Ghost towns have always been a fascinating subject for me, in part because I love to imagine what the energy was like when it was thriving. Towns are not created with the intent to become vacant. What celebrations took place in its streets? How did its founders envision the future? What hopes did settlers have when they arrived to a new life? I had heard about Shaniko a few years ago and knew it began as a wool processing and export platform for the railroad. In 1900 actually it held the title as the “Wool Capitol of the World.” When a new, faster route for the railroad bypassed the town about decade later, so began the town’s slow decline in population.

When I found myself solo for a weekend in Bend, I decided it was the perfect opportunity to go exploring. I wasn’t sure just how “abandoned” Shaniko really was. I received mixed reports of what businesses were open, and even read that the town and buildings were actually for sale. I decided to load up my camera, an iced coffee and snacks before making the 90-minute drive from town, and find out for myself. The drive along highway 97 is entertaining enough on its own, and I marveled at the beautiful fields of purple flowers that hold an intoxicating, wonderful smell. Noted was the sign along 97 warning the next available gas was 92 miles away (confirming Shaniko’s gas station, was indeed out of commission) The rest stop located just before the turn off for the town was a welcome sight.

My plan was to wander during sunset and chase some golden-hour light. I was surprised to arrive to a lively scene, quite a few cars parked as curious tourists wandered the streets. The Shaniko Hotel stood proudly in the center of town, and up until recently was apparently still open. The trademark field truck and red building were in the background and the jail, town hall and various storefronts sat fairly well preserved. While obviously void of employees, most buildings were left open and accessible, some even housing artifacts and stories from the town’s former residents. A small diner was busy serving sandwiches and ice cream adjacent to an antique store that was closed for the evening. A large building housed a great collection of classic cars that I could still admire even though they were protected by fences. I circled the town on foot several times, finding the school that had been a labor of love to refurbish. Tours are available, but I arrived past the hours of operation.

I was surprised to see the number of homes still occupied, and I later learned the town’s population hovers around three dozen. I wanted to respect the folks that did still call Shaniko their home, and was careful not to trespass on occupied property. The opposite end of town is where I found a pretty little wedding chapel with the same rustic charm as the rest of the buildings. It is fascinating to walk around and appreciate how much of the town’s past is still preserved. Shaniko is a great, tangible lesson in local history that should be added to the list of places to see when exploring Central Oregon. Pack a lunch, fill the gas tank and take time to stop and smell the wildflowers.

about author Michelle Fahlgren

Michelle Fahlgren has been a NW gal most of her life and has made it a personal hobby to explore the unique and historical places that make this area fascinating. A camera in one hand, strong coffee in the other she is usually researching something new to explore with her hubby and son. She is a photographer, a reader, a road-trip junkie, a treasure hunter and finds most of life's troubles can be set right by salty sea air and a bit of chocolate. Check out more of her latest photos and adventures here.

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  1. P. Davis says…

    I took a trip out to Shaniko with my daughter and two grandsons. We were fascinated by the old buildings and wandered through the town on foot. The boys were not bored, as they normally would have been. It is wonderful that they leave some of the buildings open to explore and read about the history.

    Written on July 31st, 2014 / Flag this Comment
  2. Melissa R. says…

    Awesome find! thanks for sharing. I hope to visit someday soon.

    Written on July 31st, 2014 / Flag this Comment
  3. jenna clinkscales says…

    a friend and I are heading up to Joesph Or. in a month. Our plan is to visit ghost towns going up from Eugene and then coming back down on the eastern side of the state. Do you have suggestions for other ghost towns on those routes? and old cemeteries?

    Written on August 1st, 2014 / Flag this Comment
  4. Ava Boyer says…

    We spent the night in Shaniko when we went to Hells Canon. I bought a cap from the store,gas station,resturant there and lost it some where on the road the very same day. My husband told me it was a gost hat. LOL but we love it there and got lots of pictures.

    Written on August 1st, 2014 / Flag this Comment
  5. Jim & Donna Roberts says…

    We have visited most of the Oregon ghost towns. There are many to see. Shaniko, Sumpter, my personal favorite Whitney, and many others. Go ahead, start driving, take your camera. Spend a few days out in the country looking back in time. Relax, it will feel good to leave all the ‘today’ behind and fall into ‘yesterday’ for a while.

    Written on August 1st, 2014 / Flag this Comment
  6. Debra Holbrook says…

    Wow, love this accurate write up. I live in Shaniko, have the Stagecoach Station that has the self tour. I work at collecting Shaniko history. The museum is open all the time. My house is just up the alley at the north end. If the business is closed and I’m home, knock and I’ll unlock! Thank you Travel Oregon!

    Written on August 12th, 2014 / Flag this Comment
  7. Cottage Video Productions says…

    I did a documentary on Shaniko last year. This towm has quite a history! Once a booming town of over 800 people, see what happened to this once thriving metropolis of wool sales. $5.00 of every sale of the documentary goes back to the town of Shaniko to help with their restoration process. You may order it from my and go to the “Documentaries” tab.

    Written on August 12th, 2014 / Flag this Comment

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