California, often celebrated for its sun-kissed beaches, cutting-edge tech hubs, and glitzy Hollywood appeal, has another, quieter story to tell.

Tucked away from the limelight are its ghost towns—abandoned remnants of a vibrant past that once glittered with gold, ambition, and dreams.

From the frenzied peaks of the Gold Rush era to unspoken tales of communities left behind, these silent towns narrate a saga of both booming prosperity and poignant decline.

As we embark on a journey through the 20 most captivating ghost towns in California, be ready to immerse yourself in a realm where history whispers from every crumbling wall and empty thoroughfare.

Dive deep with me into the mysteries of these once-bustling, now-forgotten, corners of the Golden State.

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California Ghost Towns: Abandoned Cities within State Historic Parks

Delve into the rich history of California’s past with these preserved settlements.

Each park offers a unique glimpse into the state’s dynamic history, from the boom of the Gold Rush to the eventual silence of abandonment.

1. Bodie State Historic Park

21 Best Ghost Towns in California: A Journey from Gold Rush Settlements to Abandoned Cities, Travel Realizations

Why Visit?

  • Fame & History: As one of California’s most renowned ghost towns, Bodie stands testament to the state’s vibrant mining past.
  • Location: Nestled between Bridgeport and Lee Vining, this town offers a scenic route filled with historical tales.
  • Rich Past: Founded by William (Waterman) S. Bodey in 1859, the town quickly grew following the discovery of gold. By 1880, Bodie’s population soared to 10,000, gaining notoriety for its lawlessness.
  • Wild West Ambiance: In its prime, Bodie boasted 65 saloons, brothels, and gambling halls, embodying the essence of the Wild West.
  • Preservation: Bodie’s current state is termed “arrested decay.” As a state park, it’s meticulously maintained to keep its historical integrity.

What to Do?

  • Guided Tours: Dive deep into the history with knowledgeable guides recounting tales of Bodie’s past.
  • Self-Guided Exploration: Roam freely among the 200 remaining structures, absorbing the town’s ambiance.
  • Step into the Past: Unique attractions like the general store, preserved as it was in 1964, offer visitors an authentic glimpse into life back then. Furniture, supplies, and other remnants paint a vivid picture.

Insider Tip:

When visiting Bodie, it’s not just about the buildings. Look closely inside structures like the general store to get an authentic feel of the bygone era. Each artifact tells a story.

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2. Empire Mine State Historic Park

21 Best Ghost Towns in California: A Journey from Gold Rush Settlements to Abandoned Cities, Travel Realizations

Why Visit?

  • Historical Grandeur: Recognized as one of California’s most famed ghost towns, the park safeguards the legacy of the colossal Empire Mine – one of the state’s “oldest, deepest, and richest gold mines.”
  • Mining Marvel: Operational between 1850-1956, this mine retrieved an astonishing 5.8 million ounces of gold.
  • Vast Tunnel Network: At its peak, Empire Mine boasted 367 miles of tunnels – equivalent to the driving span from San Francisco to Los Angeles!

What to Do?

  • Peer into the Past: Although the mines are now submerged, visitors can glimpse the old shafts up to their waterlines.
  • Lavish Legacy: Explore the meticulously conserved estate of the mine’s initial owner, William Bourne Jr., once among the nation’s wealthiest. A guided journey across the estate, gardens, and mineyard is a must.
  • Craftsmanship Exhibit: Witness early 20th-century metalworking techniques at the blacksmith shop, which still hosts modern blacksmiths demonstrating their craft.
  • Discover the ‘Secret Room’: Originally used to help foremen strategize mining activities, a working model of the mine is now displayed for visitors at the center.

Insider Tip:

While the mining operations and their scale are indeed mesmerizing, don’t miss out on the “Secret Room” in the visitor center.

It offers a miniaturized perspective on the vast mining operations and showcases the intricate planning behind them.

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3. Malakoff Diggins State Historic Park

21 Best Ghost Towns in California: A Journey from Gold Rush Settlements to Abandoned Cities, Travel Realizations

Why Visit?

  • Environmental Historical Insight: Malakoff Diggins embodies a pivotal phase in U.S. environmental history, showcasing the aftermath of hydraulic mining.
  • Mining Marvel: Experience the powerful remnants of hydraulic mining which relied on water blasts to erode entire mountainsides.
  • Eco-Legal Legacy: The park stands as a testament to the inaugural environmental lawsuit in the U.S. due to the adverse ecological impacts of hydraulic mining.
  • Picturesque Scenery: The transformed hillsides, reminiscent of Bryce Canyon National Park’s sandstone hoodoos, captivate the eyes, albeit on a smaller scale.

What to Do?

  • Trail Trekking: Traverse the park’s 20 miles of trails, soaking in the rich history and panoramic views.
  • Knowledge Quest: Dive into the region’s legacy with a visit to the on-site visitor center or museum, both operating seven days a week.
  • North Bloomfield Ghost Town: Nestled within Malakoff Diggins, North Bloomfield stands as a testament to the miners who once inhabited the area. This historic settlement, once named Humbug, captivates visitors with its well-preserved buildings. Explore its stories and even opt for an overnight stay in one of its cabins.

