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North Bend, Washington

Lester Ghost Town

A short hike into the mountainside forest reveals a decaying 1890s town. 

Cross a closed bridge, hike two miles deep into the forest, and you’ll find Lester, or what’s left of it.

It was founded as a town for workers, not necessarily a family village, though a little community did grow up. Originally a logging camp, it was named Lester after a telegraph operator when the Northern Pacific Railway Company set up camp there to build a railroad across mountainous Stampede Pass in 1892.

The logging industry was driven out by forest fires in 1902, but became the town’s primary industry again in the 1940s and ’50s. At its peak, Lester was home to about a thousand people. But the rail industry waned and jobs dried up. Tacoma cut off access to the one road leading to Lester to protect the quality of drinking water for the Green River Watershed. People moved away, until eventually there were only five students in the Lester school district and the State closed it down. Now, all that remains are dilapidating sheds and houses, the phantom of a once-thriving community.

Lester’s last resident, Gertrude Murphy, died in 2002 at age 99. Without anyone living there, Lester died too. Gertrude remembered Lester fondly, as a bucolic forest town. “Once, just once, I saw the fog freeze on the trees, it was so cold,” she said. “It was lacy and light and feathery, just beautiful. In the fall, when the vine maples came in, they were like big bouquets all over the hills.”

Update May 2017:  In the end, Tacoma won as Tacoma Water put the final nail in the coffin, tearing down the last three buildings of Lester in 2017. Standing in the area that once was Lester, you can see some new buildings/shacks, rails and ties scattered about and a couple of building pads, the largest of which is on the other side of the rail tracks from the road you walk in on. Along the road, just past the 6 1/2 sign, there is a dirt driveway to a little clearing that may have been the site of a house. The woods around it hold rusted decaying relics… possibly a stove, an almost unrecognizable auto body, part of a wall. 

Know Before You Go

The walk in is flat and pleasant enough, but not a "walk in the woods" as some sites suggest. Don't expect much shade. There is an idyllic spot along the green river on the way. Please pack out your garbage. 

To reach Lester, take I-90, Exit 62 near Snoqualmie Pass and drive 15 miles (on gravel Forrest service road - watch for potholes) over Stampede Pass until you reach the bridge that’s closed to vehicles. From there, it is a two mile hike to the old settlement.