Stone cabins at Temple Mountain, San Rafael Swell, Utah.

Temple Mountain Ghost Town Ruins (San Rafael Swell, UT)

Temple Mountain is a point of interest in the southeastern section of the San Rafael Swell, a vast geologic feature in east-central Utah. Aside from being the highest point in this pocket of the Swell and a popular destination for off-road explorers, mountain bikers, and rock climbers, the iconic mountain has an interesting mining history. Unlike many other abandoned uranium mines scattered throughout the San Rafael Swell, the cluster at Temple Mountain is easily accessible. Stop by for scenic views if you’re headed to the San Rafael Swell or visiting the nearby Goblin Valley State Park, and see a few remaining ruins from the mining era!

Dog-friendly: Yes
Fee: No

Kids standing in front of a sealed abandoned uranium mine; stone structures in a Utah ghost town; rusted our old car in the desert of the San Rafael Swell. Text overlay - Temple Mountain Ghost Town, San Rafael Swell, Utah.

Temple Mountain mining history

First claims were staked at Temple Mountain as early as 1898, but mining here didn’t pick up until nearly two decades later when it became easier to extract radium from the uranium ore.

There were two mining booms here in this section of the San Rafael Swell – first minor one between 1914 and 1920, followed by a more significant mining operation that lasted from 1948 to 1956.

A sealed off uranium mine at Temple Mountain, San Rafael Swell, Utah.
A sealed entrance to one of the abandoned uranium mines at the Temple Mountain mining district (San Rafael Swell, Utah)

Temple Mountain ghost town: old mines and ruins

Good to know: the Temple Mountain ghost town is adjacent to a free dispersed camping area with jaw-dropping views + pit toilets(!). Other than that, dispersed camping is permitted throughout the San Rafael Swell, so feel free to find your own spot to camp. (Scroll down for more things to do in the area.)

Many of the old mine entrances are immediately visible along the upper section of the mountain. Most (if not all) of the abandoned mines here at Temple Mountain have been sealed off or securely gated for public safety since uranium mines pose a variety of danger elements besides the risk of physical harm, so don’t make any mine exploration plans for this area. (But also… no monsters coming out at night if you’re camping here. Phew!)

Remnants of several structures left over from the mining era mark the landscape along the base of the mountain just a short walk north of the campground parking lot. A few are clustered in a fenced area.

Temple Mountain Mining District in the San Rafael Swell, Utah - a fenced-in stone structure, and a view of the campground.
This structure was in a semi-decent shape (Temple Mountain ghost town; the campground is in the far back right of the image – see the picnic shelter & a vault toilet?)
Stone cabins at Temple Mountain, San Rafael Swell, Utah.
Stone cabins at Temple Mountain, Utah (with Temple Mountain in the background)

Another stone cabin in a significantly better shape sits closer to the mountain.

Strone structure at the base of Temple Mountain, San Rafael Swell, Utah.
A lone stone structure right at the base of Temple Mountain – standing rock-solid after all these decades…

The ground is littered with all kinds of mining relics – weathered mining equipment, vehicle remains, shattered glass bottles and rusted out old tin cans.

A car buried in a wash with cabin ruins and Temple Mountain in the background.
An old truck half buried in a wash

You can find more interesting debris from the mining era in the old dump sites scattered around the area. Among the rubble we recognized an old ink pen, a rubber comb, and a bunch of other discernible personal items. Gross, you say? The husband nods in agreement, and I could care less. #history

Mining artifacts at the Temple Mountain Mining District, San Rafael Swell, Utah.
A vintage 7 UP drink : “Seven Up – The Fresh Up Drink… You like it, it likes you!”

If you have time you can traverse various parts of the mountain using the many ATV trails that crisscross Temple Mountain and its base, many of which are the original mining roads. We have only poked around a little, but a quick glance over Google maps in satellite view reveals several structural remains atop Temple Mountain if you zoom in close enough.

Old rusted car in the desert; abandoned stone cabins in a ghost town in Utah; standing inside a crumbling stone cabin left over from the uranium mining era in the San Rafael Swell. Text overlay - Mining ruins near Goblin Valley State Park, Utah.

Temple Mountain & Madame Curie

Show of hands – who remembers learning about Madame Marie Curie at school?

The Polish-born French physicist that had isolated radium from the uranium ore and became famous for her research in the radioactive substances?

The first woman ever to win the Nobel Prize?

Madame Marie Curie working in her lab.
Madame Marie Curie [Source: Wikimedia Commons]

It turns out that some of the uranium ore mined at Temple Mountain was sent to France to none other than Madame Curie for her research. Supposedly she had an eye for the best quality ore, and Temple Mountain fit the bill.

Rumor has it (and some historic sources indicate) that Madame Curie visited Temple Mountain during the initial mining boom to see where uranium ore of such high quality was coming from. During that visit she is said to have stayed in one of the stone cabins that are now part of the fenced-in complex.

A stone cabin at Temple Mountain in the San Rafael Swell.
The cabin where Madame Marie Curie is rumored to have stayed during her visit to Utah’s Temple Mountain

I’m no hardcore science geek, but the idea of Madame Curie once pacing around the very same grounds is pretty freaking rad!

Inside an old cabin ruins at the Temple Mountain Mining District, Utah.
Inside the aforementioned stone cabin (or what’s left of it…).

Things to do nearby:

(listed by distance from this Utah ghost town)

Know before you go:

  • Basics

Pit toilets on site. NO trash collection. NO water. This is public land, looked over by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Dispersed camping is allowed; details for FREE camping at Temple Mountain here. The area is dog-friendly, but keep an eye on broken glass on the ground that could injure your dog.

  • Safety

Uranium is a radioactive element. The highest potential for radiation exposure from abandoned uranium mines would be inside the mines due to radon gas, a radioactive decay product of uranium. For your safety, don’t enter any mines you come across that haven’t been gated or sealed shut. Don’t poke around any waste-rock piles if you do happen to find some in the more remote parts of Temple Mountain or elsewhere in the San Rafael Swell as they could contain radioactive nuclides, albeit in low levels. Wash hands before eating after handling any artifacts found in and near abandoned uranium mines.

  • Access

The Temple Mountain ghost town is easily accessible from Utah Highway 24. From the junction with UT-24 it’s only 7 miles to the parking lot. The last few miles are on a graded dirt road that’s in a good shape and suitable for most vehicles, including RVs. Occasional flash flooding can sweep over the road and make access difficult or impossible.

  • Directions

Follow Temple Mountain Road from Hwy 24 (roughly halfway between I-70 and Hanksville, Utah) towards Goblin Valley State Park. Approx. 5 miles later, continue straight ahead past the turnoff (left) to the state park for 2 more miles until you see a large parking lot on the right-hand side.

A stone cabin ruins in the desert; kids standing in front of an old abandoned mine. Text overlay - Temple Mountain mining ruins, San Rafael Swell, Utah.
Stone cabins in a Utah ghost town; rusted out old car in the desert. Text overlay - Utah ghost town with free dispersed camping.

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