Insider Tip:
While GPS systems offer convenience, it’s advisable to stick to the provided directions or consult the park’s official website when heading to Malakoff Diggins.

This ensures a smoother journey on paved roads, preventing unexpected detours or challenges.

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4. Shasta State Historic Park

21 Best Ghost Towns in California: A Journey from Gold Rush Settlements to Abandoned Cities, Travel Realizations

Why Visit?

  • Convenient Detour: Its proximity to the highway and major city, Redding, makes Shasta State Historic Park an easy and worthwhile pit stop.
  • Historical Prowess: Step back in time and tread the grounds of the once-regarded “Queen City” among northern mining towns.
  • Gold Rush Glimpse: Shasta’s history is deeply rooted in the gold rush era, offering insights into the lives and aspirations of pioneers who struck gold in 1848.
  • Transportation Tribute: Recognized as a key hub for coach and train commutation, the town thrived until 1873 when the Central Pacific Railroad charted a different route.

What to Do?

  • Courthouse Museum: Embrace the history at the restored Courthouse Museum, which throws its doors open from Thursday to Sunday.
  • Picnic Perfection: Recharge amidst nature by setting up a picnic beside the evocative Pioneer Barn.
  • Bakery Brilliance: Savor the charm of 1870’s baking at the Blumb Bakery, where traditional baking demonstrations provide both education and temptation.

Insider Tip:

While the park itself holds treasures aplenty, don’t miss out on the neighboring attractions.

Whether you’re a history enthusiast or just passing through, Shasta offers a blend of historical allure and natural beauty, making it a must-visit.


5. Colonel Allensworth State Historic Park

21 Best Ghost Towns in California: A Journey from Gold Rush Settlements to Abandoned Cities, Travel Realizations

Why Visit?

  • African American Legacy: Colonel Allen Allensworth, a beacon of hope and resilience, was the brainchild behind this town, conceptualized to embody the “dignity of the human spirit.”
  • Historical Gem: Experience the rich tapestry of history, as Allensworth, born in the shackles of slavery, rose to be the highest-ranking African American servicemember of his time.
  • Educational Institutions: The town, in its prime, boasted a 1912 schoolhouse which catered to the community until 1972, a library, and a Baptist church, all echoes of a bygone era.

What to Do?

  • Colonel Allensworth’s Home: Travel back in time as you explore the Colonel’s home, meticulously preserved as it stood in 1912, offering an intimate glimpse into his life and the life of his wife, Josephine.
  • Annual Rededication Ceremony: Immerse yourself in the annual event that pays homage to Allensworth’s ideals. Held every second Saturday in October, it is a vibrant reminder of the town’s foundational values.

Insider Tip:

While the vision of a thriving community faced challenges, such as Colonel Allensworth’s untimely death and environmental factors, the town’s resilience is palpable.

The park stands as a testament to the enduring spirit of a community that, against all odds, persisted and held onto its values.

If you’re seeking a historical journey underscored by inspiration, Colonel Allensworth State Historic Park awaits.


California’s Premier Ghost Towns: Treasures of National Historic Sites

These ghost towns are recognized nationally for their historical significance and encapsulate some of California’s most poignant stories. Wander through streets once bustling with activity, now echoing tales of times gone by.

6. Manzanar National Historic Site

21 Best Ghost Towns in California: A Journey from Gold Rush Settlements to Abandoned Cities, Travel Realizations

Why Visit?

  • Deep Historical Significance: Unlike the typical California ghost towns tied to the gold rush, Manzanar offers insight into a dark chapter of U.S. history – the internment of Japanese immigrants and citizens during WWII.
  • Internment Legacy: Manzanar stands as one of the 10 internment camps where over 100,000 Japanese individuals were confined. At its peak, up to 10,000 residents lived here in long barracks with shared facilities.
  • A Sobering Experience: While residents could move within the compound, armed guards constantly surveyed the perimeter. This site serves as a poignant reminder of the extents of wartime measures and their impact on innocent civilians.

What to Do?

  • Visitor Center: Once the community hall, it now houses displays that narrate the tales of those interned here. The park rangers and interpretive panels ensure a comprehensive understanding of the events.
  • Authentic Glimpses: Walk inside some of the original living quarters and visualize the conditions the residents endured.
  • Other Attractions: Explore the cemetery which holds memories of those who lived and passed here. Additionally, take the self-guided driving loop to cover the entire compound.

Insider Tip:

When visiting Manzanar, take a moment to reflect on its significance.

While it’s essential to understand the historical context, it’s equally crucial to remember the personal stories and struggles of those interned.

Engage with the panels and displays, allowing their tales to resonate with you.

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California Ghost Towns: Gems from Regional Parks & Beyond

Discover a range of ghost towns lovingly preserved in regional parks, from forgotten mining towns to deserted communities.

Each offers a unique narrative, tied closely to the land and its many transformations.

7. Calico Ghost Town Regional Park

21 Best Ghost Towns in California: A Journey from Gold Rush Settlements to Abandoned Cities, Travel Realizations

Why Visit?

