Nevada is most known for its prized, lively city of Las Vegas, where many people come to enjoy a weekend of luxury, casino games, and decadent food. But did you know that just several miles off Vegas, there are hundreds of ghost towns in the Nevada deserts?
When adventurous packs travel to Vegas for a couple of nights of fun, they might take a few stops at one of Nevada’s creepy ghost towns—cities that were once booming with gold mining and saloons but have been abandoned for decades.
Although these ghost towns sound like the type of areas you should steer clear of, they’re actually of high historical interest. There’s a growing fascination for chilling towns like these, especially for those who love movies about the Wild West.
Interested in visiting a ghost town near Las Vegas? Check out these six eerie, abandoned towns where it seems like time has eternally and mysteriously stood still.
Why Are There So Many Ghost Towns Near Las Vegas?
Nevada is sometimes fondly referred to as the “Silver State” because in the 1800s, “boom towns”—aka places where lots of silver and gold could be mined—were found there.
People clamored to dig up all the minerals they could find here during the gold rush. They set up schools, homes, hotels, stores, and saloons there, until eventually, these Nevada towns would run out of precious metals and were abandoned by their occupants.
There are about 600 ghost towns in the state. The awesome thing is that somehow, although these ghost towns’ population is basically non-existent, they were still carefully preserved throughout the years.
Today, most of these old towns in the American West are tourist attractions that brave souls wander as a side trip after Vegas.
Top 6 Ghost Towns Near Las Vegas
Nestled in the Bullfrog Hills of Nye County, Nevada is Rhyolite, a ghost town right outside of Death Valley National Park. This town is just 120 miles away from Vegas, making it a fascinating two-hour side trip for adventurous folk.
This town became a popular mining district in 1905, and many chose to settle here because of it. But in just a few years, the ores in Rhyolite had already been exhausted. Just six years later in 1911, the mines had closed and the population slowly went down to zero in the years after.
Rhyolite is one of the most photographed ghost towns in all of Nevada. The iconic Bullfrog Mining District, though no longer operational, still stands today. It’s exceptional for taking photos.
Another landmark in this town is the Tom Kelly Bottle House. This house was built by a resident who went around over 50 saloons to collect over 30,000 old Budweiser bottles. He then used these glass bottles to build a three-bedroom house, which he raffled off to a lucky winner.
Today, Rhyolite is home to the Goldwell Open Air Museum. One of its most popular art installations is Albert Szukalski’s “The Last Supper,” a collection of ghost-like silhouettes draped in floating white cloth.
The unincorporated community of Goodsprings is the quintessential example of a ghost town that emulates the spirit of the Wild West. It is also one of the closest ghost towns to Las Vegas as it is only a 40-minute drive from Sin City.
Goodsprings was named after a rancher named Joseph Good, whose cows were known to roam and graze at the Spring Mountains uptown. In the 1800s and early 1900s, the town was one of the most productive districts for mining gold, silver, copper, and even lead.
The most interesting stop at Goodsprings has to be Pioneer Saloon, an American West social club that was established in 1913. For over a century, it has been serving good old beer and delicious burgers to its guests.
What’s cool about this saloon is that it’s as authentic as a saloon in the Wild West can get. There are bullet holes in some of the walls from old gunfights. There are also tons of ghost stories about people who have been killed in battle back in the day.
There are also cigarette burns on the bar that are said to have been made by Hollywood icon Clark Gable.
It is said that in January 1942, the actor stumbled into the bar and started drinking to calm his nerves after news broke out that the airplane his wife, Carole Lombard, rode back to California had not landed. It was later discovered that the plane had crashed and Lombard had been one of the casualties.
Originally named after the mythical gold city of El Dorado, the ghost town of Nelson sits just 45 minutes out of Vegas.
This town was once home to Techatticup Mine—arguably one of the most famous gold mines in America. It had been one of the most profitable mining districts back in the day and had plenty of homes and general stores in the area until the 1940s.
Of course, it’s not the Wild West without drama and scandal. Over the years of the mineral rush, there were plenty of land ownership disputes and labor issues. These would sometimes end in violent killings. In fact, the town was named after Charles Nelson, a camp leader who was murdered by an Indian.
Today, this ghost town has plenty of abandoned establishments, like gift shops and gas stations. You can also go book a tour of the mines or rent a kayak to ride at the neighboring Colorado River.
4. St. Thomas
While most of these ghost towns drove out their residents after having their gold mines exhausted, St. Thomas is quite different. It was none other than the construction of the Hoover Dam that was the cause of its demise when it filled the town in 1935.
Before meeting its demise in the 1930s, this town was founded by people of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They came in 1865 and later left nearing the 1900s. Then, the mining companies came and sucked the town dry of minerals before the great Hoover Dam flushed it out.
Now that the dam’s water levels are back to normal, what’s left of St. Thomas is exposed again. When exploring this town, you’ll find remnants of its old inhabitants, like random stairs, building foundations, and sturdy walls that were built nearly a century ago and refuse to fall to this day.
Right at the turn of the 20th century, Berlin started getting attention because it was found to be an abundant source of gold.
Until 1911, the town was mined endlessly. It produced over 40,000 troy ounces of gold. After that, it became unprofitable, and its residents left right away to find the next big mining district.
What makes Berlin unique is that it’s not just the ghosts of Americans in the Wild West you can potentially see here. You can also check out the remains of an ancient reptile that swam Nevada’s waters millions of years ago—the ichthyosaur.
A quick visit to the Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park will allow you to admire the fascinating remains of this carnivorous reptile. It’s said that the fossils of over 40 ichthyosaurs had been found in Berlin over the years.
Aside from looking at the remains of extinct sea creatures, you can also book guided mine tours in Berlin. Exploring mining tunnels 500 feet underground is also recommended for adventure-seekers.
If you haven’t mustered enough courage to seek out an eerie, abandoned town, Pioche might be more up your alley. Although it’s an unincorporated town, it’s still quite lively thanks to its Wild West-inspired attractions, like state parks, museums, and saloons.
Although the “ghost” town is quite vibrant now, it was known in the 1870s as one of the roughest, most violent areas in the Old West.
There was a lot of confusion as to where the most profitable mining areas were, so those that owned the mines hired guards to be on standby. This led to frequent altercations between the guards and raiders who wanted to the mines.
About 60% of all Nevada homicides at the time occurred in Pioche. People who were murdered during the mineral rush were buried in Boot Hill Cemetery. It was named after the fact that some bodies were buried so quickly and mindlessly that their boots are seen sticking out of the ground.
The only thing is that Pioche is about three hours away from Vegas. It might not be as near as the other towns on this list, but it’s definitely worth the drive.
There’s nothing like the lights and nightlife Las Vegas and its sumptuous hotels and restaurants. But if you need time off from the loud Sin City, take a side trip to an abandoned ghost town for a historically rich tour of the Wild West (or what it used to be).
There is so much you can do in these ghost towns. You can sip on a beer at a saloon with friends, listen to ghost stories from people who still live there, and even pose with the remains of an ancient ichthyosaur. You can also just explore the abandoned grounds and look for the ghosts of the people who once walked those dirt roads.
Vegas might be the highlight of your weekend getaway. But no trip to Nevada is complete without exploring at least one of these historic ghost towns. So, make sure you write them down as stops after your weekend in Vegas.