We’ve compiled the best ghost towns in California for those who love eerie old gold rush history.
If you love ghost towns, you’ll love exploring California. The region’s gold rush history gives the Golden State a uniquely high number of ghost towns.
These towns sprung up quickly to support the mining industry but promptly fell to ruins as soon as the mines dried up.
Getting to these ghost towns isn’t as hard as you might think. Many of them are just off the highway, and four of them exist today as state parks.
I love ghost towns because I enjoy digging into California history (pardon the pun), and there are actually a bunch of California ghost towns within driving distance of where I live.
In this article, I’ve brought you the best ghost towns in California. Plus, how to get to each one and where to stay nearby.
Note: this post contains affiliate links, which help run this site at no extra cost to you so I can keep providing free travel advice and tips.
Table of Contents
Map of Ghost Towns in California
#1 Bodie State Historic Park
Why it’s worth visiting: It’s one of California’s most famous ghost towns.
Address: Highway 270, Bridgeport, CA 93517
How to get there: Turn east onto Bodie Road off Highway 395, seven miles south of Bridgeport, CA. Bodie State Historic Park is 13 miles down the road.
Nearby accommodation: Lundy Canyon Campground (28 mi), Lake View Lodge (32 mi)
Bodie State Historic Park may be one of California’s most famous mining towns. Bodie ghost town is situated south of Bridgeport, CA and north of Lee Vining, CA.
William (Waterman) S. Bodey founded Bodie in 1859 after discovering a modest amount of gold in the hills around the town. By 1880, the city had grown to almost 10,000 and was famously lawless.
During the town’s heyday, there were a reported 65 saloons, not to mention several brothels and gambling halls.
Today the Wild West town is preserved in a state of “arrested decay” as a state park.
You can take a guided tour of Bodie Ghost Town or meander on your own with a self-guided walking tour among the 200 remaining buildings.
One of the neat things about Bodie Ghost Town is that some old buildings still have furniture and supplies.
For instance, the general store remains stocked the way it was in 1964 when Bodie became a state historical landmark.
Looking to visit more state parks? Reference our complete list of California state parks.
#2 Manzanar National Historic Site
Why it’s worth visiting: Learn the US’s history of Japanese internment camps.
Address: Manzanar National Historic Site, 5001 Highway 395, Independence, CA 93526
How to get there: Go nine miles north of Lone Pine, CA or six miles south of Independence, CA. The historic site is on the west side of Highway 395.
Nearby accommodation: Independence Creek Campground (6.7 mi), Mt. Williamson Motel and Basecamp (5.8 mi)
Manzanar National Historic Site isn’t your typical California ghost town because it isn’t related to the gold rush.
During World War II, the United States Government interned over 100,000 Japanese immigrants and American citizens of Japanese descent at war relocation centers around the country. Manzanar National Historic Site was one of 10 camps.
Up to 10,000 people lived in internment at Manzanar during the war in long barracks with a mess hall and a community building.
While the residents were more or less free to walk around the compound, armed guards patrolled the entire exterior.
I’ve visited Manzanar National Historic Site, which is well worth the stop. The park rangers have converted the old community hall into a visitor center.
The interpretive panels do a fantastic job of paying homage to this horrible chapter in American history.
You can also walk inside some of the original living quarters, check out the cemetery, or make the self-guided driving loop.
#3 Empire Mine State Historic Park
Why it’s worth visiting: It’s one of the “oldest, deepest, and richest gold mines in California.”
Address: 10791 East Empire Street, Grass Valley, CA 95945
How to get there: Take Highway 49 24 miles north of Auburn, CA.
Nearby accommodation: Inn Town Campground (4.1 mi), Flume’s End (4.6 mi)
Empire Mine State Historic Park might be my favorite of the ghost towns in Northern California.
Empire Mine State Park is one of California’s most famous ghost towns because it preserves an enormous old mining operation: the Empire Mine.
