I don’t know why, but I have always been oddly obsessed with ghost towns and always seize the opportunity to visit a new one when given the chance. Recently, on the way home from Las Vegas we decided to finally pull off the freeway and travel the three mile journey through the Mojave Desert into the Calico Mountains. As we pulled up to this former mining town in a minivan loaded with family, my heart was bursting with excitement! It was time to finally explore Calico Ghost Town with kids!
Here’s a brief history for those eat this stuff up like me. Like most ghost towns in the western United States, Calico was a boom town and almost as quickly as it was founded it was abandoned. Just like Tombstone, Calico was a silver mining town founded in 1881. The Silver King Mine was California’s largest silver producer during this period. There was a brief attempt to recover the silver left in the mine in 1915, but it didn’t last and it wasn’t until the 1950’s that Calico would be restored by Walter Knott. You know? The guy that created Knott’s Berry Farm? The inventor of the Boysenberry!?! Well, if you don’t know, check out my post HERE.
In 1962 Calico was named a California Historical Landmark and in 1966 it became a County Regional Park. For awhile, Calico was in competition with Bodie for title of Official State Ghost Town, but it was eventually settled diplomatically. 2005 Calico was declared the Official State Silver Rush Ghost Town, while Bodie was named the Official State Gold Rush Town.
Keep the Cost in Check:
As many ghost towns do, Calico depends on tourist dollars and does charge for most attractions. In fact, Calico even charges admission. But hey, it needs to survive and donating a little moola is a small price to pay. That being said, admission and attractions only charge a minimal fee.
Kids 4 years and under are free. Another reason traveling with small kids is worth it.
Kids (6-15) $5
Annual pass $50
During festivals admission goes up depending on the event.
Attractions: Bundle attractions and save! Get 3 attractions for $7 for adults and $4.50 for kids 5-10. The Calico Odessa Railroad is not included in the bundle.
Maggie Mine & Mystery Shack is $3 for adults, $2 for kids 5-10.
Panning for Gold is $2 for adults and $1.50 for kids 5-10.
Calico Odessa Railroad is $4 for adults, $2 for kids 5-10.
Where to stay the night in Calico:
The closest way to stay in Calico is by camping or renting a cabin. If you prefer a hotel or motel, Barstow and Yermo are the two closest towns with accommodations available no further than four miles. Check your favorite hotel booking sites for rates and availability.
But if you want to stay in Calico…
$30/night- no hook up
$35/night-partial hook up
$40/night- full hook up
For tent camping, each site is restricted to 4 people, 1 car and 1 tent. If you exceed this amount there is an additional per night fee. For instance extra people are $8, extra tents are $5, and extra cars are $10. For 20 or more there is a $5 per person rate.
Heat and air conditioning. No pets allowed.
$50/night- Six cabins, sleeping 4 people each.
$160/night- Mini Bunkhouse, sleeps 6 people with a two night minimum on weekends.
$160/night- Bunkhouse, sleeps 12-20 people with a two night minimum on weekends.
I know the site is kind of hard to use, but you can Check Availability Here
Where to Eat in Calico
Calico House Restaurant:
This is the main full-service restaurant that serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The menu contains some items to reflect popular dishes of the 1880’s, like shepherd’s pie, but it also has a wide selection of crowd pleasing grub. The food was really yummy and portions large, but what I really love is the views! From the patio you can enjoy the beautiful mountain range and watch as the Calico train makes it rounds. It really takes you to another time.
Old Miner’s Café:
Also gorgeous views, but this is best for a quick lunch with options like Sandwiches, salads and burgers.
One of the original buildings it still looks just like an old-fashion saloon, this is basically a snack bar. The swinging doors are pretty awesome though.
Where to grab a drink:
Beer prices are not bad in Calico, but I recommend the local brew. Indian Wells Mojave Gold is delicious, light and refreshing, perfect for the desert heat. It comes in pint or quart and I say go for the quart!
Fun things to do in Calico
For a small ghost town, there was, surprisingly, a lot fun things to do in Calico with kids. We arrived thinking we had plenty of time to do it all and were shocked to find ourselves scurrying around before closing time. Calico and its attractions are open from 9:00am-5:00pm daily, except for Christmas when it is closed completely. So, yeah, 5:00pm came very fast. Let’s take a look at what Calico with kids has to offer.
Lucy Lane Museum:
Originally the post office, courthouse and former home of Lucy Lane, this is now the main museum in town containing photo and artifacts from its heydays.
A real silver mine from the 1880’s and the only safe one to explore in Calico. My kids really like exploring mines, as this was a highlight for my daughter when we visited Tombstone last month, see HERE. It was a given that we would have to explore Maggie Mine. This is a great attraction for all ages as it requires little climbing, although it does let you off at the top of the hill and that might be hard for elderly visitors to get down. The cool thing is that from the top of the mine you get to peek inside old miner’s cabins. The colorful hard hats with lights were a fun souvenir and useful for the kids during the 1,000 foot self-guided mine tour.
Calico Odessa Railroad:
This is not actually the original mining train. It was actually installed in 1958 and you may have seen the replica of this train at Knott’s Berry Farm, but is it still really cool. The train takes you on an 8 minute tour around the hill and explains the many historical sites in Calico. Oh, and the views are breathtaking. Pets are even allowed on this attraction.
This attraction is a trip and make sure you do it before you enjoy a quart of beer. This wild shack of craziness was built by Harry Dover and it is where the impossible is possible. Water runs up hill, people can’t stand straight, objects stand on their own. Hold kids’ hands, because my daughter ate it twice and went rolling up the wall. Bizarre and a must!
Take home a little gold and pan for nuggets. It is fun for kids, but definitely not the coolest thing in town.
Original buildings, Ruins, and Cemetery:
For me it is just interesting to walk around and enjoy seeing, touching, exploring historical sites. Although there have been several fires (common in western mining towns), there are at least five original undamaged buildings. The ruins of the Chinese settlement are really interesting to see as well as the few stones that remain of the family settlement located behind the rough Main Street.
Who doesn’t love an old school house, especially one with ghost sightings? Lot’s fun ghost tales have been told and we wanted to see it for ourselves. Plus, my kids are obsessed with old school houses and we visited many in our travels. Every one we visit is just as exciting than the last, but the cool thing about this one was the location. Sitting atop the tallest point in town, you have to take this wooden bridge to get there. It makes it all the more exciting.
There are two tours to choose from. One goes through Maggie Mine and the other walks through Main Street. Both tours are held on Saturday nights only.
That’s a Wrap!
Calico may not have an exciting story worthy of Hollywood, like Tombstone’s gunfight at the O.K Corral, but it has a lot of history. Plus, it has been rumored that Wyatt Earp did pass through Calico. It is only 2 hours from Orange County and Las Vegas, making it the perfect piggyback trip if you find yourself traveling in either direction. And I love a good piggyback (see here). After all these years, I am so happy to have finally made the decision to pull off the freeway and visit Calico Ghost Town with kids. Now that I know how interesting it is, I’ll be making more visits in the future.
Have you ever been to Calico?
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