The Ghost Town of Monte Cristo

The Ghost Town of Monte Cristo

By: Shelby April 7, 2015 8:18 pm 3 comments

Hoppy Easter! This weekend, we weren’t completely swamped with life or wedding to-dos, so we took advantage of the amazing spring weather and went on a beautiful hike to a wonderful, historical piece of the Cascades. For a whole slew of reasons, this was our first hike since February, so we wanted it to pack a punch but also not be extremely difficult for our soft hiking muscles. There was a post on my favorite Facebook hiking group stating that the Monte Cristo area, which is an old ghost town in the North Cascades, was going to be closed to the public for an indefinite period of time for EPA clean up. This hike has been on my list for a long time, and I had actually thought it had been closed down for a while and had given up hope on doing it anytime soon. However, when I saw this post, I jumped at the chance to see the area before this supposed cleanup happened. What were they going to clean up? Were they going to remove the historical artifacts from the area? Nobody knows what’s really going to happen to the area, so we figured this was our last chance to see it as it stands and has stood for a long time. As of now, it officially closes down on the 15th, so it was now or never for this weekend.

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We jumped out of bed around 9 and were on the road before 10. I always love driving down the Mountain Loop Highway, dreaming of owning one of the cabins that populate the road, and finding new trails I want to explore in the future. The Monte Cristo trailhead is 31 miles down the road from Granite Falls. It took us about an hour and a half to get to the unmarked trailhead from Seattle. Thanks to Google Maps and WTA for getting us there. The trail is really just a long-closed road that’s gated shut and marked with signs saying to proceed at your own risk. It goes 4 miles, straight into the mountains, and is an easy amble all the way into the ruins of the 19th-century mining town.

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We set off down the trail and found the board at the trailhead to be completely empty, save for a notice saying something to the effect of “this area is being shut down in the near future, so all the interpretive signs are gone now.” Cool. Not like having a well-marked trail is helpful or anything. We instantly regretted not having a map with us (I know, I know, always have the Ten Essentials…), but our cached WTA page told us the trail just kept straight along the road all the way to the town. Ok, that’s easy enough. There were couple small trails that branched off from the road, with obvious missing signs, but we kept on down the road. Eventually we came to another distinctive trailhead bulletin board, this one for Weden Creek / Gothic Basin. The road appeared to drop off completely, but this other trail continued on in a different direction. Was this the old road or a bypass around it? There was a comment on the bulletin board that made it seem that Monte Cristo was placed along the Gothic Basin trail. There was a large log that crossed the river but we couldn’t tell if the road continued on that way. After a few minutes of poking around and judging which was the best direction to go, we headed up the Weden Creek trail. We hiked maybe a quarter of a mile and then ran into a couple with their dog, asking if we were looking for Monte Cristo too. Spooky. Apparently we were the first people they had come across since they left the trailhead, and they were the first people we had come across on this strangely lonely trail. Eventually we decided to turn around and cross the log to see if the road continued on that way.

I hate log crossings more than most things. Sure, the log was almost as wide as most trails are, but most trails aren’t slippery and round and placed over freezing creeks. Despite my grand fear of logs, we all easily crossed over and were hiking along the straight trail together. It was interesting talking to them, because they knew a lot of the history of the area and had been there themselves back before the road washed out. We learned that Monte Cristo was supposed to be the next Big Thing on the West Coast; a lot of people had come out to this isolated to mine in what was thought to be the best lead and silver district in the whole of the Western Hemisphere. John D. Rockefeller himself even got involved in the operation. But after less than two decades, it was determined that, though rich on the surface, the mineral deposits didn’t continue very deep at all, and the boom turned to bust. The rough winters and floods wreaked havoc on the town, and all mining ceased in 1907. The town tried to hold on for a few more decades, but in 1983, the last remaining business, a lodge, burned down, and the road had washed out. Now all that’s left of Monte Cristo are mining equipment, rail ruins, and decaying cabins.

Our bridge across the River

Our bridge across the River

bridge to nowhere

bridge to nowhere

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We finally arrived to the town with our new hiking partners, and they told us of how the last time they visited, they were able to drive right up to the town and park “right over there.” The old signs are there to greet you to town, as well as a map of the area put up by the Monte Cristo Preservation Association. There’s not a whole lot left in town, but there is still enough to wander around and look at for quite a while. Boarded up cabins, the still-functioning railway turntable, mining artifacts strewn across the grass. It’s also the perfect spot for a picnic, with lots of logs and picnic tables to choose from. There were probably 20-30 people wandering around the buildings, but it never felt crowded.

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Rail turntable that still turns

Rail turntable that still turns

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There are more trails that keep going on up into the mountains to exotic locations in the Henry M. Jackson Wilderness such as Silver Lake, Twin Lakes, and the intriguingly named Poodle Dog Pass. I was tempted to continue on up to the next destination, but my tired feet led me back to the sunny picnic table to eat trail mix and beef jerky.

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After basking in the sunshine in the glorious valley for a few more minutes, we bid our new friends adieu and headed back down the trail to the car. It was a long hike back, and by the time we got to the log crossing we decided maybe it was time to treat ourselves to new pairs of boots. However, we had a fantastic time visiting the legendary town of Monte Cristo, and hope that the cleanup doesn’t take too long so we can get back out there and keep exploring. In the end, we hiked almost exactly 10 miles in total, in just over 3.5 hours. Not too shabby for our first outing in a while.

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Almost home

Almost home

Northwest Forest Pass required

Driving directions: From Granite Falls, follow the Mountain Loop Highway 31 miles and park at the Barlow Pass trailhead. The Monte Cristo trailhead is right across the road, beyond the gate.

3 Comments

  • Jeanne Pascal

    What a lovely commentary, and fabulous photos. Thanks for your hikelog and narrative. I feel as if I have been there. Be safe on your future adventures.

    Jeanne 🙂

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