Places like Jerome, Tombstone and Bisbee are some of the bigger names that come to mind when you think of ghost towns in Arizona. And while these towns are great places that were once completely abandoned or had become near-ghost towns, with their established population and stable tourism flow, they aren’t considered “ghost towns” anymore.
But, with literally thousands of abandoned mines that have sprung up throughout Arizona history, there are plenty of unheard of ghost towns to check out. Below is a list (albeit subjective) of the five best unheard of ghost towns that are rich in history and offer a lot to the curious explorer.
1. Tip Top, AZ:
How to get there: Approx. 6 miles west of Black Canyon City.
“She’s a tip top silver mine,” said prospector Jack Moore to his partner Bill Corning in 1875. The pair had set out south from Prescott and were trying to get to Castle Hot Springs when they stumbled upon some rich minerals. Later, the town quickly shot to a population of about 1,200. The men were earning up to 1,000 ounces of silver per ton of ore. Between 1876 and 1884, Tip Top was one of the top three most active mining towns in Arizona (the other two being Tombstone and Wickenburg) and had its own post office by 1880. A mill was established at Gillette, a small town just to the eastof Tip Top, but in 1886 under new ownership, the mill moved to Tip Top to cut down on hauling the ore over the rugged
six mile journey. Tip Top boomed, and at its peak had six saloons, three stores, four restaurants, a school and the first brewery in Arizona, to name a few amenities. The town fizzled out by 1895 and in 1910 a brief revival was made, but by the onset of World War I the town was abondanded. Over its life, the town was estimated to have brought in $4 million. Today, the ruins at Tip Top stretch nearly two miles along Cottonwood Creek. There are dozens of buildings, an old head frame and several tunnels still left today.
2. Kentucky Camp, AZ:
How to get there: 10 miles northwest of Sonoita.
The story of Kentucky Camp begins in 1874. Gold was found near Greaterville, just a few miles north of the camp, quickly causing the population to surge to over 500 miners. Migrants from back east named gulches in the area after their respective homes, giving Kentucky Camp its name. By the 1880s, most of the placer gold deposits had run out and the population thinned almost as quickly as it had built up. In 1902, the Santa Rita Water & Mining Company (SRW&MC) was incorporated. The hydraulic mining company built the current buildings at Kentucky Camp just two years later in 1904. After the founder tragically died in 1905, the company struggled to stay afloat and later abandoned the camp in 1910. Later, Tucson Attorney Louis Hummel purchased Kentucky Camp and 3,000 acres around it for his ranch. The old SRW&MC buildings were used as a ranch headquarters. In 1989, the area was given to the U.S. Forest Service, and they have been in charge of preserving Kentucky Camp ever since. Today, Kentucky Camp is unique in that you can stay the night in one of the old buildings as part of the USFS program, “Rooms with a View.”
3. Swansea, AZ:
How to get there: 30 miles east of Parker.
The ghost town of Swansea is a true ghost town that is fortunately being preserved by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Named after the hometown founder, George Mitchell from Wales, prospecting in the area began in the 1860s. It wasn’t until the mid-1880s that serious mining began. By 1909, a post office was established and the town swelled to a population of 750. Just a year later, the first railroad arrived from Bouse, connecting Swansea to the rest of the world. The town had the normal saloons and restaurants, but also featured a car dealership, theater and an electric light company. Because of the dry surroundings, water was hauled via pipeline almost four miles from the Bill Williams River to the north. Unfortunately, Mitchell was over-promoting the town, which led to its quick demise. Swansea was on-and-off until the Great Depression when it finally closed. Today, dozens of buildings and structures remain to be explored, and it continues to be one of the best ghost towns in the state.
4. Agua Caliente, AZ:
How to get there: 30 miles west from Gila Bend to Sentinel, then 12 miles north.
Like Kentucky Camp, the ghost town of Agua Caliente has an interesting history and purpose. Unlike typical Arizona ghost towns that are based around mining, Agua Caliente (“hot water”) was built around a natural hot spring and a stagecoach line. The natural hot spring in the area had been used by American Indians and later by travelers along the Butterfield Overland Mail Route in the early 1860s. King S. Woolsey owned the Agua Caliente Ranch and hot springs and by the year 1897, a 22-room resort was built, complete with a swimming pool fed by the hot springs. Many used the resort for its healing properties, but farming in the area later sucked the springs dry. Today, the remains of the hotel, several other stone buildings and a pioneer cemetery can still be seen.
5. Hackberry, AZ:
How to get there: 28 miles northeast of Kingman.
Although today Hackberry is an iconic Route 66 stop for many travelers, the town originated in 1874 as a silver mining destination. The initial mining helped to develop the town but the claims quickly played out and the area was reduced to a ghost town. When Route 66 was constructed, the town was revived with several service stations. But when Interstate 40 came along, the town was once again reduced to almost nothing. With the re-opening of the Hackberry General Store in 1992 as a Route 66 information center, the town’s population slowly rebounded as did the number of Route 66 travelers. It still retains that “ghost town” charm today.