Soak Up Some History & Freak Yourself Out at These 9 Western U.S. Ghost Towns
The calendar has turned the page to October — indisputably the best month of the year — and that means one thing: Halloween is right around the corner. Well, all right, it means several things, like the return of pumpkin spice-flavored everything, college kids dressed in scanty outfits they call “costumes,” the autumn-scented candle takeover of every living room coffee table across America, football, football, and some more football, and, last but not least, every reason to get in the holiday spirit by scaring the bejesus out of yourself.
While haunted houses and ghost ships and corn mazes filled with chainsaw-carrying killers may be better equipped to scare your pants off, there is something to be said for ghost towns, as well. The U.S. has a lot of them, scattered everywhere from Maine to California and on up to Alaska. Some are difficult to reach, others are a mere drive and a short hike; some are filled to the wazoo with crumbling structures galore, others have little remaining to show for themselves; and some are more worth a trip than others.
After scouring the Internets for some of the best ghost towns in the U.S., I came up with this list of nine spread across the wild, wild West. Why the West (and Pacific Northwest)? Because I said so, that’s why — plus, a list encompassing ghost towns spread across the entire country just didn’t feel specific enough. Have at them:
1. Melmont (Washington)
Located very near Mt. Rainier National Park, the abandoned coal mining town which once bore the name Melmont can be reached by a fairly easy, but often muddy, hike through the Washington wilderness. The site, encompassing a small open space surrounded by trees upon trees near the Carbon River, contains the remnants of a handful of structures, notable among them the moss-covered schoolhouse wall. Looking at photos, the place kind of gives off a Blair Witch-type vibe.
2. Rhyolite (Nevada)
A ghost town bearing the same name as a type of igneous rock? Sounds boring, but this there-today-gone-tomorrow late Gold Rush era town situated 120 miles northwest of Las Vegas is actually home to quite a few well-preserved ruins. Rhyolite only survived from 1904 to 1916, but empty hulks of the three-story bank, the general store, and smaller buildings remain, according to Atlas Obscura. The art installation created in 1984 by Belgian artist Albert Szukalski featuring ghostly apostles in the style of the Last Supper is not to be missed.
3. Independence (Colorado)
All right, this one isn’t all that spooky, but it’s still pretty damn cool. Independence, which today is an archeological preserve, was the first mining town in the Roaring Fork Valley. Situated just 16 miles southeast of Aspen right along Colorado State Highway 82, this ghost town may be the easiest one to access on this list. Things weren’t so easy back in the winter of 1899, though, when, according to the Aspen Historical Society, the worst storm in the state’s history cut off all supply routes and the miners were forced to dismantle their homes to make skis and escape en masse.
4. Bannack (Montana)
Seeing the last of its residents move out as recently as the 1950’s, Bannack, which is now operated by Montana State Parks, has over 60 still-standing structures for visitors to explore. The ghost town’s roots date all the way back to 1862, when prospector John White found gold in Grasshopper Creek. A pair of Bannack Ghost Walks held in late October each year help visitors learn about the ghost town’s history, including the hanging of Henry Plummer, an outlaw who was alleged to have killed several men (but then was somehow elected sheriff of Bannack in 1863).
5. Silver City (Idaho)
Once boasting eight saloons, six general stores, a hospital, and, at its peak, a population of around 2,500 people, Silver City, Idaho, is one of the few old mining towns in the state that did not burn down or fashion itself into a modern city. Around 70 buildings stand in Silver City, but, as privately-owned structures, they’re of the look-don’t-touch variety. If you’re looking to spend the night in a ghost town, though, there’s always the nearby Silver City Campground situated just east of town.
6. Bodie (California)
Very near the California-Nevada border, Bodie is a Gold Rush era mining town which looks much the same as it did when the last residents left some 60 or 70 years ago. Established in 1876, Bodie, which was named for Waterman S. Body, also known as William Bodey, was referred to as a ghost town as early as 1915 by some accounts, though a post office operated there until 1942 (so the Wikipedias say). Only a small part of the town survives, preserved in a state of “arrested decay,” according to California Parks and Recreation, which says this once-thriving mining camp is visited today “by tourists, howling winds and an occasional ghost.”
7. Kennecott (Alaska)
An abandoned mining camp in southeastern Alaska, Kennecott is sure to transport visitors back to the early 1900’s when this spot adjacent to the Kennicott Glacier was first spotted by prospectors. Kennecott was home to five mines which were established by the Kennecott Mining Corporation in 1903, but, according to Alaska.org, “by 1938, all known ore deposits had been depleted. The mines closed their doors, the railroad shut down, and Kennecott became a ghost town with only a handful of residents remaining.” These days, tours are offered a few times a day from May through September.
8. Molson (Washington)
Founded in 1900, Molson was another mining town in Washington State which sat very near the Canadian border. Peaking that same year with a population of 300 or so, the town’s mining operation never really took off. A few years later, a local farmer filed for a homestead including most of the area of the town and told everybody to scram, so they moved half a mile north and established New Molson. Old Molson became an outdoor museum exhibit featuring the town’s original buildings and equipment in 1960.
9. Antelope (Oregon)
Antelope is probably the most unique place on this list, due primarily to the fact that in the early 1980’s it became home to the Rajneesh movement, a free love-inspired group that followed the spiritual teachings of an Indian mystic named Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh (this Cosmpolitan article can tell you more about that, plus the Netflix documentary series on the group). Long before that, though, the town of Antelope flourished in the 1860’s as a mining supply center before burning to the ground in 1894, with only one building surviving. Present-day Antelope, while not exactly a ghost town — 40-some people still live here — is still a rather interesting stop in rural Oregon.