Whether you believe in the supernatural or not, ghost towns in the U.S. provide some interesting hikes into the past. From the lively ghost town of Virginia City in Montana to the colonial impressions left behind at Dogtown in Massachusetts, there is a lot of history to explore in America’s ghost towns, and plenty of hiking trails to take you there.
Independence Ghost Town, Aspen, Colorado
Gold was reportedly first discovered in Independence, Colorado in 1879, and by 1880, over 300 prospectors inhabited the area. By 1882, Independence was home to over 40 businesses, three post offices, and over 1,500 people. Eventually, however, the long winters and continuing growth of the neighboring city of Aspen discouraged the development of Independence, and shortly after the boom, the bust was quick to follow. Today, Independence isn’t pulling any gold from the ground, but the century-old structures still draw in interested hikers and historians. During the summer months, guided tours are available throughout the ghost town, and visitors are encouraged to respect the fragile space and explore the roads and restored cabins on their own.
Lulu Ghost Town, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
Founded in 1879 by the lure of silver in them thar hills, the city of Lulu had a quick boom followed by a slow bust, providing a flourishing decade right after its development, and complete abandonment nearly a century later. The Lulu Ghost Town can now be found within the boundaries of Rocky Mountain National Park and can be reached by hikers via a 6‑mile hike from the Colorado River trailhead. Upon any visit, sightseers at Lulu can expect to see the remnants of old cabins and other structures, and a faint sense of what life was like in the days of the old west.
Kennecott Mines, Wrangler-St. Elias National Park, Alaska
Considered to be one of the best remaining examples of early 20th-century copper mining, Wrangler-St. Elias National Park purchased much of the historic Kennecott Mining Town, preserving this National Historic Landmark for years to come. Many of the structures of this self-contained company town haven’t had regular visitors for over 60 years, and while some of the facades have crumbled over that time, with each visit and hike into it’s not hard to imagine the men, women, and families that called this mining town home. A great place to start exploring the Kennecott Mines is at the Kennecott Visitors Center, which provides both a central hub for the sprawling trail system and resources like guided tours, historical information and a little touch of modern times amongst the days past.
Dogtown, Gloucester, Massachusetts
For a look into some of the U.S.’s deepest history, it’s worth taking a visit to Dogtown, Massachusetts. Originally settled in 1693, Dogtown was then known as “the Commons”, and supposedly adopted its new moniker after the town’s residents moved closer to the harbor, leaving behind packs of dogs and those who couldn’t afford the resettlement. However the story goes, today you can see what remains of Dogtown by trail, including old cellar remnants and giant boulders inscribed with inspirational words by depression-era quarry workers. Map and compass skills will help navigate the worn-down trail leading into Dogtown, and it’s not unlikely to see equestrian trail users along the way.
Currently maintained by the California State Park system, the abandoned town of Bodie was once quite the opposite. Reportedly having a population of 10,000 people in the late nineteenth century, Bodie was home to a wide array of old west characters including gunslingers, shop owners, and surely lone strangers riding in on horseback. In today’s times, Bodie can be found not far from Yosemite National Park just north of Mono Lake, and within its arrested state of decay, over 100 structures are waiting to be explored. Being designated a State Historic Park, Bodie is accessible to locate and hike around, although no new modern features exist according to its historic parameters, meaning few resources are there to help you if you encounter any trouble (or ghosts).
Spokane Black Hills Ghost Town, Custer, South Dakota
Located just 16 miles north of Custer State Park in the Black Hills of South Dakota, Spokane was first founded in the late 19th century to extract gold from the soil. While other minerals proved to be more fruitful in Spokane, the town quickly flourished with prospectors and families looking to tap into the resources. Much like many of the mining towns in the west, Spokane’s boom met its bust, and all that remains today are crumbling structures that barely stand as a testament towards more prosperous times. To access Spokane, users need to locate and traverse one mile down a national forest road, where the remains of Spokane are waiting to be explored with caution.
Virginia City, Montana
Just 20 miles west of Yellowstone National Park, Virginia City of Montana is a self-touted “very much alive ghost town”, and while the initial boom of this once gold mining community has long since faded, the aesthetics and tourism of the town survive today. Between the living history characters walking in the streets and hiking trails that lead into historical tours, plus modern cuisine and lodging in rustic accommodations, Virginia City and the neighboring Nevada City are a worthwhile vacation on their own.