There’s something exciting about exploring the remnants of bygone eras. While much of our state is developed into urban, bustling city-centers, there are still parts that have been left alone, standing still in time. There are a number of communities in California that have become ghost towns, many a result of the Gold Rush. We’ve got a great list of California Ghost Towns for you to check out.
Keep In Mind! Explore at your own risk, and safety first. Remember, the mining areas and gold-rush era towns may be scattered with holes, mine shafts, machinery parts, and other dangerous elements. Be aware of your surroundings and don’t enter abandoned mine shafts or tunnels. Also, decaying homes should be left alone. Wooden floors have weak spots. Do not enter decomposing or crumbling structures for your own safety.
Best California Ghost Towns
Ballarat Ghost Town
Death Valley, Inyo County
Ballarat Road & Wingate Road, Trona, CA 93592
Located in Death Valley’s Panamint Valley, Ballarat was an active town mostly from 1897 to 1905 with a population for 400-500 people, occupied mostly by prospectors. As nearby mines closed down, the miners moved on in search for something else. A few stragglers made Ballarat their permanent home. The small defunct town received visitors though. Charles Manson and his “family” lived in nearby Barker Ranch in 1968 and 1969 and visited Ballarat frequently.
Today, Ballarat has the remains of several structures and a cemetery, and a general store (that was still active based on some reports) to serve campers from the nearby campgrounds. There are ruins to explore at nearby Barker Ranch as well, but some of it was destroyed in a fire in 2010.
Other Ghost Towns In Death Valley
- Chloride City – Abandoned in 1905, remains of three stamp mills and a grave
- Greenwater – Abandoned in 1909, No remains
- Harrisburg – Only remains are one home and a bit of the mine
- Leadfield – Remains of mines, wood and tin structures, mill
- Panamint City – Remains of original structure, one currently called “The Panamint Hilton” by campers passing through, remains of old mine.
- Rhyolite – Abandoned in 1916; had electricity for several years until abandoned. Still many (crumbling) buildings remain including a 3-story bank, the jail, train depot, and bottle house.
- Skidoo – No remains
Bodie State Historic Park
Highway 270, Bridgeport, CA 93517
Bodie is one of California’s best preserved ghost towns. A relic from the gold rush era, this once bustling boomtown was populated by up to 10,000 people. Bodie is now a National Historic Site and State Historic Park. Visitors can see a number of remaining structures in arrested decay, including some with supplies still stocked on the shelves as they were left behind by the last occupants.
Bodie was known for being one of the richest gold strikes in the state and had a reputation for it’s lawlessness. A fire in 1932 destroyed most of the original town, and by the 1940s, the town was abandoned.
9576 Avenue G, Niland, CA 92257
Bombay Beach was once a destination getaway on the shores of the Salton Sea. While there is still a small population living in the surrounding area, Bombay Beach is now most well known for being a ghost town. This lively beach getaway once offered fishing, boating, and water sports, and the surrounding beachside luxury resorts were frequented by stars like the Beach Boys and Frank Sinatra.
In the 1970s, chemical runoff created salinity in the lake, and by the 1980s, the lake could no longer sustain wildlife. Odors, flooding, and fear of health concerns drove people out of the area. The area is now mostly a ghost town with a limited number of services catering to the tourists that come to see the barren landscape, scattered with remnants of a past era.
Calico Ghost Town
36600 Ghost Town Road, Yermo, CA 92398
Calico Ghost Town is now a regional park in San Bernardino County that is a well preserved old west silver mining town from 1881. Calico was a booming mining town, but it was short lived. The town was abandoned in the mid 1890s. The town was purchased by Walter Knott (yep, the theme park guy) who preserved the majority of the remaining structures.
Today, Calico is a living ghost town serving as a living history park, immersing visitors in the life of the old west. There are a number of original structures to see, plus cabins and bunkhouses for overnight stays, camping, off roading, hiking, a museum and mine tours.
Owens Valley, Near Lone Pine, California
Cerro Gordo dates back to 1867, when it became a hot spot for silver mining. The area also mined lead, and later, zinc. Eventually the mining halted, and the town was abandoned. Today, Cerro Gordo is privately owned, but is considered one of the best authentic mining towns in California.
The town is available to tour by reservation only, and it is a bit of a trek to get there — you’ll have to travel along a gravel and dirt road nearly 8 miles long that gains a mine in elevation, with steep and narrow sections. Not for the faint of heart. The payoff is the tour, where you’ll see many original town structures, the mine, historical artifacts, and more.
