6 California’s Real Ghost Towns That Aren’t Just Tourist Traps!

Nothing is more fun than spooking adventures and exploring ghost towns in California!

They have something for everyone, whether it’s exploring the haunted hallways of an abandoned building, visiting their historical museums, or discovering creations left by modern artists.

California has, by some estimates, more than 275 ghost towns that weren’t able to withstand the test of time. The quick rise and fall of the gold rush left miners no choice but to abandon entire settlements through out the state.

All, however offer a glimpse into the state’s rich history and make for the perfect spooky season day trip.

Despite their prevalence, abandoned towns can still be difficult to find as they are often located far from modern cities and highways. Furthermore, finding one worth visiting is even tougher as many contain little to no buildings or attractions at all—talk about boring.

We looked for abandoned settlements with the most fascinating history, the creepiest hauntings, and the most interesting attractions.

And here are the 6 most stunning and authentic ghost towns in California that would make for great road trips this summer, along with tips on what you should bring with you and where you can camp nearby.

What is a Ghost Town?

Ghost towns are villages, towns, or cities abandoned by their residents. In other words, people no longer live in them.

They are characterized by their deserted buildings, empty streets, and disintegrating man-made structures. People will also refer to them as deserted cities, or abandoned cities.

Why are they abandoned?

Often times a town, or city, is abandoned because the economic activity that supported it failed.

For instance, Bodie Ghost Town in California was deserted due to the fact that it’s nearby gold mines dried up. People could no longer make money living there. So, they left.

Other times a town, or city, is abandoned due to a more sudden, and possibly violent reason. These include natural disasters, nuclear fall-out, disease, or war.

It’s important to do your research before visiting a ghost town. Some may still be dangerous to explore.

For example, due to lethal levels of radiation the ghost town in Ukraine, called Chernobyl, is off limits to visitors.

Are they really haunted?

Maybe—it’s sorta up to you.

Whether or not ghost towns are actually haunted is up for debate. Abandoned buildings, quiet landscapes, and old graveyards have been popularized as haunted places in movies, books, and TV shows for hundred of years.

That just means you’ll need to visit a ghost town, and decide for yourself if it’s haunted. Bring a flashlight.

Why Visit a Ghost Town?

As we mentioned earlier ghost towns are a popular travel destination because they have something for everyone.

You can explore abandoned buildings hunting for ghosts, take a stroll through history by walking down their streets, or marvel at new art installations hidden in their dusty grottoes. You’re pretty much guaranteed to have a good time.

Ghost Hunting

If you’ve ever watched Ghost Hunters, or other paranormal television, you’ve probably already seen ghost towns.

Shoot, it’s probably why you want to visit one. Many people try to visit these towns at night to increase their chances at finding ghosts and ghouls beneath the moonlight.

Please take the proper precautions if you decide to ghost hunt in an abandoned city.

Bring a flashlight, make sure doing so is legal, and let someone know where you are in the event that something happens to you. Other than that, have fun, and safe ghost-hunting!

Knowing Their History

Ghost towns are places frozen in time. Residents might leave in such a hurry that they even leave furniture behind.

Therefore, they’re a much more intimate and authentic place to learn about history than a museum.

Read some articles about the ghost town before you visit so you can impress your friends and family with knowledge about specific spots in the abandoned city.

Art

Artists travel to ghost towns because they’re a quiet, and private place to practice their art.

Therefore, abandoned cities are often home to graffiti, murals, and even sculptures. Keep your eye out for hidden art pieces, or create one of your own!

Ghost Town Checklist

Ghost towns are abandoned for a reason. They’re often in hostile environments with little to no modern conveniences.

In order to be safe, and have a good time, there’s some things you should bring. Here’s our recommendations for your ghost town adventure checklist:

  • Sunscreen – Many of these ghost towns are in the desert. The desert is hot. Protect your skin by applying sunscreen every hour.
  • Water – Bring a gallon of water for every day you’re spending in the ghost town. All the walking will dehydrate you, and the hot sun overhead won’t help either
  • Thick-soled shoes – No flip flops. Ghost towns are home to broken glass, rusty nails, and thorny bushes, none of which you want in your foot.
  • A Flashlight – Even if you visit during the day you may want a flashlight when entering abandoned buildings. Many will not have artificial lighting.
  • Food – No modern amenities means no McDonalds or Walmart. You’ll need to bring food for every meal you plan on eating during your visit.
  • Camera – There’ll be plenty of opportunities to take pictures. If you bring the right clothing, you might even be able to dress like an old miner, and fool your friends into thinking you bought a time machine.

