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My favorite North American
Ghost towns / historic mining towns / pre-1900s towns

(and why)

  This is a list of my favorite North American "ghost towns" / historic mining towns / pre 1900s towns. This is a work in progress. To be considered for this list, the city has to:
The term ghost town is supposed to mean an abandoned town, or city, but the term gets used by a lot of tourists for any town that used to boom, before cars became widespread, even if people live there now and most historic buildings are not abandoned, as in Silver City, Idaho. So I've used it here. 

I would love to add to this list. Knowing my criteria for consideration, I welcome your suggestions for other cities to visit in North America (USA, Canada and Mexico).

What I'm not interested in: an area where there are just foundations of structures, or just a building or two; again, I'm looking for places with substantial visible remains - buildings, tools, stoves, wagons, cars, etc. If the site doesn't have substantial remains, but is on a well-maintained gravel road, provides really lovely views worth taking photos of, and is just generally a nice place to spend a few hours, I'll also consider it.

If you make a suggestion, please tell me if it's private property, and how difficult the road is to get there. If there isn't much information online about it already, please give me as many details as you can.

If you are also interested in such places: please do not take anything from the site! Don't take even a tiny screw. Take photos. Take memories. That's it. If you find something you think is of particular value, contact the organization or individual that is in charge of the land, like the Bureau of Land Management, as well as the state historical society. And PLEASE respect "no trespassing" signs and private property - if you don't have permission to be somewhere, then don't go there.

My rankings:

(1) Bodie, Calfornia: There is just SO much to see here: about 170 buildings, many with original furnishings, and a vast amount of artifacts inside buildings and out. Its history is oh-so-interesting. And the surrounding landscape is incredible. The architecture of even the small places is fascinating - I love the economy of space of the buildings and what people did with such. The structures are maintained only to the extent that they will not be allowed to fall over or otherwise deteriorate in a major way - roofs, windows, walls and foundations are repaired, but nothing is fully renovated. You can look inside most buildings, but cannot go in. You can feel the murders, shootouts, barroom brawls and stagecoach holdups all around you - this was a ROUGH town. Bodie had a Chinatown, the main street of which ran at a right angle to Bodie's Main Street, with several hundred Chinese residents at one point, and included a Taoist temple. Opium dens were plentiful as well. Bodie also had an infamous red light district. There is a town museum that is a must-visit. It's all part of the California State Park system. Get here in the early morning and expect to spend all day here (bring water/drinks and lunch!). The gravel road is easy for cars and non-dual sport motorcycles. You must tour the town by walking - no ATVs! There's accommodations in Lone Pine and Lee Vining, and camping throughout the area.

(2) Silver City, Idaho: There's more than 50 historic wooden structures in the town, and more than half of them have been renovated and are occupied at least during summer. This is not a state park; these are private homes on private property. The is a BLM-managed camp site right next to the town, on the other side of memorial park. Inside the still-operating Idaho Hotel's restaurant, there is a notebook on each table giving great details about the history of the town. The gravel road is a bit of a challenge from Murphy, but that is absolutely the easiest road to get in. You can tour the town by walking or by your own vehicle - which had better be an ATV, because it has one of the most challenging landscapes you will ever be in (steep inclines, no flat places for parking outside any houses). You cannot go in most buildings, however. There is a weekend when some buildings open for tours, usually in September. There's a BLM campground right next to the town, near Memorial Park.

(3) Garnet, Montana: Smaller than either Bodie and Silver City, like them, it's tucked away at the end of a gravel road, and is oh-so-picturesque. The main road to the site is fine for small trailers and buses. One of the big draws, at least for me, is the hotel - no longer operational, but you can actually go into it, even upstairs. It's rare you get to do that in other ghost towns. There's about 30 buildings.

(4) Custer, Idaho: If you are in the area, or will pass by, you absolutely should go. There's only about xx buildings, but at least five of them are open for self tours and have some interesting things inside to look at. There's camping both before and after the town on the gravel road.

(5) Nevada City, Montana. I admit that I haven't seen much of this. But the historic hotel is still operational, and I could easily spend a couple of hours in the town.

(6) Berlin, Nevada: There's not a great deal there, but there's enough to be interesting, and the surroundings give you a real feeling of the loneliness of a Gold Rush miner's life. What puts this on the list is the Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park exhibit of Ichthyosaur bones is right next door - that makes it worth the visit, IMO.

(7) Columbia, California: Yes, it's really touristy: there are restaurants and shops and even shows in the historic buildings, and the kitsch abounds. But, to be fair, all that kitsch is why many tourists go and why the site is doing better than some of the towns on this list. And I did enjoy my visit there.

(8) Shaniko, Oregon. I almost didn't put this on the list. But the hotel is breath-taking. And for sale! If you are in the area, it's worth walking around here. There was no camping anymore when we were last there - we had to camp in Alpine, in a field next to the cafe. 

I don't have Wallace, Idaho here. It's one of my favorite historic towns in the USA, and Heaven's Gate was shot there in part. It fits my criteria in so many ways - but no one would call it a ghost town, as it's never been abandoned and is packed with people.

Bonanza City, Idaho didn't make my list. There's not that many structures to see, and the road to get to it is extremely difficult to navigate.

De Lamar, Idaho didn't make my list. It's on the way to Silver City, Idaho from Jordan Valley, Oregon. It's got maybe three abandoned houses. Not much at all.

Virginia City, Montana didn't make my list. There's not that much to see in terms of historic buildings, and it feels more like a vacation/tourist city. Not that there's anything wrong with that...

Antelope, Oregon didn't make my list. It has some historic buildings, and the history of the Rajneeshee takeover of the town in the 1980s is fascinating. Since I was there, in the town, on my way somewhere else, I walked around. But I wouldn't say it was worth going out-of-your-way for.

Priyapet, Ukraine didn't make the list because it's not in North America and it wasn't founded before 1900s. But if you ever get the chance to visit, GO! It's extraordinary.

Under consideration to visit:
Also see:

Backpacking start points near Portland, Oregon (PDX)

Forest Grove, Oregon area day hikes (Washington County, Yamhill County, Tillamook County)

More Oregon and Washington suggested short motorcycle routes

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