  • Historical Significance: Step back in time to witness one of California’s largest silver strikes, encapsulated in the diverse landscapes that gave Calico its distinct name.
  • Preserved Legacy: While Calico saw its decline in the 1890s after the silver market crashed, the town found a revival in the 1950s. Thanks to Walter Knott, many of Calico’s authentic buildings now stand restored to their original 1881 splendor.
  • A Blend of Past and Present: Unlike many other ghost towns, Calico offers a balanced mix of historical allure and modern amenities, making it a unique and comfortable experience for all visitors.

What to Do?

  • Journey Through Time: Engage in an immersive experience as you tour the remnants of Calico, with options to dine at a classic eatery or explore peculiar attractions like the Mystery Shack and Lucy Lane Museum.
  • Railroad Adventure: Hop on the Calico Odessa Railroad for a ride that offers picturesque views and a slice of history, as it meanders through the heart of the town.
  • Maggie Mine Exploration: Dive deeper into Calico’s mining legacy by touring the Maggie Mine, one of the select few mines that remain safe and accessible to visitors.

Insider Tip:

Located strategically in the Mojave Desert, Calico Ghost Town is an ideal stopover for those journeying between the buzzing cities of Las Vegas and Los Angeles.

If you’re on the lookout for a unique blend of historical depth and modern comfort during your road trip, Calico is a must-visit!


California Ghost Towns: Independent Hidden Treasures

Off the beaten path, these independent ghost towns are true hidden gems.

Explore settlements that might not have the official designations but are brimming with stories, history, and a haunting beauty all their own.

8. Cerro Gordo, CA

21 Best Ghost Towns in California: A Journey from Gold Rush Settlements to Abandoned Cities, Travel Realizations

Why Visit?

  • Historical Importance: Cerro Gordo, or “fat hill”, isn’t just an old mining town; it’s a crucial piece in the puzzle of California’s rich history. The silver extracted from its mines played a significant role in shaping and building Los Angeles into the thriving metropolis it is today.
  • Authentic Experience: Visiting Cerro Gordo isn’t about seeing a reimagined or touristy version of a ghost town. Instead, it offers a genuine feel of what mining life might have been like during the town’s peak.

What to Do?

  • Immersive Tours: Unlike some ghost towns, Cerro Gordo provides an opportunity for guided exploration. By booking a tour through their official website, you can delve into the depths of California’s mining past, surrounded by a dozen authentic buildings and remnants of mining equipment.
  • Step Back in Time: While wandering the town, look out for snippets of history, like newspaper articles or quotes, that highlight the significance of Cerro Gordo in the broader narrative of California and Los Angeles.

Insider Tip:

Cerro Gordo’s location near Death Valley National Park and its relatively close proximity to Lone Pine, CA makes for an excellent detour for those exploring the larger region.

Just remember, as it’s privately owned, always ensure you have a confirmed booking for your visit.


9. Keeler, CA

21 Best Ghost Towns in California: A Journey from Gold Rush Settlements to Abandoned Cities, Travel Realizations
  • Location: On the eastern shores of Owens Lake, Inyo County, CA
  • Directions: Head south from Lone Pine on CA-136. Keeler is situated directly by Owens Lake.
  • Where to Stay: Due to its limited size, accommodations in Keeler are sparse. Nearby Lone Pine offers several lodging options like Dow Villa Motel, Quality Inn Lone Pine near Mount Whitney.

Why Visit?

  • Historic Significance: Once known as Hawley, Keeler has a storied past that connects deeply with the mining and railway history of Inyo County.
  • Tales of the Past: Keeler offers a fascinating look into California’s mining boom era. It stands as a symbol of the state’s adventurous spirit during the Gold Rush days, representing both the prosperity and perils of seeking fortunes in the wild west.
  • Owens Lake Views: Keeler rests on the eastern edge of Owens Lake, offering serene and often dramatic views of the lakebed and the surrounding mountains.
  • A Quiet Retreat: With a tiny population, Keeler is perfect for those looking to escape the hustle and bustle of city life. The silence here, punctuated only by the sounds of nature, provides a truly peaceful getaway.
  • Witness the Effects of Water Politics: The receding waters of Owens Lake are a direct result of water being diverted to Los Angeles in the early 20th century. The story of Owens Valley and its “water wars” with Los Angeles is a vital chapter in California’s history.

What to Do?

  • Historical Exploration: Delve into Keeler’s past by visiting some of its historic buildings and sites. Learn about its former significance during the mining boom and the role of the Carson & Colorado Railroad.
  • Explore Cerro Gordo: Just a drive away from Keeler, the Cerro Gordo mines stand as a testimony to the town’s mining heritage. Visiting the mine is like stepping back in time, with its preserved buildings and machinery offering a glimpse into the life of miners.
  • Photography: The landscape around Keeler, especially with the stark beauty of Owens Lake, is a treat for photographers. Capture the contrast of the lakebed, the mountains, and the sky.
  • Nature Walks: While the immediate surroundings are arid, the beauty lies in its desolation. Take short walks around the area to appreciate the unique flora and fauna.
  • Visit Nearby Attractions: The Alabama Hills and Mount Whitney are not too far from Keeler and are worth a visit.

Insider Tip:

Given its remote location and desert environment, make sure to bring plenty of water, sun protection, and snacks. While there, respect the tranquility of the town and the privacy of its residents.


10. Ballarat, CA

21 Best Ghost Towns in California: A Journey from Gold Rush Settlements to Abandoned Cities, Travel Realizations

Why Visit?

