Experience cowboy country history in Southwest Montana via old jailhouses, mining museums and trolley tours through gold rush ghost towns.
Duration: 3 Days
Travel 85 miles from Yellowstone to Virginia City/Nevada City. Mining brought fortune hunters to the area and established these cities. Virginia City was actually once the territorial capital and social center of the frontier and a National Historic Landmark. The entire town of Nevada City is a living history museum with many original buildings. Experience life in the 1800s at both of these historic communities. Depart for Dillon. Take in a variety show matinee at the Opera House. Take the trolley ride to Nevada City. They have the Music Hall which is the largest collection of automated music machines in North America. It houses the largest music organ in the world.
Depart for Bannack State Park, the best preserved of Montana’s gold rush ghost towns. In 1862, this was the site of Montana’s first major gold discovery. By 1863, the population had soared to more than 3,000. Today, you’ll walk the streets of the “Old West” and get a real feel of Montana’s pioneer days. Groups are welcome and guided tours are available.
Arrive at Big Hole National Battlefield, the location of the battle that took place in 1877. During the Nez Perce Flight of 1877, more than 800 entered into Montana passing through Bitterroot Valley. The dawn turning point battle interpretation begins at the Visitors Center and Viewing Deck. A hiking trail takes visitors to key battlefield points of interest. Groups can then depart on a scenic cowboy country drive through Southwest Montana where they will view beautiful mountain ranges and catch glimpses of fishermen on blue ribbon waters. Arrive at Anaconda and check into a charming Inn, motel, hotel, or even a guest ranch. There are plenty of dinner options available.
Enjoy breakfast at your hotel or a local coffee shop and checkout before departing for the 30-minute drive to Deer Lodge in Southwest Montana.
Get your cowboy on at the Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site. Once a million-acre cattle empire, the site preserves the symbols and honors the role of the cowboy and cattlemen in America’s history. Start at the Visitor Center then step back in time as you explore some of the 88 historic structures. Experience the wide-open spaces of the ranch and old ranch house through a guided tour.
Arrive at nearby Old Mountain Prison & Auto Museum Complex. It was in July 1871 that Montana’s Territorial Prison incarcerated its first occupants. By the late 1970s, all prisoners were gone. Today, guided tours lead you through this intimidating structure providing insight into life behind bars. USA Today listed the Montana Auto Museum as one of the Top 10 Car Museums in the nation. That should be no surprise with more than 165 cars on display telling the story of automotive history. Depart on I-90 for the 40-minute drive to Butte.
Begin your visit with the popular Trolley Tour. Led by a knowledgeable driver, it’s the perfect way to be introduced to Butte and the colorful characters from its past. Allow time to visit the World Museum of Mining. Located on an actual mine yard, there are 50 exhibit buildings with artifacts and 66 primary exhibits. Check into one of Butte’s abundant lodging options that will fit your price and amenities checklist.
Enjoy breakfast at your hotel before checkout and departure for the 50-minute drive on I-15 North to Jefferson City.
Arrive at Tizer Botanic Gardens & Arboretum featuring six acres of gardens and an arboretum. Explore Montana’s only full-time operated Botanical Garden and Arboretum. More than a dozen individual gardens have a full array of flowers and woody plants on display. Depart for the 20-minute drive to Helena.
Charter an enclosed, climate-controlled trolley for a Historic Trolley Tour, the perfect way to see historic and beautiful Helena. Cruise by the Cathedral of St. Helena, Reeder’s Alley, Pioneer Cabin, and much more. Not to be missed in Helena is the Montana History Museum. Just a short walk from the state capitol the museum houses more than 50,000 artifacts, including pieces from Native American tribes that resided in Southwest Montana. Arrive at the Gates of the Mountains for a boat tour to explore what Lewis & Clark experienced more than 200 years ago. The 120-minute cruise glides through country Meriwether Lewis would remember if he returned today.
Sarah Bannon/Executive Director
Main photo courtesy of Donnie Sexton