Butte’s history is rich in copper, as well as the dramas surrounding it, with ample tales of immigrants and the hardscrabble Wild West. Before European settlers arrived, Native American tribes lived on the land for millennia.
Since settlement began, Butte grew into the early 1900s when population estimates put the town at 60,000 to 100,000 residents on the Richest Hill on Earth. This boom town has kept its vivacious spirit as the years go on, in part because of a strong connection to the past. Here are a few of the best places to learn more about Butte’s lively history.
Mining is at the core of much of the history of Butte’s town identity. A visit to the World Museum of Mining can open up more of that realm and give you a look into Butte’s past. Be sure to sign up for the Underground Tour, where you can descend into the Orphan Girl mine shaft, feeling the air change around you as you drop 100 feet into the earth.
You don’t have to believe in paranormal activity to enjoy learning about Butte’s colorful past through a haunted tour. One tour company, Spooks and Spirits, takes guests on walking tours through “Butte’s verified hauntings.” On certain dates in October, the World Museum of Mining offers Haunted Underground tours as well. These spooky-season offerings are a fun way to take a historical deep dive in Butte.
This biking and hiking route in nearby Thompson Park, up on the Continental Divide, brings history to life as recreationists follow one of the first electrified sections of railroad track in the country, including sections of path along railroad trestles high in the forest canopy. Interpretive signs along the rails-to-trails route give you a look into the past as you walk or bike.
The Anaconda Stack isn’t actually in Butte but in the neighboring town of Anaconda. But its role in the copper smelting process means this free-standing masonry marvel can give history buffs some interesting context for Butte’s mining background. The state park doesn’t have public access to the 585-foot smoke stack, but its viewing area shows the stack from below and features a series of interpretive exhibits that help you learn about the site and its historical significance.
The infamous, water-filled Berkeley Pit is one of the most striking remnants of Butte’s mining history. You can visit the viewpoint to get a look from above, walking down a long, dark tunnel before the way opens up to reveal the sludgy, coppery water. This monument to Butte’s colorful story stretches 1 mile long by .5 miles wide and is over 1,500 feet deep.
For a look into the Asian-American stories that helped build Butte, the Mai Wah Society’s museum is a must-visit. It features collections of historical artifacts and fine arts. The museum’s home in an unheated historical building means its regular summer hours are the best time to visit, but volunteers will open at other times by appointment.
As the oldest continually running and family-owned Chinese restaurant in the United States, Pekin Noodle Parlor serves up living history in each menu item. Immerse yourself in the feeling of Butte at the turn of the last century with the sensory experience of eating Chop Suey in a restaurant that has kept to its roots for over a century.
Find a spot to get comfortable in Butte, and book your stay at the Butte KOA Journey. With tent sites, full hookup RV spots and comfortable cabin accommodations, you can stay a while to get to know the true Butte, America.