Melmont Ghost Town: remains of the former coal-mining town are a short drive, easy hike away

This is the first in a series of articles about local hikes.

This is the first in a series of articles about local trails, campgrounds, parks, etc. – simply about places to enjoy the outdoors. Ideally, this will encourage folks to get outside, get some exercise and forget that we have been cooped up for months. The focus will be on destinations in our own back yard and all will be of the “day trip” variety. The target audience is the novice or, at least, not a seasoned veteran of the woods. Nothing here will involve summiting Mount Rainier or spending days trekking the Wonderland Trail. If you have a suggestion for a hiking/camping adventure, pass it along. Just email Offer a brief description from your personal experience.

The higher elevations south of Buckley were once home to a series of small-but-booming towns filled with coal miners and their families. Among the more popular destinations – from a hiking perspective – are the historic, abandoned communities of Melmont and Fairfax.

Visitors to the Melmont site will find a few scattered-but-impressive remains of a bustling little burg that boasted company housing, a school, hotel, saloon and more. The foundation of the school is still evident, along with a dynamite shed used by the mining operation and what’s left of a bridge abutment.

Getting to the Melmont trail is easy. Just travel on state Route 165 through Wilkeson and Carbonado. The simplest way to access the trail is to park in the first roadside pull-out area. There’s room for perhaps 10 vehicles and, on a recent sunny Sunday, perhaps twice that many lined both sides the road. There’s a sign identifying the future home of the Foothills Trail. Getting on at this point (look for a metal gate) adds a bit of distance to the outing.

An option taken by the more intrepid visitors is to continue south, crossing the spectacular Fairfax Bridge. Walk back across the bridge, step over the guardrail to the right, and locate a metal cable, complete with handholds, that allows for a descent to the trail. The cable is found at the bright yellow road sign.

The short and steep climb downward to the trail isn’t incredibly difficult and it’s much more fun than simply stepping onto the trail.

There are a few points of interest, particularly for those with an affinity for the region’s coal mining past. Easily seen are a dynamite shed, a stone wall that served as a bridge abutment and walls that helped form the Melmont school building. It’s easy to miss the school site; at a point where the trail clearly splits, take the uphill path to the left.

Adding to the natural beauty of the hike is a branch that slopes dramatically downhill to a meadow and, eventually, the Carbon River. There’s also a switchback trail leading to the same destination, but with a gentler climb on the way back.

The Melmont trail is built on a former railroad grade, but the journey is pretty simple. It’s plenty wide and flat, without hills. Once past the townsite it can be a bit trickier, with thick tree roots to trip over and narrow places where nature crowds the trail.

Reviews of the Melmont hike warn about muddy conditions. But those who live in the Pacific Northwest should know to wear a decent pair of hiking boots when venturing onto forest trails. The Melmont trail had a few muddy spots, but nothing impassible, even during sunny conditions.

No pass is required to hike the Melmont trail.