Spooky Ghost Towns Across America

Spooky Ghost Towns


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Spooky Ghost Towns

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There is something unsettling about walking through an abandoned town, whether the buildings are crumbling and broken or still creepily intact, as though residents just disappeared into thin air. Some ghost towns provide insight into the country's history, while others are steeped in folk tales and ghost stories. Most are free to explore, making for an offbeat and low-budget travel experience.

Related: 78 Weird Tourist Attractions Across America 

Doom Town, Nevada
United States Department of Energy

Atomic Relic

Doom Town, Nevada

In the Nevada desert about 65 miles northwest of Las Vegas is an unexpected and uncanny sight: picture-perfect houses filled with midcentury furniture, cars in driveways, food on kitchen tables, and mannequins posed as though engaged in household tasks.

Built by the Federal Civil Defense Administration, the site was used to test the impact of an atomic bomb (detonated nearby on May 5, 1955) on a "typical American community" of homes, a radio station, and other buildings made of wood, brick, and steel. What remains of the fake community, now called "Doom Town," is a reminder of the paranoia and fear of the Cold War years and a highlight of once-monthly free tours of the Nevada National Security Site.   

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Nanticoke by Vasiliymeshko (CC BY-SA)

Industrial Remnant

Nanticoke, Pennsylvania

Built by a coal company in 1911, what is now called The Concrete City was a small settlement where coal miners could rent a seven-room house for $8 a month. Believed to be the first example of tract housing, the 22 homes were built entirely out of concrete. The damp climate and porous concrete meant every household needed a garden hose to regularly wash the "culm" from walls inside and out. The settlement was abandoned in 1924 when a new owner didn't want to pay to install a sewer system demanded by the township. 

Attempts to demolish the site were given up quickly after a hundred sticks of dynamite failed to topple even one of the concrete structures. A small wading pool in the town square is all that remains of a common courtyard that once included tennis courts, a baseball field, and a playground, and the homes are riddled with bullet holes after being used for training by the military and police and fire departments.

Related: Eerie Abandoned Factories Across America

Garnet, Montana
Sue Smith/shutterstock

After the Gold Rush

Garnet, Montana

Garnet was born during the gold rush of 1895 and home to nearly a thousand miners and homesteaders at its peak. The mines were quickly depleted and most people were gone by 1912, but two dozen wood buildings persist, making this one of the best-preserved mining towns in the U.S. It looks almost like a movie set for an Old West boomtown.

Today it is owned and managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. Volunteers recruited to maintain the site give tours and get free lodging in a rustic Garnet cabin, as well as a small stipend. Beware, though: They report paranormal sightings and unearthly noises in the night.

Ludlow Massacre Site, Trinidad, Colorado
Ludlow Massacre Site, Trinidad, Colorado by Don Graham (CC BY-SA)

Deadly Protest

Ludlow, Colorado

Rather than ghost stories and local legends, this coal mining town is the site of a real-life horror story. In 1913, thousands of miners went on strike to protest their living and working conditions, only to be kicked out by their employer. About 1,200 workers and their families built a makeshift tent city near the mine and continued to protest.

In April 1914, when the miners were celebrating Greek Easter, militiamen surrounded the camp, peppering it with gunfire and setting the tents ablaze. Eleven children and two women huddled in a foxhole were among those who lost their lives as the camp burned to the ground. The Colorado Coal Strike has been called the deadliest in U.S. history, claiming between 69 and 199 lives. Today, those who visit the remains of the company town, near Trinidad, can see the foxhole and a monument to those killed in the massacre.

Rush, Arkansas
Rush, Arkansas by Dave Thomas (CC BY-NC)

Hike Through Time

Rush, Arkansas

A zinc mining town, Rush hit its peak during World War I, when it had a population of 22,000. It was the second-largest city in the state, and one of the most prosperous. When zinc prices declined after the war, so did the town, and it was officially declared a ghost town in 1972. 

What makes Rush unique is that it is cared for by the National Park Service as part of the Buffalo National River park, which means the original buildings and mines are well-preserved. A number of hiking paths wind around the town and mines, with plaques telling the story of the town, making it a favorite spot for locals looking for a hike with a bit of history. If you can't make it, don't miss the video tour of the abandoned Boxley Mill the NPS has posted on their site. 

