Our Hiking Time: 2h
Total Ascent: 100ft
Highest Point: 1360ft
Total Distance: 2.5 miles
Location: N 47° 1.8360, W 122° 1.9980
Required Permit: None
As we continue hiking Washington’s mountains and forests, we often find ourselves running into pieces of the past. The state is riddled with crumbling buildings, abandoned towns, and former railroad hubs. Recently, we decided adding a few more ghost towns to the blog would be fun and so we packed up and headed out to the town of Melmont to see what we could find.
Melmont was founded in 1900 around the Melmont Coal Mine, producing coal exclusively for the Northern Pacific Railway. For a few years, the small town boomed, boasting a train depot, hotel, post office and schoolhouse. Although the mine yielded upwards of 750 tons of coal per day, when the railroad shifted away from coal-driven trains to more modern diesel models, the town crumbled. By 1915 the post office was shuttered, and by 1920 the mines were largely closed. A forest fire cleared out all but a few cement foundations around the same time. In 1921, the Fairfax Bridge opened above the Carbon River, bypassing Melmont’s railroad bridge and connecting Fairfax to the state highway system. When it opened, the Fairfax Bridge was the tallest in Washington, and it was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.
The trail begins on the north side of the bridge with a short scramble down to the Northern Pacific’s railroad grade. From here, Melmont is an easy one-mile stroll upstream, following a wide path under mossy alders and young hemlock. However, because ATV traffic churns up a lot of earth, during the wetter months a thick layer of mud can cover the trail. Although the mud can be a little messy, it is not so bad that it will make your hike more difficult.
Shortly after you leave the bridge behind, you’ll pass a large rock retaining wall followed quickly by a structure most refer to as the “Dynamite Shack.” As you push onward, the trail splits just above an open field that was once the residential area of town. Heading uphill will lead to the crumbling foundation of one of Melmont’s schoolhouses, while pushing onward will lead to the site of the hotel and the remains of Melmont’s bridge. Either way you choose, enjoy wandering the area and finding traces of the 100-year-old town.
If you’re looking for a short stroll through Washington’s history, Melmont is a good choice. Other than the short drop down to the railroad grade, which could be tricky for some very young hikers, the trip out to the town site is very easy. At the same time, there is not much in the way of serious hiking. You can extend your hike a bit to push down to the river, but other than that, we are not sure there is much more to see. We recommend this hike for those interested in ghost towns or those looking for a quick winter adventure.
To get there, take I-5 South to I-405. From I-405 take SR 167 south toward Auburn. In 20 miles take the SR 410 Exit toward Sumner/Yakima. Follow SR 410 for 12 miles to SR 165. Take a right and continue on SR 165 for about 10 miles through Carbonado to the Fairfax Bridge. A small gravel turnout on the far side of the bridge provides parking. Hike back across the bridge and head toward the rock wall. Hop the guardrail to find a rough path down to the railroad grade. -Nathan
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