When it comes to Western history, it's hard to beat Goldfield, Nevada. This 1902-established gold camp quickly became the most influential, richest, and largest city in Nevada for a time, with a peak population of 20,000 people. Today this "living ghost town" of around 250 residents wows with several beautifully preserved, tour-able original buildings, a couple authentic Sagebrush Saloons, rockhounding opportunities, paranormal activity, oddball art, and far more.
Hardcore History & Plenty of Mystery
OK, we’ll admit it: we’re kinda obsessed with Goldfield. No matter where you are in the Silver State, you’re never far from some fascinating history; however, there are few places where the past is more profoundly present than Goldfield, Nevada. Tour blocks of original, historic buildings, institutions, and mines; dig for souvenirs in gemstone-rich grounds; clink cold ones in old, storied saloons; “hunt” ghosts in famous historic haunts; and discover what makes Goldfield a must-experience stop along a Free-Range Art Highway road trip.
History of Goldfield, Nevada
While many of Nevada’s 19th-century boomtowns sprang up during the Wild West era, Goldfield, Nevada emerged in 1902, in a time when mining towns were becoming known more for their refinement—and even sophistication—than rough-and-tumble lawlessness. After a significant gold discovery in 1904, Goldfield grew to be the wealthiest and largest city in Nevada, boasting three newspapers, five banks, a mining stock exchange, and what was most likely the longest bar in the country—boxing promoter Tex Rickard’s Northern Saloon, which required 80 bartenders to handle its clientele.
However, despite its mighty reign, like all boomtowns, Goldfield soon enough went bust. Most of its mines were in severe decline by 1910, as was its population, which dwindled down to about 1,500 as fortune seekers set their sights on the next opportunities elsewhere. Then came a flash flood in 1913, followed by a devastating fire in 1923. Today, fewer than 300 people call the sprawling town home, which is what gives Goldfield, Nevada ghost town vibes—although we prefer the term, “living ghost town.”
But it’s the historic and reportedly haunted (more on that later) Goldfield Hotel that tends to command the eye. Originally opened in 1908, the Goldfield Hotel was deemed the most luxurious hotel between Chicago and San Francisco. This impossible-to-miss stone and brick building was equipped with the most unfathomable luxuries of the time, including telephones, electricity, an elevator, and a heating system. Said to have had champagne flowing down the entryway steps on opening day, the lobby was opulently decorated with rich mahogany, overstuffed black leather furniture, gleaming gold-leaf ceilings, and crystal chandeliers.
Among them is the Florence Mine, one of the town’s most famous ore operations. Although famed Nevada businessman George Wingfield swallowed up most of the area’s diggings with his Goldfield Consolidated Mines company, the owners of the Florence mine held onto their property. Good thing, too, since they managed to produce about $650,000 in gold, which would be somewhere north of $44 million in today’s dollars… in a mere handful of months. Tour the grounds, machinery, the last working hoist house in town, and the pen outside where the mine’s owners keep their pet burros.
Amazingly profitable gold mines propelled Goldfield to tremendous opulence, yielding an astounding $86 million in gold. In fact, the gold here was so rich that miners soon began sneaking chunks of it away in hidden compartments like hollow pick handles or false boot heels, prompting calls for President Roosevelt to send in Army troops to traffic it.
Naturally, this happening place drew plenty of notable residents, including prominent Nevada businessman George Wingfield, Virgil and Wyatt Earp, future Senator Key Pittman, and American boxing promoter Tex Rickard. In addition to running the longest bar in the West, Rickard was the mastermind behind the famous Nelson-Gans match often referred to as the “Fight of the Century” that took place in downtown Goldfield in 1906. He later went on to build the original Madison Square Garden in New York City. (You can learn about all these major Silver State movers and shakers at the Central Nevada Museum in nearby Tonopah.)
Luckily, unlike many other gold camps of this era, vestiges of Goldfield’s vast wealth remain on grand display at a number of beautifully preserved buildings and the remains of numerous mines. In fact, as the Esmeralda County seat, the lavish, 1907-built, native sandstone-constructed Historic Esmeralda County Courthouse is still in regular use, welcoming the public to appreciate its original Tiffany and Co. lamps, fire hoses, and furniture.
