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10 famous Utah ghost towns and where to find them

Cactus grows in the red dirt of Grafton, Utah, which features prominently in "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid." The old schoolhouse appears in the background. Photo: Becky Bruce

When you think of famous ghost towns, you might think of places in Texas, Wyoming, Montana, Arizona or California – but it turns out Utah has its fair share, too. 

And most are within a short drive of the major metropolitan areas in the state. 

Here are the top 10 most famous Utah ghost towns and how to find them (with a few honorable mentions for good measure). 

1. Grafton, one of the most famous ghost towns in Utah

Located just outside of Zion National Park, you probably know Grafton already, even if you don’t realize it. It tops our list of 10 famous Utah ghost towns because it got some major screen time in “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.” Some claim Grafton is the most photographed ghost town in the West. We can’t prove that, but it appeared in at least one other movie, 1929’s “In Old Arizona,” one of the first “talkies.”

Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints first settled in the area in 1859, on a mission from Brigham Young to grow cotton in southern Utah. They established a growing community on the banks of the Virgin River known as Wheeler. But flooding washed away most of the town in 1862, so they moved about a mile upriver to a place they named New Grafton. Over time, they dropped the word ‘new’ from the name. 

Flooding continued to plague Grafton’s residents. Rising waters not only threatened its structures but also filled irrigation canals with silt. Residents had to dredge the canals weekly. The outbreak of the Black Hawk War meant the town had to evacuate in 1866, but continued flooding prompted residents to resettle elsewhere. Most historians consider the town’s official demise to have come in 1921, when The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints pulled out its local presence. But technically, three people still live in Grafton.

Roots run deep, though, and some of the orchards those early settlers planted still exist today. You can wander through the main street (really just a dirt path) and even into some of the buildings. Pay your respects to early residents at the town cemetery a short distance away. 

Getting there

Take Interstate 15 to exit 27 for Utah S.R. 17, toward Toquerville and Hurricane. Stay on S.R. 17 for about 6 miles until you reach the town of La Verkin. There, turn left on 500 North/S.R. 9 East. Drive 15 miles on S.R. 9 East to the town of Rockville. Turn right on Bridge Road. Drive 0.3 miles, crossing over the Virgin River, then turn right on 250 South/Grafton Road. Continue roughly 3 miles. The road changes from paved to gravel to dirt, then ends at the ghost town. 

2. Silver Reef, former mining boomtown

Like many ghost towns of the Old West, Silver Reef got its start as a mining settlement. A man named John Kemple discovered silver there in 1866. He returned in 1874, hoping to find the source of the vein of silver, staking several more claims, but without locating the source. 

Then, in 1875, word got out about Kemple’s discovery. A pair of Salt Lake bankers known as the Walker brothers hired a prospector to check it out on their behalf. The prospector, William T. Barbee, staked nearly two dozen claims and established a town he called “Bonanza City.” But miners drawn to the area by reports of silver preferred to set up camp outside of town, which they called “Rockpile.” 

That same year, after the mines closed in Pioche, Nev., some of its miners relocated to Rockpile, renaming it “Silver Reef.” At its peak, the town hosted 2,500 residents, nine grocery stores, six saloons and even a newspaper, which made it the largest town in southern Utah at the time. 

But it wouldn’t last. A downturn in the silver market dealt one major blow, and decreasing wages for miners dealt another. While the mines generated millions of dollars of silver ore, the last mine closed up in 1891. 

Today, much of the town has been overtaken by new development, making it therefore off-limits to explorers, but you can still visit the old Wells Fargo Express Office, which was turned into a museum, and the bank, now a gift shop. Feel like stretching your legs? A short trail will take you to one of the kilns once used to process silver. 

Getting there 

From the north, take southbound I-15 to exit 23 for Leeds/Silver Reef. Turn right at the “T” on Silver Reef Road, driving west about 1.5 miles. Turn left at the “Y” in the road, which becomes Silver Reef Drive. The museum is on the right at the corner of Silver Reef Drive and Wells Fargo Drive. 

