History buffs should feel right at home in Montana. From prehistory to early human settlement, on to Lewis and Clark, wagon trains and cowboys, you can find it all here. But honestly, it can feel a bit overwhelming to plan out the best places to stop. Fortunately, we have you covered when it comes to local history knowledge. Here are a few of the essentials to add into your Montana history trip.
Bannack Ghost Town has a winding story to share. As the site of Montana’s first gold strike in 1862, the boom and bust hit this mining town hard. With a population of 3,000 in 1863, down to its last residents by the 1970s, this is a ghost town in truest form. It’s well worth wandering in and out of the historic buildings along the town’s Main Street. During the state park’s famous Bannack Days in July, take in living history demonstrations, candle making, shootouts, and more.
For tales of settlers and vigilantes, miners and ladies of the night, Virginia City is a lively living picture of Montana’s silver strike past. With a somewhat sordid tale of vigilante justice and the hanging of highwaymen, alongside its mining background and a brief stint as the territorial capital, Virginia City lives on today as a destination for unwrapping the past. You can see a show, grab some ice cream, or enjoy a beverage at the saloon after strolling the historic streets.
Based out of Bynum, Montana, the Montana Dinosaur Center’s active digs make a great outing for both kids and adults. You can literally uncover the past, digging for dinosaur bones that are millions of years old. Visit the dig site for either a full or half day trip, learning about fossils, surface mapping and using tools. These are real, active dig sites, so you never know what you might uncover.
Go deep into the past with a look at paleontology at the Museum of the Rockies. With a surprisingly large collection of dino skeletons for a mountain town, the museum makes it easy to envision the deep past. You can stroll through the early days of life on earth as you explore the exhibits, sit and stare at the massive T-Rex skeletons, or kick back in the planetarium for a show taking you light years into the past with a look at the cosmos.
As the one campsite with physical evidence that records Lewis and Clark’s journey to the Pacific, Travelers’ Rest State Park in Missoula takes you into the past. You can still see the fire rings that they would have cooked over, almost smell the smoke and feel the chill breath of morning air at camp on September 9 of 1805. As a National Historic Landmark, it delivers the goods with trails along Lolo Creek and an educational visitor center.
When it comes to sites that are important to the Lewis and Clark expedition, Missouri Headwaters State Park in Three Forks ranks high. A Hidatsa raiding party took young Sacajawea captive here, five years before she would return with the expedition and be reunited with her family in the Shoshone tribe. Journal entries place the footsteps of Lewis and Clark in this spot on July 25, 1805, and the legacy of their journey lives on. There’s a lot to learn in nearby local history museums and on park displays. Today you can stroll along the river or up onto the bluff, hunting for ancient Native American pictographs in rocky overhangs too.
As the former headquarters of a 10 million acre cattle empire, this stop will share insight into the most famous symbol of the Wild West. Grant-Kohrs Ranch is a must-stop for cowboy history. Learn how cowboys work, and find out more about the brief period of open-range cattle raising in Montana. This working ranch is also a National Historic Site and a National Monument.
In Glacier National Park, you’ll find a wealth of natural history to take in. And in tandem with nature lies thousands of years of cultural history. One of the best ways to dive deep here is with a Sun Tour. This park concessionaire and local Tribal business gives you a look at the Blackfeet sacred connection to the land while you enjoy the views of Glacier passing by.
After a day of adventuring, settle in for a stay at a Highline Adventures property. Find your home base for your history tour of Montana.