This old mine was operational from 1850-1956 and extracted 5.8 million ounces of gold.
The most mind-blowing fact about the Empire Mine was that it had 367 miles of tunnels in its heyday. That’s about the same driving distance between San Francisco and Los Angeles!
Today, the mines are closed and flooded, but you can still peer down the old mine shaft to the high water mark.
The mine’s original owner, William Bourne Jr., was one of the wealthiest men in the United States at the time, and his lavish estate remains immaculately preserved.
If you visit, take a guided tour of the estate, the gardens, and the mineyard.
The blacksmith shop is still on display and features six modern blacksmiths demonstrating early 1900s metalworking techniques.
Fun fact: Empire Mine had a “Secret Room” underground where the foremen kept a working model of the mine to help them manage the digging. Today you can see the model in the visitor center.
#4 Malakoff Diggins State Historic Park
Why it’s worth visiting: Witness the legacy of hydraulic mining and learn about the first environmental lawsuit in the US.
Address: 23579 North Bloomfield Rd, Nevada City, CA 95959
How to get there: Take Highway 40 for 11 miles toward Downieville. Turn right onto Tyler Foote Road and follow the signs for the park.
Nearby accommodation: Chute Hill Campground (in the park), North Bloomfield Cabins (in the park)
Malakoff Diggins State Historic Park preserves a unique moment in environmental history in the United States.
The Diggins site employed hydraulic mining, which uses blasts of water to wash away an entire mountain.
The resulting hillside looks slightly like the sandstone hoodoos in Bryce Canyon National Park (albeit smaller).
The disastrous environmental consequences of hydraulic mining eventually led to the first environmental lawsuit in the United States.
Today, you can explore 20 miles of trails around Malakoff Diggins State Historic Park or stop in at the visitor center or the museum, both of which are open seven days a week.
Malakoff Diggins State Park is northwest of Lake Tahoe and northeast of Nevada City, CA. It’s also very close to Empire Mine State Historic Park in Grass Valley.
While Malakoff Diggins preserves the remains of the mining site, the ghost town where those miners lived was North Bloomfield.
Founded in 1851, North Bloomfield was previously called Humbug, a slang term for a place where miners had struck out.
You can walk around the remaining buildings of North Bloomfield and also spend the night in a few of the cabins.
Note: Don’t follow your GPS to get here if you want to stay on a paved road. See the park website or follow my instructions above.
#5 Shasta State Historic Park
Why it’s worth visiting: It’s an easy stop off the highway!
Address: 15312 Highway 299 West, Shasta, CA 96087
How to get there: Take Highway 299, six miles west of Redding, CA.
Nearby accommodation: Sheep Camp Primitive Campground (2.5 mi), Americana Modern Hotel (10.4 mi)
If you’re visiting Redding, CA, you should stop at Shasta State Historic Park.
Just six miles from nearby Redding, Shasta State Historic Park preserves the former “Queen City” of northern mining towns.
Shasta, or “Old Shasta,” hit its boom shortly aft 1848, when pioneers discovered gold.
The gold mining town was an important transportation hub for coach and train travel until 1873 when the new Central Pacific Railroad bypassed the town.
Shasta State Park is one of the most accessible California ghost towns because it’s so close to a major city (Redding) and right off the highway.
In addition to the state park, take time to explore the restored Courthouse Museum (open Thurs-Sun), have a picnic next to the Pioneer Barn, or visit the Blumb Bakery for 1870’s style baking demonstrations.
#6 Cerro Gordo, CA
Why it’s worth visiting: It’s the silver mine that built Los Angeles
Address: Cerro Gordo Rd, Keeler, CA 93530
How to get there: From CA State Rt 136, turn east onto Cerro Gordo Rd.
Nearby accommodation: Diaz Lake Campground (22.6 mi), Dow Villa Motel (22.4 mi)
“Cerro Gordo” means “fat hill” in Spanish, and that’s precisely what it was in its heyday. In fact, this authentic silver mine helped create Los Angeles.
