The Wild West boom of America’s expansion known as the Gold Rush was the primary draw to settle out west. What is now the Bodie State Historic Park was one such Gold Rush mining town that drew people in the hopes of striking it rich. Bodie Ghost Town went from being a vibrant and rowdy mining town to an abandoned town that is in arrested decay.
Bodie was one of the best gold mining locations in California in its peak years of 1877 – 1882. At the height of the boom, the town flourished at a population between 8,000 and 10,000.
Living in Bodie wasn’t for the faint of heart as it really pushed the “wild” in Wild West to the limits.
With the majority of young men living in Bodie, prostitutes, opium dens, and saloons were plentiful. In fact, the town of Bodie had more saloons (bars) than any other city in the country!
As you wander through the Bodie State Historic Park, what you see is only about 5% of what used to stand in its heyday. This quote seems to sum up what life in Bodie was like very clearly!
“Bodie – a town so lawless that in 1881 it was described as … a sea of sin, lashed by the tempests of lust and passion”. – Reverend F. M. Washington
Where Is Bodie Ghost Town?
The town of Bodie is located in Northern California’s Eastern Sierra Nevada region. Or rather I should say the remnants of a town, as Bodie is an abandoned town with no inhabitants. Unless you count the ghosts of Bodie!
The ghost town of Bodie is by far the best California ghost town and one of the top in the entire United States.
Bodie is about 2 hours north of Mammoth Lakes off Highway 395 or about 4 hours from the valley of Yosemite National Park. And it is also 1.75 hours north of Mono Lake. You will pass Mono Lake if you are coming from Mammoth Lakes.
Once you get to the town of Bridgeport, turn east onto Aurora Canyon Rd. Bodie State Historic Park is 13 miles off of Highway 395 at the end of Bodie Masonic Rd.
The road turns into Bodie Masonic Rd (from Aurora Canyon Rd) the last stretch and they are slow going.
The last 3 miles to Bodie Ghost Town is dirt and gravel so it will take a few minutes longer than anticipated. As with the surrounding area, you are at a high altitude of 8,379 feet (2,554 meters).
Bodie Ghost Town History
When you first arrive in Bodie, you think wow this town is in the middle of nowhere. And then to think that W.S. Bodey somehow stumbled upon this location in 1859 and discovered gold is amazing.
I don’t know if he had some strong tips or it was complete luck that this spot was rich in gold. Sadly, he died shortly after discovering the gold in the harsh winter conditions.
But word had traveled and soon a town was formed. They did name the town after him but for some reason, they changed the spelling from Bodey to Bodie.
Although the gold rush boom peaked from 1877 to 1882, the mining still continued into the 1900s and finally closed in 1942. At that point, there wasn’t much action or people left. Even though the primary goal was to mine for gold, silver was also plentiful in Bodie.
It is estimated that about $15 million was mined in Bodie over a 25-year period. That is an insane amount for those times!
What I find intriguing and eerie is once the gold had been mined completely, the people of Bodie literally left and moved on.
They left their belongings and items as if they were just going on a trip and would be back. The stores, saloons, and school look untouched as if the townspeople will be back shortly.
Granted everything is old and dusty but they are still there in an arrested state of decay. So, are there ghosts in Bodie?
That is for you to see for yourself but there have been many sightings and not surprisingly as there were countless murders and lawlessness in the town of Bodie…
Where To Stay Near Bodie
There are no hotels, camping or places to stay in or close to Bodie as the hotel in Bodie has been shut down for quite some time… The best places to stay as a base for exploring the Sierra Nevada are in Mammoth Lakes, June Loop or Yosemite.
I personally would choose Mammoth Lakes or June Loop as they are a shorter drive to Bodie than from the valley of Yosemite. Here are a few places to stay in Mammoth Lakes and June Lake.
The Village Lodge – this is an excellent choice especially if you are staying in the winter as you can catch lifts right next to it at the Mountain Center.
The Westin Monache Resort – next to both the Village Lodge and Mountain Center in the Village.
Juniper Springs Resort – located in Mammoth Lakes and a short distance to lifts, lakes and hiking.
