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Oregon Trails

3 Spooky Ghost Town Hikes to Get Your Heart Pounding

Walk through history—and spice up your campfire stories—on these three hikes through abandoned communities.

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Jawbone Flats Opal Creek Wilderness, OR

There was once gold in them hills at Jawbone Flats, a low-elevation forest about 90 miles southeast of Portland. Miners arrived with the Gold Rush, and a commercial mining operation eventually controlled the area through the 1950s. When Jawbone Flats was abandoned, a decades-long ownership battle took place. The nonprofit Opal Creek Ancient Forest Center ultimately won out, locking down a special-use permit to operate and maintain the area as a Scenic Recreation Area in 1996. Visit Jawbone Flats on a 6.2-mile out-and-back along the Opal Creek Trail. Pass through a forest of Douglas fir, cedar, and hemlock en route to Merten Mill, a 1943 relic that’s home to a collapsed work shed, old steam engine, and scattered mining equipment. Continue to Jawbone Flats at mile 3.1, where rusting cars still sit in the parking lot.

Doodletown Bear Mountain State Park, NY

When the Dutch settled in the Hudson Valley in the 1600s, they founded several communities among the hardwood forests. Some 300 years later, only a handful still physically exist, including Doodletown, a mining settlement that was abandoned in the 1960s. Later, it was included within the boundaries of Bear Mountain State Park, making it a great setting for both ghost stories and fall hikes. Take a short walk on the 1777E Trail from the parking area to reach the ghost town, then explore it on a 5-mile loop linking the abandoned Bridle Path and Pleasant Valley Road. Along the way, poke around an old church and late 19th-century homes before circling back through a forest of beech, white ash, and mountain laurel (peak foliage in mid-October).

Rush Buffalo National River, AR

If the name sounds a bit on the nose, it is: During the late 19th century, miners hauled butt to the town of Rush, which offered some of the best real estate to hunt for Ozark gold. Later, the city became the center of the state’s zinc extraction and was home to 10 separate companies operating 13 mines. But after World War I, declining zinc prices led to the end of Rush’s industry, and the town was abandoned. Now part of Buffalo National River, Rush is accessible via a 3-mile out-and-back. To do it, start along the Morning Star Interpretive Loop, which passes remnants from a 1920s mill of the same name. Near mile .2, peel east onto the Mine Level Trail, paralleling Rush Creek past former mining sites. (The ruins are fenced off for safety.) Turn around at the small gravel bar at Rush Landing.

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