An 1872 edition of the Los Angeles News reported, “…Cerro Gordo trade is invaluable. What Los Angeles is now is mainly due to it. It is the silver cord that binds our present existence.”
However, like all mining operations, the Cerro Gordo mines eventually dried up.
Today Cerro Gordo is privately owned, with a dozen buildings and scattered mining equipment. You can visit this abandoned town in California by booking a tour on their website.
#7 Keeler, CA
Why it’s worth visiting: See the remains of the Cerro Gordo tramway
GPS coordinates: 36.488986657100895, -117.87394902392703
How to get there: Go 15 miles south of Lone Pine, CA, on Ste Rte 136
Nearby accommodation: Dow Villa Motel (14.6 mi), Panamint Springs Resort (35.8 mi)
Keeler ghost town, formerly known as Hawley, is another quasi-ghost town in California with around 60 remaining residents.
Keeler’s development was due to the nearby Cerro Gordo mine, and its success tracked with the mine and Owens Lake. Sadly, both the mine and the lake have seen better times.
Owens Lake once covered 100 square miles but diminished significantly after they diverted its main feeder river to provide water for Los Angeles.
At its peak, Keeler had a population of about 2,500. It was the southern terminus for the Carson and Colorado Railroad service, and the abandoned train depot is a popular fixture.
Keeler also had a bustling public pool, which is drained and abandoned today.
One of Keeler’s most unique ghost town features is the Cerro Gordo tramway, built to move ore from the Cerro Gordo mines. The tramway is broken off mid-air in an almost theatrical way.
#8 Ballarat, CA
Why it’s worth visiting: See the gravesite of famous prospectors “Shorty” Harris and “Seldom Seen Slim.”
GPS coordinates: Ballarat Rd, Trona, CA 93592
How to get there: Turn east on Trona-Wildrose Rd (CA-178). Ballarat is 3.6 miles from the turnoff.
Nearby accommodation: Panamint Springs Resort (29.5 mi, has tent camping and hotel accommodations)
If you’re looking for a lonely, dusty California ghost town with a spooky feeling, check out Ballarat.
Located south of the Panamint Springs Entrance to Death Valley National Park, Ballarat sprang up in 1896. But by 1917, it had fallen into disrepair.
The town’s most famous residents were Shorty Harris and Seldom Seen Slim. These men were the last of the Rainbow Seekers, prospectors from the Mojave.
When Seldom Seen Slim died in 1968, they broadcasted his eulogy nationwide. The epitaph on his gravestone reads, “Me lonely? Hell no! I’m half coyote and half wild burro.”
More infamous short-time residents of Ballarat were Charles Manson and his family. Today you can see an abandoned truck that belonged to Manson.
Ballarat isn’t entirely abandoned today–there’s one resident and his dog who run a small general store.
Fun fact: An Australian immigrant gave Ballarat its name after a town of the same name in Australia’s gold mining country.
#9 Darwin, CA
Why it’s worth visiting: Hit up Ballarat, Darwin, and Keeler on the same road trip!
GPS coordinates: 36.267976126691615, -117.59186346193034
How to get there: From Hwy 190 into Death Valley National Park, turn right onto Darwin Rd. The town is just a few miles down the road.
Nearby accommodation: Dow Villa Motel (37.8 mi), Panamint Springs Resort (23.6 mi)
Named after Darwin French, the ghost town of Darwin was an early miner/pioneer who discovered lead and silver deposits in the area in 1874.
As the story goes, French was part of an expedition from the east. By the time his party reached eastern California, they were desperately hungry and without a working gun. A Native American man saved them when he fixed it with a silver gunsight.
French returned to the area years later in search of the “Gunsight Mine.” While he never found the exact mine he was looking for, he still discovered enough to make the settlement prosper.
