Metal Detecting Ghost Towns

Published by Carolyn Yohannes on 09/21/18

Ghost towns are communities that used to thrive, but for one reason or another were deserted. While the backstories to these towns are fascinating, metal detecting ghost towns can uncover a new layer of stories. Just like with any other hunt, research, preparation, and safety go a long way for a productive expedition.

Best Places for Metal Detecting Ghost Towns

In the U.S., most ghost towns are in the western part of the country. That’s because many towns were built and then abandoned during the gold rush in the mid-19th century.

Because of the laws surrounding federal land and historic places, it’s best to metal detect ghost towns that are not tourist destinations or listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Local tourism associations can point you in the right direction on this if you’re not sure. Always ask.

Metal detecting and relic hunting ghost towns listed on the National Register of Historic Places is a felony. Don’t do it.

Metal Detecting Ghost Towns: Do Your Research

Ghost Town Treasure

Ghost Town Treasure

There are plenty of books that explain the history of an area. Some of these, such as Garrett’s Ghost Town Treasures, are geared directly toward treasure hunters. The book features interesting stories and possible places to find and detect.

Old maps are another way to plot out where you may dig up some good finds. The best hunting sites are the ones that have not had many detectorists searching over the years.

When using old maps, one of the best strategies is to compare an old map to a new map of the same area. You can often find old maps online, at the library, or at your local county courthouse.

In the U.S., courthouses have plat maps, which tell you who owns the land you want to metal detect.

Take advantage of apps like the OnXMaps Hunt app show the boundary lines of private, government, and public land.

Plan Ahead Before Metal Detecting Ghost Towns

As always, be sure you are safe on your hunt. This is even more important when metal detecting ghost towns. Many of the buildings and paths deteriorate because they are not maintained. The environment will eventually start to reclaim the area and hide hazards.

It’s best to go with a friend or two and let others know your plans.

Bring extra supplies and bring the right equipment. Choose a reliable metal detector like the Minelab Equinox 800 or the Garrett AT Pro. Some ghost towns are in remote areas where there is no access to water or fuel. Getting stranded will ruin the hunt in a hurry.


Ghost towns can be interesting places to explore and metal detect for history and treasure. With some research and planning, you are bound to find something exciting.

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