​Five Scariest Places in California's Motherlode

Being a hub of activity since the Gold Rush years, Northern California's Motherlode region has a rich history of human struggles, successes, broken hearts and criminal activity. It is also teaming with preserved structures dating back over 100 years, many of which carry a sordid history and records of hauntings that date back decades. These five locations are infamous for their ghosts. So whether tracing the footsteps of popular paranormal activity TV shows or looking for a paranormal experience of your own, these haunts are guaranteed to leave you spooked:

5. Tuolumne General Hospital
Although not open to the public, Tuolumne General Hospital tends to draw curious ghost hunters who like to take selfies out front in hopes of capturing the image of past patients standing behind them. The hospital opened in 1849 to cater to the illnesses and injuries of gold miners in Sonora and remained an active hospital until the doors were shuttering in 2011, remaining abandoned ever since. Locals (and prior hospital staff) share stories of the frightening and unexplainable activity in the old hospital, prompting the location to be featured on an episode of Ghost Adventures. The documented evidence of paranormal activity was so overwhelming that the show hosts referred to Tuolumne General Hospital as the most paranormal site they have visited.

4. Columbia State Historic Park
This unique state park in Columbia, CA is actually a beautifully preserved Gold Rush era town, complete with original buildings, wood sidewalks, a working blacksmith, authentically costumed employees, horse-drawn vehicles – and the spirits of past residences. In fact, sightings of apparitions are so frequent here that Ghost Tours are offered to show visitors all the locations of the most frequently spotted spooks.

3. The Willow Steakhouse and Seafood Grille
The Willow was originally established in 1862 as a hotel that catered to the many dignitaries and wealthy businessmen that helped transform Jamestown into a thriving township. Rumor has it that it was built on the site of an old gold mine that had collapsed, killing 23 miners who are now believed to haunt the premises. In the decades since, the building has been used as a telegraph, medical office, and stage stop, always plagued by mysterious fires and ghost sightings. Now it's a popular steakhouse where visitors come for the food and stay for the spirited dinner guests.

2. 1859 Historic National Hotel
This nine room bed and breakfast located in Jamestown, CA is home to an unusual mascot: A ghost. Her name is Flo and her story is a tragic one. Legend has it that her beloved fiancé was brutally murdered in the hotel lobby, right in front of her. She died soon after, of a broken heart. Now Flo is such an active resident, each room is equipped with a journal to allow visitors to document their interactions with her. These interactions include lights being turned on and off, the contents of suitcases being thrown around and the sound of a woman sobbing in the hallways. If planning to book a visit, remember that rooms on the second floor are especially prone to ghostly activity.

1. Preston Castle
Originally opening its doors in Ione, CA on June 13, 1894 as the Preston School of Industry, Preston Castle was home to scores of juvenile, homeless and troubled boys with the goal of teaching them useful trades. This was accomplished with a brutal system of discipline and punishment that included starvation, isolation and public lashings. One resident was shot in the back by a guard while attempting to escape and is buried on site along with 16 other young men who had died within the walls of the castle. That wasn't the only murder either. The head housekeeper Anna Corbin was brutally beat to death in the basement of the building, a crime that remains unsolved to this day. Regardless, the school closed its doors in 1960 but continues to see so much paranormal activity that it's been featured on both Ghost Hunters and Ghost Adventures and now offers a monthly overnight ghost tour. There are also special Halloween Haunt tours (and a Halloween Ball) during the month of October.

Ann Milligan lives with her husband and children in California's beautiful Motherlode. She is a Chicken Soup for the Soul author, freelance writer, artist and candycorn connoisseur.