A Road Trip Through Southwest Montana’s Past
Montana’s historic landscape has been colored by a myriad of cultural influences.For instance, as the first settlers in the area, the Native American people have contributed immensely to Montana’s history and laid the foundation for today’s society. With the Homestead Act of 1862, Agriculture became the cornerstone of our economy and remains the largest industry throughout the state. In 1872, Yellowstone was named the nation’s first National Park, and in 1910 Glacier followed. Both of these destinations have drawn individuals to the Big Sky State for years. Each of these factors have greatly shaped Montana into the coveted state it is today, but our history is nothing without the rich mining that gave individuals hope of “striking it rich” and achieving the American Dream.
Copper, Silver and Gold have been found in Montana’s rich hills, many of which can be found within the Southwest Montana region. With each strike, a town would pop up, filled with miners and their loved ones. Many of these towns hosted a variety of schools, churches, homes and saloons for the locals. Each town that cropped up in the area boasts its own story, but possibly the most interesting tales come from those towns that died almost as quickly as they were established. Scattered across the Southwest Montana region, history can be pieced together as you travel from one ghost town to the next.
The ghost towns in the area are rich with history, promising intrigue and adventure with every step. As you walk down what was once the main street of the town, imagine yourself living in a time when the town was thriving. Granite, Elkhorn and Bannack are all ghost towns in Southwest Montana that are recognized as State Parks, while Garnet is known as Montana’s
best kept ghost town. Other towns, like Virginia City and Nevada City thrive on tourism, offering tours, living history days, and countless opportunities to immerse yourself in the story of the town. Some of the towns may host more of the mining paraphernalia than town buildings, like Rimini or Charter Oak Mine and Mill. Still others, Pony and Marysville, remain inhabited to this day. No two towns are alike, and none of them offer the same stories. It is in these towns that we recognize that Montana was born on the boom and bust cycle.
A road trip that encompasses many of these historic sites is the perfect way to spend a summer weekend. Whether you just have a few days, or you are looking to truly dig deeper into the Montana landscape, the ghost towns in the area will not disappoint. A few weeks ago, a friend and I jumped in the car to trek across the region. We planned to spend time in the towns themselves, camping along the way, driving across scenic byways, and stopping for a delicious meal in some of the more populated towns. The map pictured below shows the route we took from Bozeman for the weekend.
Our first stop was in Ennis at the Ennis Cafe for a wonderful warmed cinnamon roll with honey butter. Then we took off for Virginia City. As we tramped through town, we took time to peer into each of the historic buildings. Our next stop was Alder Gulch at Robber’s Roost, a historically significant link between Virginia City and Bannack, the two territorial capitals. We then drove out to Bannack State Park where we immersed ourselves in the lives of the Vigilantes, Henry Plummer, and ordinary town members. We then made our way up to Butte for the evening. The next day we got lost on our way to Granite Ghost Town, and stopped at the Philipsburg Brewery. Finally, we wound our way up to Montana’s Best Kept Ghost Town, Garnet for a final blast from the past.
It was a crazy and perfect weekend spent in Montana, and the Ghost Towns never disappoint. I highly recommend taking the time to immerse yourself in the History of Montana. There is no better way to do that than through the Ghost Towns which serve as a concrete – though somewhat decrepit – reminder of the founding days of our beautiful state.