This Oregon Ghost Town Is Like Stepping Back Time — Here's How to Plan a Memorable Visit

Once the Wool Capital of the World, the ghost town of Shaniko now lures tourists wanting to photograph the faded glory of this unique empty place.

The hotel is Shaniko's centrepiece

Jamie Carter 

From derelict buildings to rusted-up vehicles, ghost towns offer curious travelers a rare chance to step back in time. Once the Wool Capital of the World, the antique-looking Shaniko — formerly called Cross Hollows — in eastern Oregon’s remote Wasco County was an important railroad town until 1966, when it was cut off. By 1982, it was virtually empty, and today, just a few people live there.

Ideally located close to the popular Columbia River Gorge, Shaniko’s wooden sidewalks, empty buildings, and rusting vehicles are a great place to explore with a camera. Here’s how to plan a memorable trip to Shaniko, including what to see and when to visit.

What to See in Shaniko

 The Gold Nugget Saloon features a window display

Jamie Carter 

Most of the buildings of interest can be found on Shaniko Row, two roads that converge at a huge Italianate building called Shaniko Hotel (also known as the Columbia Southern Hotel). It’s arguably the centerpiece of Shaniko Historic District and has, at various points in the town's history, been a saloon, bank, and dance hall. As of 2022, it’s being restored. Up the street lies an ice cream shop and a post office — both occasionally open, though don’t count on it — while Dead Format Music, which sits next to the hotel, sells records and guitar strings, as well as broadcasts music on 99.9 FM.

Opposite is Shaniko Sage Museum, a small wooden building that’s left open for visitors to explore on their own. It contains old maps, photos, and profiles of Shaniko’s historic families. Hanging over the old VHS tapes, faded magazines, and an old sign that reads “population 26” is the musty smell of time stopping, though the highlight is outdoors — a rotted-out piano with its insides exposed.

Shaniko Sage Museum has this old piano out the front.

Jamie Carter 

Walking down Main Street past a jail, rusting machinery, and an old station wagon, there’s a general store that sells basics and has a backroom full of old signage, WWII posters, vases, coffee pots, and books. You’ll also find a small church and a schoolhouse. Some have been lovingly restored, while others are in ruins.

Related: 12 Best Small Towns in Oregon for Historic Charm, Organic Wineries, and Adventure Treks

How and When to Visit Shaniko

There are no fees or parking restrictions in Shaniko, and you can visit at any time, though April to September is when you'll be able to most easily explore the museum and Shaniko Hotel. Before the pandemic, a small festival called Shaniko Days took place in early August, featuring a “Gunfight at the O.K. Corral” performance, a parade, and other entertainment.

Shaniko's Post Office on an old wooden boardwalk

Jamie Carter 

To get the best photos, come to Shaniko during its golden hour — that period of soft light, just before sunset or right after sunrise.

Getting to Shaniko

Go between April and October and you may find Shaniko's ice cream shop open

Jamie Carter 

Shaniko is less than three hours southeast of Portland. It’s conveniently located on U.S. Route 97 — on the Journey Through Time Scenic Byway — about halfway between the popular outdoor activities in Bend and Biggs Junction at the Columbia River, which acts as a border between Oregon and Washington.

There are two great ways to visit Shaniko. The first is when exploring the spectacular Columbia River Gorge. The second is on a scenic loop from Bend or Madras in central Oregon, first visiting Shaniko, then heading south and east via Antelope, Fossil, and on unpaved roads to the John Day River Bridge before visiting the stunning multicolored stratifications of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument — Painted Hills Unit

Staying Safe at Shaniko

A rusted-out old vehicle that bears the inscription 'Shaniko Fire Department'

Jamie Carter 

Although some of Shaniko's buildings have been restored, there are plenty that have seen better days. Even some of the buildings that you can walk into, like the museum, have loose floorboards and rough walls. Although you can explore some of the empty buildings in Shaniko, some are private property and closed to the public.

There's also something else you won't fail to notice when walking around town, and that's warning signs of rattlesnakes. However, Oregon’s Northern Pacific rattlesnake is relatively small and, despite the alerts, it’s unlikely you’ll see any. They’re most active in the early morning and after sunset.

Whenever you visit, you'll probably have Shaniko to yourself — just stay safe, watch where you step, and be sure to stay long enough to explore this unique slice of Americana. This timeless town may not be around forever. 

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