Visiting Cerro Gordo Ghost Town in the Inyo Mountains in California

California, USA
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The Cerro Gordo Ghost Town is one of the best-preserved ghost towns I ever visited. I have been to other so-called “ghost towns” but they were more like a tourist trap. Cerro Gordo which means “fat hill” in Spanish was a bustling silver mine. The mine was established in 1867 and was the first major silver strike in Owens Valley.

Today the town is privately owned by a group of investors but still open for tourists. Ultimately the owners plan to transform the ghost town into a retreat center for conferences, workshop events, and film shoots.

Location

Cerro Gordo is located 200 miles north of Los Angeles and 200 miles west of Las Vegas. The closest town, Lone Pine, is about 22 miles away. In Lone Pine, you can find hotels, restaurants, and stores if you are in need of these on your journey. From Lone Pine, you will travel east on State Route 136 until you meet the turn off to Cerro Gordo St in Keeler. The town sits in the Inyo Mountains near Death Valley National Park.

The drive from the intersection of Cerro Gordo Road and CA-136 to the ghost town is just under 8 miles. Cerro Gordo Road is a County-maintained dirt/gravel road. A 4WD-vehicle is recommended for the drive up to Cerro Gordo. In reality, you can do it in a 2WD car, but you should have some ground clearance.

On your way up to Cerro Gordo, you will gain over 4300 ft (1310 m) in elevation. The town is located at an elevation of approximately 8000 ft (2440 m) above sea level. You could suffer slight altitude sickness, so be aware.

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Drive slowly ad the gravel here has some sharp edges and can damage your tires, which is the last thing you want to experience on your trip. Also, keep an eye on your transmission temperature. On your way down you should put your transmission into a low gear. That way the engine will assist you in breaking on your way down. This will save your brakes from high wear. It will take you about 30 minutes to get up or down.

The road starts out wide and flat but you will pass some very narrow spots and also drive very close to the side of the hill. There is two-way traffic on the road, be prepared to stop. There are plenty of turnouts to let opposite traffic pass. Here some photos from the drive to Cerro Gordo Ghost Town.

Once at the ghost town, park around the church or at the turnout just before that. Don’t park on the road as it is a public road and there are people traveling through here. Once there, make sure you check in with the caretaker. There is usually always a caretaker on site. Just look around. He lives in the first house you see on your right while driving into the town.

There is a fee to tour the ghost town. It’s private property and you have to pay the fee either for a self-guided tour or a tour given by the caretaker.

Cerro Gordo Ghost Town Tour

Admission

I recommend you make reservations in advance. As I just found out about the place as I was in the area, I tried my luck and drove up there and encountered the caretaker checking in another group just before me. They only accept cash when you pay on location. Advanced reservations can be made on the homepage of the Ghost Town. However, the website shows a price of $15 at the checkout page, but $10 on the regular homepage. I got charged $10 which I paid cash on site.

The Cerro Gordo Mining Town website shows that the guided tours take place at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. Jonathan, the part-time caretaker giving my tour, told me that you can just come up and they are welcome to accommodate you.

Opening Hours

The town is open to be visited all year long. Remember that there is no snow removal in the winter. Hours are during the daytime and are as follows.

Standard Time

Monday – Sunday: 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.

Daylight Savings Time

Monday – Sunday: 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.

You want to make sure, you get off the mountain before it gets dark. It’s just for safety.

Guided Tour

I joined a guided tour by the part-time caretaker Jonathan. He was very knowledgeable about the history of the town and all the artifacts around the place. He guided us through most of the different buildings in the ghost town. He told us about what buildings got upgraded from its original state. Some of them needed to have some work done for safety reasons. If you look closely you will find some satellite dishes up here on some of the buildings. Also, the large cell tower on the hill next door is a little bit disruptive in photos.

During the tour, you get to know all the facts about the mine past and current. Our guide, Jonathan was very knowledgeable and gave us in-depth information about how the mine was first founded, operated, and so on.

You won’t be able to get into the mine shafts themselves. There are 25 miles of tunnels in the mountain and many of them are unsafe, including the entry to the tunnel system. I got told, that you can request a special tour to get to the entrance and up to the tower, but you won’t be allowed inside the mines for safety reasons.

The old store got transformed into an exhibit hall for all kinds of artifacts from the mine’s time period. Our tour guide explained some of the objects found there, which I would have never guessed what they were supposed to be. Jonathan showed us how the silver came out of the mountain and in what it was transformed before it got loaded on a mule train heading down the mountain. You can buy Cerro Gordo Ingots in the old store as a souvenir or on their website.

Geocaching

In case you are a geocacher, there is a nice cache up at the ghost town. Easy to find, but wait until the muggles pass. Probably after the tour or in between. There are multiple other caches on the way up, might worth checking out as well.

Cerro Gordo (Fat HILL) Ghost Town

Photo Gallery

Below you find a gallery with all my pictures of Cerro Gordo Ghost Town. You can click the “Load more photos” button at the bottom of the gallery or just click on the album name to open Flickr.

 

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