  • Prospecting Legacies: Pay respects at the gravesites of the iconic Mojave prospectors, “Shorty” Harris and “Seldom Seen Slim,” the last of the Rainbow Seekers. Their tales of fortune and adventures are the stuff of legend.
  • Historic Remnants: Experience the eeriness of a once-thriving town, from its establishment in 1896 to its decline by 1917. The eerie ambiance is palpable, making it a must-visit for history and ghost town enthusiasts.
  • Manson’s Shadow: Add a touch of the infamous to your visit. An abandoned truck, which once belonged to Charles Manson and his family, still sits in Ballarat, a grim reminder of its notorious past.

What to Do?

  • Grave Visits: The epitaphs, especially of Seldom Seen Slim, which says, “Me lonely? Hell no! I’m half coyote and half wild burro,” are intriguing and provide a unique insight into the personas of the town’s famous residents.
  • Ghostly Ambiance: Soak in the desolation and history, feeling the weight of past glories and tales of fortune seeking.
  • General Store: Despite its ghostly reputation, Ballarat isn’t entirely deserted. Meet its single resident and his loyal canine companion, who manage a quaint general store, a glimpse of life in an almost-abandoned town.

Insider Tip:

Ballarat, named after a famous gold mining town in Australia, offers more than just tales of yore. While its stories are rooted in its gold rush past and prospecting endeavors, it’s also a place of resilience.

This town stands as a haunting testament to the transient nature of boomtowns and the indomitable spirit of those who once called it home.

For a mix of history, mystery, and eeriness, Ballarat beckons to those keen on experiencing California’s legacy in a unique way.


11. Darwin, CA

21 Best Ghost Towns in California: A Journey from Gold Rush Settlements to Abandoned Cities, Travel Realizations
  • Location: 22 miles southeast of Keeler, Inyo County, California
  • Directions: From Hwy 190 leading into Death Valley National Park, make a right turn onto Darwin Rd. Follow the road for a few miles to reach the town.
  • Where to Stay: Dow Villa Motel, Panamint Springs Resort

Why Visit?

  • Historical Significance: Founded during California’s mining era, Darwin is a treasure trove of history. This community has weathered booms, busts, and the challenges of the inhospitable desert, yet it has retained its charm and resilience.
  • Gateway to Death Valley: Its proximity to the Death Valley National Park makes Darwin an excellent starting or stopping point for those venturing into one of the most renowned desert landscapes in the world.
  • Mining Heritage: The town’s origin is rooted in mining, with several mines operating in and around Darwin in the late 1800s and early 1900s. This heritage is evident in the ruins and structures that still dot the landscape.
  • Entwined Tales: Darwin’s origin is as rich as the mines it once boasted. Named after Darwin French, its history is interwoven with tales of survival, fortune, and the elusive “Gunsight Mine.”
  • Bustling Past: At the zenith of its prosperity, Darwin was home to approximately 3,500 souls, two ore smelters, 20 mining establishments, and a post office, making it Inyo County’s crown jewel till 1878.
  • Echoes of a Bygone Era: Though the town faced decimation due to smallpox, its remnants provide a hauntingly beautiful glimpse into a different time, still inhabited by a few souls, making it a quasi-ghost town.

What to Do?

  • Historical Exploration: Stroll through Darwin and examine the old structures, artifacts, and the stories they represent – from the aged ore smelters and remains of mining operations to the enduring post office. While appearing abandoned, some buildings are still inhabited, so always approach with respect.
  • Explore Old Mines: While many of the mines are now closed, their remnants offer a visual history of Darwin’s industrious past.
  • Visit the Darwin Falls: A short drive from the community, the Darwin Falls is a stark contrast to the arid surroundings. This desert oasis is a testament to the surprises the desert holds.

Insider Tip:

The allure of Darwin lies not just in its history but in its enduring spirit.

While a shadow of its former self, the resilience of its remaining residents and the echoes of its past make it a poignant stop for those keen on experiencing California’s legacy.

The tales of Darwin French, his pursuit of the “Gunsight Mine,” and the town’s subsequent rise and fall offer a captivating glimpse into the ebb and flow of fortune.

For those seeking a tangible connection to history, Darwin beckons.


12. Panamint City, CA

21 Best Ghost Towns in California: A Journey from Gold Rush Settlements to Abandoned Cities, Travel Realizations

Why Visit?

  • Historical Significance: Panamint City is a relic of the silver and copper boom of the 1870s. The rapid growth and equally swift decline of the town offer a tangible testament to the unpredictable nature of boomtowns.
  • Population Surge: Just two years after its founding due to the discovery of silver and copper, the town’s population mushroomed to around 2,000 inhabitants.
  • Vibrant Town Life: At its peak, Panamint City boasted a mile-long main street, teeming with life and commerce. The town even had its dedicated newspaper, the Panamint News, that chronicled the daily happenings and notable events.
  • Silver Mining: While the area had traces of copper, it was primarily the lustrous silver that drove people to Panamint and led to its brief era of prosperity.

What to Do?