4041 Cherokee Road, Oroville, Ca 95965
Cherokee is notable because it was the largest hydraulic mine in the world, and the first diamonds in the United States were found here. The town was established by a group of Cherokee prospectors, and other miners arrived shortly after. Mining dried up here around the end of the 1800s, and the town was mostly abandoned. Today there are about 50 people living in and around the area.
There are a few crumbling stone buildings to see, a museum, and the Hayes House. There is also a pioneer cemetery. While not as elaborate as Calico or Bodie, the historical significance of this mining area makes it worth the visit.
China Camp State Park
101 Peacock Gap Trail, San Rafael, CA 94901
China Camp was a Chinese American fishing village on the shore of San Pablo Bay. The location offered ideal conditions for shrimping. The successful village processed over 3 million pounds of shrimp per year, some of it sold to local restaurants, but much of it processed, dried, and exported to China or to other Chinese communities in the US. The village was primarily occupied by Chinese immigrants from Canton, China.
Today, the State Park preserves the history of this shrimp fishing village, and there is a museum on site to see exhibits and learn more about the area. There are some original and preserved structures, and there are trails, beach access, campsites, and other activities to enjoy here.
Tuolumne County; NW Corner of State HWY 120 & Main Street
Chinese Camp was established in 1849. The Englishmen who founded the area hired Chinese to work as miners. At one point there were as many as 5,000 Chinese occupying the town. In the 1850s, Chinese Camp served as headquarters for stagelines and Chinese Mining companies. The Chinese Camp ghost town is now a California Historical Landmark. The post office that was built in 1854 is still in use today, and there are several other original structures to see. Some of the buildings here have been featured in the filming of movies.
Interstate 40, ten miles east of Barstow
There are still a few residents in the area, but much of Daggett has been abandoned. The town was founded in the late 1800s as Calico Junction, and the name was changed in 1883. There is a nearby stamp mill that was the main draw to the town. There are a number of original abandoned buildings to see here including Alf’s Blacksmith Shop (c. 1890), Daggett Garage, Stone Hotel Daggett, and People’s General Store (on Santa Fe Street). The buildings can not be entered, only viewed. The Desert Market, built in 1908, is one of the towns original buildings and is still in operation today.
Death Valley Mine
Mojave National Preserve
Death Valley Mine was not in Death Valley. It is actually located in the Mojave National Preserve with no real address. Other visitors have noted that it’s fairly tough to get to, but worth the trip. There are abandoned mine remnants and several structures that are still intact including a 2-story residence, outbuildings, livestock pens, mine shafts, and mining equipment. The Death Valley Mine was in operation in the early 1900s and reactivated a few times as late as the 1950s.
There are still a handful of occupants in Drytown, but this gold-rush era community established in 1848, is mostly a ghost town compared to the once 10,000 people that once lived here. The town was damaged by fire a number of times, but there are a few standing structures that date back to the 1850s. Visitors can see the LeMoine House, Hearst’s Store, a butcher shop, playhouse, and the town firebell. There is also the town cemetery. Drytown is a California Historical Landmark. At one point Drytown had 26 saloons and became the focal point for California’s first movement to prohibition.
Shosone, CA off CA-127
Dublin Gulch is a unique ghost town. Located in Shoshone, Ca, the remains here are cave-style homes that were dug out of the solidified volcanic ash in the middle of the desert landscape. It is believed that this site dates back to the 1920s and was home to miners who worked in nearby mines. There are a number of dwellings carved out of the hillsides here and it is worth a trip if you are in the area. There is an easy trail to get to the site, and a nearby Shoshone Museum. This is a great side trip if you are on your way in or out of Las Vegas.
Forest City was established in 1852 in the Tahoe National Forest. It is a National Register Historic District and features more than two dozen original structures, many dating back to the late 1800s, including a dance hall, school house, general store, and residences. There’s a great article about this town here.
Located just outside of Yosemite, Hornitos is a gold rush era town established in 1850 by prospectors and miners. It is best known as the home of Joaquin Murrieta, the Robin Hood of the West – a famed outlaw who may have been the inspiration for the creation of Zorro.
There are still a handful of people living in Hornitos, but visitors can stop here on the way to Yosemite to see a collection of ruins including the Ghirardelli General Store (yes, of the chocolate empire), the jail, a Masonic Hall, abandoned farms, and the infamous cemetery on the hilltop.