Other beautiful, frozen-in-time period buildings worth checking out include Goldfield Fire Station #1, the Historic Bullfrog-Goldfield Railroad Yard—which used to connect Goldfield’s five railroads with Beatty, 85 miles away—and the Goldfield Historic High School.
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Things to Do in Goldfield, Nevada
While history is the big draw around here, there’s plenty of other experiences that make a Goldfield, Nevada adventure so memorable, as well as something of an artistic odyssey among some of our favorite Weird Nevada wonders. Just outside of Goldfield, lovers of offbeat attractions owe themselves a visit to the famous International Car Forest of the Last Church, an oddball sculpture garden dotted with cars, trucks, and vans—most of them stacked or sticking out of the ground, and all of them decorated with ever-changing “paint jobs” administered by rotating artists-in-residence.
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The Car Forest’s lead artists and caretakers also look after a few more unique automotive canvases: Rocket Bob’s Art Cars. While most Nevadans know “art cars” as the giant mutant vehicles that roam the Black Rock Desert Playa during Burning Man, longtime burner and Goldfield denizen Rocket Bob’s art cars hearken back to the event’s earliest days. On prominent display along Goldfield’s main drag are three such vehicles, which are adorned with thousands of figurines, trinkets, a boat, and even the frame of another car, together promising eye-popping photo-ops.
A few steps away you’ll find Enigmata Esoterica, one of the Free-Range Art Highway’s most intriguing shops. Owned by the same artists and visionaries mentioned above, the eclectic emporium melds Western flair with mystical energy among shelves and cases full of one-of-a-kind silver and turquoise jewelry, original paintings, soaps and lotions, and even bones found nearby—all of it made (or found) in Nevada.
Meanwhile, the Goldfield Historic Cemetery is its own kind of trip. While any visitor can eyeball its unusual assortment of epitaphs chronicling its permanent residents’ untimely mining-era demises—such as, “Unknown man died eating library paste”—there’s more to the story. When the railroad arrived in Goldfield, the platform was situated in the dead center of town—meaning right beside the cemetery. When the town’s more genteel decision-makers decided they didn’t want passengers unboarding onto graves, a posse assembled to rehome the buried to a location just outside of town, dubbing themselves the “Official Ghouls” and conducting their work by night.
If you’re looking to get even more into the Nevada “spirit,” you’re in luck—paranormal experts consider Goldfield to be one of the most haunted places on Earth. The television teams from Ghost Hunters and Ghost Adventures have both made multiple visits—especially to the Goldfield Hotel, where all kinds of energy remains from some seriously sordid ends to guests’ and residents’ lives—including that of George Wingfield’s mistress. Ghost hunting tours are available of this alleged “portal to the underworld,” as well as of the also-super-haunted Goldfield Historic High School across the street.
And then there’s Gemfield, one of the best places in the Silver State to dig into rockhounding—and in Nevada, that’s saying something. Just four miles outside of Goldfield, Gemfield offers pay-to-dig opportunities to unearth agates, jasper, turquoise, obsidian, crystals, gold, silver, and six different types of chalcedony. It’s hard not to have a good day scratching around this kaleidoscopic landscape, but if you manage to strike out, you can always pick up a pre-discovered at Gemfield’s rockshop.
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Goldfield Nevada Hotels & Lodging
One of the first things you’ll spot as you enter town from the west is the old wooden, Western vibe-oozing Goldfield Stop Inn. By day it’s a trading post, selling souvenirs, antiques, jewelry, and more; by night you can nestle into one of three cozy rooms: two vintage studios—Pearl’s Place and Rosie’s Room—which are decked out with antique queen beds, handmade quilts, historically furnished bathrooms, and several modern amenities. Or crash in The Crib, an old cabin that was relocated here from Goldfield’s red light district. Meanwhile, the Santa Fe Saloon & Motel has several modest yet comfortable rooms to choose from, a stone’s throw from the oldest elixir emporium in the region.