  • Historical Exploration: Walk along the remnants of the mile-long main street, imagining the hustle and bustle of the 1870s.
  • Panamint News Relics: If any copies or artifacts from the town’s newspaper can be found or are on display, they offer a fascinating insight into the daily life and concerns of Panamint’s residents.
  • Scenic Beauty: The juxtaposition of the ghost town against the backdrop of the Panamint Range and the expansive vistas of Death Valley make for breathtaking views.
  • Photography: The dilapidated structures of Panamint City, set against the stark desert landscape and rugged mountains, provide ample photographic opportunities.

Insider Tip:

While the allure of Panamint City is undeniable, it’s essential to be prepared for the harsh conditions of Death Valley.

Ensure you have adequate water protective gear, and inform someone of your travel plans. As always, respect the area’s history and adhere to Leave No Trace principles.


13. Bombay Beach, CA

21 Best Ghost Towns in California: A Journey from Gold Rush Settlements to Abandoned Cities, Travel Realizations
  • Location: It is situated on the eastern shores of the Salton Sea in Imperial County, California. It lies 4 miles west-southwest of Frink.
  • Absolutely! That’s a concise and accurate description
  • Directions: If coming from Palm Springs, head south on Highway 111. Bombay Beach is conveniently located east of the Salton Sea off the highway.
  • Where to Stay: Glamis North Hot Springs Resort

Why Visit?

  • Unique Transformation: From a bustling resort town in the mid-20th century to its modern-day metamorphosis into an art hub, Bombay Beach offers a distinctive narrative.
  • Modern Ghost Town: With its abandoned trailers and recent homes, Bombay Beach provides a different feel from the typical mining ghost towns. The contemporary ruins set against the backdrop of the Salton Sea create an unparalleled atmosphere.
  • Burgeoning Art Scene: The town is a haven for avant-garde art, utilizing the bleak surroundings and remnants of the past to craft an innovative canvas.

What to Do?

  • Explore the Art Installations: Meander through the town and discover numerous art installations that seamlessly integrate with the landscape, offering both an eerie and beautiful experience.
  • Bombay Beach Biennale: This event, taking place between January to March, is a must-visit. Revel in a plethora of art exhibitions, performances, and community engagements that turn the ghost town into a bustling art hub.
  • Relive History: While Bombay Beach has evolved, traces of its glory days as a resort town are still visible. A walk around the town provides a glimpse into its past and a sense of its transition.

Insider Tip:

Bombay Beach offers a unique blend of history, desolation, and creativity. While the setting might seem dystopian, the town pulsates with a vibrant art community.

When visiting, keep an open mind and let the juxtaposition of decay and creativity inspire you. It’s more than just a visit; it’s an experience that melds the boundaries of time, art, and nature.


14. Silver City, CA

21 Best Ghost Towns in California: A Journey from Gold Rush Settlements to Abandoned Cities, Travel Realizations

Why Visit?

  • Haunted Appeal: Silver City stands out from other Californian ghost towns due to its reputation for paranormal activity. It’s one of the few towns to have secured a spot in the National Directory of Haunted Places.
  • Historic Relocation: The town boasts approximately 20 buildings from other ghost towns that were transported to Silver City to prevent their demolition, providing an amalgamation of history from various locales.
  • Preservation Philosophy: Unlike some touristy ghost towns, Silver City’s caretakers have adopted a hands-off approach, allowing the town’s structures to wear the marks of time naturally, offering a more authentic experience for visitors.

What to Do?

  • Ghostly Investigations: Given its haunted reputation, why not explore the town with an open mind? You might just witness a floating bottle or hear the mysterious melodies that many claim to have experienced.
  • Historic Tour: Take a tour through the assortment of relocated buildings, including a church, post office, general store, and cabin. It’s like stepping through various chapters of Californian ghost town history in one place.
  • Spotlight on Film: If you’re a film buff, explore locations within Silver City that have featured in documentaries and commercials. It’s exciting to see where the cameras rolled and history came alive for viewers around the world.

Insider Tip:

For those interested in the paranormal, visiting Silver City at dusk or during the night can be an entirely different experience.

It’s when the tales of haunting become most palpable. However, always prioritize safety and ensure you’re equipped with the necessary gear, especially if exploring after dark.

Remember, whether or not you believe in ghosts, the town’s rich history and atmospheric charm are undeniable.


15. Drawbridge, CA

21 Best Ghost Towns in California: A Journey from Gold Rush Settlements to Abandoned Cities, Travel Realizations
  • Location: Don Edwards Environmental Education Center, 1751 Grand Blvd, Alviso, CA 95002
  • Directions: The remnants of Drawbridge can be viewed from a trail located near the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge Environmental Education Center.
  • Where to Stay: DoubleTree by Hilton Newark-Fremont

Why Visit?

  • A Rapidly Disappearing Town: Unlike many ghost towns which stand still in time, Drawbridge is actively being reclaimed by nature, providing a unique and fleeting glimpse into the past.
  • Rich History: From its origin as a single dwelling for the drawbridge operator to its peak as a weekend getaway attracting thousands, Drawbridge boasts an intriguing history that intertwines with the Bay Area’s evolution.
  • Natural Beauty: The location, now a part of the Don Edwards National Wildlife Refuge, offers an opportunity for bird-watching and appreciating the diverse ecology of the San Francisco Bay.

What to Do?

