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St. Thomas Ghost Town From Las Vegas – What To Expect!

Key Points:

  • St. Thomas is located 90 minutes from Las Vegas and was swallowed up by Lake Mead following the construction of the Hoover Dam.
  • Due to drought and declining lake levels, the town’s ruins are once again accessible.
  • “Eerie” and “Fascinating” are two words I would use to describe my experience exploring St. Thomas – It’s a history buff’s dream.

History, and exploring historic sites, intrigues me – I’m the kind of guy who spent his time as a kid buried in books about WWII, watching The History Channel, and begging my parents to take me to museums. What I’m trying to articulate is, I’m a nerd.

In my ever-expanding hunt for things to do outdoors in Las Vegas, making the drive out to the St. Thomas ghost town was a no-brainer.

According to the National Parks Service, St. Thomas was founded in 1865 by a group of Morman settlers. The area was appealing due to its proximity to the Muddy and Virgin Rivers, which made life and farming possible.

At its peak, the town’s population reached approximately 500 inhabitants, all of which were sent packing when the Hoover Dam was constructed, and Lake Mead started to rise behind it in 1935.

Left behind to be engulfed by the newly formed reservoir were homes, businesses, a school, and life as the residents of St. Thomas knew it.

St. Thomas has been covered by up to 70 feet of water at times but has emerged from the lake on several occasions throughout the years.

During those times, former residents have come back for reunions and to celebrate their connection to the site.

An informational Placard detailing the occasions St. Thomas has reemerged from Lake Mead.

Current day, historic drought has gripped the western United States and has negatively affected Lake Mead’s water levels, re-exposing St. Thomas, which is accessible by a “maintained” road and a short hike. More on why I used quotation marks around the word maintained below.

Below, I’ll share my experience at St. Thomas and share a ton of photos to help you determine if the ghost town near Las Vegas should be included in your itinerary.

Specific facts and information that I reference are sourced either from the National Parks Service page about St. Thomas or from the numerous informational placards scattered around the ruins.

Getting To St. Thomas From Las Vegas

The St. Thomas Ghost Town is located along the Overton Arm of Lake Mead, which is about 1.5 hours from Las Vegas.

A map of Lake Mead and Las Vegas that shows where St. Thomas is Located on the Overton branch of the lake.
“You are Here” at the top of the map is where St. Thomas is in relation to Lake Mead and Las Vegas

There are two common routes that Apple and Google maps will use to get you there from Las Vegas, and I used them both on this visit.

The prescribed route to St. Thomas will likely depend on where in Las Vegas you are. If you’re further south, or at the airport, your app is likely to select the first option:

Route 1 to St. Thomas

Heading out to St. Thomas from Vegas, I took I-215 and NV-564 through Henderson toward Lake Mead.

You’ll enter the Lake Mead Recreational Area ($25 per car charge) and stay on the winding, scenic, Northshore Road for 45 miles before turning onto Old St. Thomas Rd.

A road cutting through the desert mountains and hills of the Lake Mead Recreation Area.
This is the view you’ll have for the longest leg of this drive through the Lake Mead Recreational Area.

Route 2 to St. Thomas

The second route will send you north on I-15 to Valley of Fire Drive, which is absurdly beautiful, but costs $10 per carload… even if you’re just driving through the park.

After you exit Valley of Fire State Park, you need to enter the Lake Mead Recreational Area which will cause you to incur an additional $25 charge per car.

Both routes are beautiful in their own way, but you’ll want to opt for route 1 if you want to save $10, and not pay to drive through Valley of Fire.

View of the road in the foreground and a bright red rock formation behind
The view from inside Valley of Fire State Park

Here’s how the two routes differ via Google Maps:

  • Route 1 through the Lake Mead Recreation Area is highlighted in Blue
  • Route 2 through Valley of Fire State Park in Gray

Caution Advised on Old St. Thomas Rd.

No matter which route you take, you’ll have to make the challenging 3.3-mile drive down Old St. Thomas Rd. to reach the parking area for the ghost town.

I chuckle about it now, but for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out why my phone was saying I was 10 miles away from the ghost town, but also saying it was going to take an hour to get there. How could it take an hour to cover 10 miles?!

I found out the moment I turned onto Old St. Thomas Rd.

While the dirt road is “maintained”, it wasn’t in good enough condition to do more than idle at about 5 mph. Granted, I was driving a little Nissan Altima, but this road was ROUGH, getting progressively worse as I got further from civilization.

