Last Updated on June 23, 2024

Have you ever visited a ghost town? I didn’t even know what one was until I moved to California 6 years ago and then became fascinated by learning about them and visiting them here.

Once the center of the massive 1850s gold rush, thousands of people from all over America flocked here to look for wealth, filling up towns and building new settlements. However, with the gold gone, those same towns were soon abandoned. This has left us with dozens of gold rush ghost towns all over California.

Many of these towns hold incredible historic value and have been preserved as living museums. Today, we’ll talk about some of the best gold rush ghost towns you can find here in California!

Biggest Silver and Gold Rush Ghost Towns in California


  • Entry fee: $8 for adults, $5 for children younger than 17

  • Opening Hours (from November 1 – May 25): 9 AM – 4 PM

  • Opening Hours (from May 25 – November 1): 9 AM – 6 PM

  • How to Get There: Take Highway 270 off of Highway 395. Check for weather conditions before visiting.

A house in Bodie, the rowdiest silver and gold rush ghost towns.

Bodie is the biggest ghost town in California. Shootouts, wily women, saloons, and opium dens–these were all once regular occurrences in the once-bustling town of Bodie. Grand at its peak in 1876, the residents of Bodie profited off of the gold and silver deposits on the land. These shiny minerals attracted all sorts of folk to the region, building it into an iconic, bullet-holed town in the Wild West.

Today, it’s a well-preserved ghost town, famous for its silver and gold rush history, and a popular tourist attraction in California.


After a new gold deposit was discovered in other nearby cities, the residents of Bodie packed up their things and ran to the newest craze. You can still see their hurried departure in their empty homes and establishments. 

After declining for several years, Bodie was officially declared a ghost town in 1915. Later in 1962, the Californian government declared it the Bodie State Historic Park where it would remain in arrested decay to preserve its past.

Because of Bodie’s theft-ridden past, a legend has spread about the ghost town. Supposedly, if you steal anything out of Bodie without permission, you’ll be cursed with bad luck. The park rangers even show off a list of letters from regretful tourists who tested the legend and found themselves in a lot of trouble.

In general, it’s best to keep the park as it is right now and follow the Leave No Trace principles!

The hills and houses of Bodie

Things to see

Bodie is one of my favorite ghost towns to visit. The park rangers are incredibly friendly, there’s so much golden foliage in the fall, and the atmosphere is perfect for a Halloween visit. Here are some of my favorite places to see in Bodie–

The Methodist Church

This place of worship stands out against the run-down remains of Bodie. It probably also stood out during the town’s prime days, considering the town’s criminal reputation. I think it’s a little ironic that a church stands as the most notable building in what was once the wildest town in the West.

What’s even more ironic is that, apparently, residents or visitors still stole things from this holy place. If you look inside, you’ll find plaques and pictures missing from the walls, with only frames left behind. A little funny, don’t you think?

Miners’ Union Hall

A kind of community center back in Bodie’s peak, the Miner’s Union Hall once supported all the passing workers in the area. The Union would hold concerts, dances, and performances from many members of the community here, bringing the people of this rowdy town together. 

Even now in its disrepair, the Union Hall is still a center of activity in the Bodie State Historic Park. The town’s main museum is situated on these walls, and it holds many of the town’s historical artifacts, old pictures, and archives.

If you want to bring something home with you (that’s not stolen from the land), it also has a gift shop that sells books and postcards. It’s a nice way to remember the gold rush ghost towns of California without being haunted by the past.

Standard Mill

Though it was discovered by smaller prospectors in 1859, Bodie had Standard Company to thank for its first boom. The Company built a Standard Mill to support mining operations in the area. Even today, the blue-colored mill complex is still the most unique and preserved building in Bodie.

While the mill area is closed to regular visitors for safety reasons, you can book the Stamp Mill Tour to explore the buildings. Rangers will also give an insightful guide on how people used to mine ingots and ores during this era, and you’ll even learn some fun facts about the mill’s importance in American history.

You can book the tour as soon as you get to the park’s museum section. The schedule depends on the staffing, and it’s $6 per person when available. For more information, check out their website!


  • Entry fee: $8 for adults, $5 for children aged 4-11, and free for children under 3

  • Opening Hours: 9 AM – 5 PM every day except Christmas

  • How to Get There: Go north of Highway 15, 40, or 66 to Ghost Town Road.

A sign showing off Calico, a gold rush ghost town in California.
A sign to Calico

A lot more than just creepy coincidences go down in Calico. The area is well known for its supernatural activity and strange phenomena, where gravity is distorted and history still feels alive and well. 

The town has a lot of traveling facilities like cabins, bunkhouses, and RV parking, making it a great place to visit over several nights. There are also tons of activities outside the historical tours, along with great food and cultural attractions outside the town.


Calico was once home to California’s largest silver deposit called the Silver King Mine, located in the calico-colored mountain peak nearby. During its heyday from 1880 to 1896, thousands of people from all over the globe flocked to this town to enjoy the wealth of the silver trade. It was arguably one of the most bustling, diverse towns in all of the Wild West.

When the price of silver went down, however, much of the town’s wealth dipped along with it. Like many other silver and gold rush ghost towns, Calico saw its busy community dwindle into nothing over the course of a decade, despite many attempts to revive it.

Uniquely, however, Calico was brought back from the dead by one enterprising Walter Knott, who bought the town in the 1950s. Knott renovated the old buildings to look as close to their 1880s versions as possible, reviving the ghost town into a tourist hot spot. 

