Think you have to travel to Europe or Mexico to be blown away by historic ruins? Think again. The continental United States boasts more than enough crumbling, eerily romantic ruins to scratch your archaeology itch for quite a while. Below, we've collected some of our favorite spots around the Lower 48, organized by region. Road trip, anyone?
Fort Crown Point, Crown Point, New York
Located on the shore of Lake Champlain near the New York-Vermont border, Fort Crown Point predates the United States by a few decades. Built to defend then-British territory against the French, the fort was never actually attacked, and was eventually abandoned in 1780 when, for obvious reasons, British military presence was no longer welcome in the US. The gloomily picturesque ruins became a New York state historic site in the 1960s.
Bannerman’s Castle, Beacon, New York
Although it looks like something out of a fairy tale, Bannerman's Castle has a much less romantic history than you might think: it was built as a storage facility by an arms dealer in the early 20th century. Still, the stunning Scottish-style castle, located on an island in the Hudson River, has captured the fancies of many a passenger on riverside rail lines. Dying for a closer look? Recently, in order to raise money to stabilize the crumbling ruins, the trust that owns the castle has started running guided tours of the site. Hard hats are required.
Madame Sherri's Castle Ruins, Chesterfield, New Hampshire
There's not much left of this glamorous mansion built by a 1920s costume designer and socialite deep in a New Hampshire forest—but what does remain, like as the grand, sweeping stone staircase, is more than worth the hike.
Old Sheldon Church Ruins, Beaufort County, South Carolina
Looking more like an enchanted ancient temple than a defunct colonial-era Anglican church, these stunning ruins surrounded by oak and magnolia trees are, understandably, a favorite spot among locals for wedding photographs.
Windsor Ruins, Port Gibson, Mississippi
Another site you might be stunned to find in the United States is Mississippi's Windsor Ruins. No, this isn't a Roman temple that teleported to Claiborne County: the 23 remaining Corinthian columns originally were part of a massive antebellum mansion that was accidentally burned to the ground—save the incredible columns and some metal features—in 1890.
Bulow Plantation Ruins, Flagler Beach, Florida
Peeking out of a jungle-like swamp, the ruins of Florida's Bulow Plantation ruins could almost be mistaken for a pre-Columbian city. Instead, they're the remains of a 19th century plantation and sugar mill, which was in operation for only a few short years before being destroyed in the Seminole War of 1836.
Mill Ruins Park, Minneapolis, Minnesota
Minneapolis's Mill Ruins Park has to be one of the United States' coolest examples of urban archaeology because it shows how the modern-day city was literally built on its past. The dense tangle of flour mills that makes up the complex was built between the 1850s and the 1890s, and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1971.
Squire’s Castle, Willoughby Hills, Ohio
No, you didn't teleport to Tudor England. The lovely Squire's Castle is actually only the unfinished gatehouse for an estate imagined by oil executive (and bearer of an amazing name) Feargus. B. Squire in the 1890s. Today, the building—which remains completely unfinished inside—is a popular wedding spot.
Cahokia, Collinsville, Illinois
Pictures simply don't do justice to the incredible earthen mounds at Cahokia, which might explain why they remain such a hidden gem despite being a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You may very well be the only visitor when you go, but I promise you'll be glad you made the trip. Located in a bucolic setting just a quick drive from St. Louis, the site also boasts astronomically-oriented Stonehenge-like structures and an excellent museum.
Cliff Palace, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado
Perhaps the most spectacular part of the spectacular Mesa Verde National Park, the so-called Cliff Palace, built by the Ancestral Pueblo (Anasazi in the Navajo language) people in the 12th and 13th centuries CE, just might be the most amazing ancient American ruin north of Mexico.
Navajo National Monument, Arizona
Pueblo Bonito, Chaco Canyon, New Mexico
Yet another Ancestral Puebloan site, Pueblo Bonito's name means "beautiful town" in Spanish—and it's just that. Unlike the sites mentioned above, Pueblo Bonito was built not inside a cave but rather out in the open, allowing for a striking contrast between the careful stonework of the buildings and the sheer walls of the Chaco Canyon beyond.
Knapp’s Castle, Santa Barbara, California
Built in the early 20th century by chemicals tycoon George Owen Knapp, Knapp's Castle only became a ruin in 1940, when it burned down in an accidental fire. Because it's privately-owned, the ruins are not always open to the public—but assuming you can access the site (check Yelp for up-to-date reports), it's an incredible spot to watch the sunset over the Santa Ynez River Canyons.
Great Stone Church, Mission San Juan Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano, California
According to its official website, the ruins of the late 18th-century Great Stone Church at the San Juan Capistrano Mission, lost to fire shortly after their completion, "stand today as a testament to tragedy and the past." But it's not all doom and gloom. Complete with ringing bells, flowing fountains, and blooming gardens, the dreamlike ruins preserve all the romance of colonial Spanish architecture.
Sutro Baths, San Francisco, California
Built in the 1890s, San Francisco's Sutro Baths once contained the world's largest indoor swimming pool. The structure fell into disrepair over the first half of the middle of the 20th century and was, ironically, destroyed by fire in 1966 shortly before it was scheduled to be demolished. Today, the baths and other nearby historic structures are managed by the National Park Service, and are a popular tourist destination.
Did we miss your favorite American ruins? Drop a comment below—we're always hungry for more!