Every good road trip in America includes at least one stop in a ghost town. The ghost towns of the Old West are often shrouded in mystery and can be eerie or even spooky when visited at night or on foggy days. Each town has a remarkable story to tell. Most of the ghost towns rose up during the Gold Rush when people ventured out West. With the depletion of the gold supply, and with it the dreams of fortune, these places were left to their own devices.
In Oregon, however, there is a town that is an exception to that narrative. Shaniko has a completely different story and I will tell you about it in a moment. In the meantime, add it as a stop on your itinerary if you are planning a trip to the Northwest!
Location and Directions
Shaniko is a ghost town located in north-central Oregon, at the junction of US-97 and OR-218, a 200-mile drive from Portland that takes 2.5 hours. If you want to take a longer loop, the town’s location is suitable for an intermediate stop between Portland and the Painted Hills, one of Oregon’s wonders (alternatively, you can forgo Shaniko and explore the fascinating Central Oregon region instead). Coming from Portland along US-197, you will pass by the incredibly beautiful Columbia River Gorge Scenic Area. A detour to scenic Mount Hood could also be arranged.
From US-197 you will take a left turn onto US-97 to reach Shaniko, or, for a wilder route on a back road, you can get off US-197 at Maupin, where you can take Bakeoven Road to our destination. To continue the suggested route, from Shaniko one can then go on OR-218 in the direction of the Painted Hills. Here is the exact location of Shaniko Ghost Town.
The History of Shaniko
In 1879, a post office was opened at this road junction named Cross Hollow. It was the first building constructed here, but it lasted less than a decade. By 1887 it was closed and was not replaced until 1900 by a new post office called Shaniko. At the turn of the last century, the town was primarily a transit hub for the Columbia Southern Railway, and in the first decade of the twentieth century, it was known as a major wool and grain sorting center.
It had the largest wool warehouse in the state and in 1903 earned the nickname “Wool Capital of the World.” That same year, more than 2,000 tons of wool left Shaniko, worth about $3 million. The following year its sales reached $5 million and grew over the next few years.
Shaniko’s fate was dramatically changed in 1911, when the Oregon-Washington Railroad and Navigation Company opened a route between Portland and Bend through the Deschutes River Canyon. The new line diverted commercial traffic and gradually the Shaniko line became less traveled. In the early 1930s passenger trains were suspended, and in 1966 the line was closed for good. In the 1980s, there was an unsuccessful attempt to restore the Shaniko Hotel, and in 2000, a businessman bought the hotel and other buildings, attempting to create a tourist spot.
The idea collapsed in 2008 when the state of Oregon did not grant an easement for a well to provide water for the hotel and restaurant. After the hotel, bar, and store closed, Shaniko’s decline was apparent, and eventually, it became a ghost town. However, some tourist activities still persist, particularly in the summer months.
Things to See in Shaniko Ghost Town
There are only a few buildings still standing, but enough to give Shaniko a certain charm. First, there is the old post office, a symbolic building in Shaniko, and the school dating back to 1901 stands out thanks to its front turret. Its three former classrooms now house a toy museum. Then there is the water tower, made entirely of wood, which held nearly 38,000 gallons of water that were pumped from nearby Cross Hollow Canyon and transported here via wooden pipes.
You will definitely need to visit the Shaniko Hotel, built in 1900 in the Italianate style with handmade bricks. Originally it was called the Columbia Southern Hotel. In its heyday, this hotel also housed a bank, saloon, dance hall, and social gathering space. In 1979, it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Additionally, you ought to visit the City Hall, complete with a jail that can be visited, as well as a number of abandoned houses that create the perfect ghost town setting.
The few services for tourists operate only from April to September, so if you come here in winter, know that you will find a ghost town in the truest sense of the word. Conversely, in early August, during the annual Shaniko Days, there are some reenactments and the town comes alive.
Where to Stay in the Area
If you include this ghost town in your Oregon itinerary, you will probably need to plan an overnight stay nearby. There are no hotels in the immediate area, but you can easily find somewhere to stay along the road in all directions. If you are going towards Portland, the closest place to lodge is the Balch Hotel in Dufur.
This is a three-star hotel in a mountainous area, so it becomes a great stop if you want to do some good hiking or other activities. In the opposite direction, toward the Painted Hills, the nearest hotel is the River Bend Motel. Located in a town called Spray, it is a very rustic and quaint hotel. You can also check out our tips on where to stay near the Columbia River Gorge or where to stay in Portland.
View a map of all accommodations in the area