By Dave Helgeson
Greenhorn, Oregon, is the featured ghost town in this month’s installment of Ghost Town Trails. Last month we were up in the Yukon Territory visiting the very remote outpost of Fort Selkirk. If you missed that installment, you can read it here.
History of Greenhorn
Gold was first discovered in 1864 on Olive Creek, leading to the formation of a community known as Robinsonville. Greenhorn was settled shortly afterwards a short distance to the southwest of Robinsonville. When Robinsonville burned to the ground in 1898, Greenhorn became the supply hub of mining in the area.
The town was incorporated as a city in 1903. At its peak (1910-1915), the city of Greenhorn boasted two hotels, a post office, several mercantiles, waterworks complete with fire hydrants, grocery stores, multiple saloons, two livery stables, a meat market and eventually a jail. At more than 6,300-foot elevation, the winters in Greenhorn were long, hampering mining efforts. Like most gold mining boomtowns, placer mining occurred first, followed by the development of lode mines. When gold mining was deemed non-essential during World War II, gold mines were closed by executive order in 1942. Greenhorn quickly became a ghost town after the mines closed.
There is some debate on how the name of Greenhorn was bestowed upon the city. Some say it was named after the green uplift in the mountains, while others claim it was due to a trick played on inexperienced miners (aka greenhorns) who got lucky and struck it rich. You can read the latter account here.
Other interesting stories concerning Greenhorn, including the jail being stolen in the middle of the night, can be found here.
Today Greenhorn holds the designation of Oregon’s smallest and highest incorporated city with a population of “0”!
The first time my wife and I visited was in the “days of old”—before being able to readily view satellite images online and navigate to a precise location using GPS technology. We found Greenhorn but were disappointed to find that all the remaining structures, while interesting, were privately owned and being used as vacation homes and not available for us to explore. Oddly, for a mining town, there were not any remains of mining structures or signs on abandoned mines.
The second time was when we were in the area snowmobiling with friends and decided to show them the old ghost town. The buildings, covered in snow, were very picturesque, but as before, we found no ruins to be explored.
Then came 2020 and COVID! When I started trip planning for our summer RV trip with friends, I knew we should go somewhere remote and isolated to limit our exposure to the virus. What better place than the outskirts of Greenhorn, where I knew there must be some interesting mining ruins lurking in the nearby woods, since we hadn’t encountered any on our previous two visits.
Now equipped with the ability to readily view topographical maps online, I was able to locate where the mines of Greenhorn were located. I then “flew” to those locations via satellite view on Google Earth to see if there were any remains to be explored. Within a few hours I had located scores of old structures in the Greenhorn area located on public Forest Service land just begging for someone to come visit them.
It was then just a matter of capturing the coordinates, figuring out a central area among the ruins to camp, loading the ATV and motorcycle into the truck and hitching the trailer to the back of the truck, then we were on our way. Once camped, we loaded the coordinates into the onboard navigation on my wife’s ATV and spent days exploring the true ghosts in the “suburbs” of Greenhorn and Robinsonville.
While there are multiple routes to Greenhorn, the most popular and most improved is via Greenhorn Road.
From the junction of Hwy 7 and Greenhorn Road at N44° 40.135 W118° 22.619 head west on Greenhorn Road. Continue driving on Greenhorn Road for approximately 6 miles to reach Main Street in Greenhorn. You will find “downtown” Greenhorn at N44° 42.560 W118° 29.792 After the driving to this remote location, without your RV, you will be glad to know there are clean public restrooms waiting for you just north of Main Street in the center of town.
Bates State Park is the closest developed campground to the junction of Hwy 7 and Greenhorn Road.
Boondocking (Closest camping options to Greenhorn):
There are multiple boondocking locations along Greenhorn Road. One of the better ones is located less than a mile up Greenhorn Road. You will find the turn at: N44° 40.333 W118°23.509
Those that like to swim or have children traveling with them that like the water will enjoy boondocking off Howard Meadow Road at N44° 39.570 W118° 25.575 There you will find two ponds, one complete with a water slide and diving board. A less-used route leads from the boondocking site to Greenhorn.