For centuries, Utah’s vast desert landscape—adorned with bizarre and beautiful rock formations and majestic snow-capped mountains—has both enthralled and challenged the human spirit.
From the native peoples who first settled the state to the religious sects who fled there to escape persecution, Utahns have made their mark on this rugged place, in many cases leaving behind fascinating structures and artifacts for today’s visitors to discover. Below, we’ll look at the 10 best abandoned places in Utah to be explored in 2021.
Need a strong camera to photograph abandoned places in Utah? Look no further than our two top recommendations, the Canon EOS 90D and the Nikon D7500. Find more DSLR options in our comprehensive guide.
Interested in venturing outside Utah? Here are a few guides to surrounding states that will be helpful in your explorations outside of the wonderful abandoned places in Utah:
- Most Amazing Abandoned Places in Colorado: Top 7 Choices
- Our Guide to the 7 Best Abandoned Places in Arizona In 2021
- Our Guide to the 10 Best Abandoned Places in Nevada 2021
The Best Abandoned Places in Utah
Iosepa Ghost Town (Grantsville)
In 1889, a group of Mormons arrived in Utah’s Skull Valley to establish the Iosepa settlement. The town’s founders were largely native Pacific Islanders who had been converted to the Mormon faith by missionaries sent to Hawaii to proselytize. The newly faithful then relocated to the U.S. mainland to be closer to the Salt Lake City Temple—the most sacred site in Mormonism.
Upon arriving in Salt Lake City, the Polynesian immigrants faced discrimination from the majority-white population and soon left to create a new community 75 miles southwest of the city. The settlement was named Iosepa—Hawaiian for “Joseph”—in honor of Joseph Smith, founder and then-president of the Mormon church.
Though the arid climate and cold temperatures of their new homeland were a shock to their systems, the roughly four dozen settlers in Iosepa were able to plant crops and raise livestock to provide for the community. By 1915, the town’s population had grown to more than 200.
Novel diseases and crop failure made life difficult for the residents, however, and when the first Mormon temple was completed in Hawaii, many Iosepans opted to return to their homeland, leaving the town abandoned by 1920.
After a century of neglect, only a few bits of evidence of the town’s existence remain, including a handful of building foundations, a few fire hydrants obscured by sagebrush and the town’s cemetery. On Memorial Day weekend each year, the graveyard draws hundreds of descendants of these early settlers, who gather in the desert to celebrate their heritage and remember the souls interred in the dusty ground at this stunning example of abandoned places in Utah.
17 Room Ruin (Bluff)
More than eight centuries ago, the Ancestral Puebloan inhabitants of southwest Utah constructed these ingenious dwellings in the cliffs that overlook the San Juan River. Consisting of 17 rooms laid out in single file along a 100-foot-deep rock shelf, the ancient residence likely housed three or four family units.
Its main entry point is along the rooftop, with interior doorways connecting the 17 rooms. Based on their height and evidence of beam holes in the walls, some of the rooms were likely divided into two floors. Tiny windows provided the inhabitants with a bird’s-eye view of the river valley below, where conditions were favorable for growing crops. The north-facing dwelling enjoyed plenty of shade—a welcome luxury in the desert heat.
Over the centuries, both ancient and modern graffiti have been added to the walls of the 17 Room Ruin, turning it into a standard example of abandoned places in Utah. The original residents’ handprints are framed by brightly-hued patterns as well as carvings that date back to the late 19th century, when the ancient ruins were first discovered by members of the group conducting the Hayden Survey, an ambitious effort to map the entirety of the American West.
The site’s easiest access point—a footbridge over the river—was destroyed by a flood in 2007. To get there today, drive west from Bluff for roughly four miles and head south on U.S. 191. After about 11 miles, turn east on County Road 438 and drive for just over 12 miles until you reach the river valley below the bluff, and enjoy this example of the striking abandoned places in Utah.
Grafton Ghost Town (Rockville)
In 1859, a group of five Mormon families founded the town of Grafton in Utah’s “Dixie” region, so named for the settler’s attempts at cotton farming as directed by church leader Brigham Young. Located just south of Zion National Park along the Virgin River, the area was well-suited to agriculture, although the new residents were quickly forced to sacrifice some of their cotton production to focus on growing food to feed the community. After an 1862 flood destroyed the town, its determined citizens rebuilt the settlement a mile north of the original location.
After conflicts with native tribes threatened the Mormon settlements’ security, in 1866 Young merged them into communities of at least 150 residents, and Grafton was again largely abandoned, although farmers still came back to town to maintain their crops. The town was resettled in 1868, and an adobe schoolhouse was built that still exists on the site today. The population gradually dwindled over the ensuing decades, and it was permanently deserted in the 20th century.
Grafton has received considerable attention as a ghost town, serving as a filming locations for several popular movies, among them Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Descendants of the original settlers also make an annual pilgrimage to the abandoned village to visit the cemetery and the four buildings still standing—the old schoolhouse among them.
To pay your respects to this hardscrabble community, take State Road 9 from Rockville to Bridge Road. Signs point the way to the ghost town, which includes about a mile of clay road that may be difficult to navigate after heavy rains. You can explore this example of great abandoned places in Utah to your heart’s content.
