20 Eerie Abandoned Places to Explore (If You Dare)
The world is dotted with the ruins of ancient civilizations, from the devastation of Pompeii and Mesopotamian relics to the lost temples of Southeast Asia. The US is, comparatively, a baby. But this baby can boom and bust with the best of ‘em. Many of our ghost towns, now crumbling to time, were thriving a century ago. Our crumbling factories were paragons of the recent industrial age. Mexico has ancient Mayan ruins. Here, we’ve got the shells of former Blockbuster Videos.
The 20 sites on this list pack extra punch due to their places in relatively recent history. They’re the eerie prisons and asylums whose ghosts haven’t been spirits all that long. They’re once-buzzing mills that now sit silent and overgrown; amusement parks where laughter has long been absent; and eerily beautiful ruins tucked amid the forests of state parks. Even better, you can get up close and personal with them, if you’re feeling extra brave.
Dinosaur WorldEureka Springs, Arkansas
Not to be confused with the Dinosaur World chain of theme parks or Alabama's creationist-themed Dinosaur Adventure Land, this abandoned park comes with some serious pedigree: the dinosaurs here were designed by the same sculptor who made the thunder lizards at South Dakota’s famous Wall Drug. They still stand at the site of what was once the world’s largest dinosaur park, which has been closed since 2005. With the gift shop charred by arson, the dinosaurs now rule an overgrown field along with a decapitated caveman and a 40-foot statue of King Kong, which was erected when the park was rebranded Land of Kong in the ‘70s. Today, Kong lays toppled and covered by graffiti. This is truly where dinosaurs rule the Earth.
Santa Fe, New Mexico
The deadliest prison riot in American history took place in 1980 at the New Mexico State Penitentiary in a section now known as the Old Main. Years of overcrowding and underfunding reached a tipping point and prisoners snapped. The riot lasted two days with more than 30 inmates killed, while 12 officers were taken hostage. The prison remains open today, but the Old Main closed in 1998, with tours now offered on weekends during select months of the year. Visitors often report feeling a shiver when exploring Cell Block 4, where most of the carnage took place.
Santa ClausGolden Valley, Arizona
Imagine Santa's workshop, but dilapidated and covered in graffiti. That's what you have with Santa Claus, Arizona (between Kingman and Las Vegas). The old tourist town with a Christmas theme was an intriguing roadside attraction in the 1940s, but interest dwindled over the years and it closed for good in 1995. Now behind a landfill and waste-disposal company, most of the holly jolly spirit and imagery is gone, including signs and an old kiddie train. Those padlocked, abandoned buildings are still creepy though, and reminders of a more innocent time when an inn and restaurant used to operate with a Santa Claus impersonator greeting kids 365 days a year.
New Manchester MillLithia Springs, Georgia
Just west of Atlanta, Sweetwater Creek State Park is a tranquil escape near a scenic reservoir. It's also home to the ruins of the New Manchester Mill, a five-story factory built in 1849 and torched by advancing Union forces during the Civil War in 1864. The brick skelton that remains is a haunting sight, even against the backdrop of Sweetwater Creek. It's not difficult to reach, but does require a bit of a hike on the Red Trail. Hunger Games fans will recognize the ruins, which were used as a filming location for Mockingjay Part 1.
Old Charleston JailCharleston, South Carolina
The Old Charleston Jail dates back to 1802 and hasn't changed much over the years, although a tower was removed due to earthquake damage in 1886. Notable prisoners include Denmark Vesey, arrested for planning a slave uprising, and Lavinia Fisher, the country’s first female serial killer. Pirates and union soldiers were also held captive, and many locals believe the spirits and souls of the incarcerated continue to reside behind bars. Ghost-themed visits can be arranged through Bulldog Tours, which invests heavily into the preservation of the building. The exterior is also easy to spot on Magazine Street when walking among other historic sites in downtown Charleston.
The Waverly Hills Sanatorium was built as a hospital in 1910 to handle a surging number of Louisville patients with the "white plague," or tuberculosis. A striking example of early 20th-century gothic architecture, the facility was converted into a mental health facility in the '60s, where patients with dementia and other severe mental disabilities suffered from overcrowding and neglect. It closed in 1982 and is often described as one of the most haunted buildings in the world. The Waverly Hills Historical Society offers tours by reservation and has hosted events on the property for Halloween and other holidays.