Laws Railroad Town
Silver Canyon Road, Bishop, CA 93514
Laws was a railroad town founded in 1880, with the first trains arrival in 1883. Operation of the railroad ended by 1959. Here, you can see what remains of the what’s left of this town and explore early rail history. There’s a museum, depot, agent’s house, oil and water tanks, a turntable, and several other buildings from the surrounding area that were saved from demolition including the Wells Fargo building, Bell Rack, and more. You can also take a train ride and see many train cars. This is a great stop on your way to or from Mammoth.
Llano del Rio
State Highway 138 near 165th Street East in Antelope Valley
A very brief town (1914 – 1918), Llano Del Rio was one of Americas first “communes”, and is noted by its California Historical Landmark status as being one of the “most important non-religious utopian experiments in Western American history”. The community allowed people to buy into living within the “Socialist City”, promising a better lifestyle in this cooperative colony. Residents invested in the city much like stocks, and were paid $4 per day to work on site. The community was mostly self sustaining, but internal disagreements and economic issues led to its demise. There are several crumbling stone structures remaining, including walls, fireplaces, and cisterns.
Masonic and Chemung Mine
North of Bridgeport, CA in Mono County
Masonic was established in 1860 by a group of Freemasons looking for gold. In contrast to other gold rush era towns, this one was known for being relatively law-abiding and peaceful. The post office closed here in 1927, officially marking the towns demise.
Visitors to the site can see the remains of the Pittsburg-Independence Mine and its aerial tram, stone cabins, ore bins, and more. The Chemung Mine is just a short drive away overlooking Bridgeport Valley at an elevation of 8600′. There are several structural remains to see here as well, including the mill and its machinery, some shanties, and abandoned mine shafts.
27201 Pico Canyon Road, Newhall, CA
Mentryville is a former oil boom town, home to Pico No. 4, the first commercially successful oil well in the western US. The town was named for Alexander Mentry, superintendent of the company that became Chevron. Established in the 1880s, there were over 100 families living here until the 1930s. Pico No. 4 went on to operate until 1990 – becoming the longest continually operating oil well in the world.
There are several historic buildings on site including Mentry’s 13 room mansion, a school house, and a barn. As part of Santa Clarita Woodlands Park, the area is also open to hiking, biking, and equestrians.
Off US Route 395 between Kramer Junction and Ridgecrest, Kern County
Randsburg is a living ghost town that dates back to 1895. There are many tourist stops here, mixed in with historic structures, artifacts and machinery from the mining era, a museum, and old mine remains. It’s worth a stop for those traveling through, and the area is popular for off roading. Stop in to nearby Red Mountain Owl Café Museum.
Shasta State Historic Park
15312 Highway 299 West, Shasta, CA 96087
Shasta State Historic Park preserves a row of crumbling buildings that date back to the 1800s Gold Rush era. Now a ghost town along the highway in Shasta City. There is a restored courthouse from 1861 that features historical exhibits and artwork. The Shasta community was founded in 1849 and originally called Reading Springs. Fire ravaged the city twice, destroying most of the area. Business owners rebuilt with brick buildings along main street to protect against fire, but by 1888 the town was mostly abandoned.
Visitors can stop and see the ruins of what remains, including school houses from the 1920s & 30s, a brewery and spring houses, the restored Litsch General Store, blacksmith shop, cemeteries, Pioneer Barn, and more.