Darwin had two ore smelters within just a few years, 20 mining operations, a post office, a drug store, and 200 houses.
Darwin had around 3,500 residents at its peak, making it the largest town in Inyo County until 1878 when smallpox decimated the community.
Today, there are still around 35 residents of Darwin, making it more of a quasi-ghost town. If you visit Darwin, please be respectful of any private property or keep out signs.
#10 Panamint City, CA
Why it’s worth visiting: It’s a well-preserved ghost town if you can reach it.
GPS coordinates: 36.11755413766455, -117.09524686931712
How to get there: Strenuous (15 miles, 3,600 ft elevation gain) hike up Surprise Canyon in Death Valley National Park. Start the hike at Chris Wicht’s Camp, six miles north of Ballarat.
Nearby accommodation: (Panamint Springs Resort (30.5 mi from Chris Wicht Camp Parking)
Panamint City is one of the California ghost towns inside Death Valley National Park. As the story goes, outlaws discovered silver there while using Surprise Canyon as a hiding place.
Regardless of who found the silver, then-senator William Steward invested in the project, and the town was born in 1873.
The silver mines in Panamint City once employed 2,000 people for the short boom period of 1873-1875.
Like many ghost towns from the California gold rush, the city was exceptionally lawless. The Death Valley website calls it “the toughest, rawest, most hard-boiled little hellhole that ever passed for a civilized town.”
In 1876, a flash flood destroyed much of the town and residents moved away.
Today Panamint City is accessible via a hot and strenuous hike (See OutdoorProject’s hiking description). Once there, you’ll see the remains of the mile-long Main Street, which included saloons and a red-light district.
Due to the remoteness of the hike, the historic buildings and mining equipment are well-preserved.
#11 Rhyolite, NV
Why it’s worth visiting: It was the biggest mining town in the Death Valley area.
GPS coordinates: 36.90183679549815, -116.82811700014577
How to get there: Go four miles west of Beatty, NV
Nearby accommodation: Spicer Ranch (informal camping, 13.2 mi), Death Valley Inn and RV Park (6 mi)
Ok, I know this article is supposed to be the best ghost towns in *California*, but I had to include Rhyolite. It was one of the most significant mining settlements of its day and it’s a stone’s throw from the California border.
Plus, it’s a neat stop if you’re making a road trip from Las Vegas. I just drove through Beatty, NV, and I wish I’d known to stop in Rhyolite! It’s a lovely yet stark area.
Rhyolite’s heyday was 1905-1911. It had fifty saloons, nineteen hotels, two churches, a stock exchange, and even an opera house.
Today, one of the most popular original buildings is the Bottle House, made of beer bottles (donated from the 50 saloons in town).
Another popular excursion near this ghost town is the Goldwell Museum, which features outdoor modern art installations.
#12 Calico Ghost Town Regional Park
Why it’s worth visiting: See one of the biggest silver strikes in California and enjoy the developed amenities.
Address: 36600 Ghost Town Road, Yermo, CA 92398
How to get there: Look for the signs just off I-15 in Yermo, CA
Nearby accommodation: Calico Ghost Town Campground (on site), Travelodge by Wyndham Yermo (4.1 mi)
San Bernardino County runs Calico Ghost Town Regional Park, which is all that remains of this old west mining town.
Originally named “Calico” for the multi-colored hills that resemble calico fabric, this site was established for silver ore but abandoned in the 1890s after the price of silver crashed.
In the 1950s, Walter Knott purchased Calico Ghost Town and moved many of the buildings to his private attraction back east, Knott’s Berry Farm. The remaining buildings in Calico were restored to their original 1881 appearance.
Perhaps because of Walter Knott, Calico has a touristy feel and many more amenities than most ghost towns in California.
In Calico, you can tour the ghost town, eat at the restaurant, explore the Mystery Shack and the Lucy Lane Museum, and camp on site.
