With Halloween on the horizon, the media blitz is gearing up towards “spooky” themes. You could just “veg” out on your couch but why? We all know seeing and experiencing things in REAL LIFE is always better than in the digital world. In addition, we’re VERY lucky in the High Sierra to have a fall season filled with sunshine and typically warm daytime highs. This makes for a perfect recipe to visit ghost towns in the High Sierra in person AND enjoy nice weather at the same time. Skip the “trick” and enjoy a rare “treat” for October. 

Largest Unrestored Ghost Town In The West

Bodie Ghost Towns of The High Sierra
Image appears courtesy: Mono County Tourism

In its prime, Bodie was home to over 10,000 residents in the 1870’s and 80’s producing over 35 million dollars in gold. A grim reminder of the boom & bust era of mining in the Wild West, the abandoned town is now a State Historic Park and considered California’s official ghost town.  Bodie has not been reconstructed or “spruced up.” Instead, this historic treasure is a time capsule, and it’s left as is. For example, when the general store shut its doors in 1912, it was locked up with its shelves stocked – today, peeking through the wavy glass, you’ll see the same items. With the option to explore yourself or on a daily guided tour (or especially during the annual Friends of Bodie event complete with reenactors), you can experience a glimpse of what life was like back then.

Soak Up The History In Benton

Benton Cemetery sign in Benton Springs California
Image appears courtesy: Bishop Visitor Center – Photo by: Emily Taylor

Southeast of the mining town is another little hamlet that’s nearly a ghost town – Benton. Starting as a waypoint for weary travelers on their way to Aurora and Benton. What began its journey to becoming a boom town wasn’t gold though, it was silver! This helped the community thrive for more than FIFTY years. What allowed it to not fully collapse was another crucial resource in the parched Eastern Sierra – its hot springs. You can still enjoy a private pool by booking a room at the 1940’s B&B Inn or camping site. Due to its popularity and unique experience, be sure to reserve far in advance. To see how to get there and what’s there to do, check out the Local Freshies® trip from Bishop to Benton California.

First Tourist Destination In Tahoe

Glen Alpine Springs Lake Tahoe Ghost Towns Of the High Sierra
Photo by: @sara_loves_nature – Image appears courtesy: Tahoe South

Another option is to head to South Lake Tahoe. On the surface, you might think “Ghost town?!? What Ghost Town?!?” Just below the slopes of Mount Tallac is a place called Glen Alpine Springs located on one of the easiest day hikes in Tahoe. Widely known as a tourist destination in the Lake Tahoe basin back in the 1870’s, people from afar including John Muir visited this place to get some rest and relaxation. Today, the only things left are the abandoned lodge and its surrounding buildings offering a little look into the past. For those wanting a peek into what life was actually like back then, head over to Virginia City. Only a 45 minute drive from South Lake Tahoe, you can walk its real-life wooden boardwalks, mosey on up to a stool at a saloon and even see the mines that funded the Civil War.

John Muir And Teddy Roosevelt’s Ramble

Teddy Roosevelt and John Muir at Glacier Point in Yosemite Valley
John Muir (pictured on the right with Theodore Roosevelt) on their famous adventure in 1903 when Muir spent three nights camping in Yosemite with President Theodore Roosevelt. – Photo from Library Of Congress

Have you ever wondered how John Muir and Teddy Roosevelt accessed Yosemite on their famed camping trip in 1903? It wasn’t like they just fell out of the sky and found it. On their journey to the future park, they stayed in the quiet town of Coulterville. At its peak, Coulterville was one of the most important trading centers on the southern end of the Gold Rush motherlode. Today, Coulterville remains filled with historic buildings and memories of the “’49ers” including some that have decided to permanently make residence here at the original hotel – the Jeffrey which still stands to this day.

The ‘Real Deal’ Of Ghost Towns

Chinese Camp Ghost Towns In The High Sierra
Image appears courtesy: Visit Tuolumne

During the prime gold mining years of the 1850’s, thousands of immigrants migrated to help build railroads, work in mining camps, and later on farms and ranches. One of the most interesting chapters from this time is Chinese Camp. Originally established in 1854 as Washingtonville, it formed after Chinese miners were forced out of Camp Salvado. During its heyday, over 5,000 Chinese miners lived here as well as it being a transportation hub for stagecoach lines & express offices. 

An interesting saga within the town’s history is a disagreement that happened among Chinese miners in 1856. What resulted is a battle challenge between two local tongs (secret Chinese-American societies). The skirmish was large, with over two thousand Chinese fighting with only pitchforks, rakes, and other mining tools. Although no descendants of the original Chinese miners live here today, the remaining buildings whisper their stories from long ago. Here’s a few ideas on how to combine a stroll through Chinese Camp with a full vacation of fun in Tuolumne County this fall. You can even increase the fun factor by stepping it up with a stay at one of the many haunted hotels throughout the county.

A Night With The Spirits

Founded in 1848, “Moke Hill” as the locals called it was the epicenter of the richest placer mining in the county. More than $30 million in gold was found in a claim constituting only sixteen square feet. Such fierce competition for small plots of land of unforetold riches created one of the most violent and bawdy towns in the Mother Lode.

Hotel Leger
Image appears courtesy: Hotel Leger Restaurant And Saloon

As the gold dried up and the town became quiet, specters began appearing especially at the Hotel Leger. One of the oldest Gold Rush Era hotels in the state, it’s most famous for its spiritual citizens. There have been sightings of the original owner George Leger walking the hallways inspecting his hotel. A woman in white in Room 2. And children heard playing in the rooms and halls.

Europe might have its ruins, but the great American West is home to Ghost Towns. They provide an opportunity for us to experience history first hand. While the streets are now quiet, their past exploits shout from every item, clapboard and brick left behind. Instead of reading about the Wild West, why not feel, touch and smell it in the ghost towns of the High Sierra. We KNOW it will leave a lasting memory deeper than any movie could.

Author: Alex Silgalis

Alex founded Local Freshies® in 2014 to be the #1 website providing the “local scoop” on where to eat, drink & play in mountain towns throughout North America. When he’s not writing and executing marketing strategies for small businesses & agencies, he’s in search of the deepest snow in the winter and tackiest dirt in the summer.

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