Treadwell Ruins – Beautiful, Historic Ghost Town + Hiking Trail
By: Courtney Dowd-Stanley
To visit the riveting ruins at Treadwell Mine, you’ll first need to head to the most scenic capital city in America – Juneau, Alaska. Here, at the head of Gastineau Channel, you’ll find absolutely unreal natural beauty where the mountains meet the sea in perfect harmony. Just across the bridge from Juneau is the lovely location of Douglas Island. On the south side of the island east of downtown Douglas, you’ll find the historic location of Treadwell gold mine. Once a thriving operation, today you’ll find nothing more than a plethora of spectacular sights of ruins and gold-rush history, that nature is slowly reclaiming.
This unique location was composed of four sub-sites from 1881 to 1922, with Treadwell Mine being the largest hard rock gold mine in the world at its peak. The location once employed over 2,000 people including workers and their family members. Between 1881 and 1922, it’s reported that over 3 million troy ounces of gold were extracted from this area.
Fun Fact: John Treadwell himself, had only about 12 years of experience total in place and lode mines. He was a carpenter and builder by trade, and came to Alaska prior to the Klondike Gold Rush. On Douglas Island, the geology is quite fascinating. It consists of a belt of volcanic greenstones qne slate near the location of Stephens Passage. Directly next to Gastineau Channel, this transitions into a belt of slate. At the four Treadwell mines on Douglas Island, reports say that “secondarily fractured and mineralized diorite dikes constitute the ore bodies.” The gold-bearing sulfide minerals are what lead this place to a complete BOOM of production.
The four sites at Treadwell are suggested to have produced around $70 million in gold out of the rocks of Douglas Island throughout its total operation period.
Pictured below, Joe Kendler delivers milk with his dog-team to Treadwell Mine in May 1911. This was both a common form of transportation and delivery option for remote mining towns such as Treadwell.
During its operation, the town of Treadwell had a staggering five mills, multiple stores, mess halls for staff, athletic courts, a post office and stamp production, bunkhouses for families, and much more. There was even a marching band! Reports claim that the location of Treadwell was also home to Alaska’s first indoor swimming pool, which was referred to as the natatorium.
Today, little remains except ruins of the past. It is a complete ghost town overflowing with immense history. Treadwell Gold Mine is an astonishingly obscure and beautiful place in which visitors can walk through and explore all the fascinating artifacts left over.
The hiking trail will lead you through some staggering sights that are filled with overwhelming natural beauty.
The decline of Treadwell began to happen when, on March 3, 1910, an explosion on the 1,100-foot Mexican Mine happened and was so powerful that a miner on the 900-foot level died. Dynomite being stored in a magazine is what caused this to happen. In total, as the gases and fumes released, a staggering 39 men and even one horse was killed. This was said to be the worst disaster in Alaska mining history.
By 1909, the instability of the mining operation came under scrutiny. By 1913, evidence of an impending disaster started to become noticeable as there were major geological shifts occurring. Although they constructed reinforcements, they were said to be ineffective. Bullion Mine’s last shaft at Treadwell continued to operate in a limited fashion until the year of 1922.
Evidence of instability had been noticed around 1909, but there was no indication of impending disaster until 1913, when major geological shifts occurred. Reinforcements were constructed but were ineffective. The last shaft was worked in a limited fashion until 1922.
As present-day visitors explore what once was, it’s quite easy to spend a full day exploring all of the riveting ruins with the lush Tongass National Forest encapsulating all the the sturdy old structures. The hiking trail starts south at St. Ann’s Avenue in Douglas Island. You’ll keep right on the trail and then come to the historic Treadwell Glory Hole. Next, an entrance of shafts under Gastineau Channel will lead you to a waterfall that drops into the Glory Holy.
The fork in the trail is where you’ll want to return to, then continue down to the shore to observe fascinating remnants from the past. Things you’ll see include old buildings and mining machinery. There is even a pit where the mine collapsed after torrential down-pouring of rain back in 1917. On the shoreline you’ll be amazed by old remains of docks at the shoreline.
Over the years there has been graffiti added to some areas. Although it’s not what many want to see, it doesn’t take away from the fascinating sights and immense history that can be felt everywhere throughout this area.
Have you ever visited the ruins at Treadwell Mine? We’d love to see your photos and hear about your experiences in this historic place.
Looking for another great read? If you love Alaska’s beautiful Southeast region, check out The Lush Rainforest Region Known As Alaska’s Crown Jewel. Or, Alaska’s Unreal Upside Down Forest That’s Hiding In Plain Sight. You might also enjoy Exploring Alaska’s Mendenhall Ice Caves For A Surreal Glacier Experience.