The thrill of urban exploration comes from finding new locations and examining unusual phenomenon from our usual daily lives and expectations. We live in a developed world where buildings are maintained and kept up against weather and intrusion.
So it’s extraordinary to hunt down locations that have fallen into disrepair and have become abandoned. The greater Seattle area, indeed the entire Pacific northwest is rife with opportunities for urban exploration because of its unique situation. This being the case, there are plenty of abandoned places in Seattle and the beautiful Washington nature surrounding it.
Developed in the mid to late 1800’s, this area saw great bursts of population and infrastructure through the Klondike gold rush and the need for building materials created a bustling lumber industry. Pioneers and those looking for new circumstances in a fresh land full of open space and the promise of hope flooded the area and built it into a thriving city.
As the gold dried up, Seattle fell into a slump until the shipbuilding boom of WWI, After that, another slump followed by another boom with the Boeing corporation.
This was enhanced by the Microsoft boom and Seattle continues to follow the cycle of boom and bust due to the many quick startups, inevitable failure or overreach of most of these “new-money” empires. The Seattle area watches as these ventures blossom and dry up, often leaving behind impressive buildings and infrastructure that get lost in the rapidly developing market becoming abandoned and forgotten, enticing savvy urban explorers to investigate the structures they left behind.
Note: This should be obvious, but Seattle is much like New York City in that it is growing and expanding incredibly fast. As a result, the abundance of abandoned places in Seattle is not as high as somewhere with slower growth, such as the massive number of abandoned places in Jacksonville. Nevertheless, there are still some beautiful abandoned places in Seattle and around the Seattle metropolitan area.
There are plenty of abandoned places in Seattle
Because of this rich history of quick new builds and and even quicker slumps and abandonment, the Seattle area is filled with derelicts and compounds beckoning the urbex community. Abandoned places in Seattle offer everything to the urbex community; from simple and easy sites for the relative newcomer to more complex and challenging locations for the explorer who has gathered more experience and wants to see something more than the same old sites.
Searching online will yield you access to the impressive Seattle urbex world and in these forums and posts many adventurers share their stories, pictures, and most importantly, the locations, of their latest discoveries.
Abandoned places in Seattle are not difficult to find but if you are ever looking for more, seek out these shared forums and discover more locations that you’ll ever be able to visit as more and more urbex spots are popping up as Seattle continues its cycle of growth and collapse.
The Best Abandoned Places in Seattle
Without having to seek for urbex opportunities, there are dozens of common locations that are popular among the Seattle area’s urban exploration community.
Luckily for us, the spots have become well-cataloged through the plethora of fellow “guerrilla documentarians” that have opened these sites for us to follow in their footsteps and not get lost in these great abandoned places in Seattle.
The Seattle Underground
Perhaps unthinkable to us now, but there have been numerous cities around the country that have been elevated, moved an entire floor level or two up above grade. Chicago, Atlanta, and of course, Seattle. Built on marsh and tidal lands, the entire area was rebuilt 15’ to 30’ higher once the city began to catch up with the industrial era.
The great Seattle fire of 1889 sealed the deal and new construction was built literally on top of the old. However, there was a transitional period while the construction was happening that allowed for access to both the underground and the new builds in the open air.
Once construction was complete the underground was condemned and access was cut off but that doesn’t stop people from getting into places. Illicit ventures took place in the old underground tunnels and there is even a portion that has been cleaned up and made safe for access, enough that tours run through the old Seattle Underground.
The tour can show you some of the interesting points of old Seattle business life, and there are portions of the underground that are still raw and un-enhanced, waiting for exploration by someone…
Terminal 86 Grain Facility
The intrepid urbex adventurer may find portions of the old Hanford Street Dock Terminal when searching for information about the Pier 86 Grain Facility. Just up river and surrounded by active businesses, including the Starbucks headquarters, one must use caution in peeking into corners and looking for urbex opportunities around this facility. Built in 1915 and seeing it’s abandonment come in 1971, portions of this old grain and hay shed can still be found amid the storefronts at pier 25.
The new construction of the grain facility at pier 86 took place in 1970. You will recognize it by the elevated grain riser that transports the grain over the park and onto a conveyor that distributes the grain onto the waiting cargo ships. This distinct part of the skyline will act as a beacon telling you have arrived at the old grain facility and that there are old buildings to snoop around for.
Fisher Flour Mill
Built in 1911 amid a bustling harbor, the Fisher Flour Mill was sold off in 2001 and a year later it was put back up on the market where it has yet to be sold off and sits abandoned and alone. A 13 story structure on an island is an inviting target for those looking to slink off into dark corners, hidden from society and prying eyes. The location was completely alone for decades and accumulated a colorful uniform of graffiti art ranging from the artistically elaborate to the crude and street level vulgarity.
This popular urbex site is one of the more common destinations when explorers go searching for abandoned places in Seattle. The active flour mill was shuttered overnight and the interior maintained the appearance that it could re-open at any minute. This slice of real-life diorama appeals to the most respectful urbex examiners. Sadly, the influx of vandals and abusers has sullied the pristine nature of this urbex location and caused an increase in security.
