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Northern State Ghost Town

North Cascades > North Cascades Highway - Hwy 20
48.5255, -122.1946 Map & Directions
5.0 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain
50 feet
Highest Point
182 feet
Calculated Difficulty About Calculated Difficulty
Two of the barns at Northern State. Photo by Exploring History in Your Hiking Boots.
  • Dogs allowed on leash
  • Good for kids
  • Fall foliage

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Once the largest hospital for mentally ill people in Washington State, Northern State Mental Hospital was a town unto itself. Parts of the site are still in use and off-limits, but the farm is now a recreation area. It is located just north of the Skagit River near the town of Sedro-Woolley. Stroll along the wide pastoral trails amongst the buildings and cemetery. Continue reading

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Hiking Northern State Ghost Town

Once the largest facility for mentally ill people in Washington State, Northern State Mental Hospital was a town unto itself. The hospital was established in 1909 after the over-crowded conditions at Western State Hospital came under public criticism. Northern State’s grand opening happened in 1912.

The Olmstead Brothers, whose father was famous for having designed New York City’s Central Park, designed the landscape at Northern State. Renowned architects Saunders and Lawton designed the hospital’s buildings. They worked in close collaboration with Northern State’s farm superintendent to create a self-sustaining and therapeutic colony for the mentally ill. The hospital site included patient and staff housing, a water reservoir, sewage system, lumber mill, quarry, steam plant, greenhouse, canning facilities, gymnasium, library, laundry, dining room, bakery, dairy, and 700-acre farm for growing vegetables and raising livestock. A cemetery was also included in the site plan.

At one time in the 1950s about 2,700 patients lived at Northern State. This was the full capacity of the hospital according to the superintendent at the time, but he was still being pressured to take on more patients. The public perception of mental hospitals began to change in the 1970s, and Northern State Mental Hospital closed its doors in 1976 after the State Legislature cut off funding. Some of the buildings, including the farm’s housing ward, have since been torn down. A few of the remaining buildings are currently being used for job corps projects and drug rehabilitation.

The active buildings at Northern State are off-limits to members of the public, but much of the former property is now a part of Northern State Recreation Area. It is located just north of the Skagit River near the town of Sedro-Woolley. The recreation area has an extensive trail system that will take you through wide open pastures, along forested lanes, and past the still standing barns, milking shed, cannery, and other structures used during the hospital’s self-sustaining past. You can also visit the old cemetery, which is the resting place of at least 1,500 people.

Hike Description Written by
Exploring History in Your Hiking Boots, WTA Community

Northern State Ghost Town

Map & Directions

Co-ordinates: 48.5255, -122.1946 Open in Google Maps

Before You Go

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WTA Pro Tip: Save a copy of our directions before you leave! App-based driving directions aren't always accurate and data connections may be unreliable as you drive to the trailhead.

Getting There

From Burlington, drive about 7 miles east on Highway 20. Turn north on Helmick Road. Drive about .3 miles. Turn left into Northern State Recreation Area parking lot.

More Hike Details


North Cascades > North Cascades Highway - Hwy 20

Skagit County Parks and Recreation

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Northern State Ghost Town

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