Florida isn't the only state with a weird, religious theme park. Holy Land U.S.A. opened in Western Connecticut in 1956 and actually did pretty good for a while before it was sold and abandoned in the 1980s. The 19-acre site is full of religious figures and recreations of biblical settings, making it a popular spot of curious urban explorers. Some locals still seem to take pride in the theme park, but efforts to revitalize the property have come and gone without much success. However, a 65-foot cross was installed in 2013, thanks to local funding. It lights up and changes color to correspond to different holidays.
Gothic JailDeRidder, Louisiana
Throughout much of its existence, the Beauregard Parish Jail was known as the Gothic Jail or Hanging Jail. The former was due to its architecture, which includes arched ceilings and a centralized tower. The latter was due to the third-floor gallows above a spiral staircase, where only two hangings were officially recorded—a pair accused of murdering a taxi driver in 1928. Emphasis on “officially.” It was also the first jail in the country that provided a window for every cell. Inmates used to wave to passersby, and according to local legend, you may catch a glimpse of their ghosts continuing to wave now that the jail is inactive. If you want to see what the place is really all about, take part in a Gothic Jail After Dark tour.
Jungle Park SpeedwayBloomingdale, Indiana
There are enough abandoned race tracks in the country that Dale Earnhardt Jr. now hosts a show about them on the new Peacock app. Take notice of the notoriously dangerous Jungle Park Speedway, carved out of a forest near Turkey Run State Park in 1926. Originally planned as a full resort, the property is slowly being reclaimed by nature, but still has its wood gates, a covered grandstand, and an old restaurant with a windmill on top. The track was known for its dangerous curves, including a tricky downhill turn. Wrecks were common. Drivers slammed into trees and sometimes even nearby Sugar Creek. Even a few spectators were killed, leading Jungle Park to close for good in 1960. The site occasionally hosts special events.
Trans-Allegheny Lunatic AsylumWeston, West Virginia
Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum just sounds like a haunted house to begin with—which may explain why it was called the Weston State Hospital throughout most of its operation. At its peak, the facility was overcrowded with 2,400 mentally ill patients, eventually shutting down in 1994. (The local economy still hasn't recovered from the closure, which says all you need to know about this remote area of West Virginia.) The asylum, said to be the second-largest hand-cut sandstone building in the world behind the Kremlin, is a sprawling piece of spooky architecture with staggered wings to maximize natural sunlight for the inmates... eh, patients. Paranormal tours are available.
Cornish Estate RuinsCold Springs, New York
You can drive north from New York City to Hudson Highlands State Park in about an hour-and-a-half. (Make it two hours. This is New York traffic we're talking about.) The reward is a sweeping 8,000-acre landscape of trees, hills, parks, and trails along the Hudson River. Hike deep into the forest and you'll come across the ruins of an old mansion, where a husband and wife entertained guests with parties away from the chaos of city life in the 1920s and ‘30s. It all came to an end when the couple died within weeks of each other. The home was abandoned and much of it destroyed in a fire. Those who visit the remains often report the sounds of laughter and toasting glasses—perhaps the homeowners continuing their party on the other side?
Lake Dolores WaterparkNewberry Springs, California
One of the weirdest things you'll see when driving between Las Vegas and Los Angeles is Lake Dolores Waterpark, which at one point was also known as Rock-a-Hoola and Discovery. Having a waterpark in the middle of nowhere seems like a dubious idea at best, but it managed to stick around a while after opening in the early '60s. The park closed permanently in 2004, leaving beyond a bizarre mountainside landscape with graffiti covering the ruins where waterslides, pools, shops, and a lazy river used to exist. While not officially open for tours or visits, the abandoned attraction is visible from Interstate 15, drawing in curiosity seekers eager to cross a dip in the fence and explore the grounds.
City Methodist ChurchGary, Indiana
Back when it was built in 1926, this ornate gothic church was as much a monument to the prosperity of Indiana steel industry as it was to God, a million-dollar ($13 million in today’s dollars), nine-story temple full of gorgeous arches, high pillars, and kaleidoscopic stained glass. Then the industry crashed, and with it went the parishioners. Today, it’s the decayed jewel of Gary’s many abandoned buildings, with 40 years worth of dust coating the beautiful shell of a building, whose glimmer has long since been pillaged. Today, it’s more famous for its Hollywood presence than its vibrant worship sessions: You may recognize it from 2009’s A Nightmare on Elm Street reboot or, more terrifyingly, Transformers: Dark of the Moon.