From the south, drive northbound on I-15 to exit 22 for Leeds/Silver Reef. Turn north on Main Street through Leeds, about 1.3 miles. Next, turn left on Silver Reef Road, passing under the freeway toward the red cliffs, for about 1.5 miles. Turn left at the “Y” in the road, which becomes Silver Reef Drive. The museum is on the right at the corner of Silver Reef Drive and Wells Fargo Drive. 

3. Old Irontown, one of the first Utah ghost towns

Just about 20 miles outside of Cedar City lies Old Irontown, one of the Utah ghost towns with the most structures left behind to explore.

old irontown coke oven

Remains of a coke oven in Irontown. Old Irontown was settled in the 1850s for the purpose of mining iron ore, however, the venture quickly proved unsuccessful and Old Irontown became Utah’s first ghost town. Photo: Deseret News Archives

Founded in 1868, Old Irontown was originally known as Iron City. In a way, it came about because of the establishment of Cedar City, more than a decade before. Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints settled Cedar City in the 1850s, with the express goal of establishing an iron works. The mining operation there eventually failed and closed down, though settlers remained. However, that led to Peter Shirts’ discovery of the Iron City site in 1868, and the subsequent organization of the Union Iron Company by Ebenezer Hanks that same year. 

Iron City grew quickly, filling with 97 residents within two years. The town boasted not just the foundry, furnaces and blacksmith you would expect, but even a schoolhouse. However, by 1876, it was abandoned. A money panic in 1874 proved too difficult to overcome. 

Today, you can still check out ruins of Old Irontown that tell the story of iron mining and processing. The most recognizable structure is an old beehive-shaped charcoal oven, but you can also find the brick chimney that once served as part of the foundry, and an “Arastra,” a type of mill used to grind the iron ore so it could be used to charge the furnace. 

Be polite if you visit — there are nearby residents who call the area home. 

Getting there 

Take I-15 to Cedar City, exiting at Utah State Route 56, also known as 200 North. Head west on UT-56, continuing 19.5 miles, then turn left on Old Iron Town Road, which is gravel. Follow roughly 3 miles to the historic site. 

For extra credit, stop by the Frontier Homestead State Park Museum in Cedar City on your way to see artifacts from the site and learn more about the area’s early settlers. 

4. Welcome to Stateline, born in a Utah gold rush

Someone discovered gold around 1894 in them thar hills — or at least in Stateline Canyon near the Nevada state line in Iron County, Utah. 

The discovery of gold and silver in the area prompted a bit of a rush, followed by the establishment of the Ophir mine in Stateline Canyon in 1896. Two more mines, the Johnny and the Creole, soon followed.

At one point, 300 people called Stateline home. It included everything you would expect of an Old West town: saloons, a couple of general stores, a daily stagecoach to the nearest town with a railroad stop and even its own newspaper. 

But before long, the mines had given up all they could; the town slowly faded away; its last residents gone by the end of 1918. 

Sadly, much of what remained of Stateline burned with widespread wildfires in 2020. However, the cemetery is well-kept and worth paying your respects. 

Need more adventure? Stateline Canyon and the surrounding area feature plenty of trails for ATVs and dirt bikes. You’ll also pass through Modena to get to Stateline — and with its fewer than 20 residents, it practically qualifies as a ghost town, too. 

Getting there 

Take I-15 to Cedar City, exiting at Utah State Route 56, also known as 200 North. Much like the road to Old Irontown, your next move is to head west on UT-56, but this time, you’re going to drive 51.6 miles to the town of Modena. Turn right on Modena Canyon/Hamblin Valley Road. Continue 12.9 miles, then turn left at Hall’s Road. After 1.1 miles, the road curves to the right and becomes 13600 West. Continue another 0.1 miles, then make the first left you can make, followed by the next right. Continue roughly 2 miles – the road ends at the Stateline cemetery. 

5. Sego, Utah – a coal ghost town

If you’re already planning a trip to the red rock country around Moab, Utah, you might as well check out one of the easiest to reach ghost towns on this list: Sego. In fact, if you’ve ever needed to make a pit stop at the Thompson Springs rest area between Moab and the Colorado state line, you were almost within reach of Sego without knowing it. 