9 Creepiest Ghost Towns In California Worth a Road Trip

Alright, now that you know everything there is to know about ghost towns lets talk about which ones are the best.

We found the abandoned cities in California with the most fascinating history, the highest levels of haunted activity, and the best natural settings for exploration.

We even included a place to camp nearby so you can explore these stunning abundant ghost towns in California for as long as you want.

1. Bodie Ghost Town

Bodie Ghost Town

If you want to see one of the most preserved ghost towns in America than Bodie is the place for you.

It’s a historic park that California has kept in a ‘state of arrested decay’ for 70+ years. It’s a little more touristy than other ghost towns on this list, but it’s still one of the best.

Bodie was established in 1861 after William Body discovered gold in the hills surrounding nearby Mono Lake.

A sprawling city of 10,000 people quickly sprouted up, and then dried up just as quick after the gold ran out.

Today, 110 abandoned buildings stand, some still containing the furniture or goods left behind by those who deserted them.

  • Hours of Operation: 9am-6pm (May 15th – Oct 31st); 9am-3pm (Nov 1st – May 14th)
  • Cost: $8 Adults; $4 Children (Ages 4-17); FREE Toddlers (Ages 3 and under)
  • Pets Allowed: Yes, except in the Stamp Mill and Museum
  • Location: Bodie, California

Top 3 Things to See and Do

  • Tour the Standard Mill & Gold Mine—Tour the Standard Mill where they processed the gold and silver found in the mines. You can learn a lot about the history of the gold mine as well as the process of acquiring it.
  • Bodie Museum—Learn about Bodie’s colorful past which included robbers, prostitutes, gunfighters, and miners. It’ll help you understand more about the structures within Bodie as you explore.
  • Bodie Methodist Church—Check out this picturesque wooden church while visiting this ghost town!

Where to RV camp while visiting?

Paradise Shore RV Camp

Why you’ll love it? Besides being one of the closest RV parks to Bodie Ghost Town, Paradise Shore is also centrally located next to tons of other outdoor activities and places to see.

These include, Mono Lake, Yosemite National Park, and the Sierra Nevada Mountains. You can find plenty of opportunities for hiking, fishing, and more!

Location: 2399 CA-182, Bridgeport, CA 93517 (22.1 miles from Bodie)

Basic Information:

  • Cost: Starting at $38/night
  • Number of sites: NA
  • Showers/Laundry: Both
  • Pool/Spa: No, but it’s within walking distance of a lake
  • WiFi: Yes
  • Full Hookups: Yes
  • Propane: Yes
  • Pets Allowed: Yes
  • Max RV length: 40 feet

2. Calico Ghost Town

Calico Ghost Town

What happens when a theme park tycoon purchases an old, abandoned city? Find out by visiting Calico Ghost Town!

This dusty mining town was purchased by Walter Knott, the founder of Knotts Berry Farm, in the 1950s. He decided to bring the dead town back to life with his massive fortune.

If Bodie is considered touristy than Calico Ghost Town is the definition of a tourist trap. Walter Knott did not preserve Calico Ghost Town, he restored it.

All the old buildings were refurbished and rebuilt to recapture the town’s lost glory.

Walter Knott certainly took some creative liberties with it’s restoration, implementing several modern conveniences into the old buildings, including a Starbucks. Nonetheless it’s a great place to take the family!

  • Hours of Operation: 9am to 5pm Daily, except Christmas Day
  • Cost: Starting at $2 for kids and $3 for adults – Full list of prices on their website
  • Pets Allowed: Yes, leashed dogs welcome
  • Location: 36600 Ghost Town Rd, Yermo, CA 92398

Top 3 Things to See and Do

  • Tour the Maggie Mining Company Mine—You can go on a self-guided tour where you’ll learn about the history of the mine as well as the process of procuring silver. It’s an easy 1000-foot, handicap accessible, walk.
  • The Calico Odessa Railroad—This8-minute train tour takes you around to see several historical sites, mining equipment, and hear some interesting historical facts.
  • Pan for Gold like a real miner—The Calico Gold Panning Adventures offers visitors the opportunity to learn about gold panning. Afterwards, you’ll pan for gold in the nearby river. Everyone strikes gold—well, fools gold. The park gives every visitor a bit of iron pyrite, also known as fools gold.

Where to RV camp while visiting?

