Montana’s Garnet Ghost Town
Garnet ghost town is one of the best preserved ghost towns in Montana. Like much of the western United States, Montana was born on the dream of striking it rich in the gold rush of the 1860s. While Garnet’s story is similar in many ways to that of Bannack, Virginia City, Granite and the like, there are differences that set this community apart from the rest. Today, Garnet is maintained by the Bureau of Land Management.
Getting to Garnet Ghost Town
The easiest access to Garnet is from Highway 200. From Ovando, head west on Highway 200. In just over 20 miles, turn south onto Garnet Range Road. You’ll follow Garnet Range Road for about 11 miles to Garnet Ghost Town.
You can also reach the ghost town from Drummond via the frontage road and Bear Gulch Road. While this route is passable, it’s definitely not the route we would recommend. The Bureau of Land Management does note that RV, motorhomes and pull trailers are NOT recommended to travel this route. It is a steep mountain road that must be traveled slowly regardless of vehicle.
Where to Stay
Garnet Ghost Town is the perfect day trip from Missoula, Seeley Lake, Ovando, Lincoln or even Philipsburg. Each of these communities offers an array of accommodations and unique things to do. There is also plenty of dispersed camping right in the Garnet / Coloma area! Just make sure you set up camp at least a half mile from Garnet!
Make the Most of Your Visit
1. Enjoy the drive and don’t be afraid to pull over.
As you travel the National Back Country Byway (Garnet Range Road) there is plenty to see! Make sure to pull over for the interpretive signage, cemetery, old cabin, and scenic overlook.
2. The day use fee is $3 / person over 16 years old.
The BLM uses entrance fees to help protect, preserve and interpret Garnet Ghost Town; there is a fee box in the designated parking lot.
3. Plan a whole day for exploration and pack a picnic.
The picnic area is beautiful and has potable water and outhouses available for visitors. This is the perfect place to start or end your exploration of Garnet. Don’t underestimate the amount of time it will take to explore the town site – there’s so much to explore!
4. Pick up a brochure with the self guided tour and ask about the scavenger hunt.
As you enter the townsite, stop by the visitor center and gift shop to pick up an interpretive brochure and ask about the scavenger hunt! Both of these will help you stay engaged with the history and interesting artifacts around town.
5. Explore the trails around town.
There are a number of trails around Garnet – check out their website to learn more about the trails and other things to do in the area: garnetghosttown.org/things-to-do.php
6. Take the long way around.
We’ve said it once, but we will say it again – the road into town from highway 200 is beautifully maintained! Whether you are visiting the area north or south of Garnet, we can’t recommend this route enough! If you are using Google Maps for directions, add “46.888960, -113.460991” as a stop between your location and Garnet Ghost Town.
7. Dig into the history of Garnet and the surrounding area.
History of Garnet, Montana
As news of the discovery of gold in Grasshopper Creek (Bannack) spread in 1862, tens of thousands of miners made their way to Montana. As established camps filled, men began the widespread search for other more profitable claims.
This frenzy led men into the Garnet Mountains, named for the red minerals that are so common in the area. The first strike in the area occurred in the early 1860s on Bear Creek at its confluence with the Clark Fork River. In 1865 another strike up Bear Gulch drew more prospectors to the area, leading to further exploration. In the late 1860s and 1870s, the primary method of gold mining was placer mining in the streams by panning, rockers and sluice boxes. The men worked the Bear Gulch area until the placer gold seemed to have been worked over (at least the easy pickings). The remote nature of the area and a lack of good infrastructure made hard rock mining difficult and when miners found easier money in silver, most abandoned the area.
So what changed in 1893 that would bring gold miners back to the area? And why establish Garnet? If you have dug into the history of the Philipsburg area and Granite Ghost Town (today a Montana State Park) the bottom fell out of silver in 1893 and in 1895 the Sherman Silver Purchase Act was repealed. All of a sudden, gold mining – even if more difficult – appeared far more profitable and old claims were re-worked. Placer mining wasn’t going to work this time around and the settlers of Garnet took to hard rock mining.
The community of Garnet was founded in 1895. At its height, Garnet was home to nearly 1,000 residents warranting four stores, seven hotels, three livery stables, two barber shops, a union hall, a butcher shop, candy shop, drugstore, doctor’s office, assay office, 13 saloons and a school. Although the boom was short lived, it is estimated between $950,000 and $1,400,000. A fire ran through town in 1912 destroying much of the area … after a brief period of revitalization in the 1930s, World War II drew much of the remaining population away and Garnet was left a ghost town in the 1940s.
What Sets Garnet Apart?
A note of interest when it comes to Garnet was the makeup of the town. Many of the 19th century boom towns were predominantly settled by single men, but Garnet was different. There was healthy family life in Garnet which could be seen by the thriving schoolhouse and family oriented activities like dinner parties, hayrides, fishing trips, picnics, sledding, sleigh rides and community dances that were common. In the same vein, education and the prominence of a school was rare in these mining towns. The school in Garnet was a centerpiece of the community serving over 40 students at a time.
As we wandered by the school house, we found a sign that read:
*In 1900, the schoolmistress of Garnet’s first school had trouble disciplining the unruly, older boys. The trustees responded with a new ruling, the subject of the poem by an unknown garnet versifier.
The Next Little Cuss that Hollers …
There’s a school up here
At Garnet that is tough
The pupils are bright as dollars
But they’re rough
The teacher is a lady
That is right
She calls them all her babies
But they fight
She tries to teach good manners
All she can
But the trustees they have tried
They have notified the scholars
Of the rule
That the next little cuss that hollers
Out in school
Must pack his little turkey
And must get right out of school
For the trustees are determined
That they must obey the rule
When to Visit Garnet, Montana
Garnet Ghost Town is open year round, however there is limited access throughout the winter. If you are hoping to drive the entire 11 miles, we recommend making the trip during the warm summer months when the roads will be dry and snow won’t have an impact on your trip.
Wheeled vehicles are allowed on the road May 1 through December 15. Depending on the road conditions and snow, it is possible that visitors in the spring and fall may have to park a fair distance from Garnet and ski or snowmobile into town. From December 15 to April 30, visitors are welcome to cross country ski, snowshoe or snowmobile into the town site.
If you are looking for the perfect winter excursion, the BLM offers two cabins for rent from December 1 to April 30. These cabins are heated by wood stoves and lit by propane lights. Neither of the cabin rentals have electricity or plumbing, but there are outhouses and potable water near the cabins. Ready to sleep with the ghosts? Learn more: garnetghosttown.org/cabin-rentals.php