Washington State is filled with ghost towns. Who knew? But if you think about it, it makes sense: The terminus of the Northern Pacific Railroad was in Tacoma, and along with it came railroad workers, gold rushers, and others seeking their fortune in the West. Many of these people set up towns, settlements, or businesses that served their purpose during the times but were abandoned when the winds shifted or fortunes went bust. Many ghost towns are nothing more than a few foundations or a mine shaft, but others still have buildings or even artifacts scattered around to tell the story of another time. Here are nine to explore if you're feeling adventurous.
Located just south of Carbonado on Highway 165 on the outskirts of Mt. Rainier National Park, Melmont was a coal town founded in 1900. The town had a hotel, saloon, butcher shop, store, train depot and houses for the workers, who were employed by the Northwest Improvement Company, a subsidiary of the Northern Pacific Railroad. The houses were self-segregated by the workers and each row was home to a different nationality. While at their peak, the mines here produced four percent of Pierce County’s coal production. The town began its downturn in 1918 when the railroad switched from steam to diesel and electric power, and the final blow came in the 1920s when most of the town was destroyed in a fire. However, you can still spot some building remains and foundations here. The Melmont Ghost Town Hike trailhead is marked on Google maps.
Coal Creek Trail
Where a lot of ghost towns require you get to get off the beaten path, Coal Creek earns a spot on this list for its easy access and easy trails suitable for most ages. The trailhead is located off of Exit 10 on I-405 near the Cougar Mountain Regional Wildland Park. Many trails in this list—Rainbow Town Trail, Bagley Seam Trail, and the Coal Creek Trail—all have signs of the coal industry that boomed in this area. Look for the remains of a former hotel, old railway beds, and a sealed mine shaft on Coal Creek Trail. You can spot a coal seam along the Bagley Seam Trail, too.
Monte Cristo is one of the better-known ghost towns in Washington state, both for its cool name and the equally cool artifacts left behind, including a couple of full-color vintage signs welcoming you to the town. A mining boom drove the founding of the village in the 1890s, but by 1907, Monte Cristo couldn’t survive due to funding issues and less mining potential that anyone had hoped. Today, there are the welcome signs, and some boarded-up buildings, as well as rusty signs and equipment left to explore. Get to the trail to reach Monte Cristo via Barlow Pass off of Mountain Loop Highway, but note that it is not especially child-friendly since there’s a rickety bridge crossing a river.
Like Govan, Sherman boomed during a time when homesteading was also booming, and lost its population when roads made getting to bigger population centers easier. The town is only 15 miles from Govan so it makes a great two-for-one ghost town jaunt. Structures left today include a church, a cemetery, and the remains of a schoolhouse. Sherman is also off of Highway 2, but farther northeast than Govan.
Govan, named for an employee of the Central Washington Railway, was founded in about 1890 in Lincoln County. The town was a hub for ranchers and farmers in the area but lost its prominence when Highway 2 bypassed it and locals were able to get to larger cities for supplies more easily. Today, Govan is one of the coolest ghost towns around, thanks to its abundance of intact buildings, which include a schoolhouse, a post office, grain silos and elevators, and other signs of the town’s wheat-growing past. Govan is located off of Highway 2 just south of Grand Coulee Dam.
Bodie is more of a drive from any city than many ghost towns on this list, but if what you seek is more than a single building or two, then it’s worth the drive. Bodie was founded as a mining town in the late 1880s and named for nearby Bodie Creek. Bodie boomed when gold was discovered in the area and stuck around for a good long while. The mines were owned by Bodie Mining Company, which was backed by the Wrigley brothers (think Wrigley gum), and operated until about 1917. Today, visitors will find several structures on both sides of Toroda Creek Road, but the real treat is how well preserved the buildings are, down to possessions left inside the premises by former residents. To get there, go north from Wauconda on Toroda Creek Road for about 15 miles.
Chesaw was named for a Chinese miner named Chee Saw, who settled in the area, married a Native American woman, and opened a store where miners in the area purchased their supplies. The town boomed when placer gold was found in the area, but the boom was relatively short-lived. After that, the town became a logging community with a few hundred residents, complete with a three-story hotel, a blacksmith shop, saloons and more. Today, visitors will find a fraction of what once was, but remaining structures include a false-front building as well as other buildings still in use as a tavern and shop for drivers passing through. This town of about 10 residents is about 25 miles east out of Oroville.
Most of what’s left of Nighthawk was built in about 1903, and those include a hotel, a brothel, and former mine-related structures. However, Nighthawk is much older than 1903 and was one of the earlier mined areas, starting in the 1860s when Washington was still a territory. While the population is now fewer than 10 people, there were an estimated 3,000 miners in the area in the 1860s. Most of the mining towns in Washington shut down after a boom, but Nighthawk’s Kaaba Texas mine continued producing until 1951! Nighthawk is about a half-hour west out of Oroville on Loomis-Oroville Road.
Molson was founded in 1900 by George B. Meacham and John W. Molson and grew quickly to a population of 300. Original buildings included three general stores, saloons, a blacksmith and a hotel. While the mining boom that created the town ended in 1901, the era of homesteading followed on its heels but the town’s population still declined. Today, the town is preserved as an open air museum, which means it’s much more complete than many other ghost towns. Explore the old schoolhouse and an array of original structures. Molson is located way up near the Canadian border about a half hour northwest of Chesaw.