The Top Four Ghost Towns to Visit in Montana

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Visit Montana to explore its ghost towns and be transported back to an era of cowboys, saloons, and quick-draw showdowns. Southwestern Montana is home to the country’s greatest Old West ghost towns, including Bannack, Granite, Garnet, and Elkhorn. 
From snow-capped mountains to sprawling prairies Montana provides ample opportunity for adventure. When you aren’t cross-country skiing or hiking through foothills, Montana’s ghost towns are rich with history and worth visiting.
Positioned between Glacier National Park and Yellowstone National Park, exploring these forgotten towns will require some driving.
Make sure your car is protected before you hit the road by shopping for quotes with Jerry, so you can visit Montana’s ghost towns without a worry.

Bannack State Park

Broken-down houses in front of a cloudy sky in Bannack State Park.
Abandoned Houses, Bannack, Montana

What is the story of Bannack? 

Bannack was founded after Montana’s first major gold discovery occurred there in the summer of 1862. News of the discovery spread, and the small town was quickly populated with over 3,000 people seeking gold.
Bannack temporarily served as the capital of the then newly-founded Montana territory after sparking the state’s gold rush. However, as the value of gold dwindled, mining operations slowed to a halt, and Bannack was abandoned.
To honor its legacy as the site of Montana’s first major gold discovery, Bannack was made a state park in 1954. 

What makes Bannack special?

As a National Historic Landmark and State Park, Bannack is the best preserved of all Montana ghost towns. It offers both a step back into the Old West and your usual state park activities. Here are some of the highlights: 
  • With over fifty original buildings still standing—from the governor’s mansion to historic log frame cabins—you can wander down Main Street and imagine life in the gold-mining era. 
  • The visitor center offers guided tours from Memorial Day through Labor Day.
  • Each year on the third weekend of July, the town celebrates Bannack Days with historic displays, re-enactors, and activities. 
  • The Bannack State Park boasts twenty-eight campsites including a rental teepee along Grasshopper Creek, a hike in/out site with 4 tent pads, and a group picnic site to enjoy with friends and family. Depending on the seasons and available amenities, campsite fees range from $4-$34 per night. 
  • During the winter months, from January to early March, you can skate on the frozen dredge pond, if weather permits. Free loaner skates are available while hot beverages and snacks are for sale. 

How to visit Bannack?

Bannack is located in the Southwestern corner of Montana, just west of Yellowstone National Park. To get to Bannack State Park, take I-15 south of Dillon to exit fifty-nine to Highway 278. Drive west on Highway 278 for 18 miles. Turn south onto the Bannack Bench Road and travel four miles. The park entrance will be on the left-hand side.
While the park is open all year, be sure to dress in warm layers if you are visiting during the winter. At 5,837 feet elevation, Bannack can be quite cold in the winter months. For a $5 entrance fee, you can visit the warming house on the weekends from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Montana state residents who pay the $9 state park fee with their annual vehicle registration can enjoy the park without a daily entrance fee. Nonresidents planning to visit Bannack State Park must pay an $8 day-use fee per vehicle. You can cut the day-use fee cost in half if you are walking in, bicycling, or taking the bus, and it is free with a Nonresident Entrance Pass. 
Pro Tip: Service can be inconsistent in the park, so it’s a good idea to save the directions to your phone before you hit the road.  
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Granite Ghost Town State Park

A view of Montana with remains of Granite Ghost Town State Park in the foreground.
Granite Ghost Town State Park, Montana

What is the story of Granite? 

The area of Granite was incredibly profitable for early prospectors. In 1865, Hector Horton discovered silver in the general vicinity, but the town really took off after the large Granite mine was discovered in the autumn of 1872—almost by accident.
Once silver was discovered in the area, prospectors searched the land for more silver to mine. After the search generated few results for promising mining claims, offsite prospectors ordered a cease of operations. However, the message to stop work was delayed and prospectors continued until the last blast uncovered a treasure trove of silver. Yielding $40,000,000, Granite was the world’s richest silver mine. 
Granite mine employed 3,000 miners and produced $300,000 worth of silver annually during its heyday—the equivalent of about $10 million today. Granite was once home to Montana’s largest silver mining camp, but after the Sherman Silver Purchase Act was repealed in 1893, the demand for silver dropped and decreased prices by nearly 25 percent that year. 
The silver panic shut the mine down, and the once civilized town was deserted. 

What makes Granite special? 

You won’t find anyone living in the camp today, but the remnants of the silver boomtown are preserved by Granite Ghost Town State Park. 
  • Read about the history of the once-thriving town on informative plaques located at each site.
  • Wander through the ruins of the Granite Mine Superintendent’s house, a bank, and the old miners’ Union Hall.

How to visit Granite

Granite is located in Southwestern Montana, just west of Helena on Highway 12. Follow I-90 until Highway 1 exit and reach Philipsburg. The 5-mile road from Philipsburg to Granite is steep, narrow, and winding. The cell service is spotty, so save directions offline before starting your drive. 
The state park operates all year, during daylight hours, and is open on Memorial Day. Snow occasionally blocks the road from Philipsburg to Granite during the winter months and into late May. Make sure to call ahead for weather reports because the road is impassable when wet and muddy. 
Montana residents who pay the $9 state parks fee with their annual vehicle registration can enjoy the park without a daily entrance fee. Nonresidents visiting Granite must pay an $8 day-use entrance fee per vehicle. If you walk, bicycle, or take the bus in, the day-use entrance fee is $4 or free for Nonresident Entrance Pass holders. 
Pro Tip: The drive has a 1,280 foot—take a moment to pull over and enjoy the beautiful scenic vistas. 