Calico Ghost Town Regional Park

Why you’ll love it? You get to camp inside the park! It’s walking distance from the ghost town, and will give you a more authentic overall experience. This is great for people that enjoy a more primitive camping style. The best part? Camping here gives you free admission into the town!

Location: 36600 Ghost Town Rd, Yermo, CA 92398 (Less than 0.1 miles away)

Basic Information:

  • Cost: Starting at $30/night
  • Number of sites: NA
  • Showers/Laundry: Showers
  • Pool/Spa: None
  • WiFi: Yes
  • Full Hookups: Yes
  • Propane: No
  • Pets Allowed: Yes
  • Max RV length: 50 feet

3. North Bloomfield Ghost Town

North Bloomfield Ghost Town

This abandoned town lies at the heart of Malakoff Diggins State Park in Northern California. Once called Humbug City, this well-preserved ghost town dates back to the 1800s.

Many of the original buildings still stand, preserved by California rather than restored. It’s not touristy like Bodie or Calico.

Tours of the town are held daily throughout the summer and on weekends during the off-season. During these tours you’ll learn about the residents who call this place home in the 1800s.

You’ll also discover how mining came to the town, why it was abandoned, and other interesting historical facts

  • Hours of Operation: Open Daily, sunrise to sunset
  • Cost: $10 per vehicle
  • Pets Allowed: Yes, friendly, leashed dogs welcome
  • Location:North Bloomfield, CA

Top 3 Things to See and Do

  • Tour North Bloomfield Ghost Town—You can go on a self-guided tour, or attend a tour with a guide by checking the information at the visitor center. Learn about the quick and interesting history about this 150-year-old ghost town.
  • Explore Malakoff Diggins State Park— This 8-minute train tour takes you around to see several historical sites, mining equipment, and hear some interesting historical facts.
  • Hike Across Edwards Crossing Bridge—This historical landmark is a great place to visit in the summer. It’s a local watering hole with opportunities for cliff diving, swimming, and fishing.

Where to RV camp while visiting?

Willow Creek Campground & RV Park (Call for Reservations – 530-288-0646)

Why you’ll love it?

You get to camp inside the park! It’s walking distance from the ghost town, and will give you a more authentic overall experience.

This is great for people that enjoy a more primitive camping style. The best part? Camping here gives you free admission into the town!

Location: 17548 CA-49, Camptonville, CA 95922 (25.6 miles away from North Bloomfield)

Basic Information:

  • Cost: Starting at $30/night
  • Number of sites: 40
  • Showers/Laundry: Both
  • Pool/Spa: None
  • WiFi: Yes
  • Full Hookups: Yes
  • Propane: Yes
  • Pets Allowed: Yes ($5/day)
  • Max RV length: 35 feet

4. Ballarat Ghost Town

Ballarat Ghost Town

Located in Panamint Valley near Death Valley National Park lies this forgotten Ghost Town. There’s no company or government entity running this abandoned place.

Instead, you’ll find an old graveyard, several crumbling building, and a general store run by Roc and his dog.

They’re the last two residents in this town that used to boast a population of 2,000 people. If you’re looking for a ghost town that you can explore without regulations come to Ballarat.

There’s no true open or closing time, and no real efforts have been made to preserve the city.

In other words, it’s truly authentic, and provides a glimpse into what will surely happen to every city once we’re gone.

Top 3 Things to See and Do

  • Visit the Burned Remains of Barker Ranch—This is where the Manson Family lived for several years. It’s also the place where the infamous Charles Manson was arrested for the final time. It burned down in 2009, but you can still visit the site where it lay. You’ll even see the remains of the Manson Family truck.
  • Look for Ghosts in the Ballarat Cemetery—If you’re looking for ghosts the best place to search are cemeteries. Go at night, and really test your courage.
  • Hike to Telescope Peak—This is the tallest peak in Death Valley, and a pretty strenuous hike. It’s a 14-mile round-trip which will take you 7 hours to complete. Your reward will be breathtaking views of the entire valley. Bring plenty of water, food, and sunscreen.

Where to RV camp while visiting?

Mahagony Flat Campground

Why you’ll love it? This RV campground is as primitive as they come. You’ll only find a picnic table and a fire pit for your amenities.

It supplies you with great views of the valley, and at night, astonishing views of the night sky.