The Calico Odessa Railroad also still runs through the town. You can even explore the Maggie Mine, one of the few old mines safe for visitors.
This ghost town in the Mojave Desert is right off I-15 and is the perfect place to stretch your legs on a road trip between Las Vegas and Los Angeles.
#13 Bombay Beach, CA
Why it’s worth visiting: You can check out the edgy emerging art scene.
GPS coordinates: 33.35090548856989, -115.72929835827749
How to get there: From Palm Springs, take Highway 111 South. Bombay Beach is off the highway east of the Salton Sea.
Nearby accommodation: Mojo’s Slab Camp (22.2 mi), Glamis North Hot Springs Resort (7.2 mi)
Bombay Beach was a thriving resort town on the shores of the Salton Sea in the 50s and 60s but morphed into a ghost town in the 80s after the Salton Sea became toxic.
Well, pseudo-ghost town, I should say.
There are still around 200 residents of the dried-up little town, most of whom live in the area farthest from the water.
Unlike other ghost towns in Southern California, which are mainly mining communities, Bombay Beach is mostly old trailers and relatively modern homes.
The vibe around Bombay Beach is very “Mad Max,” and one of the biggest attractions in the area is the budding art scene, which utilizes the stark landscape and old junk as a canvas.
The Bombay Beach Biennale is a three-month season from January to March that celebrates art and community in Bombay Beach.
#14 Silver City, CA
Why it’s worth visiting: It’s one of the most haunted ghost towns in California.
Address: 3829 Lake Isabella Boulevard, Bodfish, CA 93205
How to get there: Go 41 miles east on Highway 178 from Bakersfield, CA
Nearby accommodation: Hobo Campground (4.3 mi), Barewood Inn and Suites (9.6 mi)
While many ghost towns in California have eerie vibes, Silver City is the only one listed in the National Directory of Haunted Places.
The ghost town owner reported seeing a historic lunch pail fly across the room (admittedly, though, he has a good reason to stir up intrigue). Visitors have also reported floating bottles and mysterious music.
Silver City has around 20 abandoned buildings from other ghost towns that came to Silver City to save them from demolition. These include a post office, general store, church, and private cabin.
The owners of the ghost town have elected to allow the buildings to exist in their dilapidated state, choosing to do minimal restoration.
That said, Silver City has been the site of film shoots for A&E, the History Channel, and even Nissan.
#15 Colonel Allensworth State Historic Park
Why it’s worth visiting: Learn about a Utopian experiment led by African Americans.
Address: Highway 43, Earlimart, CA 93219
How to get there: Take Hwy 43 and go 30 miles north of Bakersfield, CA
Nearby accommodation: John L. Whitehead Jr. Campground (in the park), Hyatt Place Delano (16.3 mi)
Colonel Allen Allensworth founded the town of Allensworth in 1908.
Allensworth was born enslaved, and his vision was to create a community honoring the “dignity of the human spirit.” He was the highest-ranking African American servicemember at the time.
The old 1912 schoolhouse remained in use until 1972. The town also included a library and a Baptist church.
Colonel Allensworth’s death in 1914 and a lowering water table made it difficult for the town to thrive. Nonetheless, several residents hung on for many years.
Today you can see the home of Colonel Allensworth and his wife Josephine, preserved in its 1912 condition as Colonel Allensworth State Historic Park.
Every year Colonel Allensworth State Historic Park hosts a rededication ceremony to honor the ideals of Allensworth on the second Saturday in October.
#16 Drawbridge, CA
Why it’s worth visiting: You can go bird-watching as you watch Drawbridge sink into the marsh.
Address: Don Edwards Environmental Education Center, 1751 Grand Blvd, Alviso, CA 95002
How to get there: You can view the ghost town from a trail near the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge Environmental Education Center.
Nearby accommodation: DoubleTree by Hilton Newark-Fremont (5.6 mi). There isn’t much camping nearby.
