If you’re a fan of the Wild West, Calico Ghost Town is a must-see for you! It was genuine mining town that existed from 1880 to about 1915, however, importantly, not all the current buildings are originals. Walter Knott of Knott’s Berry Farm fame purchased the entire town in the 1960s, then transporting some of the buildings to his amusement park. Replicas were built in the originals place, and while it’s super unfortunate to not be able to view the originals, they did do a good job with the reconstruction. Calico is not hard to find, and anyone who’s made the drive from Las Vegas (Las Vegas: Overpriced & Overrated.) to Southern California (Southern California: Concrete and Sunsets.) has passed right by it.
Located at 36600 Ghost Town Rd, Yermo, CA, within the vast Mojave Desert inside San Bernardino County, it’s essentially just off the 15 freeway, approximately 10-minutes. Around one hour from the Inland Empire and about 2 hours from both L.A and Vegas, it’s a very doable day trip. The road you exit is called Ghost Town Road, which you follow all the way to the turn off for the town. A big cowboy cut out right off the freeway exit ramp points you in the right direction. Also, CALICO is written in huge letters on the side of the mountain, which you can from the freeway, and the town is located directly below these letters.
Open daily, from 9am to 5pm (closed only for Christmas), entry fees vary widely based on age, so best to check the website beforehand (children under 3 are free). There‘s also RV hook ups, cabins and bunkhouses for rent, and group camping options. You can also rent a few of the facilities like the campground amphitheater or schoolhouse for things like weddings. However, please be advised, it does get very hot during summertime, so best to plan accordingly. We went during April and it was 95 degrees 😅. During the peak of summer, the temperatures can easily reach 105° or more. Also, it’s a well known spot for locals, school groups, and tourists alike, so best to visit on a weekday if possible.
One super fun thing to do – the Mystery Shack. It’s an optical illusion, gravity-induced, mystery-type place, costing $3 per person. The guide gives tours about every 15 minutes, so you’ll never have to wait long. This was my first mystery shack experience, which was like being on a ship that’s permanently rocking to one side. It’s very bizarre, weird, and head-scratching. The guide gives a mini-tour of the shack’s “paranormal abilities”, like standing a broom up on its head, pool balls rolling “upwards” into the top hole, being able to stand horizontally while walking down a ramp, and dumping water into a trough and watching it flow “upstream”. I definitely recommend the Mystery Shack and I think kids will love it.
Since Calico is built at the base of a mountain, the entire town is built at an upwards slope. You don’t necessarily have to go all the way up to enjoy what the town has to offer, but the Mystery Shack, schoolhouse, look-out point, a few shops, and Old Miner’s Cafe are all located at the top. The trail to the look-out point starts out as easy stone steps but halfway through, the steps disappear and you find yourself suddenly doing some off-road walking. It’s not a very long distance to the lookout point from that point, but it can be difficult to traverse if you have mobility issues.
At the look-out point, you can see out for miles, plus see the entire town spread out before you below. I was able to locate Maggie Mine and the train station from there, two places we wanted to visit. Once up there, it was easy to place yourself back in the 1880s and picture what life might have been like then. The climb is definitely worth it.
There is also the schoolhouse, which sits off by itself, almost hidden from view behind Old Miner’s Cafe, it could easily be accidentally missed. It’s one of the most northern buildings and sort of sits off to the side by itself. Unfortunately, the doors are locked, so you can only view the inside from looking through the glass window on the door. Sadly, the schoolhouse is one of the replicas that was built in the early 1950’s. Nonetheless, it’s still a good educational tool to show what single-room schoolhouses were like. Interesting fact – the very last school teacher to teach at this school is actually buried in the Calico cemetery.
As for food, there are 3 places one can find a bite to eat: Old Miner’s Café, the Calico House Restaurant, and Lil’s Saloon. I’ve eaten at both the Old Miner’s Cafe and the Calico House Restaurant, and I’d recommend the Old Miners Café. I found the food at the Calico House to be mediocre yet overpriced. I really enjoyed the food at Old Miner’s Café, however. It was way more food than expected, and very tasty. It costs about $6-$7 per meal, drink not included and refills cost $1. They have a few tables on the inside, but also have a much larger, covered wooden deck with benches.
There are various shops lining the way to the top of the hill, including Dorsey’s Dog House (products like dog leashes and treats), Lane’s General Store, R & D Fossils & Minerals, Granny’s Calico Crafts, The Sweets Shop, and Calico Art Gallery. Many shops sell authentic Native American items, plus hand-made items from other talented vendors. I’ve purchased a hand-painted saw blade and a hand-painted Native American pottery, with the prices for both items ranging between $15-$18.
Another fun thing to do is the Calico Odessa Railroad. There’s only one, single train engine with 3 carts behind it, and the path the train takes you is interesting. It’s worth it, but was a lot shorter than I was expecting. It’s a quick, 10-minute ride just outside the edge of town, with an automated voice playing overhead telling passengers information about the town and the mines. The conductor will stop briefly from time to time to point towards what the automated voice is talking about. It’s a nice way to learn some quick history about the town and was take a sitting break.
Maggie Mine is located right next to the train station, almost side by side. It costs $3 per adult and believe it’s well worth it. It’s the smallest and most well-preserved mine at Calico, which is why it’s the only mine open to visitors on a daily basis. It’s extremely easy to walk through, as the inside is now paved, and I was easily able to push my daughter’s stroller through. There are lights installed, but it’s still dark enough to enjoy the experience. At the very beginning, there is a large glass display with various rocks and minerals found throughout the mines.
There are various exhibits throughout the mine, and they offer a pamphlet at the beginning that has information about each exhibit. These exhibits include information about a pair of brothers who used to live and work inside the mine, areas where the miners would work, the dangers of the mine, and the hardships the miners faced while down there. Beware of the mannequins they use – they’re a bit off putting!
Some more areas include The Bottle House; “China Town”, a.k.a. where the Chinese migrant workers lived; the Silver King Mine (only other mine open); a small stage that is routinely used for weddings and special events; the cemetery; Lucy Lane Museum; and gold panning. You can also buy tickets for a mule team off-road tour, mountain bikes and off-road vehicle trails, and the nighttime ghost tour. They also have “signature events” like a Civil War re-enactment, bluegrass musical festival, “Calico Days”, a “ghost haunt” during Halloween time, and Holiday fest during the Thanksgiving weekend. You can also book weddings.
Important: Gold panning, nighttime ghost tours, Silver King Mine, and mule team off-roading all require reservations and are NOT offered daily as part of the normal ghost town experience. You can find the phone number and information on how to reserve these on the Calico Ghost Town website.
The Bottle House is very cool, completely constructed out of bottles. Sadly, it was closed both times I went. The original was built in 1902 and is believed to be the earliest house in the so-called “Bottle House craze”. The original unfortunately could not stand the test of time, so Knotts built the replica in the 1950’s, which has been used for various stores since. It’s routinely listed on multiple “weird road-side attractions” websites and lists.
Overall, I loved visiting Calico Ghost Town. I love visiting ghost towns in general, including Mogollon in New Mexico, and Jerome and Goldfield in Arizona, so it was right up my alley. There’s just something so mystical and interesting about the Wild West and how they used to live. Also, if you’ve read my Waverly Hills Sanatorium or Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum blogs, you know I’m a huge fan of ghosts, so combing the two is great. If you’re ever in the Southern California or Las Vegas area, check Calico Ghost Town out!