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5 North American Ghost Towns That Satisfied Our Inner Adventurer

Clare Fitzgerald
Photo Credit: Ben Churchill / Wikimedia Commons CC BY 2.0 2. Todd Lappin / Flickr CC BY-NC 2.0

As COVID-19 restrictions begin to lessen, more and more of us are looking to embark on outdoor adventures. While many will jet off to different countries, others will opt to visit local attractions. Across North America, there are ghost towns just waiting to be explored. Not only are they fascinatingly creepy, but they’re also free — and who doesn’t love free?

1. Santa Claus, Arizona

You might not think the Mohave Desert would be home to a Christmas village, but you’d be mistaken. Located along Route 66 in Arizona is Santa Claus, the original home of jolly old Saint Nick. Also known as Santa Claus Acres, the town was once a bustling tourist attraction… Until it wasn’t.

Roof of the Santa Claus post office

Santa Claus post office. (Photo Credit: Todd Huffman / Wikimedia Commons CC BY 2.0)

Realtor Nina Talbot founded the town in 1937 in an attempt to attract buyers to the desert. It grew into a year-round holiday attraction, with a post office, children’s train, and the popular Christmas Tree Inn.

Unfortunately, it never became the residential mecca Talbot hoped, as its only permanent residents were those working at the local establishments. She sold her stake in 1949, and while there were numerous revitalization attempts, Santa Claus shut down in 1995.

The Old 1225 children's train and the Santa Claus Inn

Old 1225 and the Christmas Tree Inn. (Photo Credit: Todd Huffman / Wikimedia Commons CC BY 2.0)

Its red, white, and green peppermint-striped buildings fell into disrepair, and visitors nowadays are greeted to graffiti-covered faded exteriors. The Old 1225 train has since derailed, making the town look more like the place where Christmas came to die, rather than the festive attraction it once was.

2. Sandon, British Columbia

This once-thriving Silver Rush town has become one of British Columbia’s best-known ghost towns. Founded in 1891 by Eli Carpenter and Jack Seaton, it was once home to thousands of prospectors looking to line their pockets with silver.

General store in Sandon, British Columbia

Sandon general store. (Photo Credit: Darren Kirby / Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 2.0)

Sandon was doomed from the start. Despite silver booms during WWI and the Korean War, its population and economy were never stable. It entered receivership in 1920, and without municipal taxes, buildings fell into disrepair.

A fire in 1900 destroyed the majority of the downtown core, and a 1955 flood washed away many buildings. Sandon was also home to one of the West Kootenay’s Japanese Canadian internment camps during WWII, a rather unsavory part of Canada’s history.

Three trolleybuses left abandoned in Sandon, British Columbia

Photo Credit: Darren Kirby / Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 2.0

Despite its drawbacks, there is a particularly unique draw for tourists: trolleybuses. No, this isn’t some weird Into The Wild nightmare. Many years ago, Vancouver, Regina, and Winnipeg sent their disused trolleybuses to the town for refurbishing, but that never really happened. The result: Sandon looking more like a junkyard than your typical ghost town.

3. Centralia, Pennsylvania

Imagine living above a raging coal mine fire. That’s exactly what the remaining seven residents of Centralia, Pennsylvania have experienced due to a coal seam fire that’s been ablaze since 1962. We’re tempted to say the town is a hot topic for discussion, but we’re sure all related puns have been mined through.

A highway with smoke seeping from the cracks in Centralia, Pennsylvania

Photo Credit: James St. John / Flickr CC BY 2.0

Centralia was built around the coal mining industry. While prosperous, it was plagued by violence. In the late 1800s, it was home to a chapter of the Molly Maguires, an Irish secret society, who stand accused of numerous assaults, murders, and arsons — they even killed the town’s founder, Alexander Rae.

However, the violence didn’t result in Centralia’s downfall. The coal mine fire led to the evacuation of the town’s residents in 1981, and the town itself was condemned by the state in 1992.

A road in Centralia, Pennsylvania covered in graffiti

Photo Credit: formulanone / Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 2.0

Very few buildings still stand, with those remaining in an advanced state of disrepair. Anyone looking to visit Centralia is greeted with graffiti-covered highways that spew smoke. Oh, and we can’t forget to mention the odor that permeates the town.

While the cause of the fire is still up for debate, most cite a 1962 landfill fire. But what if there’s more to the story? Legend has it Roman Catholic priest Ignatius McDermott cursed the town after being assaulted by members of the Molly Maguires. Could the fire be a direct result of this eerie curse?

4. Bodie, California

Once a bustling boomtown during the California Gold Rush, Bodie is one of the best-preserved ghost towns in the American West. Its more than 100 remaining buildings are maintained by park rangers with the Bodie Foundation, and the location has been deemed a California Historic Landmark.

Sam Leon's bar and Joe Hahner's hair salon in Bodie, California

Sam Leon’s bar and Joe Hahner’s hair salon. (Photo Credit: King of Hearts / Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 4.0)

Located in the Sierra Nevada, Bodie was founded in 1876. It featured all the amenities of a modern mining town, including homes, a school, hotels, and even a Wells Fargo bank. Bodie was also known for its violence. It had a red-light district, brothels, saloons, gambling dens, and breweries, meaning a miner out at night risked getting stabbed or shot.

Kitchen of the Miller House in Bodie, California

Miller House. (Photo Credit: King of Hearts / Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 4.0)

Between 1876 and 1941, the total monetary output from Bodie’s mines was $70 million. It hit its peak in 1879, after which its population steadily declined, with everyone leaving after the War Production Board suspended mining operations in 1942.

Tourists can visit Bodie’s downtown district, which survived two massive fires, one in 1892 and the second in 1932. The majority of its buildings were rebuilt, and those still standing are believed to have been moved to the location after the 1892 fire.

5. Ocean Falls, British Columbia

Nestled on the central coast of British Columbia in the Cousins Inlet is Ocean Falls, a once-booming town that’s since been left to decay. Those wishing to visit better carve out time in their schedule because you’ll need to take a plane from Vancouver to Bella Bella, before boarding a ferry or a seaplane in order to reach it.

Abandoned apartment building in Ocean Falls, British Columbia

Abandoned apartment building. (Photo Credit: A.Davey / Flickr CC BY 2.0)

Once there, you’ll be treated to the sights of a town that, at its peak, had a population of 3,500. Its location made it an ideal spot for the development of hydroelectricity. It was also home to the Bella Coola Pulp and Paper Company, once one of the province’s largest paper mills.

Unfortunately, deterioration and the cost of running the mill led to its closure in 1973, but not before residents had suffered a deadly apartment fire and a mudslide — oh, and its school burned down at one point. Despite the provincial government’s efforts to keep the town running, it was eventually abandoned by the majority of residents.

Ocean Falls, British Columbia

Photo Credit: A.Davey / Wikimedia Commons CC BY 2.0

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Today, much of the town lies in ruin, despite having a seasonal population of around 100. There’s an abandoned apartment from the 1950s as well as the famous Martin Inn, which used to be one of the largest hotels on Canada’s west coast. Its 300 rooms are now in decay, which makes it an intriguing place for exploration.