None of the ghost towns that I’ve mentioned on this list are decaying as quickly as Drawbridge.
Drawbridge is in south San Francisco Bay near San Jose and was originally just one home for the drawbridge operator on Station Island in 1876.
Over the next few decades, more residents accrued. By the 1880s, a thousand visitors came every weekend. People went hunting, fishing, and swimming; during Prohibition, the town featured a few speakeasies.
At its peak, there were around 90 buildings in Drawbridge. By the 1930s, the water table changed and the town began to sink into the estuary.
Today Drawbridge ghost town is closed to visitors for safety reasons.
You can see the remaining buildings from the Environmental Education Center in Don Edwards National Wildlife Refuge or you can watch the video below.
#17 Eagle Mountain
Why it’s worth visiting: It’s the largest ghost town in California
GPS coordinates: 33.85566000380587, -115.48686417726853
How to get there: Turn north at the junction of Hwy 10 and Rice Rd (you can’t get too close to the town, though)
Nearby accommodation: Cottonwood Campground (44 mi), Hampton Inn and Suites Blythe (61.5 mi)
A few ghost towns in California aren’t open to the public, and Eagle Mountain is one of them.
But because it’s the biggest ghost town in California, I couldn’t leave it out. Plus, you can check out the drone footage at the end to get a good sense of the place.
Henry Kaiser opened the Eagle Mountain iron mine in 1948, and it quickly became the most significant iron mine in Southern California.
They soon built a town with 400 homes to better accommodate the workers in this extreme remote environment (let’s just say Eagle Mountain is on the “butt end” of Joshua Tree National Park).
At its zenith, Eagle Mountain had 4,000 residents. The town had a school, post office, gas station, and shopping center.
The iron mining operation dried up in the 80s and the town quickly followed suit. Today, there’s a fence around the town’s perimeter, but the school is still in use.
This video has excellent footage of the ghost town. It hypes up the mystery factor of the city, but the reason for Eagle Mountain’s abandonment is that the mine dried up–plain and simple.
FAQs About California Ghost Towns
What constitutes a ghost town?
A ghost town is an abandoned settlement. To be considered a ghost town, there must be at least a few original structures. Often ghost towns come to be after residents exhaust natural resources.
Is it safe to visit ghost towns?
It is generally safe to visit most ghost towns so long as you stay out of the abandoned buildings and mine shafts.
Mine shafts not only have physical hazards but can also accumulate toxic gases or be home to bats.
As there are many endangered bat species, it’s essential not to throw anything into mine shafts or shout into them to avoid disturbing roosting bats with babies.
Are there many abandoned cities in California? How many ghost towns are in California?
Because of California’s Gold Rush history, there are as many as 300 ghost towns in the state. Miners abandoned many of them after the mines became unprofitable.
Why are there ghost towns in California?
First, California has a rich history of silver and gold mining. Many Gold Rush era towns sprung up quickly, only to be abandoned after the mines dried up.
Second, much of California is dry and hot, which has helped preserve historic buildings and mining equipment.
What is the largest ghost town in California?
The largest ghost town in California is Eagle Mountain. The Eagle Mountain iron mine opened in 1948, but by 1983 the last businesses and the old post office had closed.
What’s the most popular ghost town to visit in California?
One of the best ghost towns in California is Bodie, located in Northern California. Bodie State Historic Park is known for its extensive collection of buildings preserved in a state of arrested decay.
What is the oldest California ghost town?
Many people list Bodie as California’s oldest ghost town, but the truth is that record keeping wasn’t excellent during the 1850s, and there may be older towns than Bodie.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Meredith is a biologist and writer based in California’s Sierra Nevada. She has lived in 6 states as a biologist, so her intel on hiking and camping is *chef’s kiss* next level. One of her earliest camping memories was being too scared to find a bathroom at night on a family camping trip. Thankfully, she’s come a long way since then and she can help you get there too!
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