Early explorers, ghost towns, and underground tours, experience Montana’s unique western culture
Montana’s unique western culture is everywhere. Across the state there are reminders of how Native American tribes fought to preserve their ancestral way of life as eastern explorers and settlers came out west. Early explorers crossed Montana to discover new routes and later found gold and other riches that gave Montana its nickname “The Treasure State.”
The towns that grew with the gold rush and were later abandoned when the gold ran out can still be visited today. These ghost towns are living examples of the real Old West. The cowboy way of life continues at ranches across the state and visitors can enjoy participating in daily chores on a working or guest ranch. Come and explore Montana’s unique culture!
Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, where General Custer had his Last Stand, marked a victory for the Sioux and Cheyenne Indians. Tour here with a Crow tribal member who offers an enchanting and accurate interpretation of the battle. Traditional Native American ways of life can be experienced at Montana’s Powwows, such as Crow Fair near Billings, or at North American Indian Days in Browning. Seven Indian tribes in Montana celebrate their traditions with dance, drumming and traditional dress during these family-oriented celebrations.
Near Great Falls is First Peoples Buffalo Jump State Park. Believed to be the largest buffalo jump in North America, this prehistoric bison kill site features breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains and plains. Learn about Glacier National Park’s natural features with Sun Tours offers interesting narrated tours from the Blackfeet Indian perspective on the Going to the Sun Road in Glacier National Park.
Fort Benton is a picturesque community along the Missouri River where you can follow the footsteps of fur traders and others, explore the Historic Old Fort, a Homestead Village and other museums.
Visiting one of Montana’s ghost towns is like stepping back in time to the era of gold, saloons and vigilantes. Experience the quiet solitude of Bannack State Park, the site of Montana’s first major gold discovery in 1862 where over 50 buildings line the Main Street, most of which you can enter and recall Montana’s formative years.
Watch history come alive at Virginia City and Nevada City. Both towns have been largely restored and preserved and have become living examples of the real Old West. Original buildings, dating from the territorial days, are filled with merchandise and implements used when gold camps flourished in the West.
The community of Butte is located virtually on the Continental Divide, surrounded by mountains, and lies on some of the world’s richest mineral reserves. Once known as the “Richest Hill on Earth”, Butte is steeped in mining history and cultural diversity. Tour the Berkeley Pit, a huge copper mine, take an underground mine tour or a Trolley Tour, an easy and fun way to learn the history of this fascinating town.
World Museum of Mining. Visit one of the few museums in the world located on an actual mine yard – go underground in the Orphan Girl Mine on a guided tour to learn what miners endured. Above ground, explore over 50 exhibit buildings in the old west mining town, and countless artifacts and exhibits in the mine yard. You can easily spend several hours to an entire day lost in the unfolding story of Butte’s mining heyday.
Near Helena is the Gates of the Mountains area, once explored by the Lewis and Clark Expedition. On this two-hour excursion boat tour on the Missouri River, great towering walls of limestone still stand guard over the river while Bighorn sheep and Mountain Goats scamper in the rocks high above the water. From the vessel you can take a look at Indian pictographs painted on the rock wall, proof that indigenous people lived here long before Meriwether Lewis named it the Gates of the Mountains. The tour’s main attraction, though, is the inexhaustible scenery – wooded slopes, rugged rock formations, and the placid beauty of the timeless Missouri.
Lewis and Clark explored the West and came through Montana both on their way to the Pacific and on their return trip. The town of Three Forks marks the nearby headwaters of the Missouri River, discovered by Lewis and Clark, and features the Headwaters Heritage Museum. Lewis & Clark National Historic Trails Interpretive Center in Great Falls, focuses on the Lewis and Clark expedition, the relations between the Corps of Discovery and the many Indian tribes they met over their 2 year journey and the month-long portage around the five waterfalls on the Missouri River near Great Falls.
Pompeys Pillar National Monument is a sandstone butte that bears the only physical evidence of Lewis & Clark’s Expedition. Captain William Clark carved his name and date here in 1806. The Visitor Center features exhibits that relate to the journey of Captain William Clark and his detachment, including Sacajawea and her son Pomp, down the Yellowstone River Valley in 1806.
Havre Beneath the Streets is an historical underground tour available during the summer. When fire destroyed most of the town, business owners moved underground to carry on business until the town could be rebuilt. Step back in time into Sporting Eagle Salon, a Chinese laundry and a bordello.
Featured photo: Streetscape view of Virginia City, Montana. Photo credit: Montana Office of Tourism
For more information, contact:
Montana Office of Tourism & Business Development
301 South Park
Helena, MT 59620 USA