Bodie: A Fascinating Journey Through California’s Most Famous Ghost Town
Bodie, California is a captivating gold-mining ghost town that transports visitors back in time to the days of the Wild West. Nestled in the eastern Sierra Nevada in Mono County, this historic town is an intriguing destination for history buffs and adventure seekers alike.
In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore the rich history, amazing sights, and essential visitor information you need to know before embarking on your journey to Bodie, California’s most famous ghost town.
A Brief History of Bodie
Bodie’s story began in 1859 when gold was discovered by Waterman S. Bodey (also known as William S. Bodey) near what is now called Bodie Bluff. Tragically, Bodey died in a winter snowstorm and never witnessed the bustling town that would bear his name.
Interestingly, the town’s name was altered from “Bodey” to “Bodie,” possibly due to an illiterate sign painter or simply to ensure correct pronunciation.
The town’s growth was initially slow, with only about 20 miners settling there. However, in the 1870s, the Bunker Hill Mine struck a rich vein of gold and silver ore, leading to a rapid influx of people searching for their fortune.
By 1879, Bodie’s population soared to nearly 10,000, and the town boasted 2,000 buildings, including 65 saloons, numerous brothels, gambling halls, opium dens, and various legitimate businesses such as churches, banks, and a school.
Unfortunately, Bodie’s prosperity was short-lived. By the early 1880s, the mines’ productivity began to decline, leading to a significant decrease in population. A devastating fire in 1892 further contributed to the town’s decline, and another fire in 1932 sealed its fate.
By the end of the 1940s, Bodie was a ghost town, visited only by tourists interested in its fascinating history.
In 1962, Bodie was designated a California State Historic Park and a National Historic Landmark, preserving the town in a state of “arrested decay.” Today, visitors can explore almost 200 well-preserved buildings, capturing a glimpse of life during California’s gold rush era.
Visiting Bodie State Historic Park
Bodie State Park Entrance Fee and Hours
To enter Bodie State Historic Park, you must pay $8 per adult and $5 per child (ages 4 to 17). Children under 3 are admitted for free. A self-guided tour book is available for $3.00. Credit cards are accepted at the entrance kiosk, but cash is preferred if no one is present at the kiosk. Be sure to have cash on hand to place in the self-pay envelope in the parking lot.
The park is open from 9 am to 6 pm during the summer months (May 15th – Oct 31st) and 9 am to 3 pm during the winter months (Nov 1st – May 14th). Keep in mind that the best times to explore Bodie are during the warmer spring, summer, and fall months.
The park is situated at a high elevation of 8,375 feet, so winter weather can be unpredictable and cause road closures.
Facilities and Amenities at Bodie State Park
Bodie State Park intentionally does not have commercial facilities to protect the ghost town’s atmosphere. It’s essential to bring your own food, water, and other necessities when visiting the park. Restrooms are available, and there is a picnic area for visitors to enjoy.
The park also features a museum where you can book daily and private tours. Additionally, a bookstore offers an array of books, postcards, and other souvenirs for purchase.
Please note that everything in Bodie is protected, and visitors are strictly prohibited from collecting or removing any items from the park. This includes rocks, glass, nails, or any other artifacts. In fact, there’s a legend known as the “Bodie Curse,” which claims that those who take anything from the park will be plagued by bad luck.
So, it’s best to leave everything undisturbed and simply enjoy the experience.
How to Get to Bodie State Historic Park
Bodie State Historic Park is located in Mono County, east of California’s Sierra Nevada mountain range. It’s close to several popular destinations, including Bridgeport, June Lake, Lee Vining, Mono Lake, and the east entrance to Yosemite National Park.
To reach Bodie, take State Route 270, which branches off from Highway 395. The park is 13 miles east of the junction, with the last three miles being unpaved. While the unpaved portion can be rough at times, most vehicles should be able to navigate it without issue.
However, during winter months or after heavy rain, the road may become impassable or closed due to snow or mud.
Best Time to Visit Bodie
Bodie is an ideal day trip destination for visitors staying in nearby Mammoth Lakes, Bridgeport, Yosemite, June Lake, or Crowley Lake. The best time to visit is during the warmer months of spring, summer, and fall, as winter conditions can make travel to the park difficult. The peak season for visiting Bodie is from Memorial Day through Labor Day.
Tours and Events at Bodie State Historic Park
To enhance your visit, consider taking a guided tour of Bodie. The Bodie Foundation offers several tour options, including Stamp Mill tours, Twilight Tours, Cemetery Tours, and even Ghost Walks during the summer months. Additionally, the park hosts an annual Friends of Bodie Day event in August, featuring free history talks and other activities.
For more information on tours and events, visit the Bodie Foundation website.
Where to Stay Near Bodie State Park
While there are no lodging facilities within Bodie State Park, numerous hotels, motels, cabins, and campgrounds can be found within a 20-30 mile radius in Bridgeport and Lee Vining. To search for accommodations in the area, visit Booking.com or TripAdvisor.
For a unique lodging experience, consider staying at the Virginia Creek Settlement motel, where you can spend a night in a covered wagon.
Exploring the Sights of Bodie Ghost Town
The Methodist Church and Catholic Church
Built in 1882, the Methodist Church is one of the few surviving churches in Bodie. Although the Catholic Church did not survive the fires that ravaged the town, the Methodist Church remains as a testament to the faith of the town’s residents.
J.S. Cain House
James S. Cain was a prominent businessman in Bodie who owned the Bodie bank, the Mono Lake Railway & Lumber Company, and the Standard Mill. His house, located at the corner of Park and Green Streets, is said to be haunted by the ghost of a Chinese maid who has a particular fondness for children.
Swazey Hotel and I.O.O.F. Building
The Swazey Hotel, once home to a clothing store, casino, and the Swazey, now stands as a slanted, picturesque ruin. The I.O.O.F. (Independent Order of Odd Fellows) Building served as a gym and meeting hall and can still be seen today.
Bodie General Store
One of the most fascinating buildings in Bodie is the general store, where shelves are still stocked with goods from the town’s heyday. Take a peek through the windows to catch a glimpse of life in the 1800s.
Standard Mine and Mill
The Standard Mine and Mill played a significant role in Bodie’s prosperity, yielding nearly 15 million dollars in gold over its 25-year operation. Visitors can take a guided tour of the mill during summer to learn more about the town’s mining history.
The Bodie Cemetery is the final resting place for many of the town’s residents, including the “Angel of Bodie,” a three-year-old child who was accidentally killed by a miner’s pick. The cemetery serves as a poignant reminder of the lives that were lived and lost in this ghost town.
Things to Do Near Bodie State Park
Bodie’s location in the Eastern Sierra California region provides plenty of outdoor recreation and exploration opportunities. Nearby destinations worth visiting include Mono Lake, Mammoth Lakes, and Yosemite National Park. For those interested in other ghost towns, consider visiting nearby Aurora, Nevada, or the mining camp of Lundy.
Bodie, California Ghost Town is an incredible destination that offers a rare glimpse into the life and times of the Wild West. This authentic and well-preserved town is a must-see for history enthusiasts and adventure seekers alike.
With its fascinating history, stunning sights, and convenient access to other attractions in the Eastern Sierra region, Bodie is a destination that should not be missed. So, pack your bags, gather your sense of adventure, and embark on a journey through time to Bodie, California’s most famous ghost town.