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Here are the 17 coolest ghost towns in the U.S.

A ghost town road trip may be in order to experience these spooky cities

Personal perspective of person driving on mountain road
Getty Images

Some cities are far spookier than others. Surely, ghost towns top the list, relics of bygone communities that continue to teem with a certain spine-tingling aura.

Given our country’s massive size and lengthy history of economic booms and busts, there is no shortage of ghost towns in America. Countless communities have flourished for one generation or two, just to vanish off the face of the earth the next. In rural areas especially, the skeletons of these once-bustling dots on the map are more prevalent than you might think, with often chilling results.

Halloween isn’t the only time to think about these dead cities. If you’re a fan of ghost towns and forgotten locales, a summer road trip could be in order. Walking their vacant streets and peeking into their abandoned buildings is to travel back in time. It’s a lesson in impermanence, certainly, but also a great way to embrace ghostly nature. You may not find a lot in the way of local residents, but you’re sure to find a spirited sense of character here.

Kelso California Ghost Town
David Wilson / Flickr

Kelso, California

Set in rural San Bernadino County, Kelso is a forgotten railroad town. It’s fit with an empty California mission-style depot and a slouching old post office, among other things. During the Gold Rush the town was home to some 2,000 people, but by the 70s, just a handful remained.

Shaniko Oregon Ghost Town
Larry Myhre / Flickr

Shaniko, Oregon

Just 30 or so souls inhabit Shaniko, set in remote north-central Oregon. In the early 1900s, the town was home to the state’s largest wool warehouse. Today, it’s a scenic and chilling expanse of crumbling agricultural buildings set before a backdrop of sagebrush and endless plateaus.

Virginia City Montana Ghost Town
Larry Myhre / Flickr

Virginia City, Montana

Among the prettiest ghost towns you’re ever likely to visit, Virginia City is set near Yellowstone National Park. The old mining town, while empty, has been beautifully restored. It’s a big enough tourist draw that there are mini train rides and dramatizations, but that takes nothing away from the overall eerie makeup of the place.

Salem Massachusetts Eulogy
Tim Bouwer / Flickr

Salem, Massachusetts

Every Halloween list has to include the granddaddy of all scary towns, Salem. Hardly a ghost town with its 44,000-plus population, the Massachusetts city is home to an unsettling past replete with witches, heresy, and a freaked-out populace. The city has held on to its legacy as the center of the witch trials in the 17th century, with creepy museums and landmarks all over town.

Animas Forks Colorado Ghost Town
Larry Myhre / Flickr

Animas Forks, Colorado

One of the highest-set ghost towns at 11,200 feet in elevation, Animas Forks was originally the work of 18th-century prospectors. The spacing of the wood structures and its complete off-the-grid setting make Animas Forks quite frightful. Getting there is about as scary as being there, as it requires a lengthy drive on unpaved roads through some stunning and decidedly uninhabited Colorado country.

Scull Shoals Georgia Ghost Town
G. Dawson / Flickr

Scull Shoals, Georgia

While many point to Savannah for paranormal history and activity, it’s no ghost town. Scull Shoals is, with a terrifying name and plenty of decaying brick buildings. Sagging, overgrown mill structures and drooping, monster-like resident trees only add to the haunting nature of the once-vibrant hub.

Detroit Michigan Ghost Town Setting
Wayne Hsieh / Flickr

Detroit, Michigan

While not technically a ghost town, Motor City is a rare metropolis that’s seen a vast decline over the decades. Once one of America’s largest cities (ranked number four in 1940), Detroit is now 24th in size. The spookiest parts are the many empty neighborhoods and decaying factory buildings that speak to a bygone era of large automobiles and post-war ambition. My how times have changed.

Thurmond, West Virginia ghost town
Bobistraveling / Flickr

Thurmond, West Virginia

According to the 2020 census, this once-booming coal mining town still had a population of five residents willing to continue ghost town living. Located within the New River Gorge, Thurmond occupies a narrow strip of land along the same train tracks that were also its only access to the outside world until 1921. Today, the town remains surprisingly the same as when it was largely abandoned in the 1950s. Thurmond is on the National Register of Historic Places, and the restored train depot now serves as a visitor center for tourists.

Kirkpatrick Slave Quarters Home in Old Cahaba, Alabama
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Cahawba, Alabama

The first state capital of Alabama from 1820 to 1825, Cahawba (also spelled Cahaba), was located at the confluence of the Alabama and Cahaba Rivers. The capital was moved after a major flood in 1825. The town recovered and reestablished itself as an agricultural hub until after the Civil War, where it also served as a prison for Union soldiers. The state legislature moved the county seat to nearby Selma and the town never recovered. The site is now a state historic landmark, and tourists can explore the ruins of the former capital city along with its empty streets and cemeteries.