If camping is more your thing, the spring through fall months are great for that. There are many camping options in the area but a few of my favorites that all have great campsites, fishing and hiking are:
Lake Mary – sits above the town of Mammoth Lakes next to Lake George and Lake Maimie and is one of many lakes in the Lake Basin.
Convict Lake – of all these camping options, Convict Lake might be the prettiest although they are all breathtaking!
June Lake – part of June Loop and next to June Village
Silver Lake – the third lake along the June Loop
How Much Does It Cost To Visit?
When you arrive at Bodie Ghost Town, you will pay $8.00 per adult and $5.00 for children. They only take cash and I highly recommend having exact change.
When I went, I put my money in an envelope at the gate as there wasn’t an attendant. I had to scrounge my wallet and car to have the exact change! The historic ghost town is open daily from 9:00 am to 6:00 pm.
Tips On Visiting The Ghost Town Of Bodie
- Carry a physical map of the area with you as you will likely not have cell service.
- Have cash with you to pay the entrance fee
- Bring your own lunch or snacks as there isn’t anywhere to get food for a good distance from here.
- Have plenty of water with you in a reusable bottle.
- Bring a jacket as it can get cold and windy!
- Wear closed-toe shoes as the paths are all dirt or grass, so no heels please…
- Have a hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen as there isn’t any shade unless you are in one of the few buildings you can enter.
- Yes, there are restrooms by the parking area.
- There is a picnic area if you want to bring your lunch and make a day of it. Keep food and drinks cool in this travel cooler!
- Expect to give yourself between 2 – 3 hours to see the entire park.
- Dogs are ok but do need to be on a leash at all times.
Are There Tours Available?
Yes, the Bodie State Historic Park offers tours but not on a regular basis, so check ahead of time to make sure one is being offered when you visit.
You don’t need to take a tour but if you want more information about the history then, by all means, take one!
Keep in mind that the tours offered are on select days in the summer months and ones that are only in the evening hours are the Star Stories, Ghost Walk, Cemetery Tour, and Ghost Mill Tour.
During the day, there are History Talks and the Stamp Mill Tour available depending on the day and staffing.
Visit the official website to find out when one of these tours are available.
What To See In Bodie Ghost Town?
As I already mentioned, the ghost town of Bodie was a real town that has pretty much the same things as any other town of its time. But maybe more bars or saloons than average…
You can spend all day walking around if you really want to or see the highlight structures and areas in 2 -3 hours.
Here are some of the top buildings to see with the majority of the sights on Green Street and Main Street. You will enter from the parking lot and start out on Green Street.
1. Methodist Church
The Methodist Church is a Catholic church that was built in 1882 and the only church that still exists in Bodie State Historic Park.
It is the first big attraction that you will see as you walk into this old and dusty mining town. Due to its relatively good condition, it is photographed a lot.
2. J. S. Cain House
This home was owned by J.S. Cain who came to Bodie at the young age of 29 in 1879 and who was ambitious in his entrepreneurship.
He started out in the lumber business then banker for the town of Bodie and eventually owning a good percentage of the properties in Bodie.
Cain ended up being the richest man in town and building himself an empire.
3. Miners’ Union Hall (Museum)
In 1878, the Miners’ Union Hall called this building home and served as a place for union members to congregate. It was also the place where parties and holiday celebrations took place over the years.
Today, the old Miners’ Union Hall is a museum with several items and artifacts left behind by the residents of Bodie. They also sell books and tickets for available tours you can take.
4. DeChambeau Hotel
The two buildings you see in the photo is the DeChambeau Hotel and I.O.O.F. (Independent Order of Odd Fellows). The I.O.O.F. was a gathering place to meet and later became a makeshift fitness center.
The I.O.O.F. building is the wooden structure on the right and the DeChambeau Hotel is the red brick structure. Later, the hotel became the Bodie Café and was one of the last businesses to operate in Bodie.
5. Swasey Hotel
This might be my favorite building in Bodie as it has so much character and really gives the feel that you are in an old ghost town. Owned by Horace Swasey, the 1894 two-story hotel also had a casino in it at one time.