  • Observe from a Distance: While access to Drawbridge is prohibited due to safety concerns, visitors can observe the decaying remnants of the town from designated trails or the Environmental Education Center.
  • Bird-Watching: The location is not just historically significant; it’s an ornithological haven. Bring along binoculars and a bird guidebook to spot various avian species.
  • Learn More: Visit the Don Edwards Environmental Education Center to delve deeper into the history, ecology, and conservation efforts of the area. If available, watch informative videos and documentaries about Drawbridge and its decline.

Insider Tip:

If you’re planning to visit, wear comfortable shoes and be prepared for walking. The area can get windy, so dressing in layers might be a good idea.

While the town’s decay might invoke a sense of melancholy, it’s also a testament to nature’s resilience and the ever-changing landscape of human history.


16. Eagle Mountain, CA

21 Best Ghost Towns in California: A Journey from Gold Rush Settlements to Abandoned Cities, Travel Realizations
  • Location: Near the border of Joshua Tree National Park, CA
  • Directions: From Highway 10, turn north at the junction with Rice Rd. Keep in mind that direct access to the town is restricted.
  • Where to Stay: Hampton Inn and Suites Blythe

Why Visit?

  • Largest Ghost Town in California: Its sheer size makes it a significant point of interest. Despite its relative youth compared to gold rush towns, the rapid rise and decline of Eagle Mountain is a testament to the transitory nature of industry-based settlements.
  • Industrial Legacy: Once the crown jewel of iron mining in Southern California, the remnants of Eagle Mountain offer a glimpse into the industrial age of the 20th century.
  • Vicinity to Joshua Tree: While Eagle Mountain itself might be off-limits, its proximity to Joshua Tree National Park means visitors can combine their ghost town intrigue with the natural beauty of one of California’s most iconic national parks.

What to Do?

  • Observe from Afar: While entering the town is prohibited, you can view Eagle Mountain from a distance. Often, the mystery of what lies behind the fences adds to its allure.
  • Drone Footage: For those who are keen to get a closer look, check out available drone footage online. It provides a bird’s-eye view of this deserted town and its sprawling infrastructure.
  • Visit Nearby Joshua Tree National Park: If you’re in the vicinity, don’t miss out on the park’s unique rock formations, starry nights, and desert vistas.

Insider Tip:

Eagle Mountain might be a ghost town, but it hasn’t completely fallen off the map.

While the town’s homes and businesses stand empty, the school remains operational, serving students from nearby areas. This juxtaposition of abandonment and ongoing life makes Eagle Mountain all the more intriguing.

Also, always respect private property and posted signs. Exploring from a safe distance and using available online resources can provide a fulfilling experience without trespassing.


17. Chinese Camp, CA

21 Best Ghost Towns in California: A Journey from Gold Rush Settlements to Abandoned Cities, Travel Realizations

Why Visit?

  • Fame & History: Chinese Camp serves as a remarkable relic of California’s Gold Rush era, playing host to thousands of Chinese miners during its peak years.
  • Location: The town offers a picturesque setting along the historic Highway 120, providing both a history lesson and scenic views.
  • Rich Past: Chinese Camp grew as a result of the Gold Rush in the 1850s, becoming the primary base for Chinese miners. This influx shaped the town’s cultural and historical fabric.
  • Wild West Ambiance: The town is dotted with buildings that date back to the Gold Rush era, with structures like Saint Anne’s Church evoking the spirit of the 1850s.
  • Tong Wars: A significant event was the Tong War in the 1850s, a clash between two Chinese mining factions over mining rights. This event is deeply embedded in the town’s history.

What to Do?

  • Historical Exploration: Tour the various mining-era buildings and churches that still stand as testament to the town’s heyday.
  • Cultural Enrichment: Discover more about the Chinese miners’ influence on the town, learning about the practices, beliefs, and traditions they brought with them.
  • Movie Sets: Owing to its authentic feel, Chinese Camp has been the backdrop for several films. Walk through the town, and you might recognize some locations!

Insider Tip: Don’t just focus on the buildings. Engage with the locals and historians to learn about the personal stories and events that unfolded in Chinese Camp. Every corner has a tale to tell.


18. Cherokee, CA

21 Best Ghost Towns in California: A Journey from Gold Rush Settlements to Abandoned Cities, Travel Realizations
  • Location: Near Oroville in Butte County, California
  • Directions: Situated a short drive from Oroville. From Oroville, take the CA-162 E and follow signs leading to Cherokee.
  • Where to Stay: Gold Country Casino Resort (approximately 8 mi away)

Why Visit?

Gold & Diamond Legacy: Cherokee holds a profound place in California’s mining history, settled by Cherokee Indians from Oklahoma before turning into a golden hotspot with the added mystery of diamond deposits.

Significant Visits: President Rutherford B. Hayes’s 1880 visit, along with figures like General William T. Sherman, underscored the town’s importance during its peak.

Mining Marvel: Cherokee is renowned for the Spring Valley Mine, once the largest hydraulic mine in California, and the surprise discovery of diamonds, adding an intriguing chapter to its history.

Diamond Enigma: The intriguing tale of M. E. Cooney’s pursuit of diamond mining, the abrupt closure of the diamond mine, and its unsolved mysteries make for an engaging narrative.

What to Do?

