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Nevada Ghost Towns Near Las Vegas

Updated: Nov 1, 2021

Vintage cars and tin buildings with wooden houses ©AlonzoWright
A typical scene in Nevada's ghost towns, Goldfield, NV. Vintage cars and tin buildings with wooden houses. ©AlonzoWright

Driving through Nevada’s ghost towns is a lot like visiting Hollywood movie sets. It’s hard to believe places like these still exist. Imagine making a wrong turn and ending up in an alternate universe where time stopped more than a century ago; that’s pretty much how it feels. These old mining towns are nestled in the bleached desert mountains and lined with rusted out cars and machinery in various states of corrosion. The cemeteries are decaying with crumbling headstones, there are signs warning of the dangers of abandoned mineshafts, there's an old general store and a local watering hole.

An abandoned cabin with a rotting roof stands in the desert brush with mountains in the background
An abandoned cabin in Rhyolite, NV just outside Death Valley. Vintage cars and tin buildings with wooden houses. ©AlonzoWright

But here’s the thing you have to remember about real ghost towns; they’re not tourist traps, they’re sites of unimaginable highs and lows. At the turn of the century, these towns were a whirlwind of tremendous wealth and prosperity, tragedy and violence, and every extreme human emotion you can think of in a very short period of time. Once the land was drained of its precious metals, the prospectors moved on to the next mine, leaving behind entire operations and sometimes loved ones who didn’t make it in the unforgiving desert. Nevada’s historic boom towns are some of the best preserved in the country, and surprisingly, many of them are still inhabited. While most people will come to the region to see Las Vegas, right outside the glittering city limits are lonely stretches of highways that carve right through the heart of the great American West and ghost town experiences you can't get anywhere but Nevada.

An antique sepia photo of miners in a horse in buggy from 1907.
Prospectors in Eldorado Canyon with a boarding house and mill in the background, circa 1907. Photo courtesy of UNLV Special Collections.

Nelson Nevada Ghost Town

43 miles southeast of Las Vegas

Population: 34

You’ll probably have a few eerie, “The Hills Have Eyes” feelings on your way out to Nelson’s Landing/Nelson Ghost Town (people use the names interchangeably). It is, after all, down a desolate, winding road and tucked into a canyon in the middle of nowhere. When it was first discovered by the Spaniards in the late 1700s, they called it El Dorado, likely a nod to the elusive, mythical city of gold. And honestly, it’s striking in a similar way.

A desert town with vintage buildings sits beneath a blue sky with fluffy white clouds and mountains in the background.
Nelson, NV was the site of the Eldorado Canyon gold and silver mine. ©AlonzoWright

The rustic little town is a treasure trove of original structures from its booming mining days, junkyard gems, obscure art pieces and movie props, all waiting to be discovered by the occasional passerby. The general store is home to a small museum with photos, info, and a precious stash of cold water (which in the blazing summer heat is worth more than gold). It’s also where you check in and let the good folks know you’re there because there are no other services nearby if you need help. If you’d like to take pictures, and you will, it’s a $10-$20 fee and well worth it because it helps the owners keep the place open. There’s a high likelihood you’ll see a photoshoot or two because it’s a beloved locale for photographers who know it’s there. There’s an old Texaco filling station, gas pumps, a multi-story barn, a number of out buildings, vintage cars and trucks, a few old planes and countless other cool and photogenic things to see. This place is definitely off-the-beaten-path, but it’s worth the trek. You can take a mine tour while you’re there too. It hasn’t been in operation since the 1940s, but it’s the site of a bloody history of rampant lawlessness and labor disputes because of the millions of dollars it produced in gold, silver and copper.

A plane crashed into the side of a desert mountain with rain clouds in the distance.
This plane wreckage is from the set of "3000 Miles to Graceland" starring Kevin Costner and Kurt Russell. ©AlonzoWright

Good to know about Nelson NV:

You can also get to the Colorado River from Nelson, but much of the town as it is today is what’s left from a devastating flash flood, so use caution if you do go down to the river. Monsoon season is typically July to August, and you don’t want to be caught out there in a fast moving storm. It’s also not safe to go wandering around Nelson without telling the owners you’re there. There are abandoned mine shafts, rattlesnakes, scorpions, vicious cacti (totally not a joke), old mining equipment and about a million other things that could hurt you if you’re not paying close attention. There are also no services like a gas station, restaurant or lodging so make sure you’re well prepared before you go out.

Las Vegas and Tonopah Railroad Depot in Rhyolite, circa 1910. Photo courtesy of the Nevada Historical Society. Photographer: A. E. Holt

Rhyolite Nevada Ghost Town

123 miles northwest of Las Vegas

Population: 1 (unless he moved)

Rhyolite is a true ghost town because there’s virtually nothing and no one left. The town sits on the edge of Death Valley, just 7 minutes from the small town of Beatty, NV. At the height of its boom, Rhyolite had a stock exchange, an opera house, an ice cream parlor, a hospital, jail and even a red light district with women of varying moral elasticity. In 1906, the one and only Charles Schwab purchased the local mine for an estimated 2 to 6 million dollars.

But by 1911, the mine was drained and shuttered, and the electricity turned off for the entire town just a few years later. In less than a year, the town was abandoned. Today, the walls of the 3-story bank, the jail, a train depot and a house made of 50,000 glass bottles remains. The Bottle House was originally built by a local miner, Tom Kelly, and was restored in 1925 by Paramount Pictures for a movie production. The Goldwell Open Air Museum is also (interestingly enough) just down the road, and you can take in art installations from sculptors all over the world, including the 1984 permanent exhibit “The Last Supper,” created by Belgian artist Albert Szukalski.

A desert scene with sculptures of white shrouded figures.
“The Last Supper” by Belgian artist Albert Szukalski at the Goldwell Open Air Museum half a mile down the road from Rhyolite. ©AlonzoWright

Good to know about Rhyolite NV:

Rhyolite makes a good side trip if you’re touring through Death Valley National Park or taking a road trip from Las Vegas to Reno or Tahoe. It’s not much of a destination by itself and there are no services or places to eat. The good news is, Beatty is just six miles up the road and you’ll find everything you need there, including the Goldwell Museum’s manager, who’s quite the artist in his own right.

Main Street in Goldfield, NV circa 1906. Photo courtesy of the Goldfield Historical Society.

Goldfield Nevada Mining Town

184 miles northwest of Las Vegas

Population: 298

Goldfield has a couple modern claims to fame; it’s home to what the Travel Channel deems to be one of the most haunted hotels in the United States, and a massive open-air art installation full of precariously leaning cars turned up on their ends. But originally, Goldfield became the largest and wealthiest town in Nevada, with 20,000 residents who came from all over the country for the gold and silver ore found just below the surface of the desert mountainscapes. It was even home to Virgil and Wyatt Earp, with Virgil becoming sheriff in 1904.