This itinerary at a glance: Step back in time to the frontier and explore Montana’s ghost towns. On your way from Glacier National Park to Yellowstone National Park, you’ll wander through some forgotten towns of the past while exploring Montana’s rich history.
Duration: 3 Days
Begin your journey on MT-83 from West Glacier with a stop in the charming town of Bigfork. Take in a great view of Flathead Lake, but find time for some shopping in the town’s upscale art galleries, high-end boutiques, and fine restaurants. Continuing south on MT-83, enter the Seeley-Swan Valley. There’s plenty of recreation opportunities on the valley’s chain of lakes, including Swan Lake, Holland Lake, Seeley Lake, Lake Placid, and Salmon Lake State Park.
After a refreshing time on the lakes, it’s on to the first ghost town stop, Garnet Ghost Town. Garnet is a historic mining town with more than 30 buildings preserved. From 1862 to 1916, millions in gold were taken from the Garnet area. Many believe there’s more available.
Begin your day in Phillipsburg, an 1890s mining town renovated into a National Historic District. Quaint shops dot the walking tour, with a must stop at the Sweet Palace. “The grandest candy emporium in the West” offers 1,000 candies and free fudge and taffy tastings every day. Try prospecting at the Sapphire Gallery and be sure to visit the Granite County Museum and Mine Exhibit and the Ghost Town Hall of Fame.
Nearby, you must stop at Granite Ghost Town State Park. At the time it was the richest silver mine in the world at $40,000,000, might never have been if a telegraph from the east hadn’t been delayed. (Access is on a rough road that may not be suitable for all vehicles or travelers).
Continue to Anaconda in the Deer Lodge National Park, the town that sprang up when the Anaconda Mining company of Butte needed a smelt for its copper ore. Operations were suspended in 1980, but “The Stack” remains a landmark. Catch a show at the Washoe Theater, a 1936 movie theater with Art Deco furnishings and murals. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1892, the venue’s story is well worth a visit.
The final stop is the Fairmont Hot Springs Resort with four hot spring pools, two mineral soaking pools, and a waterslide. Dinner is at the Waters Edge Dining Room and a nightcap, if you’re so inclined, can be enjoyed at Whiskey Joe’s Lounge. An option is to continue to Butte for an overnight. Checkout the Spooks and Spirits Haunted tour and the Dumas Brothel tour. It’s the longest operating Brothel in the U.S.
Travel the Pioneer Mountain Scenic Byway with a stop at Crystal Park. Rockhounders and others will enjoy searching for Quartz crystals scattered throughout this National Recreation Area.
The next stop is the historic Bannack State Park with more than 60 preserved structures. Begin at the visitors center to get a full briefing on this site that was the first major Montana gold discovery in July 1862. Arrive late morning with a reservation for picnic tables and shelters available for groups.
Finish your day at Nevada City, an 1860s stagecoach stop, and Virginia City, which emerged from the discovery of gold in Alder Gulch. Virginia City was the Montana Territorial Capital for 10 years until the gold ran out. You’ll discover nuggets of history as you shop and dine in an 1860s atmosphere. Both towns have been restored and more than 150 buildings have been certified authentic by the Montana Historical Society. Catch a show at The Opera House with The Virginia City Players, or a performance by the Brewery Follies Players at Montana’s first brewery, H.S. Gilbert Brewery.
Continue on U.S. 287 to West Yellowstone, your gateway to Yellowstone National Park. On the way stop at Earthquake Lake and its informative visitor center overlooking this eerie lake. In West, Yellowstone stops at the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center to see wolves and bears native to this area and at the historic Eagle store for a souvenir are musts.
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