Who knew Montana had so many ghost towns?! I definitely didn’t when I first moved here, but I’ve been fascinated in learning about them. Most of the ghost towns in Montana are in the southwest region. When you visit one of these, you’ll be instantly transported back in time!
Typically, ghost towns are towns that have lost all (or most) of their populated due to resources depleating. A lot of ghost towns were old mining towns and when the mines ran out of resources, everyone moved to a new spot to start mining again, leaving the town completely descolated and frozen in time. Of course, there are other reasons ghost towns can spring up including natural disasters or a failed economy.
If you’re visiting Montana, these are definitely some cool places to visit to learn about the history of this area!
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I’m typing this before really digging into the history of each ghost town and I’m willing to bet that most of them were old mining towns. Southwest Montana is right next to (or even in) the Rocky Mountains, so I’m sure there were some great resources to mine from under ground. But let’s see!
Here are Montana’s Best Ghost Towns and what to do in each one:
Coloma is located in Missoula County, MT and was active from 1893 to 1906, 1918-1921, and 1932-1950. It’s nicknamed the “Mystery Camp” for reasons I can’t seem to find on the internet. This town mined gold while it was active and when the miners couldn’t find anymore, they moved on.
What you’ll find here now are several abandoned buildings and structures to check out. However, there isn’t any real data or information included in them, so it’s really just a cool place to visit, not one to learn about the time period. If you do plan on visiting, do so in the spring, summer, or fall since the roads are closed to wheeled vehicles in the winter.
Garnet is located just East of Missoula and is very well preserved with a lot of information to offer up. The town was set up to mine the surrounding mountains for gold. This is where a lot of miners moved to when mines in California and Colorado became scarce. Around 1898, Garnet had nearly 1,000 people living in this town!
Aside from touring the town and seeing the old structures, Garnet has several hiking trails to embark on. Just outside, you’ll also find opportunities to fish, hunt, offroad, and more in the beautiful Montana mountains!
Learn more about Garnet Ghost Town on their website!
Marysville is located in Lewis and Clark County, MT. In the 1880s and 1890s, Marysville had about 3,000 people living in it and they were huge producers of gold. The main mine in town, the Drumlummon Mine was named after the first miner’s hometown in Ireland. The town, itself, was named after the first women to come to town, Mary Ralston.
When you visit you’ll find old structures for stores, houses, etc., but you’ll also find a unique feature: a baseball field!
This town is technically considered an “almost ghost town” since there are still some people living here, but not nearly as many as there were in the 1800’s.
Rimini is also in Lewis and Clark County, but unlike the last three ghost towns here, Rimini was founded to mine Silver back in 1864. This is an “almost ghost town” since there are still a few residents here.
When you visit Rimini, you can walk around the abandoned structures and read the informational plaques around town. It’s on a maintained gravel road, so you should be able to visit any time of year.
Granite State Park
The town of granite was discovered in 1865 specifically to mine silver and today, it’s a state park! This means that the structures are maintained by the state of Montana and you’ll likely find a lot more historical information to read here. You’ll find the remains of a bank, a union hall, severl living spaces, and more.
The park is open during daylight hours only and is free for Montana residents. If you try to travel here in the winter, however, the snow might be blocking the roads, so check for road closures when you go.
For more information, visit their website!
Elkhorn State Park
Elkhorn Ghost Town is also a State Park and has two buildings that are recorded in the Historic American Buildings Survey: Fraternity Hall and Gillian Hall. These buildings just scream 19th century and really highlight the architecture of that time. This town has several signs and information to read about the area.
While you’re there, you can also hike, bicycle, and maybe even see some wildlife!
For more information, visit their website!
Bannack State Park
Bannack was founded in 1862 after gold was found in an area and miners flocked to mine as much as they could. It’s now a state park to go to and learn about this time! This ghost town might just have the most structures available to see out of all of these. There’s a total of over 60!
There’s also a lot to do in this town for all ages including gold panning, tours, ice skating in the winter, and more.
To find out when they host activites or to learn more about this ghost town, visit their website!
Virginia City and Nevada City
Virginia City and Nevada City are technically two different towns, but they’re only about a mile apart, so you could visit them both in one day. You can even take a train ride from one city to the other! These are likely the most-visited ghost towns in Montana.Several cities sprang up in this area when gold was found nearby. Virginia City is the most popular of them all.
There’s a LOT to do in these two cities including train rides, live comedy shows, gold panning, museums, and just walking around to take in the architecture of the 19th century.
To make reservations or learn more about this area, here is their website!
Laurin is in the same general area as Virginia City and Nevada City, along the Alder Gulch. It was founded in 1863 and was built around a trading post that sold supplies to miners. This was how the town eventually prospered. There is definitely less to do in this town than the others along the Alder Gulch, but it is still a place with a great amound of Montana history.
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Karst’s Camp isn’t necessarily a ghost town – more of a old-time resort. It’s located in Big Sky, Montana. It started in 1901 with 25 cabins that could house 100 people. Later, they built bars and brothels to entertain miners staying nearby.
Today, the cabins are still there and are occupied. The nearby mine can still be reached. Unfortunately, there are no tours you can take, but you can drive by, go for a hike, and just view the area by yourself.
Zortman might be one of the newest ghost towns on this list. This town wasn’t founded until 1890 when gold was struck in the mountians. The mine shut down and then reopened in the 1930s. Around this time, there were over 2,000 people living in Zortman and there were several general stores, barber shops, hotels, bars, etc. to accomodate all of them.
However, in 1936, a wildfire wiped out the entire mining operation and they were forced to shut down. Later, in 1979, the mine started operating again until 1998. Today, the town has a total of 60 residents and there’s said to be plans in the works of reopening the mine once again some day.
Which one should you visit?
Now that I’m writing this after doing all this research – I was right! Most of these towns were, in fact, founded because of some type of mining (mostly gold). From the looks of it, the most popular ghost towns to visit in Montana are Virginia City and any of the State Parks listed above. Virginia City by far has the most to do for both adults and kids. So, if you’re looking for something with a lot of activities, I’d head here.
However, if you’re looking for a more secluded, naturey trip, I’d give Elkhorn State Park a try. The buildings here look to be the most interesting and since it’s a State Park, you don’t have to be worried about intruding on someone elses land or home!
Which one of these Montana ghost towns will you visit?