Skip the haunted house this year and experience a real life fright fest at some of America’s spookiest ghost towns. From barren beach retreats to eerie gold rush hamlets, you can find these ghoulish ghost towns scattered across the U.S. Take a glimpse into bygone days and see what life was like before these towns went bust. Here are 9 spine-chilling American ghost towns that you can actually visit.
It’s not often you see city signs warning you to beware of the dangers of being swallowed by the ground. But that is exactly what you’ll see when you step into Centralia, Pennsylvania, aka the city that has been on fire for more than half a century. This desolate, underground inferno was once a thriving mining city, but in May 1962, a fire was intentionally set to burn out a landfill. Little did they know, there was a labyrinth of underground coal mines connected to the landfill. The maze caught ablaze and has been burning ever since. Stroll the streets of this eerie ghost town and you’ll discover steam still smoldering from cracks in the ground.
From gold to ghosts, Bannack is one of the state’s best-preserved ghost towns. This town sprang up seemingly overnight during the Gold Rush, but as with many mining towns of the era, bust followed the boom. The last inhabitants left in 1970, leaving nearly 60 well-preserved buildings that have since become part of Bannack State Park. Adventurous wanderers can peruse the abandoned town or plan a visit in July, when a yearly historical reenactment called “Bannack Days” takes place.
Thurmond, West Virginia
During its 1930s prime, Thurmond boasted a population of around 500. Now only five people remain. This coal country ghost town met its demise when America shifted from rails to roads, and diesel-fueled locomotives instead of ones run by steam. Sprinkle in the devastation of the Great Depression and a few catastrophic fires and you have the perfect recipe for disaster and desertion. Nowadays, you can visit the former train depot, that has been transformed into a museum, and drift down the New River Gorge National River on a fun rafting excursion.
Welcome to the Wild West where you’ll find one of America’s most historic and spookiest ghost towns. Located in the the Sierra Nevada mountains, Bodie is a gold rush town turned derelict destination now frozen in time. There have been several spooky stories about this ghost town over the years; from the scorned woman of Cain’s Residence leering out the window to an older woman seen knitting at the Gregory house and the sounds of laughter from small children. Perhaps the creepiest of them all is the Bodie curse. It is believed that taking anything from Bodie, even something as small as a pebble on the ground, will result in the person being cursed until the item is returned.
Glenrio, Texas/New Mexico
From the tumbleweeds blowing across this deserted town to the errant critter creeping across a forlorn dusty road, Glenrio is like a scene straight out of a horror movie. This tiny town straddling the border of Texas and New Mexico was a popular road stop for travelers making their way along legendary Route 66. When Interstate 40 was built in the 1970s, drivers began bypassing Glenrio and now all that remains are a few deteriorating structures and a sign that reads “First in Texas” or “Last in Texas,” depending on the direction in which you’re driving.
St. Elmo, Colorado
Story has it that St. Elmo‘s population rode out on the last train out of town and never returned. A visit to this former gold and silver mining town alludes to just that, as this well-preserved town looks more or less the same as it did in its boom days. There are 43 original buildings still standing, including a church and general store that is open during the summer months for tourists.
Nevada City and Virginia City, Montana
Located just 90 miles northwest of Yellowstone National Park, perched high in the Rocky Mountains, Nevada City and nearby Virginia Citty are both ghost towns that are still very much alive. Witness the life of the early settlers in the Gold Rush era through live reenactments or even pan for gold like the olden days. Hop aboard a train and take in the breathtaking scenery on a 20-minute ride between Nevada City and Virginia City.
Salton Sea, California
The Salton Riviera, about an hour from Palm Springs, was once hailed as the “miracle in the desert,” but increased salt levels from evaporation and farm run off caused an ecological disaster that would transform this relaxing resort town into an apocalyptic wasteland. In its heyday, towns like Desert Shores, Salton Sea Beach and Bombay Beach were tourist hot spots for Southern Californians, and many A-listers of the day escaped here to have a little fun in the sun and party into the night at the Salton Bay Yacht Club. Still clinging to life, these towns are now largely (and eerily) forgotten with lakefront homes in various stages of decay and remnants of the past strewn along its shores.
Same story, different mineral. It wasn’t gold the inhabitants of Kennicott sought out, but rather copper. Kennicott was once one of the richest copper deposits in the world until the mines ran dry in the 1930s and everyone shipped out. Now it’s a National Historic Landmark where the remains of a 14-story mill and other historic buildings reside. These buildings aren’t the only thing you may see. It has been said this ghost town truly lives up to its name, including sightings of creepy apparitions of miners, eerie voices of children and adults, and disappearing tombstones.
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