Philipsburg, Montana's Big Rock Candy Mountain

You’ll find sapphires and a palace of sorts tucked into the gentle folding hillsides and valleys of this swath of southwestern Montana.
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Flower-strewn streets of Philipsburg

Flower-strewn streets of Philipsburg

With flowers and gorgeously restored historic buildings lining its main street, Philipsburg is one of Montana's most charming towns.

Once a booming mining town, it’s a place that makes you want to sit on one of its benches along the sidewalk and watch the world go by. But first, you need to stop in the town's enormous handmade candy store, The Sweet Palace. It's  a version of the Big Rock Candy Mountain about which Burl Ives sang. Amid the Victorian-era decor, you’ll find 50 kinds of fudge, 20 types of caramel and incredible treats like Dark Chocolate Premium Moose Truffles made with Moose Drool Brown Ale by Big Sky Brewing Co.

The pink interior of the Sweet Palace in Philipsburg, Mont.

The pink interior of the Sweet Palace in Philipsburg, Mont.

Next door is Sapphire Gallery where you can buy a bag of gravel with local sapphires in it for $25. Staff will show you how to use screens to clean and sort the gravel to uncover the sapphires. You can have the gallery heat-treat them to enhance their color or fashion them into jewelry.

“Everyone loves finding treasure," says co-owner Shirley Beck. “It's material that has been waiting for them in the ground for a long time: about 50 million years.”

Hunting for sapphires

Hunting for sapphires

But Philipsburg itself is a treasure, and you may find it hard to get back into the car when it's time to leave. In fact, it feels like leaving an old friend as you head out of this off-the-beaten path town. 

“Philipsburg has activities and shops, eateries and photo opportunities, but at the end of your visit we just make you feel good. It's magic," Beck says. 

The town itself is a great example of how locals and newcomers can reinvent their town over time, overcoming a mining bust to become a tourist-fueled economy. Founded in the 1870s, Philipsburg was a bustling mining town that attracted people to its silver, manganese, sapphire and gold mines. But over time, the mines shut down, leaving the residents of Philipsburg with shuttered shops and a declining population. By the 1980s, it was nearly a ghost town.  

A grassroots movement, spearheaded by locals and entrepreneurs like Shirley Beck, owner of The Sweet Palace, and Dale Siegford, who is co-owner of the Sapphire Gallery with Beck, led to a revitalization in town. Jim Jarvis, who moved from Washington and who owns The Broadway Hotel was also part of that, among others. Today, downtown Philipsburg is a bustling town that attracts travelers from all over the world.  

For more information:

Get your Philipsburg Travel Package
(888) 793-3896 

The Sweet Palace
(888) 793-3896
109 E. Broadway, Philipsburg, MT 59858
Closed on Saturdays

Sapphire Gallery
(800) 525-0169
115 E Broadway, Philipsburg, MT 59858


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