RV-ers cruising the Free-Range Art Highway can pull off the road at two different spots. Clark’s Custom Camp offers newly built, powered pull-through sites on concrete pads with free Wi-Fi, laundry, and a rec room. Goldfield RV Park offers rustic pull-through and back-in gravel sites, as well as opportunities to fill water and dump your tank—or to pitch a tent and dry camp.
If you’re looking for a classic Uncommon Overnighter, there are two within about a half-hour’s drive of Goldfield, Nevada. Gold Point Ghost Town Bed & Breakfast presents the opportunity to stay overnight in historic miners cabins, which look straight out of the 19th century on the outside, but are adorned with comfortable retro furniture within—all located inside an actual ghost town. Arrangements can be made to hit up the historic—and amply stocked—Sagebrush Saloon, check out old mining areas, cook up a bunch of cowboy dinners, and even shoot off a bunch of guns.
Situated six miles east of town among the remains of numerous historic silver and gold mines lies Diamondfield, named after Western desperado Jackson Lee “Diamondfield Jack” Davis, who hit paydirt nearby after being pardoned for murder up in Idaho. Although the original community is gone, local visionary Ron Matheny has reconstructed a small Wild West town of sorts, home to the Glory Hole Saloon, jail, blacksmith shop, general store, telegraph office and… UFO crash site. Primitive camping here comes with permission to explore the grounds, as well as to gaze up at some of the darkest skies in the country. It’s also Matheny’s private residence, so be sure to call ahead to make arrangements to visit, eat, drink, or stay overnight.
Meanwhile, Hard Luck Castle & Mine is a genuine Weird Nevada wonder in the form of a four-story castle built on top of a 100+ year old gold mine. The four bedrooms and decor are luxurious and ostentatious in the best of ways. Amenities include a 360-degree-view rooftop solarium (and primo stargazing spot), a hot tub, a working pipe organ, and far more. Oh yeah, and the mine itself, which you can request to tour for a small additional fee.
Where to Eat and Drink in Goldfield, Nevada
If you’re hungry in Goldfield, Nevada, the choice is easy—because it’s the only one! Luckily, it’s a great one. The family-owned and -operated Dinky Diner may live up to its name, space-wise, but not with its menu. Fuel up in the AM with breakfast classics like omelets, chicken fried steaks, french toast, and breakfast burritos. After noon, sink your teeth into juicy quarter-pound burgers, wraps, hot and cold sandwiches, Mexican cuisine, fried chicken, salads, and seasonal specialties like ribs, brisket, and beyond.
When it comes to places to sip, Goldfield’s got two real-deal Sagebrush Saloons for you. Goldfield’s oldest business is the famed 1905-built Santa Fe Saloon, which slings drinks over its original bar and offers up ambiance marked by old mining ephemera, Julia C. Bulette’s bathtub, and “Nevada’s Meanest Bartender.” If you need something to soak up your suds, the Santa Fe also serves pizzas made to order.
Or sidle up to the Mozart Tavern’s original single-piece Brunswick bar counter, pay for cold ones at a 100+ year old cash register, and raise a glass to Virgil and Wyatt Earp, who most certainly would have been found hanging out here, back when Virgil was “Special Officer” (AKA a glorified bouncer and an imposing man, even with one working arm) at the nearby National Club.
Goldfield Days Celebration & Land Auction
This small town may be quiet most of the year, but turn up during Goldfield Days and you wouldn’t believe that for a second. Each August revelers stream into town to embrace Goldfield’s boomtown history—and possibly even wilder present—with bed races (yes, races… involving beds), Old West gunfights, haunted tours, miners’ lying contests, old-fashioned children’s games, BBQ cookoffs, vintage car shows, a parade, and more. And the best part is, if you fall in love with the town or its surrounding wide-open spaces, you can head to the real-deal Land Auction and stake your claim in the Goldfield story forever.
Whether you’re chasing ghosts, digging for future jewelry, or clinking glasses at a real-deal Sagebrush Saloon, be sure to tag your snaps with #TravelNevada so we can follow—and maybe even share—your Goldfield, Nevada adventure.