Dangerous Ghost Towns You May Not Want to Visit
Visiting abandoned cities and ghost towns can be a fun adventure, but they aren’t for the faint of heart. Some places that were once populated, bustling communities became dilapidated, forgotten and dangerous.
Humans are often the cause, but sometimes, nature takes its course, and a combination of the two can be downright deadly for any visitor who isn't careful.
The following ghost towns are indeed cautionary tales. You may want to think twice about putting them on your bucket list.
Chernobyl and Pripyat
Year it became a ghost town: 1986
What Happened to Chernobyl and Pripyat
Chernobyl and the neighboring town of Pripyat are probably the most well-known ghost towns in the world. They were abandoned overnight, due to a nuclear meltdown at the Chernobyl power plant. The area still has extensive levels of radiation in the water and air.
Tourists can visit the area, but only through guided tours, and people who come here often carry radiation monitoring equipment. Some areas, including Rossokha Village, are off-limits because they are still too radioactive.
For this reason, it is suggested that visitors do not go off the beaten path to explore on their own.
Year it became a ghost town: 2007
What Happened to Wittenoom
If you plan on visiting Western Australia, one place you should stay away from is Wittenoom. This abandoned town, located a little less than 700 miles north of Perth, is considered a contaminated site.
Once home to Australian Blue Asbestos Limited, it was a booming mining town until work dried up in 1966. The remnants of blue asbestos still linger and have led to the deaths of over 2,000 former residents and visitors.
Still, that has not stopped tourists from passing through and even going into the mines. The state has been trying to buy the remaining private properties in the area so that it can start cleaning the site.
Until then, it’s best to go elsewhere.
Location: Niagara Falls, New York, United States
Year it became a ghost town: 1979
What Happened to Love Canal
In the 1940s, Hooker Chemical bought the Love Canal site from the city of Niagara Falls and dumped 22,000 tons of toxic waste there, which included everything from pesticide residues to waste solvents, before covering it with soil.
About a decade later, the city took the land back via eminent domain and began building a neighborhood on top of it. By the 1970s, residents started complaining about serious illnesses, birth defects, and black sludge filling their basements.
After the EPA conducted tests on the site, it was discovered that 200 different types of chemical compounds were present and at least a dozen were carcinogenic.
The EPA’s Superfund Law was born from this event. While it says the neighborhood is now clean, and there are some residents, much of its streets have been overrun by nature or blocked off by a chain-link fence.
Also known as the Love Canal Containment Area, it contains some of the most hazardous chemicals known to man. They are buried beneath plastic and about three feet of soil, and some residents say they are still getting sick from it.
Year it became a ghost town: 1974
What Happened to Hashima Island
Also called "Battleship Island" for its resemblance to a battleship, Hashima was once a bustling coal mining town in operation for nearly a hundred years. At its peak, the island had 5,000 residents and represented the rapid industrialization of Japan.
After Hashima’s mines closed, the island was deserted. It didn’t become a tourist attraction until 2000, but some of its sea walls have collapsed, making it a dangerous trek.
Visitors can take in a small portion of the island via a guided tour, but most of the island is inaccessible due to the crumbling infrastructure.
It has also been used in the 2012 James Bond movie "Skyfall" as a villain’s lair.
Location: Ethiopia, Africa
Year it became a ghost town: 1960s
What Happened to Dallol
Dallol was once home to several mining companies that produced everything from salt to potash. A railway once operated between it and Mersa Fatma, Eritrea, to transport workers back and forth.
Today, the only way to Dallol is by camel, and it's a bit of a hellscape due to its extremely high temperatures. In fact, it’s the hottest place on Earth with average daily highs of 105 degrees. It’s not a dry heat, either. Humidity averages about 60 percent, which means it never cools off.
Dallol is filled with natural sulfur pools, and while the scenery is breathtaking, it’s also quite toxic. You can visit the area, but between dangerous fumes and extreme heat, it’s best to go with a guide or stay away altogether.
Location: Imperial County, California, United States
Year it became a ghost town: 1980s
What Happened to Bombay Beach
Looking at it now, it's hard to believe that Bombay Beach was once a weekend getaway for the rich living in Los Angeles and San Diego.
Bombay Beach is on the banks of the Salton Sea, a man-made body of water. It has no outlet, which makes it saltier than it would be. Birds and fish in the areas have died by the thousands due to the salt content and agricultural runoff filled with chemicals.
On top of everything else, the shore is receding due to climate change. This, in turn, exposes toxic sediment that travels through the air and harms everything in its path. Pesticides have caused toxic algal blooms, which makes the water and the surrounding environment fairly poisonous.
There are a few residents left, including some "off the grid" artists who hope to revive the area.
Location: Lupsa, Romania
Year it became a ghost town: 1978
What Happened to Geamana
In its heyday, Geamana was a quaint Eastern European village of 400 hundred families, with thatched roof houses surrounded by lush greenery.
The townspeople's idyllic lives took a turn for the worse when copper reserves were found in the area in the late 1970s. Its mining created toxic waste that needed disposal.
Communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu ordered Geamana to be abandoned and flooded to make room for the toxins. This turned the water into a toxic soup.
All that’s left today are submerged buildings, with the rooftops of some homes and the church steeple dotting the poisonous, watery landscape.
