10 Ghost Towns of the American Southwest (Are You Brave Enough To Visit?)

Uncover hidden histories behind faded facades in these abandoned ghost towns.

Updated May 28, 2024
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The winter months are an ideal time to plan a Southwest vacation, whether you dream of a road trip through the New Mexico desert or hope to escape the cold by visiting Arizona.

Ghost towns are another draw of the Southwest. Abandoned gold mines and forgotten villages tell fascinating, often eerie stories of America’s past.

So, if you want to step up your travel game during your next Southwest vacation, here are 10 historical ghost towns worth checking out.

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Goldfield, Arizona

Stephen/Adobe superstition mountain

There are plenty of Old West attractions in Goldfield, Arizona, a gold mining town that was abandoned by its people not once but twice.

A lively mining city in the late 1800s, Goldfield briefly revived between 1910 and 1926, but the community did not stay put.

Today, visitors can stroll past historic buildings and shops on Main Street, visit the old Mammoth Gold Mine, and maybe even catch a “gun show” from the famed Goldfield Gunfighters.

Chaco Canyon, New Mexico

ricktravel/Adobe Chaco Culture National Park

For a glimpse of an ancient ghost town, history buffs should check out the stunning Chaco Culture National Historical Park in New Mexico. The lands were once home to ancestral Puebloan people, and the culture dates back to 850 A.D.

Visitors can take guided tours, enjoy hiking and biking trails around the beautiful canyon, and even take part in a fascinating night sky program. In fact, Chaco Culture is a designated International Dark Sky Park.

Terlingua, Texas

ricktravel/Adobe terlingua ghost town

Terlingua — a mining town dating back to the early 1900s — lost its businesses and livelihood by the 1940s. However, it lives on in a new way today as a fascinating ghost town and home to special

local events, such as an annual chili cook-off, held every November.

From fun shops, galleries, and restaurants to stunning views of the Chisos Mountains and Mule Ears peaks, Terlingua is a must-see for the full Southwest ghost town experience.

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Bodie, California

oldmn/Adobe bodie ghost town

During Bodie’s “boom” years in the late 1800s, the gold-mining town was home to thousands of people and around 2,000 structures. Yet, only about 5% of those structures remain today.

The population declined steadily, and two fires in 1892 and 1932 wiped out many of the buildings. Bodie closed for mining in 1942 but was designated as a National Historic Site and State Historic Park shortly after.

Today, guests can stroll through the town’s fascinating remains, which have been preserved in a state of “arrested decay.”

Rhyolite, Nevada

CrackerClips/Adobe rhyolite ghost town

A Gold Rush town that was thrown together over the course of a few glorious years at the turn of the 20th century, the Rhyolite you visit today tells a classic American story.

By 1916, mines closed, banks failed, and the lights were turned off on the town. Visitors today will find the old bank building, a “bottle house” made of 50,000 beer and liquor bottles, and a train depot, but little else.

St. Elmo, Colorado

Cavan/Adobe colorado ghost town

The tale of St. Elmo is a common one in the American West. The Colorado town was founded in the late 1800s when gold and silver mining brought many folks to the area.

The town reached a population of nearly 2,000 people. But when the industry began to dry up, people left, and the trains stopped coming to town.

Today, visitors can see some of the eerie old buildings and stop by St. Elmo General Store for some antiques or souvenirs.

Jerome, Arizona

FiledIMAGE/Adobe grand hotel in jerome arizona

The historic town of Jerome lies between Prescott and Flagstaff in Arizona. It was once home to the largest copper mine in the state, which thrived and drew thousands of workers. It shuttered in 1953.

While the population is largely depleted, it remains a small community of artists, shop owners, and restaurateurs who call Jerome home and welcome visiting ghost-town enthusiasts.

Grafton, Utah

Maria Jeffs/Adobe grafton ghost town

Just a few miles south of Zion National Park, the ghost town of Grafton has a storied history.

It was first established by Mormon settlers back in the mid-1800s, but the flooding of the Virgin River and conflicts with native peoples ultimately led residents to abandon the area.

Today, some buildings still stand in the long-forgotten town, making it a fascinating pit stop when visiting Zion.

Kelso, California

Videowokart/Adobe historic kelso depot

Kelso was built up in the early 1900s around a train depot. It served as a rest stop for workers and train passengers in the desert.

The town was booming in the 1940s when iron and borax mines opened nearby, but the population began to dwindle when work dried up. By the 1980s, its reputation as a ghost town was forming.

While the train depot is long closed, it is now home to the Mojave National Preserve visitor center.

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Castle Dome City, Arizona

David/Adobe castle dome town and mines

According to the Castle Dome Museum, the city was the longest-running mining area in Arizona, operating for more than a century from the 1860s through 1979.

Visitors can check out long-abandoned buildings such as a schoolhouse and hotel allegedly haunted by the “Lady in White.” Check out fascinating artifacts, or simply enjoy the desert views.

Bottom line

Mariusz Blach/Adobe ghost and lantern in cave

Ghost towns offer a unique blend of history, mystery, and adventure, all at a price that will help you keep more cash in your wallet

So, saddle up and explore these forgotten frontiers for an afternoon you won't soon forget.

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Author Details

Laura Gesualdi-Gilmore

Laura Gesualdi-Gilmore is a seasoned freelance writer who also teaches writing courses at Rutgers University. She's based in Jersey City and enjoys travel, live music and, of course, spending quality time with her pup.