Bodie, California
Marco Rubino/shutterstock

Wild West Curse

Bodie, California

A reverend described Bodie in 1881 as "a sea of sin, lashed by the tempests of lust and passion." At its peak, the gold-mining town had more than 10,000 residents and 30 mines, as well as all the features of a Wild West boomtown: saloons, brothels, opium dens, gambling halls, and breweries. Hundred-gallon barrels of whiskey were rolled down the main street, where there were 65 saloons in just a mile. Street fights, shootouts, and killings happened on a daily basis, and the town earned a reputation for lawlessness and vice. The boom lasted just a few years, and by 1900 the town was in decline. 

Devastated by multiple fires over the years, the town had only a handful of residents by the end of World War II. Two were killed in a crime of passion, three died of mysterious illnesses, and Bodie was officially a ghost town by 1950. A number of ghosts supposedly inhabit the buildings, and it is also said that anyone who takes something from Bodie — even a pebble — will be cursed with misfortune. Today, about 10% of Bodie's original buildings endure, largely unchanged, and visitors can see a logbook recording all the missing items people have returned to try to lift their curses. 

Abandoned Helltown Barn
Abandoned Helltown Barn by Andrew Borgen (CC BY-ND)

Forced Out

Helltown, Ohio

The town formerly known as Boston, Ohio, is cloaked in tales of Satan worship, children murdered by serial killers, cult rituals, and ghostly figures, but the real history of "Helltown" is compelling enough. In 1974, in response to concern over the destruction of the nation's forests, President Gerald Ford signed a bill to create a national park in Boston Township. Using the powers of eminent domain, the National Park Service began buying Boston piece by piece, forcing people from their homes — prompting one resident to write on a wall, "Now we know how the Indians felt."

By the time the town was emptied, plans for a national park had fallen by the wayside. What remains today is now part of Cuyahoga Valley National Recreation Area and most of the buildings have been bulldozed — except for the cemetery. Helltown now serves as a place for locals to go get creeped out by ghost stories. 

 Henry River Mill Village Historic District
Henry River Mill Village Historic District by Upstateherd (CC BY-SA)

'District 12'

Henry River Mill Village, North Carolina

This particular town, near Hildebran, has a unique claim to fame: It was used as the setting for District 12 in the "Hunger Games" movies. It was a classic American mill town that sprang up around a yarn manufacturer opened in 1905. As the economy and nature of manufacturing changed, towns such as this one suffered. 

The mill finally shut down in 1973, and the last resident left in 1987 — but a family bought it in 2017 and a couple of years later won it a spot on the National Register of Historic Places. Currently you can spend the night, schedule private dining, and it's available for tours, weddings, and Halloween events. 

Centralia, Pennsylvania

Perpetually on Fire

Centralia, Pennsylvania

The inspiration behind many a creepy movie, Centralia was once home to more than 2,000 people. Nearby coal mines caught fire in 1962 and continue to burn. Today Centralia is a ghost town with sulfurous steam spewing out of the ground. It's best to visit in the fall and winter, when low temperatures make it easier to see the steam. When crowds kept flocking  to Centralia's “Graffiti Highway” despite coronavirus warnings, the attraction was covered over with dirt

Goldfield, Arizona

Ghosts of the Gold Rush

Goldfield, Arizona

Arizona's only narrow gauge train runs through Goldfield, which is spooky in and of itself — but is also the gateway to the Superstition Mountains. Like so many creepy ghost towns, Goldfield, as the name implies, was once a thriving mining community. In fact, the boom was so big in the 1890s that Goldfield, on the legendary Apache Trail, was on track to grow larger than Mesa. Then the vein dried up, the saloons closed, the schoolhouse and meat market shuttered their doors, the people left, and the legends began.  

Terlingua, Texas

Memories of Mercury

Terlingua, Texas

Nestled on the edge of Big Bend National Park on the border of Mexico is the ghost town of Terlingua. If it's not haunted as the legends claim, it sure looks the part. Once a town based around the mining of a toxic mineral called cinnabar, which holds the heavy metal mercury, Terlingua is now mostly "decaying buildings, mine shafts, tall tales, ruins, crotchety old-timers, a three-legged dog, too much cactus, and semi-friendly rattlesnakes," according to the ghost town's online profile.

Casualty of Civil War | Cahawba, Alabama

Casualty of Civil War

Cahawba, Alabama

Between the years 1819-1826, Cahawba was the capital of Alabama; though the capital moved, it remained home to some 3,000 people. The Civil War, however, rendered it a ghost town, after Confederate soldiers tore up the town's railroads to extend their own railway and installed a hellish prison for captured Union soldiers. It was the beginning of the end, and townspeople packed and left. 