Tennessee State PrisonNashville
A certified member of the Dad Movie Hall of Fame thanks to its appearances in The Last Castle, Walk the Line, and The Green Mile, the Tennessee State Prison closed in 1992 due to overcrowding and unsanitary conditions. The building is, naturally, rumored to be extremely haunted, having once been home to Martin Luther King’s assassin and an active electric chain. Not that you’re getting inside: The foreboding, castle-like architecture—which took heavy damage in this year’s tragic Nashville tornado—can only be observed from afar, lest you get behind the walls for an annual 5k. That might change if preservationists get their way and turn it into a museum. Until then, Ernest Goes to Jail superfans will have to remain content to only see its walls from afar or during a fun run.
Crystal MillCrystal, Colorado
Crystal Mill isn’t exactly the scariest abandoned place on this list, but it’s nonetheless stunning. The remote nature of the mill ultimately led to Crystal’s current status as a ghost town, but it’s also what makes it such a spectacular sight: Perched precariously atop a cliffside and supported what looks like a frontier-style Jenga tower—which has somehow kept it from tumbling into the adjacent waterfall pool for nearly two centuries—the mill is flanked by dense pines and overshadowed by towering mountains. It’s something of a white whale for abandoned structures, requiring sturdy hiking boots or a 4x4 to reach.
The Shanghai TunnelsPortland, Oregon
Portland’s Old Town/Chinatown area is now a gentrification sore spot, but under the streets lurks a sinister history dating back to the 19th century. A series of tunnels links the buildings, and many believe they were used for Shanghaiing. Story goes that men would be drugged at the bars by ladies of the night, then dropped through trap doors into the brick-laden, dank tunnels, only to wake up to a life of servitude on the high seas. Some claim that’s all BS, but take a tour of the tunnels and it’s hard to otherwise explain the weirdness therein, which includes cells and piles of century-old shoes, presumably stolen from captives to ensure they didn’t run off. There are also the remains of opium dens, beds still intact.
The Detroit-Superior SubwayCleveland, Ohio
Like many Rust Belt cities, Cleveland’s got an abundance of abandoned structures. But in a city so obsessed with transit that it erected enormous Guardians of Traffic statues, it’s a bit odd that the long-disused subway system is all but forgotten. Score a spot on a self-guided tour, and you’ll be whisked underground to an area that feels a lot like The Tethered’s subterranean stomping grounds in Us, a place where decay has taken over beautiful tiling, grand arches, and even a remaining, well-preserved train car. The area also includes the underside of the Detroit-Superior Bridge, where train cars fell silent in 1955.
When Brooklynite Francis Bannerman VI’s army-surplus business grew too rapidly to be contained in New York City, he did what any entrepreneurial Scottish immigrant would do in the early 1900s; he built a castle on an island in the Hudson to contain the extra inventory, plus a smaller residential castle for comfort. After Bannerman’s death in 1918, a gunpowder explosion in 1920, and a handful of other unfortunate events, the castle was left in ruins. Left almost untouched—except by the hands of time and graffiti artists—the charmingly dilapidated castle is easily accessible from NYC via Metro-North. The Island hosts numerous tours as well, allowing you to immerse yourself in its uniquely apocalyptic and undeniably beautiful aesthetic.
Salton SeaThermal, California
In the spring of 1905, the Colorado River flooded and filled an ancient dry lakebed with water creating a brand new lake that was named the Salton Sea. In the 1950s, the “Salton Riviera” became an incredibly popular getaway along the San Andreas fault (more popular than Yosemite) where people went to swim and fish. Only problem? This accidental lake didn’t have an outflow, which meant no natural stabilization system, which meant it eventually became saltier than sea water, which meant almost all of the fish died, and then separate from that, the water receded and pretty much everyone fled the scene. Now the beaches surrounding it are home to fish carcasses, boarded-up motels, and abandoned buildings. Basically, if you want to know what it will look like after the apocalypse—toxic dust and all—this is the only place you need to visit.
Prehistoric Forest Amusement ParkOnstead, Michigan
Michigan is overflowing with gnarly abandoned places, particularly in the lower middle part of the state, where urban decay has made it a magnet for intrusive Instagrammers’ obsessed with ruin porn. But it’s not all abandoned auto plants and stations: wander the woods of Irish Hills near Ann Arbor and you might find yourself confronted by the shadows of something far older than the automotive industry. From 1963-1999, dinosaurs roamed these woods. Well, they roamed Michigan way longer ago than that. But these fiberglass-and-styrofoam beasts staked their claim at Prehistoric Forest Amusement Park for a 46-year run. Today, the creatures sit amid the fallen leaves, slowly being reclaimed in their own land of the lost.