5 unforgettable ghost town adventures across the state of Utah

By Grant Olsen

For the Deseret News

Published: Sunday, Oct. 28 2012 9:28 p.m. MDT

This schoolhouse is located in the remote ghost town of Widtsoe, near Bryce Canyon National Park.

Grant Olsen

Five ghost towns are among the Utah sites that will allow you to see some of our state's most stunning relics from the past.

It is important to note that most of these destinations are either partially or entirely on private property. Visitors should always respect the law when exploring ghost towns.

GRAFTON: This is one of the most accessible ghost towns in the state. It's so beautiful and well-preserved that it's been used as a setting for multiple films, including "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid."

The history: This area was settled in 1859, but the town was nearly destroyed during the great flood of 1862. The resilient residents moved a mile upstream on the Virgin River and built a new town they named Grafton, after Grafton, Mass. In 1866, Utah was in the midst of the Black Hawk War and Grafton was one of the many remote settlements that were abandoned for fear of Indian attacks. People began returning in 1868, but flooding from the notoriously volatile Virgin River again became a major threat to the town's safety. By the early 1900s, most of the residents had moved away and only a few families remained.

How to get there: Grafton is located just west of the town of Rockville on state Route 9. Take Bridge Road over the river and then follow it westward as it parallels the river to the town site.

WIDTSOE: Though much of the town has been destroyed, Widtsoe boasts one of the most picturesque relics in Utah—its solitary schoolhouse.

The history: Like many early Utah settlements, Widtsoe went through a long series of name changes. In 1902 it was named Adair, in honor of an early settler. This was changed to Houston shortly thereafter, and then changed to Winder in 1910. Seven years later, the post office decided that there were too many "Winders" in the region and changed the name to Widtsoe, in honor of John A. Widtsoe, who was a developer of the dry farming techniques used in the area.

The town thrived for awhile, but extended drought conditions thwarted even the most resilient farmers. By the mid-1930s, the town was abandoned.

How to get there: Widtsoe is on the east side of state Route 22, about 24 miles south of Antimony.

OSIRIS: Located next to a beautiful stream in Black Canyon, the Osiris creamery is a magnificent sight to behold.

The history: Settled in 1910, this town along the east fork of the Sevier River was originally called Henderson in honor of a Panguitch man who donated the land. But then the Holt family from nearby Widtsoe came in and constructed a massive creamery and summer home. For reasons unknown, they named the site Osiris, after the Egyptian god of the afterlife. Harsh weather conditions and poor farming doomed the settlement and it was abandoned in the 1920s.

How to get there: The Osiris creamery and home site are easily visible from state Route 22, about 10 miles south of Antimony.

FRISCO: This iconic ghost town boasts some of the most stunning and well-preserved structures in Utah.

The history: When silver was discovered in Utah's San Francisco Mountains in 1875, the ensuing boom spawned the wild mining town of Frisco. With more than 20 saloons, brothels and gambling halls, Frisco's residents worked the mines by day and indulged in debauchery by night. At its peak, Frisco had nearly 6,000 residents and was the commercial hub for the district. In 1885, a catastrophic cave-in of the area's most productive mine brought the prosperity to a halt. By 1920, the town was abandoned.

How to get there: Frisco is just off state Route 21, about 15 miles northwest of Milford.

THISTLE: This one-of-a-kind ghost town allows visitors to see firsthand the effects of a 1983 landslide that dammed the Spanish Fork River and left the town underwater.

The history: Thistle began as a farm and ranch town in the 1880s. In 1890, the railroad was established in the area and the town became a service hub for the steam locomotives of the Denver and Rio Grande Western lines. The town hit its peak in the early 1900s, with a population of about 600. In April 1983, heavy rains caused a massive landslide that dammed the Spanish Fork River. Water levels continued to rise, destroying most structures.

How to get there: Thistle is about 16 miles southeast of Spanish Fork. U.S. 89 runs directly through the town and ruins are visible from the highway.

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