We noticed that you're using an unsupported browser. The TripAdvisor website may not display properly.
We support the following browsers:
Windows: Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome. Mac: Safari.

“A true historic ghost town in ruins” 5 of 5 stars
Review of Ballarat Ghost Town

Ballarat Ghost Town
Death Valley National Park, CA
Improve this listing
More attraction details
Attraction details
Owner description: This town was once a supply town for mines in the region and is a good stop during a driving tour of the valley.
Death Valley National Park, California
Contributor
12 reviews 12 reviews
9 attraction reviews
Reviews in 6 cities Reviews in 6 cities
31 helpful votes 31 helpful votes
“A true historic ghost town in ruins”
5 of 5 stars Reviewed January 2, 2014

Ballarat’s story began in 1896, the town was founded as a supply point for the booming mines in the canyons of the Panamint Mountains. It’s name was given by George Riggins, a young miner from Australia, who proposed the town be named after the Australian gold mining town.

From 1897 to 1905, Ballarat was the place to be in the Panamints. The population is estimated to have been between 400-500 people; and boasting 7 saloons, 3 hotels, a Wells Fargo Station, a school, a jail, a post office, and a morgue. The only thing lacking was a church, and I don’t think that anyone minded.

By 1917, many of the mines in the Panamints played out, causing the once bustling towns population to dwindle, and lose its post office.

Some of the towns most well-known residents include legendary Death Valley miner, Shorty Harris, who lived here off and on until his death in 1934. Seldom Seen Slim, “the last of the old-timers”, came to Ballarat in 1917 and stayed until his death in 1968.

In the 1960′s, the infamous Charles Manson, and family spent some time roaming around Ballarat. Their Barker Ranch hideout was tucked away in a canyon just a few miles from the townsite. A truck that is parked across from the General Store in town is believed to have been owned by a member of “the family.”

Today Ballarat still refuses to die. It’s sole full-time resident is Rocky Novak. Rocky lives on site in his generator powered home and runs the general store (IE: Beer and Soda). He grew up in nearby Surprise Canyon at the Chris Wicht Camp, which has since been burned to the ground.

During the cooler months, Ballarat is the gateway to the Panamints for many off-road enthusiasts. A large camping area is provided and most of the main trails leading into the canyons are easily accessible from the town.

Less than a handful of original structures remain, they include the jail that also doubled as a morgue, and the skeleton of some miners cabins -including that of Shorty Harris. Be sure to keep an eye out when visiting for the “Free nude dancing burros!”

Visited October 2013
Was this review helpful? Yes 11
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Write a Review

20 reviews from our community

Visitor rating
    5
    5
    6
    3
    1
Date | Rating
  • Chinese (Simplified) first
  • English first
  • Any
English first
Saint Louis, Missouri
Top Contributor
76 reviews 76 reviews
46 attraction reviews
Reviews in 32 cities Reviews in 32 cities
96 helpful votes 96 helpful votes
“Fascinating, but use caution when entering the store”
5 of 5 stars Reviewed October 9, 2013

I thoroughly enjoyed all that this place had to offer. Founded in 1897 as a supply point for the mines, but then quickly faded when the mine closed in 1917, it was a true form of a ghost town; ragged bedraggled, with signs of an interesting history from its former glory. I especially appreciated that it has not been re-created or painted over in a Disney fashion for tourists. It's decrepit state tells the true history of the faded town in the middle of Death Valley. You will find a broke down truck said to have been abandoned there by the Manson family after getting stuck, frames of bedraggled homesteads, the local jail and hotel, abandoned rusted out jalopies, items riddled with bullet holes, and an old cemetery where people were often burried by their pets. There is also a currently running motor-home park for camping and a general store. The caretaker of the property is an interesting fellow, but you should be warned, it is NOT a family friendly environment inside the store. It is decorated with highly visible nude centerfold pictures of women in various sexual poses throughout the store. The caretaker lives in the store and though he may have some interesting stories, as a woman I felt pretty uncomfortable being in the store with him, given his clear lack of socially appropriate boundaries with the pornography, and he is kinda rough looking to boot, though friendly and talkative. It actually seemed like something you would see in a horror movie when the unwitting teens bump into the eccentric caretaker of the town they are about to enter just before someone comes out to torture them for the next hour and half onscreen.

The most difficult thing about the visit was getting there, the signs are pretty unclear and not marked well. You may have to double back a couple times before you find it, but don't give up! It is worth it. It is down a long dirt road and to the far back by the mountains. You will think you are driving to nowhere when you will turn and see the tiny town and signs of life. It is fascinating to see the dessert mirage of water from the intense heat...it is just like in the cartoons. Don't forget to bring your camera, and if you are worried about becoming a victim like in a horror movie, be sure to pack your safety gear too!

Visited October 2013
Was this review helpful? Yes 7
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Chester, United Kingdom
Top Contributor
91 reviews 91 reviews
50 attraction reviews
Reviews in 27 cities Reviews in 27 cities
75 helpful votes 75 helpful votes
“Not a town so much as a couple of buildings”
2 of 5 stars Reviewed September 13, 2013

I'd always wanted to see an actual ghost town, so I was pretty excited about Ballarat, given that we were already going to be driving through Death Valley and this was practically on the way. Unfortunately I was left very disappointed.

After driving the 3.5 miles down a bumpy gravel road that seemed determined to break our car and leave us stranded in the desert, we arrived in Ballarat, quickly realising that it's not a ghost town, it's just a couple of buildings, one of which is almost collapsed, the other of which has clearly been renovated, which kind of defeats the purpose. There's also a campsite here, several burned out cars, and some threatening glares from people who may or may not have decided to live in Ballarat now.

If you want to see an actual ghost town, do some research and go elsewhere - there are several in the Death Valley area. But if you want to spend 15 minutes feeling like the family in The Hills Have Eyes, then pop along to Ballarat!

Visited September 2013
Was this review helpful? Yes 3
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Los Angeles, California
Senior Contributor
35 reviews 35 reviews
21 attraction reviews
Reviews in 7 cities Reviews in 7 cities
37 helpful votes 37 helpful votes
“Living Ghost Town”
3 of 5 stars Reviewed February 3, 2013

Ballarat Ghost Town on it's own is ok but the lake near it is really cool. The lake in the cloudy skies looked deep blue with white salt all around it. Very picturesque. Also, we spotted a few wild donkey's with their offspring.

Visited January 2013
Was this review helpful? Yes 3
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
los angeles
Senior Reviewer
6 reviews 6 reviews
3 attraction reviews
Reviews in 6 cities Reviews in 6 cities
17 helpful votes 17 helpful votes
“Pretty big Creep Factor”
2 of 5 stars Reviewed January 18, 2013

Have you seen THe Hills Have Eyes? This place is freaking scary. I had to camp there overnight and I didn't get one wink of sleep. 'Also check out the my picture of the sweet bathroom we had to use. I think I peed next to it instead of in it.

Enough said...

Visited February 2012
Was this review helpful? Yes 4
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.

Travelers who viewed Ballarat Ghost Town also viewed

Death Valley National Park, CA
Death Valley National Park, CA
 
Death Valley National Park, CA
Death Valley Junction, Death Valley National Park
 

Been to Ballarat Ghost Town? Share your experiences!

Write a Review Add Photos & Videos

Owners: What's your side of the story?

If you own or manage Ballarat Ghost Town, register now for free tools to enhance your listing, attract new reviews, and respond to reviewers.