Virginia City, Montana ghost town
David / Flickr

Virginia City, Montana

Nearly a year after its discovery in nearby Bannack, gold was also discovered along Alder Creek, and a boomtown was born. By 1865, Virginia City was the new territorial capital. As with most boomtowns of the era, Virginia City was no exception. By 1875, the territorial capital was relocated to Helena, and Virginia City was largely abandoned. Virginia City was named a National Historic Landmark in 1961, and today, it, along with neighboring Nevada City, is the top state-owned tourist attraction in Montana and is considered to be one of the best examples of Old West mining towns where hundreds of historic buildings still remain. Additionally, the town was home to famed frontierswoman, Calamity Jane.

Kennecott, Alaska
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Kennecott, Alaska

Located in the remote Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, Kennecott is one of the best-preserved examples of its kind in the world. Established in 1903, the copper mine and its town were home to miners and their families until 1938, when the copper ore was depleted and the town abandoned. Between 1911 and 1938, the mine processed more than $200 million in copper ore. The mine and its town are now a National Historic Landmark, and the site has become one of Alaska’s most visited tourist destinations. A guide is required to explore the iconic red mill building that stands 14 stories tall and overlooks the Kennicott Glacier.

Bannack, Montana ghost town
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Bannack, Montana

Founded in 1862 when gold was discovered at Grasshopper Creek, Bannack became the first Territorial Capital of Montana in 1864. When gold was discovered in neighboring Virginia City, the stagecoach route between the two towns became the scene of many robberies and murders. The gang that plagued the route was discovered to be the town’s own sheriff, who was later arrested and hanged. The town continued exploring its mining opportunities until the 1930s and the well-preserved town was declared a state park in 1954. Today, more than 60 structures remain and many can still be explored.

Train station in Rhyolite, Nevada ghost town
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Rhyolite, Nevada

Rhyolite, Nevada is a fascinating ghost town located in the Bullfrog Hills, about 120 miles northwest of Las Vegas, near the eastern boundary of Death Valley National Park. Rhyolite’s origins can be traced back to 1904 when Shorty Harris and E. L. Cross were prospecting in the area. They struck gold, and news of the discovery spread like wildfire. Within a few short months, Rhyolite boomed into a bustling town of around 5,000 people. The town boasted all the amenities of a thriving community, including 50 saloons, 35 gambling tables, 19 lodging houses, 16 restaurants, and even a red-light district. However, the mine closed in 1910, and the town was soon abandoned. Today, Rhyolite is a popular tourist destination that’s known for its eerie beauty and graffiti art installations.

Bodie, California
Katie Plies / Getty Images

Bodie, California

In 1859, a mining camp was established along what is today California’s U.S. Route 395. By the 1870s, substantial gold deposits were discovered nearby and the town boomed for several decades. By the early 20th century, however, the town was in serious decline. The last railcars rolled out in 1918, after which the line was abandoned. Today, Bodie remains the best-preserved ghost town in the entire country. The 110 still-standing structures are managed as part of the California State Park system. Exploring the old post office, original homes (many with dishes and everyday wares still scattered about), and intact stamp mill is like walking through a century-old snapshot frozen in time.

St. Elmo, Colorado ghost town
Images Etc Ltd / Getty Images

St. Elmo, Colorado

Like most of the ghost towns on this list, St. Elmo’s rise and fall were sharp. By the late 19th century, more than 2,000 residents lived in the Colorado mining town. In the following decade, the quality of silver and gold ore dropped dramatically, taking much of the economy with it. A decade later, newly discovered ore deposits rekindled the town’s prospects, but the town was abandoned entirely by 1936. Today, many of its original buildings are largely intact, and it even boasts a few full-time residents.

Castle Dome, Arizona ghost town

Castle Dome, Arizona

Situated in southwestern Arizona near the city of Yuma, Castle Dome was settled as a mining town in 1863. Over the decades, the quality of the town’s ore supply declined rapidly when it was discovered to be more lead than silver. That economic turn became a favorable one, however, during both World Wars when the town supplied much of the bullet lead to the U.S. government. In the 1990s, the entire town was privately purchased and reopened as Castle Dome City, Ghost Town and Museum. The new owners kept many of the original structures and added replicas well. Many are loaded with original artifacts from the mining days and staged Wild West shootouts and knife fights add a bit of retro cheesiness to the visitor experience.

Centralia, Pennsylvania
Weible1980 / Getty Images

Centralia, Pennsylvania

Centralia in Pennsylvania was yet another victim of the U.S. decline in mining, but not in the same way as the others on this list. A massive underground coal fire ignited beneath the town in 1962 and it’s been burning ever since. The town’s population plummeted from more than 1,000 in 1980 to less than 10 in 2013. Not surprisingly, the town was subsequently condemned. However, some (clearly insane) residents still call the town home. Due to the dangerous air toxicity and high potential for sinkholes, most of it is strictly off limits. However, that hasn’t stopped the hundreds of “ruin porn”-seeking visitors who visit its decaying streets each year.

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