The phrase “ghost town” sounds spooky, but it doesn’t always mean these small and abandoned towns are haunted.
A ghost town gets that moniker by being a once booming town that suddenly dwindles down to almost nothing. Usually, this happens when a town was developed quickly due to a discovery of gold or other minerals, and then the town’s residents would leave when the minerals ran out and the mines closed.
Arizona is dotted with these small ghost towns (over 270 of them!), and many of them have been turned into tourist attractions with museums, restaurants, and gift shops.
If you are interested in learning more about Arizona’s history and enjoy touring old buildings and towns, then visiting any of the ghost towns on this list should be your next adventure!
Let’s get started!
Location: On Highway 89A near Prescott and Cottonwood
This ghost town actually has the highest population out of any of the true ghost towns on this list, with just over 440 people calling this small town their permanent home. In its heyday in the late 19th-century, Jerome supported over 10,000 people and a booming copper mine. By the 1950’s, after the mine closed, there were fewer than 100 people still holding out in this small mining town built on Cleopatra Hill overlooking the Verde Valley.
Less than two hours north of Phoenix and near Prescott, Sedona, and Flagstaff, getting to Jerome is fairly easy and it is less remote than other ghost towns on our list. Long after the copper mines closed and the town quickly fell into “ghost” status, the residents here began turning the old buildings into museums, coffee shops, and art galleries.
Now, Jerome is a hotspot for artists, tourists, hippies, and those wanting to learn more about Arizona’s history. Due to its location on a hillside, be prepared to climb numerous steps and flights of stairs as you explore your way through town. The views of the Verde Valley make the heart-pumping climb up the stairs worth it!
A particular point of interest in Jerome is the “Sliding Jail”, a historic building constructed in the 1920’s that due to the Earth’s movements and natural erosion, has slid down the hill about 200 feet to where it rests now. It is now a designated historical site, and has been turned into a museum.
The main drag in Jerome has been restored and now houses boutiques, antique shops, craft stores, gift and curios shops, and art galleries. When you get hungry after touring the museums and shops, be sure to stop by one of the few restaurants in town. The Haunted Hamburger is a local and tourist favorite!
2. Crown King
Location: This ghost town is near Phoenix, less than two hours from the city, exit 248 from the I-17
What started out as a gold mining town in the 1970’s is now a small but charming ghost town high up in the Bradshaw Mountains, only accessible by a rough dirt road. During the height of its boom, the Crown King mine produced over $2 million worth in gold! Once the gold ran out around the 1950’s, the population in the town dwindled to almost zero.
Today, the main draw to the town is tourism, with people coming to visit the historic Crown King Saloon, the General Store, and the red-brick school house. Only about 80-100 people live here full-time, but there are cabins for rent and there are several small inns and motels as well.
Every spring there is a 50K trail race, the Crown King Scramble, that starts at Lake Pleasant and climbs all the way up the rugged dirt road to Crown King, climbing 4,800 feet from the desert to the pines. This one event brings in several hundred people for the day to this ghost town, and is a boom to the local economy.
Recently, some hiking and riding trail systems have been created near town, making Crown King a destination for hikers, trail runners, mountain bikers, and horseback riders. After your outdoor adventures, stop at the Crown King Saloon for dinner and a drink to end the day!
3. Vulture City
Location: 12 miles east of Wickenburg
Established in 1863 as a gold mining town, Vulture City had a successful and productive mine for over 80 years and supported up to 5,000 people at its height. Nearby Wickenburg was established around this same time and is still a large town to this day, while Vulture City quickly dwindled once the mine was shut down during World War II.
In recent years, local historians have pushed to restore a dozen of the old buildings in town, to draw in tourism and to preserve the history of Vulture City. Touring these buildings and other locations in the town can give you a glimpse into the mining culture and history of the 19th century.
The Wild West was definitely thriving in this town- outside Henry Wickenburg’s cabin (built in 1864 and restored to its former glory in 2018) is the 300-year-old ironwood tree known as the Hanging Tree. Criminals met their fateful end on this tree, most of them for stealing gold from the mine. Even with the gold theft, the Vulture City mine was still the most prosperous gold mine in Arizona from that era!
Today, Vulture City is privately owned and on private land. If you wish to tour the half-mile long self guided tour, you can check in at the tour office (which was previously an old shack, now restored). On the weekends, you can reserve a private guided tour to hear about all the history and legends of the town. Ghost stories and supernatural tales have a history here, with claims of some of the buildings and the gold mine being haunted.