Sego got its start as a coal town. Henry Ballard, one of Thompson Springs’ founding fathers, found a seam of coal near Sego in 1908 and established a camp, calling it — what else? Ballard. 

Ballard eventually sold his camp to B. F. Bauer and his American Fuel Company, which resulted in fast expansion, a spur railroad line and the renaming of the town to Neslen, after the mine’s new general manager, Richard Neslen. A company store, a boarding house and a post office soon followed. 

But it’s hard to keep a town functioning and growing without water, and soon after its founding, Neslen’s creeks and springs started to dry up. In perhaps an ironic twist, too much water, in the form of flash floods, proved problematic for the trains — washing out bridges and trestles needed for the railroad spur to reach the coal mine. The coal company struggled to make a profit, miners went on strike when they weren’t paid for months at a time, and the company went through a restructuring in 1916. That move, which also replaced the mine’s general manager, eventually resulted in a name change for the town, in 1918, to Sego, for the Utah state flower, the sego lily.

But the financial struggles didn’t go away with the restructuring. Corporate coal moved out of the area in 1947, and while the remaining miners bought what was left and established a company of their own, it didn’t last. Flash floods wiped out the last vestiges of town life in the 1950s and forced any remaining miners to leave.

Not much remains, because a number of the buildings were moved to Thompson after the town petered out. But you can still see dugouts and foundations of a number of structures, plus the old Sego hotel’s red rock walls still stand. 

Getting there 

Take I-70 to exit 187, toward Thompson Springs. Turn left on UT-94 North, crossing under the interstate and driving 1.4 miles until the road merges with Sego Canyon Road and curves to the right. Drive 3.4 miles on this road, passing through the town, until you see Bureau of Land Management signs for the Sego Canyon Rock Art Interpretive Site. Turn right, then right again to stay with Sego Canyon Road. If you want, park at the BLM site to explore petroglyphs before continuing past to find the ghost town, another 1.7 miles down the road. 

Note: The road turns to gravel in places, and dirt in others, and crosses through a dry wash at several points. Check the forecast before you go and do NOT attempt when meteorologists predict rain, as the road becomes impassible. 

6. Thistle, a rare non-mining example among Utah ghost towns

One of the few Utah ghost towns on the list not to have ties to gold, silver, iron or coal mining, Thistle stands out from the rest. Its origins stem not from early Latter-day Saints settlements but from the arrival of the railroad. 

thistle railroad depot utah ghost towns

The railroad depot at Thistle. Photo: Deseret News Archives/Utah State Historical Society

Designed to accommodate the trains chugging through Spanish Fork Canyon in the late 1800s, Thistle became an important stop between Denver and the Salt Lake Valley. The Denver & Rio Grande Western railroad rebuilt an existing narrow-gauge track there to standard-gauge, then connected it with its line from Denver, providing a connection to Salt Lake City to the north. As a result, the railroad added facilities at Thistle to service trains and prepare them for the grades and curves ahead, for example by adding an extra engine before a steep climb. Before the era of dining cars on trains, Thistle also served as a meal stop. 

Thistle’s decline began long before natural disaster took its toll. When railroads switched from steam to diesel locomotives, the town’s maintenance services became less and less important over time. Between the 1950s and the 1970s, the population shrank. Crews tore down the passenger depot in 1972 and the post office two years later. 

Heavier than normal rain and snow in the autumn and winter of 1982, followed by more moisture and a faster than expected snowmelt in spring 1983, created a perfect storm for Thistle. 

On April 13, 1983, railroad maintenance crews started to notice the track had shifted. A highway patrol trooper hit a buckle on US 6, the road through the canyon, that pitched him up against his car’s roof. Crews immediately went to work to try to keep the highway and the rail line open, but to no avail. On April 14, they closed the road and the tracks to all traffic. Another two days later, the landslide had completely buried the tracks. Another day after that, the evacuation order became mandatory, as the landslide’s impact damming the nearby river would undoubtedly flood the town. 