Location: 36600 Ghost Town Rd, Yermo, CA 92398 (31.4 miles away from Ballarat)

Basic Information:

  • Cost: FREE
  • Number of sites: 10
  • Showers/Laundry: No
  • Pool/Spa: No
  • WiFi: No
  • Full Hookups: No
  • Propane: No
  • Pets Allowed: Yes
  • Max RV length: 25 feet

5. Bombay Beach Ghost Town

Bombay Beach Ghost Town

This perhaps the fascinating ghost town on the list. In the early 1900s the Colorado River went rogue and dumped a 15-mile by 35-mile lake into the Salton Sea Trough.

This accidental body of water eventually attracted millions of visitors, who called it a “miracle in the desert”.

A resulting flood of businesses, yacht clubs, and hotels opened in the 1950s to support the tourism influx.

Unfortunately, in the 1970s the lake bed began to dry up, and pollution got so bad that people no longer came to visit. Soon the city was almost entirely abandoned.

There’s still a few residents in Bombay Beach, but the bulk of it’s citizens have disappeared. The result? A destination straight out of an apocalypse movie.

Top 3 Things to See and Do

  • Attend Bombay Beach Biennale—This Burning Man like event caters to everyone. You can find a number of activities, including: lectures, art shows, live music events, museum tours, and more. It spans 3-days, and it’s free, but get a wristband fast because the event only has 500 openings available.
  • Check out the permanent art installations—If you can’t attend Bombay Beach Biennale then look out for some of the permanent art exhibits it leaves behind. Artists construct beautiful sculptures from reused pieces of trash. Just walk, or drive around the ghost town to see what I’m talking about.
  • Lounge on an apocalyptic beach—Grab a chair, a book, and go catch some sun on the shores of the Salton Sea. It’s not the prettiest beach in the world, but the surrounding apocalyptic environment will make for some unique pictures and memories.

Where to RV camp while visiting?

Fountain of Youth Spa RV Park

Why you’ll love it? It’s the perfect paradise for RV campers. You’ll find a number of activities and events at this resort. They even offer access to a hot spring in the Chocolate Mountains.

If you get bored at the RV park, you can go enjoy the endless outdoor activities the area has to offer, or cruise around Bombay Beach.

Basic Information:

  • Cost: Starting at $28
  • Number of sites: 200+
  • Showers/Laundry: Both
  • Pool/Spa: Both
  • WiFi: Yes
  • Full Hookups: Yes
  • Propane: Yes
  • Pets Allowed: Yes
  • Max RV length: 65 feet

6. Allensworth Ghost Town

Allensworth Ghost Town

This ghost town probably has the coolest history on our list. Colonel Allen Allensworth (almost sounds like a made-up name), and four other settlers established the town in 1908.

It was a town founded, financed, and governed by African Americans. Unfortunately, after it’s founder was killed in a motorcycle accident, and the Pacific Farming Company failed to deliver water to the city, it began to be abandoned.

Made into a state historic park in 1974 this ghost town has been nicknamed, “The town that refused to die”.

This is due to the fact that a few inhabitants still call it home, refusing to leave despite it’s financial failure.

Today a collection of lovingly restored and reconstructed early 20th-century buildings—including the Colonel’s house, historic schoolhouse, Baptist church, and library.

Top 3 Things to See and Do

  • Visit Delano Heritage Park—Check out the history of the area. It’s a small museum so you can walk in an hour or so.
  • Explore Pixley Wildlife Refuge—This is a great place for birdwatchers or those looking for an easy hike. The small, wetlands area features a number of species, including: threatened Tipton kangaroo rat, blunt-nosed leapord lizard, the endangered San Joaquin kit fox, and in the winter months, the Sandhill Crane.
  • Lounge on an apocalyptic beach—Grab a chair, a book, and go catch some sun on the shores of the Salton Sea. It’s not the prettiest beach in the world, but the surrounding apocalyptic environment will make for some unique pictures and memories.

Where to RV camp while visiting?

Colonel Allensworth State Park Camping

Why you’ll love it? It’s a small campground at the heart of Allensworth State Park. You can leave your RV, and literally walk around the large park.

It provides a primitive experience with just picnic tables, fire rings, flush toilets, and a few showers.

Location: Grant Dr, Earlimart, CA 93219 (Basically inside Allensworth Ghost Town)

Basic Information:

  • Cost: Starting at $20
  • Number of sites: 15
  • Showers/Laundry: Shower
  • Pool/Spa: No
  • WiFi: No
  • Full Hookups: No
  • Propane: No
  • Pets Allowed: Yes
  • Max RV length: 35 feet

Truth be told, there’s probably over a hundred ghost towns hidden throughout California. If we missed your favorite please let us know! You can leave your story in the comments below.

Last Updated on by Aaron Richardson

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