Location: On Highway 93 northwest of Kingman
This ghost town is nestled in the Cerbat Mountains near Las Vegas and Kingman, and has the distinction of being one of the oldest silver mining towns in Arizona. Chloride has been continuously inhabited since its founding in the 1860’s, and it also has the longest operating postal office in Arizona.
Although it is such an important historical town and an important part of Arizona’s history, it is still fairly unknown by the general population. Unlike most ghost towns on this list, it never became fully uninhabited following the closure of the silver mines in the 1940’s. Musicians and artists flocked to Chloride to take advantage of this quiet corner of the state.
The old buildings and main street area have been used as movie sets for feature films and music videos. Today, Tennessee Street (the main drag through town) is home to gift and souvenir shops, Mineshaft Market, Yesterday’s Restaurant (the most delicious place in town) and several other shops.
Roy Purcell, a local artist, hiked up into the hills near Chloride in 1966 and created a mural called “The Journey” on 2,000 foot cliff formations. He came back in 2005 and repainted and restored the murals to their full beauty. Today, the murals are accessible by car on a 2-mile dirt road, and many visitors to Chloride make the trip up there to enjoy the artwork.
There’s two holidays that the town celebrates annually with a celebration and parade- Old Miner’s Day and St Patrick’s Day. The long-time residents of Chloride love to celebrate their mining heritage, and some have the original settlers as their ancestors. The St Patrick’s Day celebration has a famous bake sale and zany parade.
Location: Far southern Arizona, about 10 minutes from Tombstone
First settled in 1881, Fairbank was named for Nathaniel Fairbank of Chicago, who financed the railroad, and once served as the closest railroad stop to Tombstone. The town served as a depot and post office, and after Tombstone became more of a ghost town, Fairbank also dwindled into disuse.
The town is now on Bureau of Land Management land, and for a time the land was leased to the homeowners who lived there. Before that, in the late 1800’s, the town had a general store, butcher shop, a quartz mill, and a Wells Fargo office. Fairbank has since been restored and preserved, including an adobe structure that used to be the general store.
Today, nobody lives in Fairbank, as it was completely deserted by the 1970’s. It’s location in the San Pedro National Riparian Conservation Area ensures that the historic buildings here will be preserved for years to come. The small schoolhouse has been turned into a museum by the BLM and serves as an education center for tourists to learn more about the town and the area surrounding it.
While several buildings within the town have been fixed up for tourist’s safety, there remains some ruins and older dilapidated buildings that you are free to explore at your own risk. Always remember to be respectful of these historic remains, and don’t remove any artifacts you may find.
Location: Less than 30 minutes from Mesa on Highway 88
Goldfield is the closest ghost town to the Phoenix Valley, and is only a short drive from Mesa and Apache Junction. Established in 1893, Goldfield started out as a mining town, like most of the ghost towns in Arizona. It has since been fully restored to a functioning tourist attraction with a restaurant, museum, an old train steamer, mine tours, and more!
The gold mines in nearby Superstition Mountains are veiled in mystery (hence the name), and were twice abandoned by the residents of Goldfield. Later on, the land was bought by a private investor and turned into what it is today, a fun tourist attraction for all ages.
Other attractions in Goldfield include daily gunfight reenactments, the historic schoolhouse, a bakery, a steakhouse, and a brand-new zipline attraction that takes you over the town for a bird’s-eye view. You can easily spend an entire day at Goldfield, and the proximity to Phoenix makes this a great activity for families.
Location: Southwest of Kingman, on the way to Lake Havasu
Located on historic Route 66, this ghost town is a must-stop for those traveling to Las Vegas along that highway. While the other ghost towns on this list were founded in the 1800s, Oatman was founded a little later in 1915 after gold was found in the hills nearby. This is one of the few towns in the Wild West named for a woman- Olive Oatman, who lived among the local Yavapai and Mohave Native American tribes.
The main attraction people visit when they come here is the Oatman Hotel, which survived the fire of 1921 and is also believed to be haunted! The famous actors Clark Gable and Carol Lombard stopped by the town and stayed in this hotel on their honeymoon. Today, the hotel is a restaurant, saloon, and gift shop.
Every year on the 4th of July is the Egg Fry, where visitors can test their “Arizona cooking” skills as they try to fry an egg using nothing but a pan (or the sidewalk!) and the heat of the sun. Another notable feature of the town of Oatman are the wild burros that wander the streets, and are friendly enough that tourists can pet them and take their photos with the donkeys. There are more burros here than people!
The nostalgic and Western-theme makes the ghost town of Oatman more than worth your visit, especially for Route 66 roadtrippers.
