For centuries, Nevada has tempted explorers with its promise of quick and easy wealth, including the gold and silver mining booms of the 19th century, the casinos of Las Vegas and Reno and the lucrative real estate market.
But with great reward comes great risk, and the state’s desert landscape is littered with ghost towns, abandoned mines and vacant businesses testifying to thousands of broken dreams and lost fortunes. Below, we’ll take a look at the 10 best abandoned places in Nevada to include in your plans for 2021.
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The Best Abandoned Places in Nevada
Sandhill Road Tunnels (Las Vegas)
Beneath the bustling streets and bright lights of Las Vegas exists a hidden network of subterranean tunnels intended as flood channels to redirect rainwater away from businesses and residences. Snaking hundreds of miles, these hidden passageways—which are only about three feet high in most places—have been largely taken over by the city’s homeless population, with as many as 1,000 people taking shelter underground at any given time.
To make the stifling, pitch-black channels more hospitable, most of these temporary residents have brought in flashlights or lanterns, plastic chairs, mattresses, storage containers and other belongings. However, when a storm rolls through the city, flash floods engulf the tunnels, sweeping away these items and threatening the safety of their owners. With no permanent lighting source, no surveillance cameras and no law enforcement presence, crime is also a considerable risk to anyone entering the tunnels.
One particular stretch of the underground network has also developed a reputation for paranormal activity: The tunnels along Sandhill Road between Olive Avenue and Charleston Boulevard. Sightings of a couple said to have died in the tunnel have been reported, while others have claimed to see the ghost of an old woman chasing drivers on the roadway.
Rhyolite Ghost Town (Beatty)
This blink-and-you’ll-miss-it ghost town on the edge of Death Valley was founded in 1904, drawing fortune-hunters bewitched by the discovery of gold mixed into the rock in existing quartz mines. Within two short years, the town’s population exploded, and dozens of buildings went up seemingly overnight, including a stock exchange, hotels, shops, two electric plants, machine shops, a miner’s union hospital and a school with space for up to 250 students.
However, a nationwide financial panic in 1907 resulted in a wave of business closures in towns across the country, including booming Rhyolite. The mine closed in 1911, and by 1916 the entire town was completely deserted.
A century later, a few of the original buildings remain standing, including the three-story bank building, the general store and a handful of smaller structures. Local artists have also installed permanent exhibitions in the vacant town’s Goldwell Open Air Museum; notable pieces include a 20-foot tall model of a miner, a fiberglass ghost and his bicycle and a life-sized replica of the Last Supper made up of 12 empty fiberglass robes.
To reach the remains of Rhyolite, take Highway 374 west from Beatty for four miles and turn onto Rhyolite Road. Be sure to bring water and any other provisions you may need in the desert heat, and keep in mind that the only restroom facility consists of a primitive latrine.
The Goldfield Hotel (Goldfield)
Like so many Nevada communities in the early 20th century, the town of Goldfield flourished along with the nearby mines. The Goldfield Hotel embodied the extravagant wealth of the boom town, with its shimmering crystal chandeliers, glowing gold-leaf ceilings and rich mahogany wood trim. The four-story, 150-room hotel quickly became known for offering the most lavish lodging in the state, its lobby and suites packed with the newly-minted aristocratic class of the American West.
Completed in 1908, the hotel was designed in the Classical Revival style and laid out in a U-shape to ensure each guest room included large windows looking out over the vast desert. The ground floor exterior was constructed of gray granite blocks imported from California, with red brick comprising the remainder of the façade. Many of the guest rooms featured private baths—a rare luxury for hotels at the time—and all were outfitted with plush pile carpeting.
As the mines’ payloads began to dwindle, so too did the number of visitors—and permanent residents— in Goldfield. The hotel remained operational until the end of World War II, housing officers and their families from Tonopah Army Air Field, located about 30 minutes north on Highway 95.