Location: San Bernardino County, California, United States
Year it became a ghost town: NA
What Happened to Hinkley
Hinkley is not quite yet a ghost town, but it’s getting there. Best known as the town made famous by Erin Brokovich (the person and the movie), Hinkley was a close-knit community near the Mojave Desert.
In the mid-1950s, Pacific Gas and Electric began using hexavalent chromium, a known cancer-causing agent, to keep their pipelines free of rust and algae. They disposed of the carcinogen in the town's water supply, causing hundreds of residents to get sick and die.
With the help of Brokovich, the community sued PG & E and won $333 million in a settlement related to the deadly chemical.
Despite the win, the area is still highly contaminated and the area is all but a ghost town. Hinkley’s school closed in 2013, and its post office followed.
Location: San Benito County, California, United States
Year it became a ghost town: 1972
What Happened to New Idria
New Idria, named after the mining company that produced quicksilver and mercury in the area, is an EPA Superfund Site. Its water and grounds are considered toxic and are said to contain three kinds of mercury, heavy metals, and asbestos.
The town is difficult to reach and is still home to more than 100 standing buildings, most of which have been vandalized since its closure.
According to people who have attempted the journey, the Bureau of Land Management has been known to close the only road from which the town is accessible to keep trespassers out.
Location: Vozrozhdeniya Island, Uzbekistan
Year it became a ghost town: 1992
What Happened to Vozrozhdeniya Island
Vozrozhdeniya was once home to a well-populated, friendly fishing village surrounded by turquoise water and fertile hunting grounds.
This island home to 1,500 people was evacuated and became one of the main testing and lab sites for the USSR’s Microbiological Warfare Group in 1948. Deadly viruses and bacteria, including anthrax spores and bubonic plague, were stored here.
When the last lab workers left the island in 1991, it was discovered that many of the biological weapons had been stored improperly and were leaking. As the Aral Sea surrounding the island recedes due to agricultural irrigation and climate change, experts fear that animals carrying the deadly toxins will make it to the mainland.
Location: Columbia County, Pennsylvania, United States
Year it became a ghost town: 1992
What Happened to Centralia
Centralia has been on fire since 1962. This former coal mining town once had 1,500 residents, but today, it stands abandoned and smoldering.
While no one knows for sure how the fire started, most believe it began when the city decided to use an abandoned mine pit as a landfill. Their method for cleaning up its odor was to set it on fire.
The fire spread throughout its mine tunnels, and no one has been able to put it out since. But no one knew there was an issue until about 17 years later when homes began to tilt, people began to get sick, sinkholes appeared, and the ground was very hot to the touch.
In 1992, the state kicked everyone out. Those that were left behind via court order were forbidden to pass down their property or sell it.
Experts believe due to the amount of coal still below the surface of the town, the fire could stay lit for another 250 years.
Location: Famagusta, Cypress
Year it became a ghost town: 1974
What Happened to Varosha
When you think "playground of the rich," you may think of Monaco or the French Riviera, but you probably don’t think of Varosha. Yet in the 1960s, many celebrities visited this high-end resort area with its modern skyscrapers dotting the Mediterranean coast.
All that ended in 1974 when inter-ethnic violence between Greek and Turkish Cypriots resulted in Turkey’s invasion of Cyprus. They occupied the northern third of the island and the residents of Varosha fled, never to return.
In 2020, one part of the resort was reopened by the Turkish government, but it is still a decaying ghost town with a large military presence.
Location: DMZ, North Korea
Year it became a ghost town: 1953
What Happened to Kijong-dong
To be fair, Kijong-dong, also known as "Peace Village," was never abandoned because it was never occupied. It came into being at the end of the Korean War, when Korea was broken into two.
Peace Village and its neighbor in South Korea, Daeseong-dong, or "Freedom Village," were built in the Demilitarized Zone for propaganda purposes. They are meant to show the enemy one way of life is superior to the other.
While Freedom Village does have about 230 residents, they cannot leave, and no one else can enter.
In Peace Village, however, the lights are on, but no one is home. There are no residents. In fact, the buildings are shells, and the lights run on timers.
Location: Eagle County, Colorado, United States
Year it became a ghost town: 1985
What Happened to Gilman
You can see Gilman when traveling Hwy 24 from Vail to Leadville, but you can’t get much closer than that.
This 19th-century town came to be during Colorado’s silver boom. It was mined for about 100 years, but when the EPA declared the Eagle Mine closed due to the amount of toxic pollutants it had put into the environment, the town was abandoned.
According to the agency, the site has been substantially cleaned since 2000, but it is now on private property. Although some people have trespassed onto the site, they have been charged and prosecuted for doing so.
Location: Ottawa County, Oklahoma, United States
Year it became a ghost town: 2009
What Happened to Picher
Would you want to visit a town known as the "most toxic" in America?
Picher was a thriving mining town up until 1967, when businesses pulled out and left waste (contaminated sand known as "chat") from lead, cadmium and zinc mining.
Every time residents stepped outside, that’s what they inhaled, with some parents unknowingly using it to fill their kids sandboxes. On top of that, the groundwater was contaminated and sinkholes caused by excavation became a serious problem.
In 2008, an EF4 tornado pretty much wiped the town off the map. Most of its remaining residents gave up and finally took the Environment Protection Agency’s buyout. While there are a handful of holdouts, the town stands silent and decaying.
The EPA has so far cleaned 793 acres of the area, but there is still a long way to go.