Monte Cristo Area
The magnificent alpine-topped 103,591-acre Henry M. Jackson Wilderness Area is accessible from several trailheads on the eastern end of the Mountain Loop. The most popular hiking paths here center on the fascinating old mining town of Monte Cristo.
In the 1890s, gold and silver strikes lured 2,000 people to this boomtown, but the ore turned out to be of poor quality, and within 20 years Monte Cristo had become a ghost town. The fireplace and foundation of the Big Four Inn—a luxurious century-old resort that burned to the ground in 1949—stand as mute reminders of the town’s earlier glory.
During the Depression, the railroad to Monte Cristo was replaced by the Mountain Loop Highway. Today, the town site and abandoned mines around Monte Cristo remain privately owned.
Get here by driving 20 miles east from Verlot to Barlow Pass, where the four-mile side road to Monte Cristo begins. Floods in 1980 and 1990 left it impassable to cars, but it remains a popular place for mountain bikers and hikers in the summer, and cross-country skiers and snowmobilers in the winter. Check at the Forest Service offices in Darrington or Verlot for current road and bridge conditions. The Forest Service’s free Monte Cristo Campground offers a pleasant overnight spot near the ghost town.
Glacier Basin Trail (No. 719) is a popular two-mile hiking route from Monte Cristo into nearby high country. The trail follows an old railroad grade for the first half mile, then climbs steeply past Glacier Falls, around Mystery Hill, and into gorgeous Glacier Basin, gaining 1,300 feet in elevation. The route passes all sorts of rusting mining equipment, pieces of the cable tramway, and old mine shafts on the way. Bring your stove, since no campfires are allowed in the high country, and avoid camping on the fragile meadow areas. Good campsites can be found at Ray’s Knoll and Mystery Ridge.
Another very steep hike (trail No. 708, 4.4 miles one-way) climbs over Poodle Dog Pass from Monte Cristo. This trail leaves from the town site, ascends to Silver Lake, and then on to an open ridge offering panoramic views of the surrounding mountains.
© Ericka Chickowski from Moon Washington, 8th edition