Although newly freed slaves took over for a spell after the war, Cahawba was all but abandoned by 1900, with almost no structures surviving past 1930. The abandoned town remains important archaeologically because it hides ruins from Native Americans who lived in the area 4,000 years ago. 

Related: 30 Incredible Photos of Ancient Ruins Across North America

Kalapana, Hawaii

The Ghosts of Kilauea

Kalapana, Hawaii

Plenty of American ghost towns earned their status because mines closed down, railroads shuttered, or war broke out — but some owe their demise to the wrath of Mother Nature. In 1983, Kilauea erupted and molten lava spewed across the Big Island. By 1990, the residents of Kalapana realized the Hawaiian volcanoes were reclaiming the town itself. By the time the flowing lava hardened into black rock, only a few buildings were left standing. Today, Kalapana is one of the most eerie, most unique ghost towns in the world.   

Thurmond, West Virginia
Clifton Adkins/istockphoto

A Shrinking Town

Thurmond, West Virginia

As of the 2020 Census, exactly two human souls called Thurmond home. In 2010, there were five, and the next five years experienced a veritable population boom: the addition of two townspeople. (In 2015, six out of Thurmond's seven residents ran for office.) A 1920s-era coal town frozen in time, Thurmond boasts one of the least-used Amtrak stations. 

The town is famous for holding a 14-year poker game that Ripley's Believe it or Not called the longest in history. Although there were at one point hundreds of residents, two banks, two hotels, and several commercial buildings, most of those burned down or were abandoned. Thurmond has been a creepy ghost town since around 1950. These days, the Thurmond Triathlon uses the town's hiking trails for the annual event.

Related: America's Most Beautiful and Historic Train Stations

Abandoned, but Remodeled | Nevada City, Montana

Abandoned, but Remodeled

Nevada City, Montana

Nevada City stands out, if nothing else, for the fact it's one of the only fully refurbished genuine ghost towns in the country. By 1945, the once thriving mining community was abandoned, but a family by the name of Bovey had restored the town by 1978 to become a living time capsule, complete with old-time calliopes, music boxes, and player pianos, not to mention a nice collection of historically accurate original log buildings. 

Related: The 40 Best Places in America to Travel Back in Time

Kennicott, Alaska
David González Rebollo/istockphoto

Ghosts of the Arctic

Kennicott, Alaska

When Kennicott was founded in 1903, miners flocked there to wrest copper from the ground for rich salaries unheard of in the lower 48. During the Great Depression, the price of copper plummeted, the town's five mines shut down, as did the railroad, and the miners and their families packed up and high-tailed it out of town. 

What was left was one of the most remote, most isolated, most scenic ghost towns in the world. Looming large 14 stories over the Kennicott Glacier is the towering red mill building that once was the heart of the town's mining operation. 

Rhyolite, Nevada

From Boom to Bust

Rhyolite, Nevada

When quartz and gold were discovered in the hills of Rhyolite in 1904, the find triggered one of the fastest, shortest-lived booms any boom town has ever experienced. Thousands of claims were launched, and banks, foundries, shops, hotels, a school, and even a stock exchange and two electric plants rose out of the dust. 

An opera house, billiards rooms, and a world-class red-light district were all part of the action, but just four years later, a financial panic started it all crashing down. Rhyolite is now among the finest examples of Nevada's rich ghost town history.   

Downtown Cairo, Illinois
Downtown Cairo, Illinois by Joseph (None)

Broken Promised Land

Cairo, Illinois

You know Cairo as the destination for freed slaves in Mark Twain's "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" — and the once-bustling boom town on the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio rivers was exactly that ... for a while. When the ferry and riverboat industries collapsed, so did Cairo's downtown district. Today, downtown Cairo is a curious blend of sad and spooky, a mere shell of what once was the fabled Promised Land. 

Stone walls of a 19th century mill

Oldie but Gone-ie

Bara-Hack, Connecticut
Connecticut is home to some of the earliest settlements in America, but not all lived to tell the tale. One of those long-forgotten settlements is Bara-Hack, which was full of life in the 1790s but has long been in the process of being reclaimed by the rugged Connecticut wilderness. 

When early optimism gave way to the harsh realities of Colonial life, the town was lost. Bara-Hack was probably abandoned by the time of the Civil War and certainly was empty by the turn of the 20th century. Today, it's little more than a collection of rapidly fading ruins.