Run with the Ghosts of Bodie State Historic Park

This unlikely trail running destination will take you back in time while you train.

Bodie, California, was once known as the wildest, coldest, and most dangerous gold mining town in the West. Today, it sits quietly, tucked away in the dusty brown hills between the massive Eastern Sierra peaks, the saline volcanic Mono Lake and the expansive Great Basin of Nevada. After two rich mine strikes (over $1 million) in 1876 and 1878, the town boomed to over 10,000 residents (That’s more than Mammoth Lakes’ population today.) only to be rapidly deserted when the boom ended four years later.

Bodie Ghost Town | Photo: Mispahn, Wiki Commons

The legendary rowdiness of Bodie attracted visitors from surrounding towns. In its prime, its streets were strewn with 65 saloons, 3 breweries, opium dens, gambling halls, and a red light district. In addition to its hearty stock of workers in the mines, the remote town attracted its own set of adventurous types. In place of the current Sierra cast of ski bums, alpine climbing junkies, and elite runners, Bodie filled its occupancy with gamblers, prostitutes, and violent offenders. Paired with frequent gunfights and daily murders out on the mean streets, “the bad man from Bodie” became a colloquial term to describe outlaws across the West.

But not even the hope of more prosperous times could convince folks to stick out another long winter in a place that rivals Alaska for most nights of frost (308 annually)—a factor that, paired with the dry climate, has frozen Bodie in time. Today, Bodie remains in a quiet state of arrested decay, and the most outlandish thing to do in this California state historic park is run with abandon down its vacant streets. While not known specifically for its trails, Bodie sits at 8,379 feet in the altitude training mecca of the Eastern Sierras (just 60 miles north of Mammoth Lakes and 75 miles south of Lake Tahoe), making it a perfect day trip for runners to step back in time and blend sightseeing with training.

Photo: Bria Wetsch

[Where to Run] At 500 acres, the park’s dirt roads can make for an easy run but are easily extended with the area’s cast network of dirt roads, canyons, and rolling hills. Bring your camera and be sure to stop and look inside the 110 well-preserved buildings: churches with cobweb-covered pews, eerie bedrooms with cracked mirrors, a school room with writing on the chalkboards, and saloons with shelves lined with dusty beer bottles—some still full. Once you’ve had your fill of running up and down the deserted streets, take on the scenic and challenging Bodie Peak Loop, which climbs from 8,200 feet to 10,195 feet in the 9-mile route. For a loftier challenge, save time to bag nearby Potato Peak (10,237) and enjoy alternative views of Bodie, the Bridgeport Valley, and the Sawtooth mountains. The trailhead is off the dirt road 2.5 miles before you enter Bodie State Park.

The surrounding Bodie Hills offer a lifetime of exploration and mileage options. Abandoned mine claims, in-tact power lines, and tin shacks are buried amongst the pinyon pines and sagebrush. Of course, you’ll likely have to ante up your adventurous spirit and wander off trail to see anything of this sort. You can drive up to the parking lot and jog around a bit to take some photos then leave—or you can soak up the pioneering inspiration of those who were willing to gamble and live in this rough, rugged place and set off exploring for your own treasures.

Photo: Morgan Sjogren

[What to Pack] Weather can change quickly and dramatically, so dress in layers. Always bring plenty of water, a map, and make sure you are well-versed in navigation before heading out.

[Eat and Drink] If you are heading to Bodie from Mammoth, be sure to stop in the lakeside village of June Lake, about an hour south of the ghost town, to refuel with Hawaiian-fusion soul food at Ohana’s 395 and wash it down with a beer from June Lake Brewing.

[How to Get There] To get to Bodie, take Highway 395 (either from the North or South) until you reach the turnoff for State Route 270. The route is very windy for 10 miles and eventually becomes a bumpy dirt road for the last 3 miles that lead up to the park.