Residents evacuated to the town of Birdseye, 5 miles away, with whatever they could grab on short notice. By the next day, the water reached the rooftops of their former homes. The day after that, 50 feet of soil covered the former route of US-6. By the time it was done, the landslide created a lake held in by an earthen dam. 

You can still see partially flooded homes and other structures left behind by the Thistle landslide and flood

Getting there

From I-15, drive east on US 6 from Spanish Fork. Drive roughly 11 miles away from I-15, then turn right on Spanish Fork River Park Road to view the landslide from the “downstream” side. If you prefer, get back on US 6 and continue another 1.7 miles. Turn right into the large pullout just before the massive double road cut. You’ll find a sign with an overview of the disaster and a viewpoint. Travel another 1.5 miles past the pullout and turn right on US 89, then follow another 1.5 miles to find the remains of Thistle. 

7. Castle Gate, site of a coal mining disaster 

Once a thriving mining town, and like Thistle, an important stop on the Denver & Rio Grande Western railroad’s line from Denver to Salt Lake City, not much remains of Castle Gate. But we included it on our list of ghost towns because if you drive US 6 from Spanish Fork toward Price (or vice versa), you can’t miss it. And it’s the site of two major historical events in Utah.

Castle Gate gained a measure of notoriety during its heyday, as the site of one of Butch Cassidy’s most daring heists. 

The town wouldn’t get its name for a number of years, but activity in the area started to ramp up in 1886, as the Pleasant Valley Coal Company set up shop and began mining. PVCC set up a company town, naming it after the unique rock formations near the mine. 

On April 21, 1897, a train from Salt Lake City rolled into Castle Gate with PVCC’s payroll — around $8,800 in three bags. Two cowboys approached the company paymaster and the two guards with him, intercepting their plan to carry the money the 75 or so yards from the train to the PVCC office. Later identified as Butch Cassidy and Elza Lay, the two cowboys made off with around $7,000 of the cash. No one ever recovered the money. 

March 8, 1924 goes down in infamy in Castle Gate history. On that date, a series of explosions destroyed the Utah Fuel Company’s Castle Gate Mine #2. And 172 miners perished, many of them immigrants. To this day, it remains the tenth deadliest mine disaster in United States history. One of the three explosions resulted in the mine’s collapse. But historians believe lighting a gas lamp near improperly dampened coal dust caused the first blast. 

The only visible remains of Castle Gate itself are the rock formations that gave it its name, and a power plant, no longer in operation, that sits at the base of the canyon. However, travelers can learn more about the mine disaster through interpretive signs at a pullout near the rock formations. The town cemetery is well-preserved and easily accessed. 

Getting there 

From Spanish Fork, take US 6 east through Spanish Fork Canyon. The pull-off to view the Castle Gate rock formation and learn more about the mine disaster will be on your left after about 55 miles. To reach the cemetery,  proceed south past the pull-out and make the next possible left turn, on US 191. The cemetery sits just a short distance to the east, on your left. 

8. Frisco, one of the more notorious ghost towns in Utah

The town of Frisco got its start as a post office for the San Francisco Mining Company after the discovery of silver in the area in 1875. Miners established the post office just two years later, and within two years, the site boasted two smelters. In 1880, the completion of a rail spur to Milford, 15 miles away, fueled Frisco’s population boom to more than 6,000 residents.

beehive kiln in frisco, utah

These iconic beehive kilns are in the ghost town of Frisco. Photo: Deseret News Archives

The population boom and the attraction of precious metals also brought some less than savory elements. Frisco earned a reputation as a wild, rough and violent town. Several accounts tell of the town’s 23 saloons and, at one point, an average of one murder per day. 

Frisco became more respectable with the arrival of a sheriff. He made quick work of putting a stop to the lawlessness. But its demise came from the collapse of the silver mine in 1885. The collapse forced the mine to close for a year, and when it reopened, it produced ore much more slowly than before. Residents slowly drifted away; by the 1920s, most had departed.

The most recognizable remnants of Frisco include charcoal kilns, listed on the National Register of Historic Places. But visitors will also enjoy exploring the town cemetery and remaining abandoned structures and equipment. 

