The 5 Greatest Ghost Towns of the Old West

During the Gold Rush, towns boomed around mines in the West. However, once those mines were depleted, the towns were abandoned as quickly as they were established.
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During the Gold Rush, towns boomed around mines in the West. However, once those mines were depleted, the towns were abandoned as quickly as they were established.
Credit: Photographersnature | Wikimedia Commons

Credit: Photographersnature | Wikimedia Commons

1. Bodie, Calif. High in the Sierra Nevada, Bodie’s 100 original buildings are slowly being worn down by wind and weather. Gold was discovered here in 1859, and by 1880, Bodie had more than 10,000 inhabitants, though residents eventually abandoned their homes and stores to chase rumors of more promising mines. Now managed as a state park, visitors can enter for a modest fee and explore the town and cemetery. www.bodie.com


2. Virginia City, Mont. In 1863, Bill Fairweather and Henry Edgar chanced upon the largest gold strike in Montana, and hundreds of prospectors descended on the camp. For a short while, raucous Virginia City served as the capital of Montana Territory. (Calamity Jane was even a resident.) Today, there are less than 200 residents, and more than half of the city’s 300 structures were built prior to 1900. www.virginiacity.com


3. St. Elmo, Colo. Allegedly named after a popular 19th-century novel, St. Elmo is one of Colorado’s best-preserved ghost towns. Founded in 1880 during gold and silver booms, the town had hotels, saloons, a post office, and a railway station during its heyday. Summertime visitors can rent fishing and ATV equipment at the General Store. www.st-elmo-colorado.com


4. Elk Falls, Kans. Self-proclaimed “The World’s Largest Living Ghost Town,” Elk Falls declined in the late 1800s after a neighboring community was named the county seat. Today, Elk Falls is home to approximately 200 year-round residents who take pride in the town’s 40 outhouses, which are decorated and featured in an annual tour held the Friday and Saturday before Thanksgiving. www.kansastravel.org/elkfalls.htm


5. Vulture Mine, Ariz. The claims at Vulture Mine, on the outskirts of Wickenburg, Ariz., were once the highest yielding in the state, producing millions of dollars in gold between 1863 and 1942, when the mine was shuttered. Now privately owned, the area is open to the public on Saturdays and visitors can pay a fee to visit the mine. www.ci.wickenburg.az.us