Looking for something fun, and yet different, to do on a weekend? How about going on a picnic? Sure that sounds like a normal weekend plan with friends… but what about going on a picnic in a ghost town? That’s exactly what a few friends and I did today. Erika, Honi, Gunnar, and I travelled two hours east of Seattle to a town called Lester for a non-traditional picnic.
What is Lester?
Lester was once a booming railroad town located in King County founded in 1892. The town played an important role with the Northern Pacific Railroad (now operated by BNSF as of 1996). At one point, it was the largest town in the Green Lake area, housing hundreds of people. Lester was a booming community because of this railroad up until the 1950’s; when passenger service declined, the train station was demolished. Residents felt the need to leave in the 1970’s since Northern Pacific RR started automating operations, eliminating the need for people to reside in the town. Ten years later, a separate railroad company, Burlington Northern, stopped all trains throughout the area. As a result, all moved away from the town… all but one. Gertrude Murphy was the last resident of Lester, and resided there until her death in 2002. The only way to get to Lester is through the Forest Service road (NF-5400) and a short, 2-mile hike. Today, it stands as a ghost town with no residents. The trail is open to the public, but all buildings have No Trespassing signs, as they are owned by the City of Tacoma’s Green River Watershed. Further information is available through the Washington Trails Association.
Where is Lester?
If you plug in Lester into your GPS, it’ll get you there 95% of the way. From Seattle, take I-90 East all the way to Exit 62 – NF-54/Stampede Pass Rd. After exiting the freeway, make a right turn and follow the smoothly paved road. Don’t get too used to that… the road becomes gravel and you’ll be driving along a dusty old trail for about 15 miles for the next hour. I might as well warn you ahead of time that your car will get dirty. Follow this road all the way to a gate that says “Pedestrians Only”. Get out of your car, bypass the gate, and walk two miles along a nice quiet path until you arrive in some short of civilization.
Although the roads are rough and dirty, the views are rewarding. There are plenty of trees in the area as well as many scenic peaks and valleys. In addition to that, Mt. Rainier stands majestically behind the backdrop.
Note: Waze almost gave me perfect directions, but at one point, it told me to take a fork in the road with a steep incline. Do not attempt to go up the grassy hill... I almost hurt my car doing that, and that road actually won’t take you anywhere except up… just stay on the gravel road all the way until you hit the gate.
You’re finished driving once you reach this gate.
A Warm Welcome?
Traditional Halloween decorations rarely make a house look scary, right? The decorations are essentially a way of showing a household’s participation in celebrating the holiday. But what happens if you put a Halloween-themed sign on the outside of an abandoned house? Does it carry a different meaning?
Inside the building is even scarier… maybe it’s the font painted on the wall or the unclear message, I’m not sure…
The town’s appearance is chilling; everything is in shambles. Buildings that remain standing today are on the verge of structural collapse.
Let’s Change The Mood!
Despite being creeped out slightly, the trip was very well worth it. The drive was slightly rough in the woods, but scenic (bonus points for seeing Mt. Rainier). We sat on a blanket covering a flat patch of grass and celebrated our tourist status in Lester. We weren’t sitting for long… ants and bees attacked our spots, and we pretty much finished lunch on our feet. I’d say, that’s a day very well spent.