Getting there 

Follow I-15 to exit 228 in Nephi, toward I-15 Business/North Main Street. Turn right onto Utah State Route 41/UT-28 South. Drive 2.7 miles, then turn right onto UT-132 West/West 100 North. Continue 33 miles, then turn left on US 6 West. Travel 15.9 miles. Turn right on East Main Street in Delta, which is also US 50 West and US 6 West. Continue 5.5 miles, then turn left on UT-257 South. Drive 69.5 miles. Turn right on West Center Street in Milford, which is also UT-21 West. Drive 14.7 miles to the town of Frisco. 

9. Welcome to Promontory, home of the Golden Spike

golden spike ceremony transcontinental railroad

A scene at the Golden Spike ceremony photographed May 10, 1869 at Promontory Summit in Box Elder County. Southern Pacific photo X1071 from an original photograph owned by the Iowa Historical and Art Department. Photo: Deseret News Archives

Not much remains of Promontory, the town that sprang up practically overnight as crews raced to connect the railroad from East to West on the north end of the Great Salt Lake. 

Sometimes confused with Promontory Point, the name of a “cape” of land that juts into the Great Salt Lake, the city of Promontory grew quickly before the railroad arrived there, as the agreed-upon location for the railroads to join. Meetings in Washington, D.C., in April 1869 resulted in the choosing of Promontory Summit as that site. Originally, the Union Pacific and Central Pacific railroads planned to lay the final tracks at that location on May 8. But bad weather and a labor dispute resulted in a two-day delay; instead, we mark the anniversary of the completion of the intercontinental railroad on May 10, 1869. 

promontory summit celebration utah 1869

FILE – In this May 10, 1869, file photo, provided by the Union Pacific, railroad officials and employees celebrate the completion of the first railroad transcontinental link in Promontory, Utah. The completion of the Transcontinental Railroad was a pivotal moment in the United States, ushering in a period of progress and expansion nationwide. The Union Pacific’s Locomotive No. 119, right, and Central Pacific’s Jupiter edged forward over the golden spike that marked the joining of the nation by rail. (Andrew Russell/Union Pacific via AP, File)

A crew of Chinese and Irish immigrants laid the final 10 miles of track in just 12 hours. 

The tent city that sprang up around the event thrived, with some “tents” sporting wooden facades. But it soon earned a reputation as a rough and tumble place. Saloons and card rooms in particular attracted unsavory elements. After con artists took everything from a family of German immigrants, Promontory’s workers put up notices warning those who would do harm to others to leave town or face hanging. They did so, without further violence, by sunset on Sunday, Nov. 21, 1869. 

Promontory City lived just a short time later. By December of 1869, most of the traders and merchants who set up shop had moved on, as the railroads changed the transfer point for trains from Promontory to nearby Ogden. A hotel and restaurant remained a little longer, but by the next summer, just 120 people, mostly railroad employees, remained at Promontory. 

Eventually, a more direct route across the Great Salt Lake finished off what remained of Promontory City. Southern Pacific built a wooden trestle that crossed the salty lake, bypassing Promontory altogether. During World War II, the area marked the “unspiking” of the historic site, removing the last rail from Promontory Summit to repurpose the old steel for the war. 

You can’t really visit structures leftover from the Promontory City days of Promontory Summit. But the location itself still offers a lot to visitors. Now set aside as Golden Spike National Historic Park, a museum on the site offers photos of what the town once looked like, plus two replica locomotives that regularly re-enact the events of May 10, 1869. If you want to stretch your legs, walking trails offer a close look at some of the railway cuts and grades. 

Getting there 

From Salt Lake City or Ogden, head north on I-15 and take exit 365 toward UT-13/Promontory Road. Merge onto UT-13 to head west. Continue 2.7 miles as UT-13 becomes UT-83. Drive 17.4 miles, then turn left on 7200 North. Continue another 2 miles, then make a slight right on 18400 West. After another 4.6 miles, turn left on 22000 West/Golden Spike Road. You will see the historic park on your right after about a mile. 

10. Russian Settlement, one of the Utah ghost towns with no real name 

Last but not least on our list of Utah ghost towns is Russian Settlement, which lasted just three years in Box Elder County, northwest of the Great Salt Lake. 

