cut off. Archaeological evidence suggests people lived on the island beginning in prehistoric times, eking out an existence by hunting the many seabirds that call the island home. In 1930, the last residents asked to be sent to the mainland, because the inhospitable terrain, relentless bad weather, and lack of food made living there too hard. The island is now owned by the Scottish National Trust; in the summer months it temporarily houses scientists and volunteers, who study the puffins and gannets that now thrive there.

9. Ross Island // India

A Presbyterian Church on Ross Island
A Presbyterian Church on Ross Island
ePhotocorp, iStock via Getty Images

Ross Island (officially renamed Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose Island in 2018) is one of the 572 remote Andaman and and Nicobar Islands in the Indian Ocean. In the 19th century, the white sand idyll was colonized by the British, who built houses, a church, a ballroom, and a penal colony there to house Indian mutineers. During World War II, the Andaman Islands were taken over by the Japanese, and the British fled after releasing all prisoners. After the war, the island was left abandoned and the jungle has slowly reclaimed the grand Victorian buildings. In 1979, it was officially handed over to the Indian Navy.

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