Challenges along the road included large fist-sized rocks, deep ruts (I heard the front of my car scrape the ground a few times), washouts from rain, and soft sand. At times, I was driving on a bed of bumpy, solid stone with rocks scattered about it.

It was a bumpy ride, to say the least.

The combination of spotty cell service and being by myself had me worried I’d blow a tire on a sharp rock, get stuck, or damage my car in some other way.

I was white-knuckling the whole way, desperately surveying the road ahead to ensure I avoided any rock that looked pointy. Honestly, not sure if I blinked my eyes once.

There were a few occasions I actually considered scrapping my plans and turning back, not wanting to risk being stranded.

Look, I made it, but I’d recommend tackling that drive with a larger truck or SUV.

I only snapped photos of the easier stretches along Old St. Thomas Rd, because the rougher parts were too stressful to be multitasking. They don’t do how challenging it was justice, but here they are.

Dirt road through the desert.
Starts out OK…
A dirt road that is sandy and is essentially a set of two tire ruts.
Getting more stressful…
A washed out section of a dirt road that casued a small canyon that needed to be driven around.
Water had washed out a portion of the road.

My Experience at the St. Thomas Ghost Town

The Hike into St. Thomas

I finally, after a nerve-wracking 40-minute, 3-mile drive, exhaled loudly as I parked my car in the lot.

There were 2 other cars present, which provided some comfort as I wasn’t alone. That sense of relief quickly vanished as both parties left just after I arrived.

While the remnants of St. Thomas are visible from the parking lot, it’s a good hike to get to the ghost town.

The trail is “not maintained” but I found it to be easy to follow, and not overly challenging. Here are a few pictures of what you’ll encounter as you make your way to the ghost town site.

A hiking trail with a sign next to it warning that the trail isn't maintained.
Rocky hiking trail that is marked by larger rocks along the sides.
The hiking trail turned to a sandy path with dried out brush on either side of it.

When you reach the town, there are some helpful informational placards that describe the town’s history, where specific landmarks are/were, and explain how the construction of the Hoover Dam, and the subsequent creation of Lake Mead affected the town.

Here are a couple that provide additional background about St. Thomas and what happened to it:

An informational placard that shows where certain geographic features like rivers were in St. Thomas' hayday.
An informational placard that has an image of the Hoover Dam under construction, eplaining how St. Thomas would soon be underwater due to the project.

As I hiked into St. Thomas from the parking lot, I saw a LOT of animal feces… from large creatures. I assume the culprit is bighorn sheep, but never actually saw one. I did, however, hear plenty of animal noises in the distance.

I have to admit, it made me a tad nervous as I was alone at the site.

A pile of animal poop along the trail at St. Thomas.
I should’ve put a quarter by it for scale. It’s big though.

Also scattered about the ground were millions of seashells, which looked out of place, but made sense as the area has been under the water of Lake Mead for an extended period of time.

A large number of white seashells are scattered about on the ground.

Inside the St. Thomas Ghost Town

A lot of thoughts and emotions kind of hit me once I made it into the vacant foundations and structures that make up St. Thomas. Eerie, creepy, sad, and nostalgic were all thoughts that were top of mind, but I also couldn’t shake how cool it was to be there.

I stood next to the first foundation, looked up, and imagined 70 feet of water overhead, as there had been for years and years. I felt fortunate to have had a chance to explore.

Here are a few of the most interesting finds I made as I wandered St. Thomas, some of which had informational placards nearby to provide background:

Various Foundations Along The Path

A square foundation protruding about 2 feet from the ground, with square window frames looking into what used to be the basement.
A foundation with short, 3 foot tall walls still protruding from the sand with an informational sign posted in front.
A ruinous foundation with sections that are completely missing.
A rectangular foundation that is elevated about a foot out of the dirt. Around the structure are 6 square stone window wells that likely looked into a basement.
A crumbling foundation with a large rectangular slab of concrete in front of it.
A jumble of walls and foundation pieces, almost in a pile.
A piecemeal foundation, with a visible set of front steps that are in decent condition.

Hanning Store

The Hanning Store doubled as both a home for the family, and a business that sold ice cream, soda, groceries, and gas. Easily ranking as one of the most intact and eerie ruins at St. Thomas, the Hanning Store is tough to miss.

