Looking to kick up some western dust and imagine life as a gold-seeking desperado? Take a drive to Bodie Ghost Town and let this relic, suspended in a state of decayed antiquity, transport you to the 19th century wild west.
Bodie is an abandoned, picturesque and intruiging gold-mining town worth exploring if you find yourself parenting a California public school 4th grader, liking photography, enjoying western history, digging antiques, hankering for a drive, or a million other things.
Honestly, this is a really worthwhile excursion for people of all ages and interests. Plan it as a full day if you are in Mammoth Lakes or half day if you happen to be passing the area headed to or from the north.
To get to Bodie, you'll need to drive through the tiny but adorable town of Lee Vining, which swells in the summer with visitors to Yosemite, as it lies at the intersection of the 395 and Tioga Pass, the eastern Yosemite gateway.
There are lots of great stops along the way including the Lee Vining Historical Museum, June Lake Loop and Mono Lake with its tufa towers. We have great articles on those stops, as well as some articles on restaurants and snacks you shouldn't miss like Ohana395 and Mono Cone. It wouldn't be a bad idea to check out some of those sights on your trip, or just stop in Lee Vining for lunch or an ice cream. Be aware, Lee Vining is the last town you'll see for a while so if you need gas, water or pretty much anything else, get it in Lee Vining before you head further north.
Whether you dart straight to Bodie or meander along, take a moment to look over your shoulder as you head up the hill past Lee Vining and you'll be afforded a magnificent view of Mono Lake and the lake basin. There is a scenic overlook with a parking area on the southbound side of the highway (but also accessible from the northbound lanes), which is the safest place to stop for a gander or picture. From there, plan another 20 minutes of driving before you reach the turn off to Bodie.
Once you've exited from the 395, its still 13 miles to Bodie but the drive is interesting and it gives everyone plenty of time to contemplate the challenges that miners must have faced in finding and harvesting gold in this harsh landscape. (Just ask the town's namesake, Mr. Bodey, who died in a blizzard just months after his discovery of gold in 1859.)
Most of the drive is paved but some of the last stretch of road from 395 to Bodie is dirt, though it is well-maintained and easily manageable in a normal 2WD vehicle -- in summer.
The road is is not cleared in winter (tho the town is open) so you'll need your snowmobile, snowshoes or possibly, a tardis. Temps can be as low as -20F, so that's a thing, too. Even spring can be difficult, with the road often muddy and difficult to manage. My suggestion is that you make Bodie a summer stop only. If you must go at any other time than mid-summer, take a 4WD vehicle but be cautious as the only help you will find, should you need it, will be from a local tow service. But cell service is spotty at best so you'll probably have to hike out to get a signal and tows from remote areas like this can run $450-550. Ask me how I know.
If you arrive at Bodie in summer (because you heeded my warnings), you will be stopped at the gate to pay the entrance fee and you'll be offered a $2.00 booklet, with maps, information and details for a self-guided walking tour that explains each of the buildings and relics that you'll see. In my opinion, its well worth the $2.
There are restrooms at the parking area along with plenty of descriptive signs and maps to help you get your bearings. My suggestion is that you check these out quickly, head down the hill just past the church, and duck into the Red Barn on the right (building #4) where you can watch the 20 minute overview documentary film about Bodie.
After the movie, grab your handy dandy $2 guidebook and start walking up the hill, enjoying the descriptions of the buildings as you go. There are a few buildings you can enter, but most can only be observed through the windows or doorways. Of particular note are the church, the morgue, the store and warehouse, the school, barbershop, mill, saloon, and firehouse.
Again, if you are traveling with children, exercise caution in and around these buildings and machinery relics. They are all in various states of decay, and some can be downright dangerous if you aren't careful. Some areas of the site are so dangerous that they can only be visited on a supervised tour. For details on tours and times, check out the Bodie Foundation website.
During your tour, be sure to take some time to stop into the museum located in the Miner's Union Hall, where relics of the many residents and colorful history of Bodie are available for visitors to view.
My kids really enjoyed the antique guns, hearses, tools, farm equipment, mining items and drug paraphernalia (opium was apparently, very popular). There is a small retail section with items for sale also.
I'm not sure about Bodey the miner, but Bodie the town is quite photogenic. In fact, they offer special visits for photographers, both professional and amateur. Be sure to check out the Bodie Foundation for dates as they change each year.
Mary Beth is the owner of Adventure Refined, where she offers true luxury Mammoth Lakes homes to guests. In her spare time she runs a ranch, loves a test pilot, and raises 4 boys & a Rhodie rescue.