During its decades-long abandonment, several developers attempted unsuccessfully to renovate and resurrect the once-grand property. One California developer sank $4 million into renovations during the 1980s, with the ultimate goal of reopening the Goldfield as an Edwardian tourist retreat, but bankruptcy ended his quest.
The hotel was sold at auction to Carson City rancher Red Roberts in 2003, but his plans to refurbish the site have been slow to materialize, although renovation activity that had stalled for many years recently resumed.
Over the past decade, the vacant hotel has been featured on several paranormal TV shows, including Ghost Adventures and Ghost Hunters, which documented unexplained activity such as a brick appearing to fly across the room on its own volition. However, the increased public exposure has also led to an increase in trespassing and vandalism on the property.
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Coaldale Ghost Town (Esmerelda County)
This tiny hamlet in the Nevada desert sprang up as a mine camp for an ill-fated effort to pull coal from the rocky soil. Though the coal mining venture failed, Coaldale managed to survive on the revenues generated by a tiny motel, gas station and diner, all frequented by travelers along Highway 95 as they passed through the town on their way to somewhere else.
However, when new environmental regulations passed in 1993 required all gas stations in the country to modernize their underground fuel tanks, the gas station in Coaldale could neither afford to upgrade their facility nor repair the leak that was discovered to be leaching gasoline into the ground. The station closed, and the motel and diner soon followed, leaving Coaldale with no tax base to sustain it.
A handful of buildings remain as evidence that Coaldale once existed, though other structures have been burned by vandals. The dilapidated sign for the gas station stands not far from the empty shell of the motel.
American Flats (Silver City)
As an epicenter for the gold and silver mining industries in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Nevada was home not only to multiple mines, but also several facilities tasked with processing the ore pulled from the earth. One such mill was established in 1922 in the town of American City by the United Comstock Mining Company, although it operated for only a few years before closing in 1926 when mining yields began to decline.
During World War II, the facility was stripped of much of its metal to contribute to the war effort, leaving behind mostly concrete foundations and vats used to store cyanide and other chemicals. In the decades that followed, the remote site became a destination for graffiti artists and partygoers, even after sections of the remaining walls and roofs began to crumble.
Unfortunately for explorers interested in seeing the site up close, the mill ruins at American Flats were demolished by the Bureau of Land Management in 2014. However, prior to razing the complex, the agency developed a 137-node virtual reality tour of the property, allowing visitors to digitally explore the facility’s eight buildings in perpetuity.
Delamar Ghost Town (Caliente)
When gold was discovered in Nevada’s Lincoln County in 1889, the Delamar Mining Camp swiftly blossomed into one of the largest boom towns in the region. Between 1895 and 1900, more than $8 million in gold ore was retrieved from the area’s mines, but the supply soon fizzled, and the last mine was shuttered in 1909.
In their brief period of operation, the Delamar mines managed to wreak havoc on the health of the mine workers as well as the the residents of the nearby town, all of whom inhaled the constant haze of silica dust produced by the search for gold ore. The buildup of dust in the miners’ lungs often caused a terminal condition known as silicosis, leading locals to refer to Delamar as “The Widowmaker.”
The remains of Delamar consist primarily of crumbling stone walls and a few rusty bank safes scattered across an isolated rocky field. The Delamar Ghost Town is accessible only via high-clearance, four-wheel drive vehicles built to navigate the rough dirt trails that run through the desert valley.
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Old Tonopah Cemetery (Tonopah)
As the legend goes, the mining community of Tonopah has its origins in the overnight escape of prospector Jim Butler’s burro some 120 years ago. When Butler tracked down the errant animal the next day, he picked up a rock to chuck at the creature and noticed it was unusually heavy. As it turned out, the rock contained a significant amount of silver ore, leading Butler to discover the second-largest silver deposit in state history.
