10 GREAT Ghost towns with spirit
If you really want to escape traffic and crowds this year, why not vacation in a place where the population has disappeared? Ghost towns have long attracted visitors, fascinated by a chance to touch a piece of the past, says Philip Varney, co-author of (
It was spring water, not minerals, that first brought settlers to this tiny spot near the Arizona border. “It’s the most authentic desert southwestern ghost town that I know of,” Varney says. “There are adobe buildings, one even two stories. It’s priceless.” As for the name, there’s nothing British about the spot, once used by Apache Indians. “It was named by a guy from England who wanted to give it a little bit of pizzazz.” shakespeareghostown.com
With more than four dozen wellpreserved structures, this former copper town is both scenic and accessible. “Just turn the handle. You can go into virtually every building, but they ask you to shut the door,” Varney says. He suggests looking for architectural surprises like the two-story building with a public school on the ground floor and a Masonic lodge above. bannack.org
While Nevada has hundreds of ghost towns, Varney considers this off-the-grid settlement the state’s best. “It has a lot of brick buildings, which makes it unusual. There’s a two-story courthouse and the ruins of a bank.” travelnevada.com
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This former gold mining camp, preserved as a state park, is a national treasure, Varney says. “Bodie is the real thing. It’s the best ghost town that I’ve seen, and I’ve seen over 600.” The town is kept in a state of arrested decay, meaning rangers don’t let buildings collapse, but don’t restore them either. And parking is kept out of sight. “When you’re walking around Bodie, you’re not looking at the 21st century.” www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=509
SILVER CITY, IDAHO
Although still inhabited by descendants of the original settlers, this spot hasn’t been visibly modernized, retaining the feel of a former 19th-century boom town. Visitors can spend the night in a partially restored hotel, Varney says. “You may be the only person there, but what atmosphere! It’s absolutely charming, with good food and a great place to have a beer at the end of the day.” visitidaho.org
FAYETTE HISTORIC TOWNSITE, MICH.
You don’t have to go west to find ghost towns. This spot in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula tells a similar tale of boom and bust. It prospered for several decades at the end of the 19th century as a manufacturer of pig iron. Now it’s preserved as a state park on cliffs overlooking Lake Michigan. “It has very stout buildings, a really beautiful setting,” Varney says. michigan.gov/dnr
KENNECOTT MINES, ALASKA
Copper lured settlers to this isolated spot near the Yukon Territory, and soon after the vein ran out in 1938, the town did, too. “It’s really dramatic, but it’s also fierce country,” Varney says. Now a National Historic Landmark, it’s managed by Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve. nps.gov/wrst
Unlike most ghost towns, this settlement wasn’t tied to mining. For decades, it was one of the largest wool shipping centers in the world. But overseas competition eventually brought the operation to a close, and by the 1940s, the town’s railroad service ended. Now it has a population of just a few dozen. “It’s pretty foreboding country out there, but it still has a wonderful hotel and schoolhouse,” Varney says. shanikooregon.com
ST. ELMO, COLO.
With dirt streets, wooden boardwalks, and false-front buildings, it’s hard to beat this central Colorado gold mining town near the town of Buena Vista. “It’s stunningly lovely, in some of the prettiest forest you can imagine, and extremely photogenic,” Varney says. buenavistacolorado.org
Once closed to the public, this settlement near the Mexico border now welcomes visitors Thursdays through Sundays. The town remained active through the 1940s, but faces preservation challenges. “Ten years from now, it won’t look like it does now,” Varney says. rubyaz.com
Shaniko, Ore., wasn’t a mining town. For decades, it was one of the largest wool shipping centers in the world.
With dirt streets, wooden boardwalks and false-front buildings, it’s hard to beat the scenery at St. Elmo, Colo.