Oregon is home to more ghost towns than any other state

Peter Watson

It's claimed that Oregon is home to more ghost towns than any state. I've picked out some of the best abandoned communities in the Beaver State.

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Oregon is home to a scores of ghost townsMichael 1123/Shutterstock

The ghost towns you see dotting the landscape of Oregon were once thriving communities, filled with people who followed their dreams here.

Now they remain as a window to another time, full of places to ponder and history to discover. Fuel up, bring extra snacks, a paper map and plenty of good road trip music when you head out to explore these remote areas.

Outstanding ghost towns in Oregon

Oregon’s frontier history is a series of booms and busts and it’s even claimed the state has more ghost towns than any other.

While it’s practically impossible to prove a statement like that is true, it’s a fact that dozens of once lively and now abandoned communities dot Oregon's geography — specters of America’s restless heart, shadow monuments to the West’s dreamy-eyed ambition.

Here are some of the most outstanding ghost towns in Oregon.

Galena

An 1860s gold mining town about 20 miles north of Prairie City, Galena is a long way from anywhere but it is one gorgeous drive to get there.

The town was first settled in 1865 as a mining community on the Middle Fork John Day River near its confluence with Elk Creek.

The town was initially named Susanville after one of the earliest inhabitants, Susan Ward. The mines were worked intensively throughout the 1860s and were still active until 1940.

In stark contrast to Sumpter, Galena is an "authentically abandoned" ghost town with only a sprinkling of dilapidated buildings and farm homesteads across its eerily deserted meadows and grassland.

Sumpter

Tucked away in the trees and nestled in Oregon’s Elkhorn Mountain Range, lies the historic gold mining town of Sumpter.

Sumpter got its start in the 1860s when three Carolinians settled and started farming.

They called their homestead Fort Sumter, but when gold was found and the valley was overrun with Northern sympathizer miners, the name was changed to Sumpter.

Sumpter is on the Elkhorn Scenic Byway and is surrounded by mountains, rivers, streams, and lakes and offers virtually everyone the opportunity to enjoy many of Nature’s amenities; great fishing, swimming, boating (nearby), camping, gold panning, hunting, snowmobiling, cross country skiing, snowshoeing, backpacking, 4-wheeling, ATV’ing, hiking and exploring.

Shaniko

An early 1900s wool shipping center on US 97, in north-central Oregon’s high grasslands, 36 miles north of Madras, and 58 miles south of Biggs.

It was incorporated in 1901, at which time it had a bank, a couple of blacksmith shops, two-story wooden city hall/fire station/jail, several hotels, two newspapers, a post office, saloons, school, two stores and many other structures. Church services were held in the school building.

Today a handful of people still watch over the old two-story hotel, town hall, livery stables and a strip of wooden buildings.

Buncom

Located 16 miles south of Jacksonville, perhaps Oregon’s best-preserved Wild West town, Buncom is a completely uninhabited, old gold-mining camp that gets flooded with people each May for Buncom Day, a festival created to raise money for its continued preservation.

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Buncom ghost town in Southern OregonLarry Myhre/Flickr

Jawbone Flats

Set amid the Opal Creek Wilderness, the onetime mining town of Jawbone Flats may be ground zero for old-growth forest wanderers, but it is also a fun destination for history buffs, gear heads and anyone who wants to understand Oregon’s twin magnetic pulls of environmentalism and industry.

Abandoned mining equipment and corroding old vehicles rest here, decaying with each passing year.

Hardman

Formed from the merging of towns called Raw Dog and Yellow Dog, Hardman lived hard and died fast as a favorite stopping point for stagecoaches.

But it still has a couple dozen great structures to admire, as well as a kind and welcoming year-round populace of about 20. Sites include an old lodge listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Cornucopia

Some 20 million dollars in gold came from this wild and woolly gold mining town full of shootings, saloons and "sporting" ladies.

Shortly after the gold was found in 1885, 1,000 miners flocked to the town. In 1898 the town relocated a quarter-mile to a new location, and it grew quickly.

The mines faded, the town died, and by the 1970s only empty buildings remained. The town is in the Wallowa National Forest, 12 miles northwest of Halfway.

Cornucopia Lodge offers modern cabins scattered in the woods and a comfortable and cosy lodge with horseback rides into the wilderness or hikes up the tumbling creek to view the mines available. 

Lonerock

A crossroads travel and agricultural center on Lonerock Creek, 15 miles southeast of SH 206, at a point five miles east of Condon.

It was originally settled in 1881, but by the First World War was nearly deserted. The town had a jail, a two-story school and a Methodist-Episcopal Church.

Dufur

Not far away from Boyd is the still-living community of Dufur with a population of 609.

Once the location of the largest dry-land apple orchard in the U.S., Dufur was established in the 1870s and named for a local landowner, Andrew J. Dufur.

The town’s most noticeable building is the grand 1907 Historic Balch Hotel, a nine-room, three-story beauty that’s been completely renovated and makes a great location for weddings, reunions, retreats or quiet getaways.

A tour of Dufur visits the Schreiber House, a two-story, hand-hewn log cabin located at the Dufur Historical Society Living History Museum (the cabin was built in 1900 and housed four generations of the Schreiber family).

Also on-site, you’ll find the Endersby School, a charming and simple schoolhouse dating back to 1882 (and originally located in a nearby town of the same name).

Friend

About 12 miles further southwest of Dufur, you’ll find the remains of the town of Friend.

Named for homesteader George J. Friend, the town once served local farmers, sheepherders and loggers as the end of the line for the Great Southern Railroad that ran north through Dufur to The Dalles.

You’ll find the old general store still standing, its empty windows looking out on what was once a bustling street.

The town’s 1909 one-room schoolhouse remains in use as a community center (in recent years it housed the Schoolhouse Rock Festival). About one half-mile from there, the Friend Cemetery lies partly concealed in a grove of trees.

Among the headstones is the grave of the town founder as well as many other homesteaders.

On your way home out of Central Oregon ghost town country, stop in at Dufur’s Pastime Saloon to toast the spirits and the living who lived out their dreams in Central Oregon.

Boyd

Not far off the I-84 is the town of Boyd, just 12 miles southeast of The Dalles.

Boyd was founded in 1870 on the banks of Fifteen Mile Creek and named for a local miller called T.P. Boyd.

The remnants of his 1883 wooden granary still tower above the creek.

Visit on a late fall day and listen to the gurgle of the water and the song of hidden birds among the cottonwoods trees.

Try to imagine this place as the bustling millworks that disappeared in the 1930s when the tracks of the Great Southern Railroad were pulled up.

Golden

Founded as a mining camp on Coyote Creek amid the 1840s gold rush, Golden benefits from its strong on-site interpretive signs, a charming 1890s church and an uncommonly picturesque setting – even for ghost towns.

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Golden ghost town in Southern OregonBill Edwards/Flickr

Golden has four remaining buildings that crumble with time, and the entire town is now on the National Register of Historic Places.

Millican

Perhaps Central Oregon’s creepiest ghost town, Millican had a population that sunk to zero after its last inhabitant was murdered in 1988.

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Millican ghost town in Central OregonRichard Bauer/Flickr

Now home to just a handful of people, it has an old gas station and store, and it falls into the category of mid-20th-century ghost towns.

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Peter Watson is a writer, photographer and adventurer. A keen trekker and climber he can usually be found on the trails of the Greater Ranges. He’s visited over 80 countries and is currently focused on climbing the seven summits – the highest mountain on every continent. Four down, three to go... He has also travelled extensively around the US developing a penchant for American backcountry, abandoned buildings and natural wonders en route.

Phoenix, AZ
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