Why You Have to Visit Montana’s Ghost Towns + Find Out Which Ones are Haunted!
In Montana, it’s not just songs that are about silver and gold. Montana has a long and storied history around these metals, plus a lot of copper.
These metals led to many boom towns that were quickly built up as people rushed to Montana to find their riches…only to dwindle down to ghost towns when the rush was over. Many of the buildings from these towns still exist and are seemingly frozen in time. Some have also been preserved by the state or national historic societies.
Here are the best ghost towns to visit in Montana. And in case you’re wondering: yes, some are even said to be haunted!
Must-See Ghost Towns in Montana
Bannack State Park
Bannack State Park is the epitome of the “Old West”. Bannack is known as Montana’s first major gold discovery town back in 1862.
Today, Bannack State Park has 28 campsites and activities in the park that include bicycling, fishing, wildlife viewing, picnicking and more. The park is open year-round, though amenities and hours differ from summer to winter.
Bannack State Park has over 50 old buildings you can walk around, truly making it feel like you’re in a wild west ghost town. The Hotel Meade is one of the most popular buildings to see and walk around inside since there have been many reports of ghost sightings.
Campsites are available at Bannack State Park and offer an array of amenities, including public restrooms, wedding facilities, tours, a picnic shelter, and a full gift shop.
Virginia City/Nevada City
Virginia City and Nevada City are one mile apart from one another and they lie along Alder Gulch, a place in the Ruby River Valley where gold was discovered on May 26, 1863.
Soon after, Virginia City was designated as the new territorial capital of Montana. It became the largest settlement and became the territory’s first social center and transportation hub.
It is no longer a bustling gold rush town, but Virginia City has been remarkably preserved from that era. The town is open to visitors year-round and combines the historic buildings and architecture with modern times since businesses operate right out of those buildings that once served the gold rush era.
Visiting Nevada City takes a bit more pre-planning since it is only open for an extended summer season from Memorial Day weekend through the month of September.
There are various passes to visit the cities including the Stay & Play Pass, the Vigilante Pass, and the Pass for Two. Additional activities include the Nevada Museum and Music Hall, the River of Gold, and the Alder Gulch Shortline Railroad.
Garnet Ghost Town
Garnet got its named after a semi-precious ruby-colored stone was discovered in the area but the town was built on gold — and quickly.
Because of the speed with which Garnet grew, it lacked a proper foundation, which ultimately led to it quickly turning over into a deserted ghost town.
At one point in the past, however, Garnet was becoming highly populated, and more and more miners were moving there to collect gold. When the 1900s hit, the gold had become scarce and by 1905, many of the mines had been abandoned and the population of the town had shrunk to nearly nothing.
Today, Garnet is preserved by the Garnet Preservation Association. Its mission is to promote public awareness and appreciation of the Garnet Historic District.
Castle Town is one of the many towns that were both created and destroyed by the Silver Rush in the late 1800s. At one point, Castle Town was quite the boom town, hosting around 2,000 residents, a school, a jail, and many other businesses.
However, Castle Town had a lack of transportation and that was ultimately its downfall as supplies were hauled in and out by wagons alone. When the plans for a railroad to be implemented were delayed due to the Silver Panic of 1893, the town became deserted.
Today the town is privately owned and permission is required to visit and explore the deteriorating old buildings of this Montana ghost town near White Sulphur Springs.
Comet Ghost Town
Comet Ghost Town is located about twenty miles south of Helena. The town was developed after a mine and large mill were built in the area in the late 1880s and 1920s, respectively.
Comet was known for its many saloons – said to be close to two dozen! See some of the old buildings and walk around them with a visit to this interesting ghost town. Today, it is actually located on private land (imagine buying a property with an old mining town on it!), but it is has open hours to the public.
—> Read More: 10 Best Small Towns in Montana
Virgelle Ghost Town
Virgelle was established in 1912 and was a community situated right on the Missouri River. It’s riverside location plus bing a stop along the Great Northern Railroad helped build Virgelle into a thriving town.
However, the town of Virgelle was short-lived as it began to decline by the 1930s.
Fortunately, there has been preservation of the town and there are several structures still standing. These structures include several historic cabins that have all been preserved and restored to withstand today, including the Virgelle Mercantile, a must-see site when visiting.
Virgelle also offers the opportunity for visitors to stay on-site and fully immerse themselves in the history.
This is a great Montana ghost town to visit any time of year. In fact, if you visit during the Christmas season you will experience the magic of Virgelle Country Christmas and it is truly beautiful.
Virgelle is a short drive from Fort Benton and roughly an hour’s drive northeast from Great Falls.
Elkhorn Ghost Town State Park
Elkhorn State Park is the preservation of the 19th-century mining landscape in the town of Elkhorn.
Elkhorn State Park stands today as a relic of the silver mining boom of Montana and is the smallest state park within the state. In its prime, Elkhorn was known as a family town, which was different from most mining towns. But after the Silver Panic in the late 1800s the town began to dwindle. It held on but by the 1970s, the town was completely abandoned.
Today the main structures that were preserved as part of Elkhorn Ghost Town State Park include Fraternity Hall and Gillian Hall. The park is open year-round and is open to visitors. Be sure to check out Fraternity Hall — the Greek Revival wood building has alluring architecture and is popular with photographers.
Karst’s Camp was originally founded by Pete Karst in 1901 and was originally a dude ranch. He built a cabin for himself to live in and eventually went out to build twenty-five additional cabins that could accommodate up to 100 people; from there, he began to build a community.
Eventually, the town started to take off and became a place of entertainment for the miners with a ski lift, camp, local bars, and a brothel for entertainment. The resort remained intact and operational for 50 years before Pete decided to retire and the town became abandoned.
Today, the cabins are still there and occupied, but it is no longer considered a resort and is instead categorized as an “open-air” un-escorted attraction, simply meaning that it is open to the public but there are no guided tours or attractions.
Marysville was once a very productive gold-producing town, particularly through the 1880s-1890s. At the time, the town was considered to be the leading gold producer. During its successful time period, the town was owned by Tommy Cruse. He sold the mine for $1,500,000, and it has since passed through the hands of several owners and been declared bankrupt.
While it hasn’t quite earned the title of a ghost town, the town is pretty scarce compared to what it once was. Today there is still some mining in the community and operations of businesses including The Marysville Steak House, the Bald Mountain and West Belmont mines, and the Catholic Church.
Rimini Ghost Town is located a short drive southwest of Helena.
Similar to Karst’s Camp, Rimini Ghost Town is known as an “open-air” un-escorted town to visit today. Rimini is one of the oldest mining districts in Montana, being established in 1864. Like the other ghost towns on this list, it was once a bustling Montana town. By the year 1890, there were a few hundred residents and many businesses including hotels, saloons, gambling houses, and more; however, by the year 1920, the town had diminished to just about 20 residents.
Today a lot of the structures in Rimini are inhabited and there are a few full-time residents and some operational businesses including Rose Wilson’s store and the Red Mountain Tavern.
Which ghost town in Montana do you most want to visit? And do you think any are haunted?