Historic Dive: Visit the remnants of Cherokee’s gold mines, especially the monumental Spring Valley Mine, and learn about the era’s hydraulic mining techniques.

Diamond Tales: Understand the surprising discovery of diamonds among the gold and delve into Cooney’s mysterious diamond mining adventures.

Reflect on History: The town offers insights into significant events, like President Hayes’s visit and the ambiguous history of diamond mining by Cooney.

Insider Tip:

While exploring Cherokee, make it a point to uncover the tales behind Cooney’s diamond mining pursuits and the speculated larger interests that may have influenced its sudden cessation.

Cherokee’s history is not just about gold and diamonds; it’s also about power, influence, and mysteries that remain unresolved.


19. Forest City, Sierra County, CA

21 Best Ghost Towns in California: A Journey from Gold Rush Settlements to Abandoned Cities, Travel Realizations
  • Location: Located in the Tahoe National Forest, Forest City is situated on the north fork of Oregon Creek, a region deeply tied to California’s gold rush history.
  • Directions: To reach Forest City from major hubs in California, follow signs for Tahoe National Forest. While specific directions may vary, the town’s setting amidst the Sierra Nevada makes it accessible from multiple routes.
  • Where to Stay: There are no lodging options in the ghost town itself. Nearby towns and regions in the Tahoe National Forest offer a variety of lodging options, including cabins and campgrounds.

Why Visit?

  1. Gold Rush Legacy: Originally named Brownsville after a sailor who discovered gold in the area, Forest City once had over 1,000 inhabitants and 32 commercial businesses, showcasing the boom of the Gold Rush era.
  2. National Register Historic District: As a designated historic site, Forest City offers a window into the past, from its gold mining origins to the subsequent decline in prosperity as the gold diminished.
  3. Preserved Structures: Out of the once bustling town, 26 structures still stand today, including a school building, dance hall, and two cemeteries, with many managed or owned by the Forest City Historical Association.
  4. Unique Public Ownership: The land in Forest City never underwent the patent process, meaning it’s publicly owned. Managed by the U.S. Forest Service, all buildings are on special use permits, with private ownership of structures but public land.

What to Do?

  1. Step Back in Time: Traverse the town and admire the 26 surviving structures. Notable sites include the dance hall, school building, and the two Gold Rush-era cemeteries.
  2. Outdoor Adventures: Use Forest City as a base to explore nearby hiking and mountain biking trails within the Tahoe National Forest.
  3. Engage with History: Dive into the area’s history, from its beginnings in 1852, through its peak years, to its transformation into a historical district.
  4. Interact with the Few: With only a handful of residents today, speaking with them can offer unique insights into living in a historical ghost town.

Insider Tip:

While access to Forest City is free due to its status on public lands managed by the U.S. Forest Service, remember to respect private property rights as all structures are privately owned.

Given its elevation of 4,489 feet, winters can be snowy; always check weather conditions before planning a visit.


20. Hornitos, Mariposa County, CA

21 Best Ghost Towns in California: A Journey from Gold Rush Settlements to Abandoned Cities, Travel Realizations
  • Location: Near Yosemite, Mariposa County, CA.
  • Directions: Hornitos is located just a short drive away from the entrance of Yosemite. Depending on your starting point, head towards Yosemite and follow signs or GPS instructions to this historic town in Mariposa County.
  • Where to Stay: As Hornitos is a small town, direct lodging options might be limited. However, being in proximity to Yosemite, numerous accommodations ranging from hotels to campgrounds are available nearby in Mariposa and Yosemite Valley.

Why Visit?

  1. Historical Significance: Established during the peak of the Gold Rush in 1850, Hornitos is a testament to the prosperity, dreams, and challenges faced by early miners and settlers.
  2. Legends and Lore: Hornitos is famed as the home of Joaquin Murrieta, often called the “Robin Hood of the West.” Discover tales of this outlaw and explore the theory of him being the inspiration behind Zorro.
  3. Architectural Glimpses: Wander through the remnants of the gold rush era. Structures such as the Ghirardelli General Store, a nod to the famous chocolate brand, the jail, Masonic Hall, and several abandoned farms, stand as silent witnesses to a bygone era.
  4. Hilltop Cemetery: An important historic site, the cemetery offers both a look into the past and panoramic views of the surrounding landscape.

What to Do?

  1. History Delve: Walk through the streets and ruins of Hornitos to absorb its rich past, imagining the bustling life it once witnessed during the gold rush.
  2. Photographic Journey: The ruins set against the Californian landscape make for evocative photography subjects. Whether a professional photographer or just capturing memories, the town provides ample opportunities.
  3. Nature and Scenery: Being near Yosemite, visitors can combine their historic exploration with a nature trek, enjoying the unparalleled beauty of Yosemite’s landscapes.
  4. Local Interaction: Engage with the handful of residents in Hornitos. Their stories and insights provide a deeper understanding of the town’s past and its significance today.

Insider Tip:

If you’re a chocolate lover, delve into the history of the Ghirardelli General Store. It’s fascinating to think of the connections between this small town and the global chocolate empire!

Remember to always be respectful of the few residents who call Hornitos home, as well as the historic structures and sites.


