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Ghost-Town Hikes for Families in Western Washington

Into the wild and back in time on kid-friendly history hikes near Seattle

Maegen Blue
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Published on: July 02, 2020

Monte Cristo townsite old building
Photo:
Monte Cristo townsite. Credit: Sean Munson/Flickr CC

Take the kids on an adventure

Editor's note: This article was first published several years ago. It mentions facilities, museums and restaurants that may be closed due to the current pandemic. Double-check open status before you head out and please stay safe recreating outdoors.

The day had started out warm and sunny, but just as we’d reached the trailhead clouds had rolled in, and now we found ourselves under a steady rain as we tried to navigate an overgrown path thick with mud. I tried to sound confident for my two grumbling children, but the truth was I wasn’t sure where we were.  I was about to suggest to my husband that we turn back when I heard my 11-year-old gasp.

“What?” I asked.

“There,” he said, pointing to an old stone marker just peeking out of a thicket of undergrowth.

“Mom,” he said, “This one is for a little kid.”  We had found Franklin Cemetery and a real-life history lesson on the hardships of life in the 1800s.

My family's first ghost town hike was inspired by my desire for a walk that would feel like an adventure without requiring us to trek too far from home. We’ve been hooked on these hikes that take us out in the wild and back in time ever since. 

Ghost town hiking tips

The term "ghost town" generally refers to a town abandoned by its residents, usually after the boom and bust of the local economy. In Western Washington, most ghost towns were once at the center of an active coal mining industry, which boomed during the late 1800s and early 1900s and collapsed almost as quickly with the rise of petroleum, gas and hydroelectric power. 

Today, it’s possible to find the remains of some of these towns, but there are a few things to know before you go:

  • Although some of the outings described here are more walks than hikes, it’s still a good idea to carry the 10 essentials, and review safety tips info for hiking with kids.
  • The ground in these areas is soft, and we have found thick mud on these outings, almost year round, so dress appropriately.
  • Be cautious and respectful. All the mine shafts described in this article have been sealed. But still be cautious around old structures and relics. If you’re lucky enough to find a real piece of history, leave it for others to enjoy.
  • While the Coal Creek trail and the trails on Cougar Mountain are easy enough for hikers of all ages, the other hikes described are more challenging and will be of most interest to children old enough to appreciate (at least a bit) their historical significance.

Use the arrows above the image to check out the ghost-town hikes.

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