Garnet Ghost Town

A view looking down at the wooden buildings of Garnet Ghost town bordered by trees.
Garnet Ghost Town, Montana

What is the story of Garnet?

Thousands of unemployed miners began gold mining in the Garnet Mountain Range after the silver mines closed. As miners trickled in and produced more gold, Dr. Armistead Mitchell built a stamp mill to crush the local ore. 
Originally named Mitchell, the town grew to host 1,000 residents after a local miner discovered three rich veins of ore. In 1897, the town was renamed Garnet, after the semi-precious stone found in the area. 
While the mining town never struck a bonanza like others in the region, Garnet produced millions in gold between 1862 to 1916. The Nancy Hanks mine was the richest in the area and generated about $690,000 worth of gold. Fluctuating gold prices allowed the Nancy Hanks mine to continue to work on and off. As gold became scarce and harder to mine, Garnet was deserted by 1950. 
Nearly half the town was burned to the ground in 1912 and wasn’t rebuilt until the Garnet Preservation Project began restoration work in 1970. 

What makes Garnet special? 

The boomtown was built quickly and haphazardly. Most of the original buildings stood atop mining claims without foundations. However, over $90,000 worth of artifacts have been donated, and you can wander through the town and imagine what once was. 
  • Visitors can see the recently restored J.R. Wells Hotel, Dahl’s Saloon, Kelly’s Bar, and the F.A. Davey’s store.
  • The Visitor Center offers educational and interpretive materials to guide you through the town’s history.
  • The town celebrates Garnet Day annually with various activities in June. The event details vary each year, so call the Bureau of Land Management office ahead. 
  • Hike the self-guided Warren Park, Sierra Mine Loop, and Placer Trails to enjoy the mountain scenery and explore old mining operations. 

How to get to Garnet 

To get to Garnet Ghost Town from the west follow I-90 east to Exit 109, the Bonner Exit. Continue on Highway 200 east for 23 miles. Shortly after the 22-mile marker, turn south at the sign Garnet Ghost Town. The parking lot is 11 miles up the gravel road. The gravel road is not recommended for trailers or motorhomes.
If you are coming from the east take I-90 west to Exit 154 for Drummond. Follow the Frontage Road approximately 10 miles to Bear Gulch Road. Proceed 7.5 miles up the road until Cave Gulch Road Junction and continue 4 miles up the road to Garnet. 
Garnet is open all year with differing hours during the summer and winter months. Summer hours are from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily, but you’ll have to call ahead to inquire about winter hours. 
If you are sixteen years or older, the entrance fee is $3 per person while Membership Cardholders enter for free. 
Pro Tip: Wheeled vehicles are allowed on the road from May 1 through December 15, depending on snow conditions. During the winter months, the road is impassable by car. If you are visiting Garnet in the winter, strap on your cross-country skis or hop on a snowmobile. 

Elkhorn State Park

Two broken down wooden buildings lean at an angle at Elkhorn State Park.
Abandoned Buildings, Elkhorn State Park, Montana

What is the story of Elkhorn?

Elkhorn was founded in 1875 after silver was discovered in the area. Once the silver mine developed, the town grew to house 2,500 residents, a post office, and a railroad. The Elkhorn mine produced 8,902,000 ounces of silver and 8,500 ounces of gold, and more than 4 million pounds of lead. 
Fluctuating prices of silver caused the Elkhorn Mine to be worked intermittently, but by 1951 all mining activity ended. As production slowed, the town did too and was eventually abandoned in the 1970s, sparing a handful of residents. 

What makes Elkhorn special?

The privately-owned town of Elkhorn is not a commercial ghost town so you won’t find any restaurants or stores selling souvenirs—just the town itself and its remaining ten residents.
  • Visitors can walk in and view the historic Fraternity Hall and Gillian Hall, the last two remaining structures from the early-day mining town. You’ll want to bring your camera to document picturesque examples of frontier architecture.
  • After stepping back into the 19th-century mining era, visitors can enjoy bicycling, hiking, and wildlife viewing in Montana’s smallest state park.

How to visit Elkhorn? 

Elkhorn State Park is located in Southwestern Montana, just southeast of Helena. It can be reached from Boulder off I-15. Travel 7 miles south on Highway 69, leftover a small bridge, then right onto a gravel road for 13 miles. There will be two forks in the road, bear left at each of them. 
The park is open to visitors all year and day-use fees are required upon entrance. Montana residents who pay the $9 state parks fee with their annual vehicle registration can enjoy the park without a daily entrance fee. 
Nonresidents visiting Granite must pay an $ 8 day-use entrance fee per vehicle. If you walk, bicycle, or take the bus in, the day-use entrance fee is $4, and it is free for Nonresident Entrance Pass holders. 

How to find affordable car insurance 

Montana ghost towns are in remote locations, and you often must drive along mountain ranges and unkempt backroads to access them. The chances of a collision or getting stranded are much greater than driving in the city. Make sure you have the car insurance coverage you need to enjoy the scenic route worry-free. 
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