Beyond the Golden State: Ghost Towns in the Western Region

21. Rhyolite, NV

21 Best Ghost Towns in California: A Journey from Gold Rush Settlements to Abandoned Cities, Travel Realizations

While Rhyolite technically lies within Nevada’s borders, its geographical proximity and intertwined history with California’s mining legacy make it an indispensable addition to our list of “21 Best Ghost Towns in California: A Journey from Gold Rush Settlements to Abandoned Cities.”

Its stories and remnants serve as a testament to the region’s shared past, bridging two states with tales of gold, silver, and the dreams of those who once called it home.

The town stands not just as a representation of Nevada’s mining history, but as an integral chapter in the larger narrative of the American West’s pursuit of fortune.

  • Location: Just outside Death Valley, NV
  • Directions: Head four miles west from Beatty, NV.
  • Where to Stay: Death Valley Inn and RV Park (located 6 mi from Rhyolite).

Why Visit?

  • Shared Legacy with California: Rhyolite, though in Nevada, is just a stone’s throw from the California border. Its intertwined mining history with the Golden State’s boom era makes it a fitting addition to our list.
  • Mining Legacy: Rhyolite was the crowning jewel of mining towns in the Death Valley area. Its rapid rise and decline provide a unique insight into the transient nature of boomtowns during the Gold Rush era.
  • Architectural Marvels: Imagine a city so prosperous it had an opera house, a stock exchange, and fifty saloons. Such was Rhyolite in its prime.
  • The Bottle House: This unique structure, constructed from beer bottles sourced from the town’s many saloons, stands as a testament to the creativity and resourcefulness of its past inhabitants. Today, it’s a must-visit for anyone touring Rhyolite.
  • Goldwell Museum: A short distance from Rhyolite, the Goldwell Museum adds a modern twist to the historical landscape with its outdoor art installations. It’s a blend of the past and the contemporary, making for an intriguing visit.

What to Do?

  • Historical Exploration: Roam the streets of Rhyolite, taking in the ruins of what once was a thriving city. Many of the buildings, though in disrepair, provide a glimpse into the town’s opulent past.
  • Visit the Bottle House: This iconic structure is a favorite among visitors and offers a unique photo opportunity.
  • Artistic Endeavors: The Goldwell Museum, with its open-air art installations, provides a contrasting experience to the ancient town ruins.
  • Scenic Drives: If you’re on a road trip from Las Vegas, the route to Rhyolite provides mesmerizing desert landscapes and a chance to experience the stark beauty of the region.

Insider Tip:

While Rhyolite offers a rich historical experience, it’s also situated in a desert. Ensure you’re adequately prepared for the weather, carrying plenty of water and sun protection.

Also, while you’re in the area, consider visiting other attractions in and around Death Valley for a comprehensive desert experience.


Hidden Gems: Lesser-Known Ghost Towns of California

21 Best Ghost Towns in California: A Journey from Gold Rush Settlements to Abandoned Cities, Travel Realizations
Name of TownCountyWhat RemainsAdditional Notes
Chloride CityInyoThree stamp mills and a graveAbandoned in 1905
HarrisburgInyoOne home and part of a mine
LeadfieldInyoMines, wood and tin structures, mill
SkidooInyoNo remains
Agua MansaSan BernardinoCemetery
Alleghany Historic DistrictSierraOld buildings, a mine, cemetery
AltavilleCalaverasOriginal buildings and cemetery
Amador City & Volcano DistrictAmadorHistoric buildings
Angel’s CampCalaverasOriginal buildingsActive city
Ashford MillsInyoAbandoned mine, adobe buildings
AtoliaSan BernardinoBuildings, mine shaftsNo trespassing
AuburnPlacerMany original buildingsCurrent city
Bankhead SpringsSan DiegoOld cabins, a hotel
Bear ValleyMariposaBuildings, adobe remnants
BelfortMonoCabins, foundations, mine remnants
BellevilleSan BernardinoMining equipment, foundations, grave, hanging treeNear Big Bear
BennettvilleMonoWooden cabins, mine ruins
Benton/Benton Hot SpringsMonoOriginal structures

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Gold Rush to Ghost Towns: a California tale! Find out where history sleeps but never dies. 🌟👻 #GoldRush #California #CaliforniaGhostTowns #Travel Click To Tweet

Travel Realizations

Exploring California’s ghost towns is more than just a historical journey; it’s a fascinating expedition into the soul of the Golden State.

These long-forgotten settlements speak volumes about human resilience, the elusive dream of riches, and the relentless march of time.

Each town has its own story, every crumbling building holds a secret, and every dusty path leads to the past.

As you wander through these deserted locales, you realize you’re not just a spectator—you’re a part of the continuing narrative.

Here’s to the travelers who seek more than just destinations; to those who look for stories etched in time. May your adventures be many and your inspirations be endless!

Breathtaking ruins and stories untold. Dive into California's 21 most fascinating ghost towns. 📷👻 #Travel #California #GhostTowns Click To Tweet

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Chirasree Banerjee

Hello. My name is Chirasree. I have been traveling for almost 11 years to places all over the world. I enter into a separate reality during my travels and enjoy the allure of escape from the mundane. I seek beauty through nature and human-made creations. Because beauty is powerful. I seek knowledge. I observe, absorb, and write about the places I visit and the profound realizations and inspirations that each place has to offer.