Georgetown Steam Plant
While not what you consider a typical urbex location, the Georgetown Steam Plant is one of the better preserved abandoned places in Seattle. It was no longer in use since 1953 and decommissioned in 1972, it has been empty for nearly fifty years and the age has taken its toll on the building’s interior and exterior structure. Not long after, the site was recognized as an important landmark of early turbine technology and refurbished to the point of acting as a museum of times gone by.
The urbex community has ventured through the dark tunnels and chasms in the restricted areas, but the public is welcome to tour the derelict location once every month, giving safe and sanitary tours of what the urbex community seeks out in the wild. If you are in the area when the tours are available, seeing this facility in any capacity (officially or urbex style) is well worth the trip.
Northern State Hospital
If you’re going to talk about exploring abandoned places in Seattle the number one site that comes to mind is the old Nike Missile Silo which was urbex central for the longest time. However it has been taken down and leveled and is now nothing more than a picnic park. Next on the list of must-see Seattle urbex is the Northern State Hospital.
Earning a spot on the National Registry of Historic Places, Northern State Hospital was an ever expanding facility between 1911 and 1973 when it was shut down and abandoned. Some of the buildings are in occasional use as state-run assistance lodging but for the most part, these solid concrete two story buildings sit empty.
This is another location covered in magnificent graffiti. Love it or hate it, there is a flair of artistic ambiance in the street tags. While many urbex adventurers prefer a cleaner experience more natural to the original environment, this site has been covered in spray paint several layers thick. But if you find yourself hiking in Washington, this is a great place to check out.
Standing in defense of the city of Seattle was Fort Casey. Overlooking Puget Sound and keeping the the area safe from enemy ships. Unfortunately for the fort and for the entire seacoast fortification endeavor, Fort Casey was rendered obsolete very nearly upon completion in 1903 by the modern use of airplane technology making the fort vulnerable to attack.
The fort was steadily scavenged for parts for other war efforts as the tools of defense were useless sitting on this small Pacific Northwest island and eventually the entire site was decommissioned and turned into the Fort Casey State Park.
Several of the batteries and bunkers remain in place as witness to the island’s original use. An interesting observation is the large gun placements were designed to lower the hardware out of view and out of danger while they were not operating. These systems are still available for viewing, though the guns themselves have long since been removed.
Urbex in different areas of the country will yield different structures from place to place. Something you will see plenty of when exploring abandoned places in Seattle are tunnels. The rough mountainous terrain, rugged wild-lands and inclement weather made rail travel difficult, but the growing Seattle area required the infrastructure, so tunnels were built in the more treacherous locations to protect the trains. Snoqualmie Tunnel is a great example of one of these beautiful hidden structures that you can walk through today.
Preserved as part of the “rails to trails” initiative, old abandoned railroads and some of their infrastructure such as tunnels are being converted into walking and running trails. The state has taken possession of Snoqualmie Tunnel after the final train ran through there in 1980. They have reinforced the tunnel to keep it safe for pedestrians but have left it intact with all its dark and creepy interior. After all, when passing through by train, there’s nothing much to see.
McNeil Island Corrections Center
Bearing the distinction of being the final American island prison, the McNeil Island Corrections Center was finally closed down and decommissioned in 2011. Originally set up as the McNeil Island Federal Penitentiary, this medium security lockdown has housed some notorious prisoners over its 136 year history, among them are Robert Stroud, the famous “Birdman of Alcatraz” and Charles Manson previous to his career as a cult leader.
There is a ferry dock at the old prison and as you make your way inland you’ll pass by overgrown sports facilities, guard posts, and empty houses where the guards and their families lived while the facility was in operation. The Seattle area prison is largely abandoned, but the island is not entirely uninhabited.
The state confines a small population of historically aggressive offenders on property. While not “technically” prisoners, these “residents” are not permitted to leave the island due to the nature of their past crimes and their tendencies to repeat the offense.
Olympia Beer Brewery
Driving along Interstate 5, you’ll see the “Old Brewery” where Olympia Beer hasn’t been brewed since 1916, just before the national prohibition was passed. When the Eighteenth Amendment was repealed, a newer brewery was built upstream and the “old Brewery” became an abandoned icon. Olympia was bought out several times and the closure of the small brewery in 2003 officially marked the beginning of these buildings becoming truly abandoned places in Seattle.
Rich history can be found within these dark walls, the distinctive red brick walls have been shaded by an overgrowth of trees obscuring much of the structure from prying eyes and making it an even more attractive target for the adventurous urban explorer. Little of the original machinery is still in place, and a recent fire destroyed a part of the structure, most likely due to copper thieves and vandals, but the history of the site can still be taken in by those looking to honor the past.
Satsop Nuclear Power Plant
Driving into the Satsop Business Park, you’ll be surrounded by a call center parking lot, employees coming and going from their shift in the cubicle farm. But not far away and only a short time ago this was the location for the Washington Nuclear Project, towers #3 and #5. In the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, the Seattle are was growing so quickly that five nuclear power stations were built to supply the anticipated power needs of the growing community.
Of the five towers, only one was put into use. Towers 3 and 5 never saw any power generation. Site #3 was almost three quarters complete and site #5 was hardly one fifth of the way toward complete when construction was halted.
Sitting unused since 1982 and terminally abandoned in 1995, these cooling towers are all that remains of the planned power park. Climbing to the top on the maintenance safety stairwell could take you a while, but will net you a view equal to that of the famed Seattle Space Needle.