Location: Four miles from the Mexico border, 70 miles south of Tucson
Fees: $15 per person
Yet another old mining town, Ruby came to fruition in the 1870s after gold, lead, and zinc were found in the nearby hills. Upwards of 1,200 people lived in this town at its height, and its proximity to the Mexican border made Ruby a haven for the lawless.
Ruby was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975, and in 1993 the owners of the town began working on restoring sections of the town to its former glory. The owners have been hard at work restoring the school, warehouse, and the courthouse to make them safe for tourists to visit.
The work is ongoing to make Ruby a reflection of its historic past, but you can visit now for an unforgettable experience! There are campsites, guided tours, world-class stargazing, mountain biking, experience bat migrations, view other wildlife, and much more! The draw of Ruby lies in its remoteness and the various activities that can be done here.
Location: Highway 80 between Benton and Bisbee
Arguably the most famous of all the ghost towns in Arizona, Tombstone was founded in 1877 and quickly grew to a population of 14,000 following the discovery of silver in the area. It is also the site of the famous Gunfight at O.K. Corral, which was immortalized in the movie Tombstone (1993).
When prospector Ed Shieffelin struck rich by finding the silver and building the mine, he created one of the last boomtowns in the Southwest. Tombstone grew very quickly in the next 7 years, and was a haven for lawless gunslingers, cowboys, miners, and immigrants. Tombstone was home to many smugglers, who moved cattle, alcohol, and tobacco secretly across the border from Mexico.
Tombstone was made famous in the 1880s by the Earp family and a local group called The Cowboys. Their feud culminated into a gunfight that ended up with several of the Cowboys killed. They are buried in the famous Boothill Graveyard, a popular haunt for those visiting Tombstone.
At its height, Tombstone was home to a whopping 110 saloons, 14 gambling halls, a bowling alley, restaurants featuring cuisine from all over the world, and numerous brothels. The town truly was a hot spot in the Wild West and was one of the most exciting and lively towns in Arizona at the time.
While Tombstone was never abandoned, it is included on this list due to the similarity to the numerous ghost towns in the state, and to its historic nature and overall mystique. Today, the main source of income for the town’s businesses is tourism, and East Allen Street is lined with gift shops, eateries, and saloons.
This town in southern Arizona is well worth the visit for those who love the history of the southwest, as Tombstone is such a vital part of the Wild West story. Numerous movies, tv shows, and songs feature Tombstone, cementing its place in pop culture forever.
It makes for a perfect day trip from Tucson.
Location: On Gleeson Road (dirt road) between Highway 80 and State Route 191
Most of the towns on this list were founded as gold, copper, or silver mining towns. Gleeson is unique in that it was founded near a turquoise mine, which is an especially popular mineral among the Native Americans in the area. The town was initially called Turquoise, but was changed to Gleeson in 1894.
Copper, lead, and zinc quickly took over as the main products mined in Gleeson, and copper production especially took off during World War I. By the 1930s, Gleeson was effectively a ghost town as the mines closed down one by one. Not much remains of the town except for the ruins of a saloon, hospital, schoolhouse, and a jail.
The jail has been renovated in the last 6 years and is now a museum. The other buildings in town are expected to be renovated as well, preserving the historic town of Gleeson for future generations to enjoy. Very few people live here full-time. Gleeson is one of three ghost towns on what is called the Ghost Town Trail, along with Courtland and Pearce.
Visitors to Gleeson can enjoy exploring ruins that are still in their original state, and can explore the other ghost towns in the area as well. Located only 16 miles east of Tombstone, one can easily see all of these towns in just one day.
Before You Go
There you have it, those were the best ghost towns in Arizona.
Of the 275 official ghost towns in Arizona, the vast majority of them were established as mining towns in the late 1800s. Once the mines ran out, or the government shut them down, the people who lived and worked at the mines were forced to leave and abandon their towns, creating these ghost towns that dot the Arizona landscape.
Some of them are restored and preserved, and some of them are no more than a few ruins or foundations that only the people who lived there would remember. Tourism is the one of the only ways to keep these ghost towns functioning, and visitors help to keep the local economy alive for the residents who still call some of these towns home.
Visiting Arizona’s ghost towns can help you learn more about the history of the Wild West and the role that these once-booming towns played in settling Arizona. While these towns are small and may seem like an unusual place to visit, the museums, restaurants, and shops make visiting Arizona ghost towns a must-do for many tourists.
For more experiences like these, head over next to my selection of the best old western towns in Arizona you should visit.