Montana has a lot of history, from plate tectonics and ice ages to the first settlement and the storied history of native tribes to the westward expansion of European settlers. With a harsh climate, there aren’t always many physical remainders of those bygone days, with a significant exception: ghost towns. Ghost towns might be empty, but they live on as a visual reminder of what life was like in Montana over a century ago.
Virginia City’s boom-and-bust past is even more dramatic than some. During the vigilante days, a citizen justice brigade took the law into their own hands to curb a string of robberies and murders in the area. Once in the running for the state capital today, this community has businesses and displays devoted to sharing the history of times past.
Located right next to Virginia City, Nevada City offers another take on the time. This area hosts several historical structures, open by tour only for a living history experience. It’s one of the best-kept historic ghost towns in the area, making you feel like you’re stepping into the past on one of the tours. You can even take a scenic train tour from Virginia City to Nevada City to explore.
This ghost town also ties in some of that vigilante history that Virginia City is known for. At Bannack State Park, you are free to wander through unlocked doors, exploring more than 50 buildings on your own. Bannack was the first territorial capital, though the residents that once made this a bustling community trickled away in the early 20th century, leaving behind only echoes.
Located just outside Missoula, Garnet has an extensive and well-preserved assortment of buildings. At the turn of the 20th century, over 1000 people lived here, gold miners and their families staking their claims. Today you can visit at any time of year, though vehicle access is limited in the winter. But a cross-country ski trip into this remote setting is undoubtedly an adventure to remember.
Like Virginia City, Marysville isn’t quite a ghost town, with a few residents still hanging on to mining operations. Several of the buildings in the community are on the National Register of Historic Places. In the 1880s and 1890s, this mine was the leading producer of gold in the country. Several buildings still stand at this site just west of Helena.
Castle Town, also known as Castle City, is on private land outside White Sulphur Springs. So if you drive the back roads to try to look at it from a distance, please respect private lands and don’t enter without landowner permission. Be sure to stay on the public road if you head up for a look at the stone foundations and wooden structures left standing. The story even goes that Calamity Jane was a resident for a time, planning to open a restaurant in this city.
North of Butte, by the hot spring of the same name, Elkhorn Ghost Town is a tiny waypoint to the past. With just two buildings making up this state park, you can still get a sense of what life on the frontier must have been like. Though there isn’t much to see, Elkhorn is still worth a quick stop, especially if you’re staying in the Butte area.
When you’re ready to hear what the past has to say in Montana, find accommodation that suits your travel style. Highline Adventures properties can help you relax between adventures with sustainable stays across Southwest Montana and Glacier Country. Book today, and start planning your ghost town trip.