If you drive on highway 15 north past the city of Barstow you will come to the quaint town of Yermo. About 120 miles from Orange County, this small town has a population of a mere 2,000 residents. It is in the Mojave Desert in San Bernardino County, California and is not known for the “wilderness” its Spanish name is derived from. No, Yermo is arguably most known for its ghostly neighbor – Calico Ghost Town.
The town of Calico was once upon a time a budding and bustling mining town in the Calico Mountains of the Mojave Desert. The town was founded in 1881 when California’s biggest silver strike in history was discovered there. This town produced $86 million in silver during its most successful years as an active mining community. Also during this time the population of Calico surged to 1,200 residents complete with 22 saloons, a section of town known as “Chinatown,” and even a notorious red light district.
The silver mining boom period unfortunately was short-lived because by 1890 the value of silver dropped dramatically in markets across the country. After that downturn many miners left Calico in search of work but some mines clung on with the mining of the mineral Borate. The mining of Borate was successful for a few years with a profit of $45 million dollars. In the 1930s the mining company Total Wreck attempted to mine for gold but by 1941 Calico was abandoned completely and left to fade away like so many other mines abandoned throughout the country.
As it turned out, all was not lost for this small piece of important western history. In the 1950s Mr. Walter Knott – yes, the same Knott from Knott’s Berry Farm – purchased the complete town of Calico. Mr. Knott set out to restore the town and successfully architecturally restored all but five of the original buildings. According to the San Bernardino Parks, Calico received State Historical Landmark in 1982 and in 2005 was proclaimed by then Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to be California’s Silver Rush Ghost Town.
Today the Calico Ghost Town is a much loved piece of history with visitors from all over the globe. So what is there to do there?
Here is your complete Calico Ghost Town Guide!
- Lil’s Saloon: Located in one of the original adobe buildings all around Calico is the beloved Lil’s Saloon. Although mostly known for its beer garden the entire family can dine here on a fare of hot dogs, pizzas and other snacks. Enjoy your meal as you are immersed in the old saloon environment straight out of a classic western movie.
- Old Miners Café: One of only three eateries in Calico is Old Miners Café located on top of the hill. The food is classic easy grabs such as sandwiches, ice cream cones and salads. On some days you can even enjoy live bands playing outside on the covered patio.
- Peggy Sue’s 50s Diner: Although not technically in Calico Ghost Town but in Yermo, you cannot take a trip to this area and miss out on the vibrant fare at Peggy Sue’s 50s Diner. First opened in 1954 you will be transported back in time with movie and TV memorabilia, bright checkerboard flooring, and old fashioned malts.
Things to Do
- Gold panning: My children’s favorite activity hands down is panning for gold. A fun and unique hands on educational experience. Your whole family can sift through sand looking for those glittering signs of wonder. Open daily from 9am – 5pm. Prices are $3.50 for ages 11 and older; 5 to 10 years old are $2.
- Maggie Mines Tour: The Maggie Mine was once in its glory days a functional mine for silver. Now it is a safe tourist adventure to explore a mine from the 1800s. On the self-guided tour you will explore local rocks and gems as well as learn what life was like for those original inhabitants of Calico. Tours run continuously from 9am – 5pm.
- The Calico Odessa Railroad: Running since its completion in 1958 is the well-loved Calico Odessa Train. All aboard this 8 minute tour, you rumble around the Calico hills learning all about mining equipment and historical sites in the ghost town. Prices are $5 for ages 11 and up; $2.50 for ages 5 to 10 years old. Best part? The train is pet friendly and free for your furry family members.
- Shopping: While there, make sure you support the local small businesses and pick up a souvenir or two or three. Shops include Calico Woodworks, Lane’s General Store, Calico Photo Shop, Odessa’s Calico Crafts, Print Shop, R & D Fossils & Minerals, Basket & Candle Shop, Pottery Shop, Calico Leather Works and Dorsey’s Dog House.
- Off Road Driving: The Doran Loop and Odessa Canyon is one of the most popular OHV routes in the Calico Mountains. This 6 mile trail actually follows the once paved road Doran Scenic Drive. This narrow route is full of boulders, off shoot routes and embedded rock. High clearance vehicles, skid plates and differential shocks are required.
- Biking Trails: Spanning 30 miles is the intermediate rated Calico Ghost Town Regional Park single bike track. Spanning up and through the hills you will get a panoramic view of the town as you speed up and down the trail.
- Hiking: Located just 30 minutes from the heart of Calico Ghost Town is the lightly trafficked Rainbow Basin Slot Canyon. Only 1.5 miles in length, this trail takes you on a sandy wash through some unique slot formations.
- Camping: Calico Ghost town is a popular camping destination with family and group sites. There are also bunkhouses and cabins available by reservation.
- Address: 36600 Ghost Town Road, Yermo, CA 92398
- Hours: daily 9am to 5pm
- Admission Fees:
- Youth (4-11) $5
- Adults $8
- Under 3 free
- Dogs $1
- Camping Fees: $30/night -no hookup
- $35/night – partial hookup
- $40/night – full hookup
- Cabin Rental: $65/night
- Mini-Bunkhouse $160/night – No minimum night required except on festival weekends (Friday, Saturday, Sunday), which requires a two-night minimum.
- Bunkhouse $160/night – 20 person maximum – No minimum night required except on festival weekends (Friday, Saturday, Sunday), which requires a two-night minimum.
- Available for school and youth group reservations.
Calico Ghost Town is a roadschooling, historical, unique experience into the 1800s western life of a silver miner. Your entire family will enjoy this flash back through history with sweet treats and a train ride to top it off.
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Kaitlin is a former ballerina who now travels around the country in an 18-foot converted school bus. Her and her husband have welcomed 34 sweet children into their home the past eleven years. Although they would not be a forever home for all of them, they adopted their daughter buckets and are legal guardians to their son monkey. Follow their crazy adventures on Instagram @runawaymusbus