Other Ghostly Remains Of The Past
- Agua Mansa, San Bernardino County: Only the cemetery remains
- Alleghany Historic District, Sierra County: Several old buildings, a mine, and a cemetery
- Altaville, Calaveras County: Original buildings and a cemetery
- Amador City & Volcano District; Amador County: Several historic buildings remain
- Angel’s Camp, Calaveras County: Still an active city but many original buildings remain
- Ashford Mills, Inyo County: An abandoned mine and remnants of old adobe buildings
- Atolia, San Bernardino County: No trespassing signs are up, but there are some buildings and mine shafts remaining
- Auburn, Placer County: Current city with many original buildings remaining
- Bankhead Springs, San Diego County: Many old cabins and a hotel
- Bear Valley, Mariposa County: Several buildings and adobe remnants
- Belfort, Mono County: Cabins, foundations, and mine remnants
- Belleville, San Bernardino County: Just north of Big Bear, old mining equipment, foundations, a grave, and the hanging tree remain
- Bennettville, Mono County: A few wooden cabins and mine ruins
- Benton/Benton Hot Springs, Mono County: A few original structures remain
- Berdoo Camp, Riverside County: Foundations and fallen buildings remain
- Big Oak Flat, Tuolumne County: Still occupied but with many historic structures remaining
- Carrizo Gorge Goat Trestle
- Clair Camp, Inyo County: Old cabins, ezuipment and remains of mine
- Colonel Allensworth State Historic Park, Earlimart, CA; Restored abandoned town structures
- Danby, San Bernardino County: A few old buildings remain
- Deadwood, Placer County: A cemetery and the remnants of old wells remain
- Drawbridge, Alameda County: A few deteriorating buildings on the edge of San Francisco Bay
- Dutch Flat, Placer County: Semi Ghost town with a few residents and several original structures dating back as far as 1852
- Eagle Mountain, Riverside County: Modern day ghost town, not accessible to the public
- Empire Mine State Historic Park: Remains of one of the largest and deepest gold mines, owners homes and grounds, and more
- Fiddletown, Amador County: Many intact structures on historic register, semi-ghost town
- Forbestown, Butte County: Preserved historic buildings
- Forest Hill/Last Chance/Michigan Bluff, Placer County: Some original preserved buildings and historic markers
- French Corral, Nevada County: A few original structures remain
- French Gulch, Shasta County: Original structures still actively used
- Henness Pass Road, Sierra County: Was a wagon toll road from Nevada to California during the gold rush
- Ibex Springs, Death Valley: Ghost town with decomposing structures and talc mine remnants
- Indian Gulch, Mariposa County: A few wood and stone building remains, a cemetery, and a historical marker
- Knight’s Ferry, Stanislaus County: Historic district with many original buildings
- Lost Horse Mine, Within Joshua Tree National Monument: Remains of an old stamp mill and equipment
- Lucky’s Mining Town, Plumas County: Several buildings in dilapidated condition, including a hotel and log cabin
- Malakoff Diggins State Historic Park: Preserve gold mining town of North Bloomfield, and California’s largest hydraulic gold mine
- Mokelumne Hill, Calaveras County: Semi-occupied with some historic structures remaining
- Montgomery City, Mono County: Remains of stone walls and cabins
- Mt. Bullion, Mariposa County: Some orginal structures remain
- New Chicago, Amador County: A few old shacks and buildings remain
- New Idria, San Benito County: Abandoned mercury mine and buildings, may be closed to access due to high mercury levels
- Oregon City/Campo Seco/Carson Hill, Calaveras County: All in close proximity with several old structures remaining
- Providence, San Bernardino County: Crumbling building remains, old mine remains
- Reward, Inyo County: Mine ruins and equipment
- Riley’s Camp/Geer Camp/Mojave Cross, San Bernardino County: Old remains, including a few preserved and restored
- Scales, Sierra County: A few original buildings remain
- Sierra City, Sierra County: Partially occupied with many decomposing and original structures remaining
- Sierraville, Sierra County: Several original structures remain
- Silver City Ghost Town, Kern County: Collection of buildings saved from demolition from other ghost towns
Ghost Town FAQs
What Is A Ghost Town?
A ghost town is an abandoned town or site that was once inhabited for a notable period of time. Usually marked by a number of remaining structures.
Are ghost towns safe?
Ghost towns that are preserved and operated by the state park or national park system are generally safe to visit. When venturing to other unsupervised sites, be aware of your surroundings and do not enter buildings, mine shafts, etc. Also, note any private property or no trespassing signs, and respect them.
How many Ghost Towns are in California?
It is estimated that there are about 300 ghost towns in California.
What is the biggest ghost town in the US?
The biggest ghost town in the United States is Jerome, Arizona.
Where is California’s biggest ghost town?
California’s biggest ghost town in Eagle Mountain, in Riverside County. This town is a modern day ghost town that closed in 1983.
What is California’s most popular ghost town?
Bodie State Historic Park is California’s most visited ghost town.
|California Gold Rush Towns
|Historic Sites in Orange County
|Best State Parks In California
|Best California National Parks
|Best California Roadside Attractions
|How to Plan a Family RV Vacation
Heidi Deal is the author of the Newcomers Handbook to Living In Los Angeles & Orange County, and a children’s book author specializing in history and human rights.