Caverns to Bannack
The Montana State Park System boasts over 50 parks. This incredible system provides ample access to some of Montana’s most untouched spaces. Montana’s first State Park was the Lewis and Clark Caverns. This park received its name from the Corps of Discovery. While Lewis and Clark camped within sight of some of the most decorated limestone Caverns in the western United States, they never visited the area themselves. This itinerary will lead you from the caverns to another Montana State Park: Bannack. Bannack was the first territorial capital of Montana and the site of a massive gold rush. Today, Bannack stands as little more than a memory of its glory days and one of the best-preserved ghost towns in the state. As you travel between the two parks, enjoy the natural wonders Montana offers.
Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park features a campground with 40 sites and comes highly recommended by visitors. Enjoy the campground, the fantastic birding habitat, the miles of trails, and stunning views. If you’re looking for a quick and delicious bite to eat (or maybe just a cup of coffee), Wheat Montana bakery is located just 17 miles from the park. After your quick jaunt, you will have no problem filling the day at the park, enjoying the unspoiled nature of Southwest Montana. These limestone Caverns provide an unparalleled experience and are lined with stunning stalactites, stalagmites, columns, and helicities. Enjoy your visit to the park!
Wheat Montana is a third-generation farming operation with bakeries across the state and a wide product distribution. Wheat Montana guarantees fresh, healthy, and high-quality products. As you walk in the doors, the aroma of freshly baked bread awaits you. Enjoy a fresh pastry, specialty coffee, or even a deli lunch.
The caverns offers tours from May 1 through September 30. The tours take visitors on about a 2-mile hike up to and through the caverns in the cool comfort of the naturally air-conditioned space. These Ranger led tours provide visitors with the history and geological significance of limestone.
This State Park features five different habitats: arid grassland/sagebrush steppe, limber pine/juniper forest, douglas fir forest, high desert shrub, and riparian. This diverse habitat makes for some of Southwest Montana’s best birding. For the best possible birding experience, visitors will want a field guide and binoculars. Rangers are available for questions.
While the highlight of this itinerary is two of Montana’s favorite state parks, there is no shortage of places to explore between the two. As you travel from one park to the other, take a minute to enjoy the colorful communities and wide-open spaces of Southwest Montana. On today’s journey, we encourage you to step outside of your comfort zone and try something new or somewhere you may have not considered. As you leave Lewis and Clark Caverns you will come to the small town of Cardwell followed by Whitehall which will drop you into Twin Bridges. Each of these towns offer a unique Montana experience where you will find genuine hospitality in some of the local favorites. Twin Bridges, the confluence of three valleys, offers some of the best blue-ribbon fishing in the country.
Whitehall is a quintessential Montana small town, with unparalleled access to outdoor recreation, local diners, adorable shops, and of course just a touch of art to brighten the streets. As you wander through town can you spot all 10 of the murals depicting the Lewis and Clark expedition?
Water defines the existence of Twin Bridges. The Big Hole, Beaverhead, and Ruby Rivers all converge near Twin Bridges to form the Jefferson. These blue-ribbon trout streams offer an impressive and diverse fishing experience. Are you ready for an adventure of your own? Check out the outfitters in the area!
While you are in the area, take the time to get to know the community of Twin Bridges. Stop by the Madison County Fairgrounds and explore the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Park, dive into the history of the state orphanage, and grab a bite to eat at a local hot spot. Twin Bridges is known as a bike friendly community, offering countless ways to explore the area!
At this point on your voyage between the parks, you will be making your way into the community of Dillon. Dillon is located along the Lewis and Clark trail. Just before you get to town, you will pass Beaverhead Rock. It was this landmark that Sacagawea recognized as being the land of her people. Once you get to town, you will be met with another charming Montana town with the opportunity to explore the University of Montana Western, a craft brewery, several restaurants, and museums. After stopping to grab a bite to eat, it is time to make the 25-mile drive to Bannack State Park, your final destination! Like the caverns, this State Park features a campground that is the perfect basecamp for your time in the area.
Dillon carries on a century's-old tradition of hospitality that began with the meeting of Lewis & Clark and the Shoshone Indians at Camp Fortunate. Today, the Beaverhead, Big Hole, Grasshopper, Horse Prairie, Centennial and Red Rock Valleys still offer much to see and do. The landscape is wide-open and ringed with peaks over 10,000 feet high.
Bannack was the first territorial capital of Montana. The gold rush brought thousands to settle along Grasshopper Creek, and quickly the area became a central hub in the Montana territory. Today, the town stands as a ghost town, abandoned in ruin and decay, yet the structures hold countless stories and make the perfect base for exploration.
Bannack hosts several living history events, from Bannack Days to Living History Weekends and even an annual Ghost Walk. Each of these events gives visitors the opportunity to step into the shoes of the miners and pioneers and get a taste of what life was like in the early days of Montana. Join us to dive into the lifestyle of the past!