Utah has over 100 ghost towns. In many, only the falling-down remnants of a single small building remain to leave witness to their existence. Some Utah ghost towns still contain several structures that give visitors a clue of what life was like back in the heyday of mining and railroads. Visit these six ghost towns to get a unique glimpse of Utah’s history.
We’re aware that these uncertain times are limiting many aspects of life as we all practice social and physical distancing. While we’re continuing to feature destinations that make our state wonderful, we don’t expect or encourage you to go check them out immediately. We believe that supporting local attractions is important now more than ever and we hope our articles inspire your future adventures! And on that note, please nominate your favorite local business that could use some love right now:
1) Cisco, Grand County
Johnny Cash sang about it in “Cisco Clifton’s Filling Station,” and Thelma and Louise visited it. Cisco got its start in the 1880s as a railroad town -- it was an invaluable station for cattle and sheep ranchers and served as a water stop for the steam-powered locomotives of the time.
In the 1920s, the discovery of oil and gas kept the town flush, and by the 1950s, road trippers were using Cisco as a stopping point for gas and a tasty meal.
Cisco died when I-70 bypassed the town. The tourists found other places to stop along the Interstate, and by the 1990s the town was deserted. The California Zephyr still goes through Cisco, but doesn’t stop.
2) Frisco, Beaver County
Frisco was a wild mining town between 1879 and 1929. The mine produced millions of dollars in copper, silver, gold and other minerals. The mine owners weren’t the only ones celebrating in Frisco -- the miners enjoyed 26 saloons and many gambling businesses and brothels. Drunk miners with no sheriff in town is a recipe for violence, and the town gained a reputation for its frequent murders.
A sheriff arrived, and he was a pretty straightforward guy. He told the criminals of Frisco to either leave or be shot. Rumor has it that the sheriff shot six men the first night; countless others left town. Afterward, the town became a more peaceful place to live.
Frisco’s mine collapsed on February 12, 1885. Luckily no one was killed, but the most productive part of the mine was hopelessly buried. Over the next few decades, the town dwindled. Visitors can still see the kilns and cemetery.
3) Grafton, Washington County
Grafton might possibly be the most well-kept ghost town in the state and it’s also known as the most-photographed in the West.
Brigham Young decided to try growing cotton in Southern Utah. As part of the project, settlers founded the town of Wheeler in 1859. Unfortunately, the town was washed away when the Virgin river flooded. Settlers built a new town nearby in 1862 and named it Grafton.
Grafton wasn’t the best place to grow cotton; silt from the Virgin clogged up irrigation ditches on a regular basis. It was a tough place to live, too. Grafton was cut off from neighboring towns by the river. During the Black Hawk war in 1866, residents fled to the safety of Rockville.
The history of Grafton is short -- by 1890 only four families resided in the town. They stuck around a few more decades, but the LDS Church closed the local ward in 1921. By 1944, the town was completely deserted.
4) Latuda, Carbon County
The town of Latuda got its start when Frank Latuda opened Liberty Fuel Company in 1914, though its original name was Liberty). The coal mining venture brought families to the town -- about 20 homes surrounded the mine by 1918.
In 1923, the town built a school. It also changed its name from Liberty to Latuda -- the post office had informed the town that there were already too many towns in Utah named Liberty!
In 1927, disaster struck. Several avalanches rolled down the mountain, obliterating several houses and killing residents. The mining operation slowed down in 1954 and shut down completely in 1967. Latuda was abandoned by 1968.
Latuda is a true “ghost” town -- it’s reportedly haunted by a ghost called The White Lady of Latuda. No one is quite sure when the woman died, or how. One rumor is that she left her toddler at home on the day of the 1927 avalanches and the boy was killed. Consumed with guilt, she later committed suicide. Another theory is that she died during the avalanche. Whatever the circumstance, several visitors and locals claim to have seen The White Lady.
5) Pahreah (aka Pariah aka Paria), Kane County
Mormon settlers founded this town in 1870. The town quickly grew and soon had many sandstone and log homes, a general store and a church.
During the 1880s, the town flooded several times and residents began leaving.
In 1911, a gold mine brought some hope that the town would regenerate. However, the mine was also flooded by the Paria river just a year later. The post office closed its doors in 1914.
In 1961, filmmakers for the movie Sergeants 3 built an Old West town about 1 mile west of Pahreah. It was used for several movies, but fell into disrepair after the 1976 filming of The Outlaw Josey Wales. Visitors often mistook the movie set for the ghost town.
After severe flooding in the late 1980s, the movie set was in bad shape. Volunteers tore down and rebuilt the structures in 1999. The set was destroyed in an arson fire in August, 2006
6) Thistle, Utah County
Early settlers of Thistle arrived in the mid 1800s and began cattle ranching. The railroad came through in 1878; rail traffic increased over the next few decades. Thistle was always a small town; at its peak in 1917 it had 600 residents, a machine shop, passenger depot, school, post office, saloon, barber shop and some restaurants. When steam locomotives were phased out in favor of diesel in the 1950s, the need for frequent water stops led to fewer stops in Thistle. The town began to decrease in population.
By 1983, only a few residents remained in Thistle. Heavy rainfall that spring led to a devastating landslide in April, which blocked the Spanish Fork River. The dam reached almost 300 feet in height. Residents evacuated, some with only a few hours notice. By April 18th, houses in Thistle were underwater.
Thistle was completely destroyed. Today, you can still see the rooftops of homes in the water; others are partially buried in silt.