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Interesting Towns Near Death Valley
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Interesting Towns Near Death Valley

Investigating these towns is one of the best things to do in the deserts of California—you get to see a different side of desert life.

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5 min read

May 15, 2021

In the depths of the Mojave Desert, where California fades into Nevada, you’ll find one of the hottest, driest, and lowest points in the country— Death Valley National Park. The sprawling desert valley is an unparalleled destination, home to deep canyons, abundant wildlife, and a myriad of ghost towns.

While on a road trip to the California national park, make sure to dedicate time to check out the towns near Death Valley. Investigating these underrated towns is one of the best things to do in the deserts of California—you get to see a side of desert life you haven’t before.

Ghost Towns Near Death Valley

The 1969 movie Easy Rider has a scene filmed in Ballarat. The ghost town was also featured in Hellbound for Ballarat by Nelson C. Nye.

Ballarat

Ballarat is a small town near Death Valley National Park which is on the brink of becoming a completely abandoned ghost town. The peak population of Ballarat was around 500 in the late 19th century. Today, this dusty outpost houses one person by the name of Rocky Novak, who takes care of the remaining ruins of the town.

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In its heyday, Ballarat attracted prospective movers looking to strike it rich during the Gold Rush Era. However, the appeal of the town near Death Valley died down in just a few years, and it was essentially abandoned during the early 20th century. The ghost town’s other claim to fame is a junked-up truck that used to belong to the Manson Family (if not Charles Manson himself).

If you ever find yourself among the dusty streets of Ballarat, make sure to stop by to say hello to Novak and buy a soda and snacks from him. If he’s in the right mood, he’ll elevate your ghost town experience tenfold with the best stories.

Panamint City used to be regarded as a bad and wicked town with a lawless reputation. Now, it's merely a ghost town waiting to be discovered.

Panamint City

A lawless town rich in mining history, Panamint City has a reputation that may as well be the plot for a Hollywood Western. The tough silver town was founded in the early 1870s and was mined on and off until the 1980s. Today, the abandoned cabins and rusted mining tools give the ghost town near Death Valley a post-apocalyptic feel.

Getting to the town itself is a bucket list-worthy national park experience if you’re up for a seven-mile hike. Don’t forget to bring along sunscreen, snacks, and plenty of water to tackle the strenuous journey. Once there, you can stay overnight at the preserved cabins and have a truly unique ghost town experience.

Randsburg is the liveliest ghost town in the state. Many movies and music videos have been shot here due to the ghost town's uniqueness.

Randsburg

Randsburg—known as the Living Ghost Town—is home to a humble population of around 20 people. Contrary to many of the other towns closest to Death Valley, you can find all of your basic needs at Randsburg.

This ghost town near Death Valley used to be a part of the Rand Mining District along with Johannesburg and Red Mountain. The mining district towns produced over $25 million worth of gold back in the day.

Most of the attractions found in Randsburg are in an area called Butte Avenue. If you visit now, you’ll find a real western saloon, antique shops, a general store, two small inns, and the infamous Joint offering food and drinks. Other cool landmarks include the old jail, the church, and the cemetery in town.

One thing to keep in mind before hitting the road towards this ghost town near Death Valley is that it still has dangerous levels of arsenic—it’s over 400,000 times the healthy level. This could either be a consequence of the long-term mining in the area or a sign that the area still houses gold in the hills.

Interesting Cities Near Death Valley

Census-designated place Furnace Creek holds the record for the highest documented air temperature on Earth—134 degrees Fahrenheit.

Furnace Creek

Most people on a trip to Death Valley check in at one of the hotels in Furnace Creek. One of the closest cities to Death Valley, Furnace Creek holds the world record for the highest documented air and ground temperatures on earth—so you can imagine how sizzling the weather can get here.

The two largest (and most expensive) resorts in town are operated by the same management—The Oasis at Death Valley. Both resort experiences are luxuriously entertaining in their own way. You’ll find natural hot springs, golf courses, and fantastic dining facilities at the lush Oasis; it’s a fun contrast to the dry valley.

There are also cool outdoor experiences you can enjoy without spending much (or at all) at this town near Death Valley. Visit the ruins of the Harmony Borax Works, hike the colorful Desolation Canyon, and drive through the badlands of Twenty Mule Team Canyon. To enjoy all these experiences without the threat of heatstroke, visit during spring or autumn.

The Mojave Desert's tiny unincorporated community, Death Valley Junction, is home to the Amargosa Opera House and Hotel.

Amargosa

Also known as Death Valley Junction, the tiny town of Amargosa is definitely worth checking out. Mostly constructed in Spanish Colonial style during the 1920s, the town only began to decline during the mid-20th century. 

Amargosa was facing complete abandonment until the most effervescent figure in the town’s history came into the picture. Marta Becket was a dancer traveling through the desert when she needed automobile repair. She became enamored with the city near Death Valley—particularly with the Amargosa Opera House and Hotel. Becket purchased the complex, renovated and preserved it, and staged dance and mime performances there until 2012. 

While she was performing solo for quite a while, Becket was discovered by National Geographic in 1970, performing at the empty opera house. This piqued the interest of an international audience, and soon enough, Amargosa and Becket both had visitors and admirers from all over the world.

Pay a visit to the opera house if you ever find yourself en route to Death Valley. There is also a cafe in town, and the hotel next to the opera house still accepts guests. But, other than that, the town near Death Valley is pretty empty.

Located in the Owens Valley, near the Alabama Hills and Mount Whitney, Lone Pine has a high desert climate with hot summers and cold winters.

Lone Pine

Lone Pine in Inyo County is one of the closest cities to Death Valley that’s especially interesting for lovers of outdoor adventures. Named after a solitary pine tree that once grew at the mouth of Lone Pine Canyon, the town today is reminiscent of something you’d see in an old Western. In fact, you’ve probably already seen Lone Pine in The Lone Ranger and Gladiator.

If you happen to pass through Lone Pine, don’t forget to drive along Main Street to view the old-timey stores and neon signs. Check out the Museum of the Western Film Industry, drive along Whitney Portal Road, and hike to Lone Pine Lake.

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