Boom and Bust: Idaho's Ghost Towns

Old Abandoned House

There's something equally eerie and compelling about a ghost town; whether it's the old, abandoned buildings, the whisper of history, or the faint visual telling of a simpler time. There are ghost towns that dot America's landscape in every direction, and while some retain only a few glimpses into the past, others hold on to period specific architecture that lure in tourists.

Ghost towns crop up when the economic factors that stimulated the town into existence become depleted or fail, sometimes because of disaster. For example, the towns of Centralia and Byrnesville, Pennsylvania were abandoned after a coal mine fire broke out in 1962 – and continues to burn to this day. There's the famous Pripyat, Ukraine, which was abandoned after the Chernobyl disaster.

In Idaho, you'll find a large number of boom towns that went bust that come in varying levels of decay. If you're looking to take a memorable road trip this summer in Idaho, hit some of the most historic and nostalgic ghost towns we have to offer--towns that were thick in the United States short, frantic gold rush, and more– and if you live in Boise, you won't even have to go that far.

Atomic City, Idaho

The bustling metro area around Boise tells little, if nothing, about the broad, sweeping expanse of lonely space that lies to the east. But once you take a drive through this sparsely populated Idaho plain, you'll quickly realize why it was once used for nuclear reactor experimentation and development.

This is the area where you'll come across the Idaho National Laboratory, but in the interest of ghost towns, it's also home to the minuscule towns of Arco and Atomic City. Arco is home to the first reactor to provide electricity for public use.

You'll know you're in the right place when you come upon a roadside marker that declares the area has had more nuclear reactors built there than anywhere else in the world.

Atomic City is not yet considered a ghost town, but with a population of only 29 people, it's surely headed in that direction. It was once bustling during the days when the Idaho National Laboratory was new, but now its down to one store and one bar, and gasoline is no longer sold there. But it's worth a drive through on your way to Arco to take a tour of the World's First Nuclear Power Plant.

Atomic City and Arco requires a 3 hour drive from Boise. And if you're in the area, don't miss Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve, a massive lava field where the deepest known rift crack on the earth is found at 800 feet.

Custer, Idaho

This historic mining town was established in 1877 and is located within the Land of the Yankee Fork Historic Area. The mining era was in full swing here, and today there are plentiful original buildings on display. You might even see a fleck of gold, or at least understand what those gold-hungry prospectors felt.  A visit to Custer isn't just an adventure in ghost town travels, but a full experience with tours and other plentiful recreation activities such as camping and hiking.

From Boise, Custer lies about 177 miles away, but the scenic drive makes the journey well worth it! Drive through the beautiful Boise National Forest and through the Ponderosa Pine Scenic Route for the ultimate picturesque road trip through central Idaho. When looking to explore Idaho's ghost towns, do not pass up a chance to explore Boise, Meridian, Kuna, Nampa, Eagle, Star, or Caldwell as possible places to live.


Idaho City, Idaho

Idaho's rich history begins in the 1860s with the discovery of gold in the Boise basin. As a result, the largest city between San Francisco and Saint Louis was constructed – Idaho City. Miners from all over flocked into the area, and one of history's biggest gold rushes came into being. Idaho City boomed, and Idaho's bonanza days ignited.

Idaho City is one of our state's most fascinating and beautiful places to visit or even live. During the time of the civil war, the Idaho territory was full of prospectors dreaming about instant wealth. During its height, Idaho City was the center of it all with more than 250 businesses: theater and opera houses, music stores, barber shops, bakeries, drug stores and saloons galore.

During the time, more than $250,000,000.00 worth of gold was discovered and taken out of the area. Today, though the gold rush days of the Boise Basin are long gone, Idaho City is home to some of Idaho's most treasured and historical buildings as well as a population of 485 people who enjoy the idyllic mountain setting.

Idaho City is just an hour outside of Boise, and you'll find a wealth of things to do and experience while visiting!

Placerville, Idaho

In 1862, Placerville began with 6 cabins, but by early summer of the next year, there were more than 300 buildings and a population of 5,000. As of 2010, Placerville had just 53 folks.

Back in 1984, Placerville was placed on the National Register of Historic Places, and today only a few original buildings stand due to fires that devastated the area. Walk through the town and take a few snapshots of the Placerville Historic Cemetery, the Magnolia Saloon, and take a tour of the museums.

Placerville was a part of the mining rush brought on by the Boise Basin, which provided miners good returns for a long time, which is credited for helping establish populations in and around the Boise Valley. To spend an afternoon walking around Placerville doesn't require a long drive – it's just 50 miles from Boise.

Silver City, Idaho

Located in Owyhee County, you can find Silver City about 75 miles outside of Boise. One of Idaho's most exciting historical places, Silver City came into existence in 1864 after silver was discovered at nearby War Eagle Mountain. During the town's height, it was home to about 2,500 people and about 75 businesses. Today, Silver City has about 70 privately owned standing buildings with just a few small businesses, but no service stations.

Once news spread of the area's bounty, it grew to become one of the major settlements in what was then the Idaho Territory. In fact, it's in Silver City that Idaho's first daily newspaper and telegraph office came into being, as well as one of the first places to receive electric and telephone service.

Around the time Idaho was admitted to the Union, the placer and quartz mines that drove Silver City became depleted, and the area began a slow decline. However, it was never completely abandoned. Throughout World War II there continued to be on and off small time mining, and in 1972 the Idaho Hotel was restored and reopened. Enjoy antique furnished hotel rooms, indoor plumbing, and showers in this extremely remote, getaway location.

Want more information on Idaho living? Give us a call anytime at (208) 571- 7145.


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