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Home of Truth (Monticello)
Unlike many of the former religious settlements scattered throughout the state, this ghost town wasn’t founded by Mormons, but by an affluent New Jersey native who sought to establish a sacred community that would survive an imminent apocalypse.
After Marie Ogden’s husband died in the early 1930s, she found solace in spiritual pursuits and ultimately experienced what she believed to be divine revelation. She created the “Truth Center” in her home state and claimed to be receiving messages from God, one of which was a command to head west to Dry Valley, Utah to prepare for the coming end times. Ogden believed that she and her small group of acolytes would be the only people to survive the apocalypse, after which they would begin the process of rebuilding God’s kingdom on Earth.
Ogden planted her settlement in San Juan County, Utah, with a commune made up of around 20 structures laid out in three concentric portals The so-called Inner Portal where she resided was the most sacred space in the community and the place where she used her typewriter to channel God’s messages into a newspaper for her followers. The members of this strange cult agreed to follow the edicts God sent down through Ogden, including surrendering their personal possessions and adhering to prohibitions against consuming meat, alcohol, tobacco and other luxuries.
The community’s membership peaked at about 100 in 1935, but rapidly declined over the next several years as Ogden’s demands became more bizarre. When a member died of cancer despite being promised a divine cure, Ogden insisted the deceased woman would come back to life, compelling her followers to preserve the body and continue feeding it for several months after her death.
After this and several other Ogden prophecies failed to materialize, followers abandoned the cult in droves, leaving the commune essentially abandoned by the end of the decade. It remained in Ogden’s possession until she died in 1975, and the current owners have preserved the inner portal with plans to restore it and make it available for public visitors. The crumbling brick and wood buildings that make up the commune’s Outer Portal are visible from Utah Highway 211, as is the gate leading to the Inner Portal, which for decades was marked by a sign indicating “Marie’s Place.”
Satan’s Land (Provo)
Once the site of a thriving iron factory, this vast strip of land in Provo is now a destination for salvagers, vandals and curious passers-by.
Built in 1910, the U.S. Steel facility once employed hundreds of local residents, but as the iron and steel industry nosedived in the mid-20th century, the factory was abandoned and left to decay. Metal and junk salvagers snapped up any materials of value left behind, and graffiti artists used the massive concrete structures as canvases for their colorful designs and messages.
Water channels once critical to the steel-making process have filled with stormwater, flooding many of the remaining buildings and turning the property into a marshy wetland. Beneath the tangled weeds and brush, rusting railroad tracks still slice across the property, which has been dubbed “Satan’s Land” by locals.
Several attempts have been made to redevelop the site, including an effort by Brigham Young University to build a new industrial park, but so far none of these plans has come to fruition, leaving the land divided among ownership by private entities and the City of Provo. Most recently, the city targeted the site for a new tech-focused development called Mountain Vista Business Park, but for now, the waterlogged, graffiti-tagged ruins are still visible on the property.
Tintic Standard Reduction Mill (Goshen)
In the waning days of the precious metals boom in the western U.S., the Tintic Standard Reduction Mill opened outside the small town of Goshen. The mill was commissioned in 1920 by local mine owners looking for ways to reduce the costs related to transporting ore; their solution was to mill it themselves and then send it to its next destination.
The Tintic Mill was one of the U.S.-based plants to incorporate the Augustin Process, in which the ore was treated with acidic chemicals to separate the precious metal from the remaining elements, which were then discarded. However, the technique became obsolete within just a few years, and the mill was shuttered in 1925.
Remarkably, a significant portion of the facility is standing on the hillside nearly a century after the last workers departed. The remains include the concrete foundations of enormous circular water tanks, drain boxes, leach tanks, iron boxes and crushers. The structures do bear the scars of multiple visits by graffiti artists, and the crumbling concrete has begun to expose the buildings’ rebar skeletons.
The Tintic Mill was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1978, and against the vast backdrop of the desolate desert, the concrete walls rising from the ground somewhat resemble the ruins of a medieval castle. However, the site carries unseen threats to the surrounding area, with runoff from the heavy metals used in the purification process still contaminating the waters of nearby Warm Springs.
The barbed-wire fencing surrounding the property is also marked with signs warning trespassers of high levels of arsenic and other toxic materials in the dust, rock and water, although visitors can get a decent—if distant—view of the ruins from the railroad bed just outside the fence line.
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Delta Solar Ruins (Hinckley)
This recently-abandoned endeavor was touted as a project designed to deliver clean energy to Utah customers, but in reality it was simply a thinly-veiled effort to get away with tax fraud.
Utah-based International Automated Systems claimed to have revolutionized the science of solar energy collection, using its patented “solar lens” technology to harness the sun’s power to drive bladeless turbines that would produce electricity more efficiently than the conventional approach to solar production. Though the company’s 24-foot plastic refraction lenses were far less expensive than traditional solar panels, they were also too flimsy to withstand the powerful desert winds that perpetually swept through the Delta facility outside Hinckley, and most of the lenses were quickly put out of commission by nature.