We don’t know what its residents called Russian Settlement. What we do know is that it was founded, much like the state of Utah itself, on faith. 

The Russian people, Spiritual Christians, who purchased 4 square miles of Park Valley land in Box Elder County in March 1914, hoped to shield their children from worldly influences and to raise them in their own traditions and culture. In Los Angeles, where they had lived for roughly 10 years before that, they worried about urban influences on some of their practices, such as arranged marriages. Advertisements from Pacific Land and Water promised rich farming land, some of the best in Utah. 

Arriving in April 1914 at their new town site, they put in the work to build a village. Town founders laid out an east-to-west main street with 200 feet of frontage for each lot. They bought farm animals from nearby ranchers, planted crops in the dusty soil and built houses, barns and wells to support their new life. Promised irrigation wells and pumps from Pacific Land and Water never materialized. So instead, most families used their smaller wells to water what they could. 

The failure of the land to support crops eventually led residents to abandon Russian Settlement, starting just a year after they arrived. In fact, the decline was so swift, Box Elder County decided school-age children should attend class in Rosette just a year after first establishing a one-room schoolhouse at Russian Settlement. 

By 1917, everyone was gone, and while Box Elder County residents removed buildings and materials from the site, no one ever tried to make the area a home again. Today, all that remains is a tiny cemetery with two graves, surrounded by a picket fence.  

Getting there 

Take I-15 toward Idaho, splitting with I-84 and heading west toward Boise. From I-84, take exit 5 toward Park Valley/Elko. Head west on UT-30. Travel 15.8 miles on UT-30, then turn left to stay with UT-30. Drive another 19.8 miles. Turn left on 54000 West. After 1 mile, turn right on 16800 North. After about a tenth of a mile, the road curves and becomes Board Ranch Road. Keep driving 6 miles. At the next available right, turn right, then continue 2.6 miles. 

Honorable mentions for Utah ghost towns and beyond

Picking just 10 Utah ghost towns to highlight meant leaving out so many others. Some estimates suggest Utah includes over 100 ghost towns. Here, we list just a few others that you may want to check out. 

Cisco

No longer exactly a ghost town, a woman named Eileen Muza purchased Cisco in 2015, making improvements and leaving her mark on the landscape ever since. But prior to that, the town was featured as the location of Thelma and Louise’s famed police chase and also gave a Johnny Cash song its name. 

Spring Canyon/Storrs 

Jesse Knight purchased the land to develop a coal mine and company town he named Storrs, after the mine superintendent, in 1912. The name changed to Spring Canyon in 1924. It slowly declined as demand for coal decreased after World War II; by the late sixties, no one called it home anymore. 

Topaz 

Not exactly a true ghost town, Topaz deserves a place on the list because it once housed a number of people who do not live there today. Topaz was the site of a Japanese internment camp during World War II. Today, a museum educates visitors about what happened there. Visitors can also tour the nearby camp site. 

Notom 

Notom, just outside of Capitol Reef National Park, doesn’t include buildings or even foundations to explore (that we know of!). But it made our list because of the accessibility to fun trails and outdoor activities. If you find yourself at the national park already, you probably also spotted the remains of Fruita, an early settlement. Notom just gives you more to explore, either by vehicle or on foot. 

Bannack, Montana 

This honorable mention isn’t in Utah, but Bannack State Park is worth a trip if you find yourself in Montana. One of the state’s original territorial capitals is restored with buildings you can explore, plus a museum and gift shop. Unlike most ghost towns, it includes dozens of structures. It’s one of the more “complete” ghost towns available to tour. 

Silt, Colorado 

Not only is Silt not in Utah, it’s also not technically a ghost town. But if you drive I-70 between Moab and Denver, you might as well stop at Silt. The town restored a number of historic buildings that visitors can explore, right in the heart of Silt, at Silt Historical Park

Which Utah ghost towns did we miss? Send us an email at digitalcontentradio@bonneville.com, and we’ll add it.

I have an idea for a future in-depth report. How do I tell you about it?

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