An informational placard providing background on the Hanning Store.
Background on the Hanning Store (Sorry about the shadow).
Hanning Store ruins, with few walls standing and a chimney to the right.
A view inside the Hanning Store from behind.
A collapsed wall laying on the ground in front of the Hanning Store.

St. Thomas School House

Below is what’s left of what used to be a 2-story school, which was built in 1915 and served its purpose until 1932. It’s wild to compare the busted-up structure to what once was, depicted in the informational placard.

An information placard that shows the St. Thomas Schoolhouse in its prime and provides more information.
The foundation of the St. Thomas SChoolhouse from a distance. Notably, the front steps are still very much in tact.
A closer visual of the school house's entry steps, which are in great shape.

Gentry Family Hotel

According to the placard pictured below, the 14-room brick hotel reportedly called a number of notable politicians, including President Calvin Coolidge as customers.

Plackard that pictures the hotel, which was made of brick along with its history.

Today, the hotel is nothing more than a collection of bricks scattered around a foundation.

Bricks that once were part of the hotel are scattered about the barren desert ground.
Bricks that once made up the hotel’s walls.
A close up of a number of damaged bricks on the ground.

Other Notable Finds at St. Thomas

One thing that I found really cool was that there are still steel parts, wheels, etc scattered about the town. One has to wonder what other treasures lay beneath the dirt.

Here are a few artifacts I stumbled across:

Metallic artifacts are propped up against a concrete post of some sort.
Rusty car parts lay deserted on the ground next to a dead and dried out plant.
A metallic rail wheel (or something similar) along the hiking trail into St. Thomas.

Sitting next to many of the foundations were cisterns, which stored water for daily use. Some of them are 18 feet deep, and so the Parks Service has installed bars over them to prevent injury or urban exploration.

An informational placard that explains how residents built irrigation systems and cisterns to store water.
A metal gate blocks access from a cistern, which is essentially a square hole, extending into the ground.
Looking into a deep cistern, which darkness at the bottom.

Another thing that struck me were these rows of logs protruding from the ground, which I assume were used as fence posts.

2 rows of 3 foot tall stumps intersect and form a 90 degree angle in the open desert.
A row of sawed off 3 foot tall stumps extend into the distance.

For me, the eeriest part of St. Thomas was the numerous sets of stairs that once led into homes, the schoolhouse, etc.

I couldn’t help but envision the scenes of kids playing on them, parents climbing them after a long day at work, etc.

Not sure why, but the stairs, which tended to be the part of the structure in the best condition, made me feel nostalgic for the past.

The school house stair in St. Thomas.
A close up of a set of 3 stairs that once led up to a residence.
A set of 2 stairs that are in great condition, minus a large slab of stone that has fallen on them, obstructing part of the path up.
A ghostly set of 3 stairs leads up to an empty foundation.

I tried, but can’t find any information regarding the last unique find I made at St. Thomas.

On the otherwise unnotable slab of concrete pictured below were what appeared to be shoeprints and words/symbols etched into it.

Now, it’s possible that these were recent additions (I doubt it)… but it looked almost like somebody had intentionally marked it before it dried.

A long rectangular slab of concrete.
Undecernable etching in the concrete that appear to be letters.
Can you make out what that is?
More words or symbols etched into the concrete along with some shoeprints.

Is the St. Thomas Ghost Town Worth Visting from Vegas?

It’s a haul, but if you’re remotely into hiking and/or history, it’s a pretty surreal scene.

A 3-hour round-trip drive is no joke, and I even considered kicking the can down the road and making the trip another day, but I’m glad I did it.

The ruins are eerie and being in their presence elicits some unique emotions. The fact these scattered foundations were once a bustling 500-person community is pretty wild.

As you can tell from my photos, the National Parks Service has done a great job placing educational placards that help visitors understand why St. Thomas came to be, what life was like in there, and what ultimately happened.

The coolest placards were placed near specific buildings that told their story and showed images of what they once looked like.

While I’d recommend a vehicle slightly more rugged than a Nissan Sentra, I think you’ll find this gem in the middle of the open desert to be well worth your time.

For most of us, exploring a ghost town that spent decades beneath 70 feet of water only to re-emerge is a rare opportunity.

If you’re on the fence, I’d encourage you to check it out. Give yourself a break from the crowds and noise in Las Vegas, get out to the open desert, and explore historic St. Thomas, Nevada.

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Friday 26th of January 2024


Diana Rios

Thursday 25th of January 2024

Thank you for the information and great pictures. I would like to visit. Walk around and explore.

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