In 2015, the federal government put a stop to the ill-fated endeavor, claiming the facility was established merely to take advantage of large government grants intended to boost the growth of alternative energy sources. Federal attorneys accused International Automated Systems of using a multilevel marketing scheme to promote the faulty technology, which ultimately never produced any energy, and after a lengthy court battle, the company was dissolved.
Today, the ragged remains of the so-called solar lenses are still visible on the site, consisting mainly of rusted skeletons with plastic panels hanging precariously from the frames. Some of the structures were never even fitted with the plastic coverings and simply resemble strange, futuristic metal trees silhouetted against the vast Utah sky.
Thistle Ghost Town (Fairview)
Like many small towns in the American West, the town of Thistle prospered due to its proximity to the quickly-expanding railroad. Established in 1883, the community was made up primarily of farming and ranching families until the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad established a service center for steam locomotives nearby. As diesel engines began to replace steam-powered trains, the town’s fortunes declined along with its population.
The nail in the coffin for Thistle came in 1983, when the largest landslide in U.S. history clogged two area creeks, sending floodwaters through the town that destroyed nearly every structure in their path. The roofs of many homes and businesses simply floated away, coming to rest miles from their original owners once the floods receded.
Just a few structures remained standing, including the old red schoolhouse, former railroad machine shop and a few partially-submerged dwellings. The rest were incinerated in a lightning-sparked wildfire that tore through Spanish Fork Canyon in 2018 and consumed more than 30,000 acres.
To view the ghostly remains of Thistle, take I-15 from Salt Lake City toward Spanish Fork, exiting onto U.S. Route 89 and continuing for roughly 13 miles until you reach a large pullout, which offers an excellent vantage point for viewing the private property where the town once stood.
Cottonwood Paper Mill (Cottonwood Heights)
Built by the Deseret News in 1883, the Cottonwood Paper Mill used lumber harvested from nearby canyons as well as old clothing and fabric scraps to produce up to five tons of paper a day, most of which went toward publishing the legendary newspaper.
The mill was sold to new ownership in 1892, which rebranded it as the Granite Paper Mill. On April 1 of the following year, fire alarms went off in the building, but believing it was an April Fool’s Day joke, workers ignored the alarms for critical minutes until it eventually became evident that the fire was real. By that time, the flames were burning out of control, and the damage to the building was significant.
The mill sat empty for several decades until 1927, when it was renovated and reopened as a dance club. After the short-lived social club shuttered, the facility spent much of the 20th century abandoned and deteriorating, although its dilapidated state lent itself to a successful stint as a haunted house in the 1980s.
Most of the majestic stone building remains intact and visible from the street, although its windows are all broken-out and in some cases, covered in plywood. The city condemned it in 2005, making it legally off-limits to visitors, although the designation hasn’t stopped the most determined explorers from attempting to get a closer look at this great example of the incredible abandoned places in Utah.
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Thompson Springs Ghost Town (Thompson Springs)
Like many western towns, the fate of Thompson Springs was tied closely to the rattle of the trains that regularly passed through its borders. The burg was funded in the late 19th century and named for local businessman E.W. Thompson, who owned and operated a sawmill in nearby Book Cliffs. In 1883, the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad established a depot in Thompson Springs where the region’s farmers and ranchers could transport their goods to market.
After the train station closed in 1994, many of Thompson Springs’ residents relocated elsewhere, leaving abandoned homes and businesses in their wake. The construction of I-70 several miles south of town also diverted many visitors who previously passed through the town, wreaking havoc on the livelihoods of many small business owners.
Along Frontage Road—previously known as Old Cisco Highway—dozens of residences and shops stand vacant and crumbling, many of them filled with trash, old clothing, defunct appliances and other debris that made its way inside when portions of the roofs collapsed. The once-thriving Thompson Motel is now boarded up, although the open doors to the lodge’s main office and manager’s suite have made them a magnet for vandalism, teen parties and other nefarious activity. The dirty walls are splashed with graffiti, and comically, a few tumbleweeds have even made their way inside the building.
Elsewhere in the former business district, an abandoned café has managed to escape the destructive forces of vandals and trespassers; a peek in the window reveals a dining room that seems to have been frozen in time, patiently waiting for its proprietor to unlock the door and fire up the stove. Only an enormous hole in the ceiling suggests that customers may not be returning to its tables anytime soon.
Our Final Thoughts on Abandoned Places in Utah
Thanks for reading our list of the 10 best abandoned places in Utah. Utah’s unique history can be seen by the type and variety of abandoned places and what each site can teach us of our past.
Whether you live in Utah or out of state making a trip to these top abandoned places, they should be a part of any urban explorer’s must-see bucket list. Did we miss a site you think should have been included on this list? Leave us a comment below and tell us if you know of a location that should have made our list.
Those who are into urban exploration in the Utah state area, and wanting to explore abandoned places in Utah, should get comfortable with Utah trespassing laws. Luckily, in the state of Utah, the laws are easy to understand and are pretty cut and dry.
For these cases, you should familiarize yourself with x. For more about obtaining permission to explore abandoned places in Utah, check out our guide Explore Abandoned Buildings: How To Get Permission.