Location: Mountain Loop Highway near Granite Falls
Land Agency: Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest
Roundtrip: 8.0 miles
High Point: 2,800 feet
Elevation gain: 500 feet
Green Trails Maps: Sloan Peak, WA- No. 111; Monte Cristo, WA- No. 143
Contact: Darrington Ranger District: Mount Baker Snoqualmie National Forest
Notes: Northwest Forest Pass required.
Trail and town site closes on April 15th 2015 and will be closed until at least through October (probably longer) for the CERCLA (Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act) Clean up . Consult with ranger on area’s status.
Access: From Granite Falls, follow the Mountain Loop Highway east for 31 miles to Barlow Pass and trailhead. Hike begins on gated Monte Cristo Road
Good to know: Dog-friendly, historic. Open to mountain bikes
Long deserted, this old mining town in the heart of the Mountain Loop Highway region still has plenty of relics (and perhaps a few spirits) attesting to its fascinating past. Located in a region of lofty rugged peaks, deep valleys, and dark forests, Monte Cristo once thrived with hardscrabble fortune seekers. Today only a half dozen structures remain of what was once a booming gold and silver mining town of nearly 2,000. Five hotels, a school, store, rows of homes, and a huge concentrator lined the streets of this now deserted locale. Ore was transported to the town down from the steep surrounding peaks via tramways. It was then sent to Everett by rail.
And while Monte Cristo was the result of perhaps the biggest gold rush in the Cascades, like all rushes it was short lived. By the 1930s the town was abandoned and rapidly decaying. A county road connected the town site to the outside world in the 1940s and several attempts were made to convert a couple of the old hotels into mountain resorts. But these ultimately failed and by 1980, a flood destroyed sections of the road and the county abandoned it.
In 1983 the Monte Cristo Preservation Association (MCPA) was formed to help preserve and protect the town’s remaining structures and relics. The association also restored the road, but only members and property owners are allowed to drive it. It’s open to hikers and bicyclists though. From Barlow Pass on the Mountain Loop Highway follow the Monte Cristo Road south along the South Fork of the Sauk River. Take a bypass around a huge washout before coming to the river in one mile. The bridges are still in place, but the river jumped its channel rendering them less than fully adequate. You may need to ford a channel (safe in low water—dangerous during periods of heavy rain and snow melt) or search for a log crossing (one is currently in place). Then continue for another 3.0 miles enjoying excellent river and mountain viewing along the way. Look for an exposed section of the historic rail line. After passing a campground, cross the river once more, this time on a good bridge and enter the site of the once booming town.
Enjoy snooping around but respect private property. Many of Monte Cristo’s structures are privately owned and there are still active claims in the valley. Respect too all the remaining relics, leaving them for others to enjoy. After the Forest Service conducts its $11 million clean up of contaminated tailings, the area will once again be open for exploration. But in the meanwhile—you better hike here soon as this area will be off limits to all visitors starting April 15th.
For information on lodging and other attractions near Monte Cristo visit www.snohomish.org
For more information on hiking in Monte Cristo and around the Mountain Loop Highway, consult my Day Hiking North Cascades book.
For a pre- or post-hike snack and great conversation stop in at the historic Green Gables General Store, now under new management!
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