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Halloween camping in California ghost towns

Calico ghost town
Calico ghost town (courtesy Enrico Stirl)

Southern Californians looking for creepy Halloween getaways have a ton of cool options. While dark and scary Blair Witch style woods are more easily found back east, abandoned ghost towns and mines dot the desserts east of Los Angeles; in many cases it's easy to camp and hike at or near these eerie places.  With cool autumn temperatures on the way, this is also a great way to explore the awesome and surreal looking Mojave dessert.


One of the most popular ghost towns in California, Calico originated as a silver mining town in the 1800s before it was eventually abandoned at the turn of the last century.  Approximately 2/3rds of the town has since been reconstructed for the benefit of visitors and tourists who come to see the recreations of an old mining town.  More of a family destination than a rugged backpacking spot, the town has a nearby campground with cabins, trailer hookups and standard tent sites.  Over October 23-25 and October 30 - November 1st, the town hosts the Calico ghost haunt with costumes, campsite decorating contests, ghost stories and pumpkin carvings.

Historical photo of Lost Horse Mine (courtesy Library of Congress)


This incredible national park two hours east of Los Angeles is best known for its surreal rock formations and gnarled Joshua Trees, but it's also home to dozens of creepy abandoned mines.  While park regulations (and common sense) tell you not to enter these mine shafts, the abandoned operations make for a potentially eerie backdrop to a camping trip.  With a liberal backcountry policy, backpackers can camp almost anywhere off trail for free so long as they register at one of the many backcountry boards throughout the park. The Tom Harrison map of Joshua Tree marks many of the  abandoned mines as well as the backcountry board locations; these maps are available online, at the ranger stations, and at most outdoor recreation stores. One of the most impressive mines is the Lost Horse Mine located down a two mile trail which begins at Keys View Road; the mine features some massive abandoned equipment from the former mineral operations.

kelso depot
Kelso depot (courtesy


Adandaned mines, homesteads and even towns lie spattered throughout this national preserve east of Barstow on the way to Vegas.  The main visitor's center at Kelso is actually a restored railroad depot and some of the Kelso's other abandoned buildings remain standing to this day.  The barely inhabited town of Cima also lies within the preserve and has it's fair share of creepy derelict buildings too.  In addition to its ghost town attractions, the Mojave has some amazing natural features including the massive Kelso dunes, dense Joshua tree forests and volcanic cinder cones.   While the preserve has few established hiking trails, backpackers can easily make use of the abandoned roads, dry river beds and ridges for cross country expeditions. Campers looking for a less rugged experience can also find established campgrounds throughout the area.

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