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Vampires and clowns are scary and all, but the really creepy stuff is embedded in history and lore. I remember visiting historic places as a kid, and if the tour guide mentioned some paranormal activity there, I would have nightmares for days after.
Honestly, I haven’t had that good of a scare since then, and this Halloween seems like a great opportunity to abandon the commercialization and rethink how to celebrate this holiday. You might not be able to go to your local zombie frightfest or the haunted house that your neighbors build every year, but that doesn’t mean Halloween is canceled. Theme parks, for example, are rethinking their seasonal events and hotels are still offering activities for families.
And you’ve still got options to seek out some spooky adventures at very real destinations: American ghost towns. These abandoned towns are a creepy reminder of how some places never really die.
Bodie isn’t just a bunch of abandoned buildings. This bonafide ghost town near Yosemite National Park is preserved in a state of "arrested decay," meaning there are few restorations. Everything is almost exactly as it was left when the last people left town more than 50 years ago. There are still plates out at one of the houses and the store is still stocked with goods, as if people were going to come back. It turns out the only road out of Bodie was a toll road, so when families decided to leave town, they didn’t take much with them to avoid paying a higher price based on the weight of their wagon.
Because of COVID-19 restrictions, Bodie is open for outdoor, self-guided tours, but you won’t be able to go inside the historic buildings. Admission is $8 for adults and $5 for children.
Bodie is in a pretty remote location, so if you’re trying to turn this into part of your Halloween getaway weekend, you might want to stay in South Lake Tahoe. It’s about 2.5 hours away from Bodie, but you’ve got a lot more lodging options than other towns nearby, especially if you’re trying to book with points. The Hotel Beckert Lake Tahoe is a Wyndham property that’ll only cost you 15,000 points per night. That’s a steal compared to the 80,000 Marriott Bonvoy points per night needed to book the Marriott Timber Lodge in South Lake Tahoe.
Once the capital of Alabama, Cahawba is a relic of Southern history. The town largely emptied out after the Civil War, and all that remains today is four buildings and three cemeteries. The rest has been reclaimed by nature, which actually adds to the mystery of this place. For a $2 entrance fee, you’ll get the chance to explore and learn the ghost stories that stretch back to the Civil War.
Cahawba is located just 20 minutes outside of Selma. The Hampton Inn Selma is an affordable 20,000 Hilton Honors points per night.
St. Elmo, Colorado
This well-preserved ghost town is just a two-hour drive from Colorado Springs and about three hours outside of Denver. St. Elmo was once a bustling mining town and railroad stop, but when train service stopped in 1922, the residents allegedly rode the last train out of town. Now visitors can visit the General Store and peek into the windows of the abandoned post office, church and the surrounding houses, which have withstood several fires in the decades since they were last used.
If you’re making a weekend trip out of it, Buena Vista is nearby, which has a Best Western (24,000 points per night) and Wyndham property (15,000 points per night) to book with points.
The history of this rare East Coast ghost town stretches back to the 1600s, when it was originally settled by farmers. But as the town went into decline, it developed a reputation as a place for seedy characters, including many suspected witches.
One resident even held the title of “Queen of the Witches” and would require passing travelers to pay her a toll. You won’t see much in the way of artifacts besides some piles of rocks where houses once were, but the creepy vibe in the town's park is heightened all the more by boulders with some cryptic inscriptions on them. The inscriptions were commissioned as public art in the Great Depression, but in the end, you’ll really just be haunted by the words, “Keep out of debt” written on a boulder in a forest.
Complete your Halloween trip by staying in Salem, the town infamous for its witch trials. The new Hampton Inn in town is the place to stay, with rooms priced at 50,000 Hilton Honors points per night.
Virginia City, Montana
The misnomer Virginia City is actually a ghost town of the West, about 90 minutes from Yellowstone National Park. It’s not so much abandoned as it is a living history town, where you can eat, drink, shop and even stay in the restored buildings.
Virginia City is a little more than an hour outside of Bozeman, where the Residence Inn Bozeman costs 40,000 Marriott Bonvoy points per night. It’s also a Category 4 hotel, so certain Marriott credit cardholders may be able to use their Free Award Nights there.
The bottom line
Halloween may look different this year, but that just means you can embrace some of the overlooked spooky aspects of real places around the U.S. Plan an affordable Halloweekend by booking hotels with points near historic ghost towns.
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