What used to be the Swasey Hotel stands or sways but is kept somewhat upright with the assistance of a piece of lumber. If houses could be a ghost, I feel like this old decayed hotel is winking at me. One eye closed and one open, the windows that is…
6. Boone Store & Warehouse
The Boone Store & Warehouse was a general store built in 1879 and owned by Harvey Boone. You could purchase most things you would need like household items, food, and gas. When you look through the window, you can still see several of the items still on the shelves!
It is as if the store owner closed the shop and will be back at any moment. Well maybe not exactly but it is incredible to see the store locked in time to that era. And you might notice some big brand items that we still use today.
7. Lottie and Eli Johl House
The Johl couple moved to Bodie in 1883 and soon became successful business owners. They involved and invested themselves in mining, owning other properties, and many saloons in town.
Later on, in 1932, the Post Office was moved into what was their home and the picture you see here.
Unfortunately, since almost all structures in Bodie were made of wood, fires were common and required a need for multiple firehouses. At the time of Bodie’s heyday, there were four firehouses.
The one you see in the picture is the only one standing today and re-built in the early 1930s. The biggest fires were in the summers of 1892 and 1932. If one structure went up in flames, it wasn’t long before surrounding buildings burned too.
9. Bodie Store
Originally known as the Wheaton & Luhrs Store, but after Luhrs passed away, it became known as the Bodie Store. The store was built in the early 1880s and you can still see today the stores sign on the inside.
In the late 1800s, the building became a U.S. Land Office and then later in the early 1900s it became a hotel and boarding house.
The Schoolhouse is one of the buildings in Bodie that is in a little better condition than most in town. The building started out as a boarding house prior to becoming a school. At one point a little boy was sent home after getting into trouble by his teacher.
Apparently, the little boy didn’t go home and instead decided to show his teacher what he thought of the punishment.
Instead, he started a brush fire outside that completely burned the school down to the ground. I can only imagine what kind of punishment he got after that!
11. Standard Mill
As you walk through the old abandoned town of Bodie, you will notice a mill up on the hill known as the Standard Mill.
You can easily spot it for its light blue colored buildings. Because the area of the mill is not safe to explore, that area is closed off to visitors.
The only way to see the mill area is on the Stamp Mill Tour where you are guided through the mill section. They used iron rods also known as “stamps” to break up the earth to reach the gold and silver.
A fun fact is that Theodore Hoover (brother of the U.S. President Herbert Hoover) lived next to the mill in Bodie. He was the head of operations for the mill until 1906.
Tip: If you really want to go on this tour, head over to the Museum and book your spot right when you arrive.
When Is The Best Time To Visit To Bodie Ghost Town?
You can visit Bodie State Historic Park any time of the year but unless you are a die-hard photographer and want to capture it covered in snow, I’d advise avoiding the winter.
Since the park is at a high elevation, it can be cold and windy during every season but even more so obviously in the winter!
Plus, unless you have a snowmobile, you will likely get stuck out there for good… For the best weather and for other things to see nearby, I would visit in the late spring through the fall months. So, the end of May through mid-November is ideal.
Because of crowds and potential strong heat in the summer, I would plan to get there when the park opens or a few hours before closing.
Is Bodie State Historic Park Worth Visiting?
Yes! Who doesn’t like wandering in a cool and spooky ghost town? Plus, it has a ton of fascinating history that puts a perspective of what this area of California was like in the rowdy late 1800s.
I have been here a few times, the first when I was a child and thought it was so awesome. Fast forward to today and I still think it is!
What Else Is There To Do Nearby?
When you are at the ghost town of Bodie and are looking around you might be thinking is there anything else out here? And yes, there is but within a few hour’s drive. There is Mammoth Lakes, Yosemite, June Loop, and Mono Lake to name a few.
Oh and if you like finding natural hot springs don’t miss out on reading 7 Amazing Hot Springs Near Mammoth Lakes!
Bonus Tip: Within a 30-minute drive is one of these super gorgeous hot springs!
Have a fun time exploring the spooky and cool ghost town of Bodie!
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