Now, Calico is a State Historical Landmark and once again a popular stay for people all around the world. It’s just as iconic as Bodie as gold rush ghost towns come, though it has a few more tricks up its sleeves beyond that.

Calico’s main town exterior

Things to see

Calico has a number of surreal attractions that really brought out the adventurer in me. The park is mostly well-known for its historical significance, and you can find a lot of old artifacts from the Wild West in these little houses. If you’re lucky, you’ll also find some Civil War reenactments and a couple of ghosts along the way!

Here are just a few places I’d recommend visiting:

Mystery Shack

This is a must-see attraction if you’re ever visiting Calico. I’m still not sure how every trick worked, but the basic gist of the shack is that it’s a wobbly cabin on the outskirts of Calico that’s full of optical illusions and weird phenomena.

The most iconic setpiece is a pool table bent downwards by a little platform. Despite the table’s trajectory, balls seemingly roll upward into the corner hole as if by magic. It’s a pretty neat trick!

You’ll need to pay a separate entry fee to enter the Mystery Shack, and the guides around Calico will offer it to you as soon as you enter. The last time I went there, the tickets were around $4.50 for adults, $2.50 for children aged 5 to 10, and free for kids younger than 4. 

Calico’s jewelry, stones and dangerous mines
Maggie Mine

Most of the mines around Calico are still too dangerous for travelers to explore. Maggie Mine, a smaller silver mine within the town, is one of the few mines you can actually check out.

The tour guide (a Sheriff of the town) will show off some of the minerals mined in the depths during the 1880s, and even how the mining process works. It’s a great way to experience the challenging lives of miners back in the silver and gold rush.

Calico Odessa Railroad

First built in 1958, the Odessa Railroad is a relatively more modern experience compared to the rest of Calico. This charming train chugs around the hills of Calico for around 8 minutes per trip, showing off a lot of the town’s historical scenery from a distance.

Adults and children over the age of 11 can hop on the train for $5, while children aged 5-10 need a $2.50 ticket. Children under 4 ride for free (the town is a great place to visit for new members of the family!).

Other Things in the Area

Most people come around these parts to admire the gold rush ghost towns of the West, but a lot of the region here is also of interest. Calico sits in between Los Angeles and Las Vegas, which means there are a lot of interesting things sprouting around the area. Here are some places I stopped by while heading to Calico:

  • Elmer’s Bottle Tree Ranch: This eccentric metal forest is made entirely of pipes with bottles attached to them in a little art installation field. It’s been a generational labor of love made by Elmer Long, who sadly passed away in 2019. His work is still captivating to walk around in.

  • Borax Visitor Center: A lovely, well-maintained museum showing off the history and process of mining.  

  • Bagdad Cafe: A little cafe in the middle of nowhere with the kind of rustic, deserted charm that California is famous for. You may have heard of this place from the movie of the same name.

  • Peggy Sue’s 50’s Diner: If you love the classic 50s aesthetic, you have to visit Peggy Sue’s. The decor and feel of the restaurant feel like it came out of an old film about roadside teens falling in love with jukebox tunes. The owners are also huge film fans, and there’s a lot of charming movie memorabilia all over the walls worth checking out if you’re a cinephile. 

Silver City

  • Entry fee: $7.50 for adults and children older than 13, $5.50 for children from 6-12, free for children age 5 and below

  • Opening Hours: 10 AM to 4 PM (10 AM to 5 PM on Saturday)

  • How to Get There: South of Isabella Lake, follow Highway 178 and make a turn down Lake Isabella Boulevard until you reach south of Bodfish.

All the buildings in the Silver City, a collection of silver and gold rush ghost towns in California.
Silver City

One of the most extensive preservation efforts in California, Silver City has a wide range of old buildings left in the same arrested decay as Bodie. It’s a little smaller and more varied in architecture than the other two gold rush ghost towns, considering its strange history. 

You can admire each of the over 20 buildings in here, and even explore the interior of some of them. Overall, it’s a very impressive living museum with a very old-town feel to it. 


Silver City is unique from the other towns here due to its creation. It’s actually numerous towns around Kern Valley whose buildings were transported all in one location. These buildings used to be built in smaller mining areas outside of Lake Isabella. 

Later on, they were moved in an effort to preserve their histories when the buildings were about to be demolished. The communities around this little city have all banded over the years to keep this unique town up and running. 

Silver City saloons and buildings

Things to see

The Silver City is quite special being one of the few gold rush ghost towns to actually be a collection of them. Here are a few of the highlights from my trip to Silver City:

Isabella Jail
The Isabella Jail in Silver City, a jail cell in a gold rush ghost town.
Isabella Jail

A small jail cell that you can actually go inside! It’s a funny photo spot, and I had a lot of fun taking videos through the bars of the jail cell.

The Apalatea/Burlando House and Saloon

This classic western house used to hold Kern Valley’s oldest saloon. While every building holds some old memorabilia here and there, the Apalatea was quite full of 19th century artifacts. I’d definitely check it out just to learn more about the history of the area.

California has always had a unique and awe-inspiring history, and the amount of ghost towns we have prove that. Whether you’re looking for some Halloween fun or just interested in learning more about our beautiful state, these towns may be perfect for you. Just be careful not to anger any ghosts!

Are you looking for more California travel inspiration? Check out the Best Weekend Travel Guide to Mendocino County.

Do you want to see even more in California? I created an interactive map just for you! Check out my California Travel Map with over 500 pins of the best spots and hidden gems for California Travel!