10 Destinations to Get Your Autumn Chills and Thrills
Thanks in part to the 19th Century gold rush, the rail industry and logging, Washington has a number of ghost towns, abandoned communities and camps that are worth visiting. These are places where dreams died, fortunes were lost and time has passed over.
Whether it’s buildings slowly falling on the prairies of eastern Washington, old towns hidden deep in the forests of the Cascades or abandoned barracks lining the beaches of Puget Sound, spooky adventures easily can be had around the Evergreen State.
Check out our picks of 10 desolate places that you can drive or hike to explore. Remember entering some of these buildings may be considered trespassing.
Just south of the Grand Coulee Dam and moments off Highway 2, the mostly abandoned town of Govan rests, nearly silent. With a population of just three residents in 2019, this was once a farming hub and a stop on the Central Washington Railway in 1889.
Govan early on sported a higher population that once reached more than 100 but struggled to recover after a fire ravaged the town in 1927. By 1933, Highway 2’s bypass of the town solidified its fate. The town’s post office and final business closed in 1967.
Today, the town is still an important grain shipping terminal for area farms, as locally grown barley is loaded directly to rail cars for shipment. Those who do visit this town will enjoy seeing the dilapidated old schoolhouse, which was open for 37 years. The steeple has now toppled over, a precursor to the fate of the town’s remaining abandoned structures.
Hoping for a sighting of the ghosts of Govan? Many murders occurred in this tiny town, but one stands out. The axe murder of Judge J.A. Lewis and his wife, Penelope, in their home in 1902 was called the “most brutal crime ever committed in this county” by a local newspaper.
Tip: Did you know you can save on local hotels with your AAA membership? Find member deals here.
If you blink, you may just miss the ghost town of Bodie. Located a dozen miles north of the “town” of Wauconda on Highway 20, the old mining town of Bodie is a classic ghost town in Washington.
The town had a short history, removing gold from the nearby hills and operating as a mining spot in the late 1800s through the early 1900s. A few wooden buildings remain on both sides of the road, but there is no access to the structures, because they are located on private property and entering the property or buildings is considered trespassing.
East of Oroville in the Okanogan, just a mile from Canada, Molson is one of the ghost towns in Washington that you still can explore. Unlike Bodie and Govan, Molson still looks like a small western town, complete with the architecture one expects to see from a town founded in 1898.
Molson, funded by the same Molson family famous for beer, was a mining boom town, boasting an estimated population of 300 in 1900, complete with stores, a saloon, a hotel and a few other buildings. In 1905, a Great Northern Railroad route passed through Molson, but the stop in town was discontinued in 1935 when the mining in the region was exhausted. Today, you can explore the town as part of an outdoor museum that has been in operation since the 1960s.
West of Oroville and almost as close to Canada as Molson, the ghost town of Nighthawk awaits your adventure. One of the oldest mining areas in Washington, with mining claims dating back to the 1860s, many of Nighthawk’s abandoned buildings, including the hotel, mine buildings and the brothel, still rest in a picturesque valley.
Rumor has it that the town once housed thousands of miners. The town’s post office closed in 1970, and now the town has only a few residents. Those who make the trip to the old town, which now rests on private property, can see the structures from the west side of the river.
The Triangle of Fire
Few abandoned spots in Washington are as easy to explore as the three forts (Fort Flagler, Fort Casey and Fort Worden)that make up the Triangle of Fire, which was built to protect the region’s shipping lanes more than 100 years ago. Set around the northern entrance to Puget Sound, the three forts near the towns of Coupeville and Port Townsend can be explored any time of year.
Fort Casey is found near Coupeville and is the only fort of the three found on the eastern side of the Sound. A ferry ride away, Fort Worden is in Port Townsend, while Fort Flagler is south of Fort Worden. When visiting, you can walk on and inside the old battery buildings, which is an incredible experience for all ages. After wandering the dark, dank buildings, explore beaches and take in the sights of the majesty of the region. Each of the three forts is a state park and require a Discover Pass to visit.
If you would rather walk into abandoned towns, there are five spots that will show you what life was like before places were accessed by paved roads and highways. The first is the most well-known ghost town trail in Washington. The ghost town of Monte Cristo is a classic hike off the Mountain Loop Highway in the North Cascades, reached by an 8-mile round-trip trail. The town was founded in the 1890s, with dozens of silver ore-mining claims nearby; but just 20 years later, the townsfolk had given up and left. Today, the remnants of the town still remain, giving a glimpse of what could have been.
Tip: AAA Washington members save up to 15% on hotels and motels across Washington and around the world. Find a great deal here.
Iron Goat Trail
Near Skykomish, just off Highway 2, one can walk or bike along the historic Great Northern Railroad route through the North Cascades. Built in 1893, the railway helped open the Puget Sound and at the time was considered one the best engineered of the transcontinental railways. Today, the 6-mile trail is a great way to get to know the rugged terrain that was leveled to accommodate train travel. What makes this great is that from the Martin Creek trailhead, you’ll find 3 miles of ADA-accessible trail.
Farther south, near the town of Carbonado by Mount Rainier National Park, you’ll find the 3.9-mile round-trip trail to the old town of Melmont. Once a company coal town established in 1900, Melmont lasted a few decades. The town had a turbulent history. On Christmas Eve in 1905, an upset miner placed and exploded dynamite under the foreman’s house. The occupants were unharmed. By 1920, the mines were closed and the elements (rain, snow and fires) destroyed most of the town.
On the eastern side of Mount Rainier, the ghost town of Copper City is in the forest between the mountain and Yakima. The trail to the remains of Copper City can be reached after driving along a rough dirt road. What was once a promising mining area petered out, Today, nothing more than the foundation of the mill and the collapsed remains of the bunkhouse remains. Those wanting more of an adventure can hike higher up to a few abandoned mines.
Tip: If you’re planning on camping, why not do it in style? Leave the car at home and rent a Cabana camper van. AAA Washington members receive a 20% discount on rentals.
Those looking for spooky settings will enjoy hiking to the remains of the old Northern State Mental Hospital (pictured). In 1912, Northern State was opened to alleviate crowding at nearby Western State Hospital. Northern State was in operation until 1976, when the state cut off funding.
Today, the buildings of this hospital are off limits to the public, but the grounds can be wandered along the 5-mile trail at the Northern State Recreation Area near Sedro-Woolley. Those hoping to up the scare factor can wander the cemetery where more than 1,000 people lay at rest.
–Written by Douglas Scott, last updated in October 2022.
Road Trip Tips
Before you go: Get ready for your road trip with a AAA Membership. Get peace-of-mind on the road plus travel and insurance services and much more.
Save on hotels and rental cars: Unlock savings on hotels with a AAA membership. Plus, AAA members save up to 20% with Hertz.
Save on car insurance: AAA members save up to 8% on car insurance.
Get battery service: AAA Mobile Battery Service uses state-of-the-art technology to accurately diagnose battery-related problems. We’ll even replace your battery with a brand-new one if necessary, at a special member price.
Save with AAA member discounts: AAA membership gives you access to exclusive entertainment discounts nationwide.