Unlike many of Nevada’s mining boomtowns, Tonopah managed to weather the ups and downs of the industry without ever descending into ghost town territory. Its population has remained steady for years at around 1,200 souls—not counting those laid to rest at the Old Tonopah Cemetery, where the first burial took place in 1901. The cemetery reached capacity in 1911 and now holds the remains of more than 300 residents, including victims of the mysterious “Tonopah Plague” of 1902 and the 14 miners who perished in the Tonopah-Belmont Mine Fire in 1911.
Though Tonopah’s dead are now interred at other locations, the Old Cemetery provides a fascinating glimpse into the history of this hardscrabble desert town.
Nelson Ghost Town (Nelson)
Just downstream from El Dorado Canyon, the mining town of Nelson has a more violent history than many of its regional counterparts. Originally settled by Civil War deserters, the area later became known for the massive deposits of gold, silver, copper and lead hidden in the rocky desert soil. Disputes between mine owners and laborers were constant and were often resolved through physical altercations and gunfights, earning the town notoriety for bloodshed and nefarious activity.
Once the mines had been bled dry of their spoils, most of the residents departed to escape the frequent flash floods that rushed through the canyon toward the town. The remains of the community—including a handful of dilapidated homes, a collapsing fuel station and a few pieces of heavy equipment—have become a popular location for photo and film shoots. Don’t be fooled by what appears to be a decrepit old plane lodged nose-first in a sand dune—it was placed there during production of the 2001 movie 3000 Miles to Graceland.
Anson Phelps Stokes Castle (Austin)
Like thousands of other prospectors lured to Nevada by the promise of a financial windfall, railroad baron and mine developer Anson Phelps Stokes arrived in Austin hoping to capitalize on the region’s meteoric growth by investing in desperately-needed infrastructure.
Not satisfied to dwell in a traditional residence, the wealthy businessman immediately commissioned a three-story castle patterned after a tower in Italy. Construction of the lavish granite dwelling was completed in 1897, and the home featured three fireplaces, two balconies and a rooftop terrace from which the Stokes family could survey the wide-open skies and vast landscape.
After just a month living in his new digs, Stokes sold both the castle and his interest in the local mine as he battled an embezzlement scandal back east. Sticking out like a sore thumb in the modest desert town, the castle sat empty for decades until one of Stokes’ distant relatives bought it in 1956. The Stokes castle has since been added to the National Register of Historic Places and is a well-known local landmark.
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Hamilton Ghost Town (White Pine County)
In 1867, the discovery of silver lodes in the foothills of eastern Nevada resulted in the settlement of a community called Cave City, which got its name from the miners who took shelter in the region’s abundant caves until more traditional residences could be constructed.
Despite the harsh weather and primitive living conditions, thousands of miners flocked to the town hoping to find their fortunes, and the permanent town of Hamilton was established roughly a year later. By 1869, the town of 20,000 had several bank branches, multiple saloons, dance halls, churches, breweries, a soda factory, a skating rink and even an opera house.
When the mines ran out and Congress demonetized silver in 1873, the double whammy dealt a major blow to the health of the town, reducing its population to around 4,000 residents. A massive fire ravaged the town later that year, destroying much of the business district and sending the population plummeting to 500. A second fire the following decade decimated all remaining wooden structures.
Today, the site where Hamilton once stood draws visitors eager for a glimpse back into the Old West—primarily those with vivid enough imaginations to be able to picture the thriving metropolis where only skeletal ruins now remain. For now, though, it remains one of the best abandoned places in Nevada.
Our Final Thoughts on Abandoned Places in Nevada
Those who are into urban exploration in the Nevada state area, and wanting to explore abandoned places in Nevada, should get comfortable with Nevada trespassing laws. Luckily, in the state of Nevada, the laws are easy to understand and are pretty cut and dry.
For these cases, you should familiarize yourself with x. For more about obtaining permission to explore abandoned places in Nevada, check out our guide Explore Abandoned Buildings: How To Get Permission.