Ghost Towns of the Northwest

by Cheyenne Harding 

Around the Northwest, there are many abandoned, historic towns. Each has a unique story and some even have a small remaining population. Between the historic mining rushes in the Pacific Northwest to the beginnings of modern society, you can take a trip across the entire Northwest to learn about the boom-and-bust history that exists within each ghost town. Here are six sites worth visiting. 

Kennicott, Alaska 

Kennicott is an abandoned copper mining town. Back in the day, it served five high-producing mines. Currently, the National Park Service is rehabilitating the buildings. Learn about the history by taking one of the guided tours and get the opportunity to go inside the buildings.  

Kennicott is located within Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, the largest National Park with over 150 glaciers and four major mountain ranges. There are only two ways to get into Kennicott: a challenging dirt road or by bush plane. In order to take in all the beauty and adventure, stay at the Kennicott Glacier Lodge. While you are there, contact Kennecott Wilderness Guides for a glacier trekking experience on the Root Glacier right next to the ghost town.   

For more information, visit travelalaska.com/Destinations/Cities-Towns/Kennicott-McCarthy 

Sandon, British Columbia 

Sandon, a once booming silver-mining town, is located between the Slocan and Kootenay Lakes in British Columbia. Sandon was one of the first thriving cities in the province. In the late 1800s, the population was approximately 5,000 within city limits, with 2,300 in the mountains surrounding the city. Currently, there is a population of seven.   

Sandon is rich with “Wild West” legacies and tales. On a visit, one can only imagine the city at its peak. Sandon had 29 hotels (28 of which had saloons), several gambling halls, three breweries and a cigar factory. Unlike many other ghost towns, today Sandon has a museum and some preserved buildings—a few visitors have even reported paranormal experiences.   

At the site, there is camping available on a reservation-only basis and tours by appointment.  

After experiencing the ghost town and the surrounding forest, freshen up at The Sentinel Hotel in Kaslo. And stop by the Kootenay Star Mining Museum to discover the tales about the Kootenay/British Columbia mining boom in the late 1800s.   

For more information, go to visitkaslo.com, kootenayrockies.com and sandoninthekootenays.ca 

Govan, Washington  

Located in Eastern Washington, Govan is approximately 25 miles east of Coulee City. The town was created as a railroad hub in 1889 and was known for its large sandbank, a useful resource in railroad construction. At its peak, Govan was home to 76 people. Besides its sandbank and railroad, what put the town on the map? Govan is infamously known for the brutal 1902 axe murder of a local judge and his wife. A few decades after the horrific event, a fire wiped out most of the town.   

While you are on the east side of the Cascades, visit the Smokiam Resort in Soap Lake. Soap Lake is an extremely unique lake as it has more diverse mineral content than any lake on earth. Nearby, there are various trails and caves to explore the distinctive geology of the area.  

For more information visit, tourgrantcounty.com/soap-lake 

Coloma, Montana 

Coloma, better known as Mystery Camp, was a large gold mining site in the late 1800s. That’s about all we know, and locals tend to be mum about the site. Maybe there’s still gold there. Could you be the one to discover the mystery? Off the Garnet Back Country Byway, this is one of the few mining towns where you can still camp where the miners once camped. Everything from mines to railroad tracks to pumping machines is still standing.  

Since you’re going to be on the road, you can stay at another nearby ghost town, Garnet, where you can rent a historic cabin year-round. If you’re looking for an option closer to civilization, stay in Missoula. While in town, hike one of the many trails in the area or take a trip to the local historical museum to check out the artifacts.   

For more information, visit destinationmissoula.org, seeleylakelife.com/coloma-ghost-town.htm and garnetghosttown.org.      

Ghost town etiquette 

  • Do not damage or deface any structures.  
  • Do not enter a site that has a “No Trespassing” sign posted without prior permission.  
  • Do not take anything home.  
  • Pick up obvious trash and follow the ideology of pack in and pack out.