Anaconda’s Unexpected History on the Continental Divide
This unique town has access to the outdoor recreation you’d expect from southwestern Montana with a surprising and delicious culinary history that lives on today.
Serving as a stopover city for Continental Divide Trail hikers and 20 minutes from practically any outdoor recreation you could wish for, Anaconda, Mont., is a good spot for those looking to connect with the West’s boom-and-bust history. The town was founded on smelting, the process of extracting metal from ore, and still holds its mining roots close today.
Anaconda’s Smelting History
In 1883 mining magnet Marcus Daly founded the town to process copper ore from the mines in nearby Butte, Mont. While the smelter was shut down in 1980 and cleanup efforts began, the original 585-foot smokestack remains standing and is the tallest freestanding masonry structure in the world. The stack, which is taller than the Washington Monument, sits in Montana’s smallest state park, Stack State Park. The stack can only be viewed from a distance, except for one day a year on Smelterman’s Day. On Aug. 8, 2022, the town celebrates its heritage with live music, a brew fest, a parade and fun run, an art walk and more. On this day, the public can take a tour with a ranger to the stack and see it up-close.
On weekdays throughout the summer at 10 a.m., you can learn more about the town’s history by boarding a vintage 1936 tour bus that used to carry tourists in Glacier National Park at the Discover Anaconda Visitor Center. The volunteer-run tour will bring you past historic sites and buildings where you’ll learn more about the city’s early smelting days.
The city’s founder, Marcus Daly, was an Irish immigrant who started from nothing and became one of the west’s “Copper Kings.” His rags-to-riches story drew many Irish immigrants to work for him, and Anaconda still has a strong Irish heritage today. Residents go big for St. Patrick’s Day, but the rest of the year you can experience the town’s Irish roots by sampling Cornish pasties. This dish, which is like a turnover filled with beef and vegetables, was a staple lunch for miners. Head to Donivan’s, a pub that has pasties on the lunch and dinner menu. It’s a local debate whether they should be served with ketchup or brown gravy, so you better order both and decide for yourself.
Once you learn about the history of the town, it’s time to focus on the present and that’s the incredible outdoor opportunities that await you. Take Hwy. 1, 20 minutes northwest of Anaconda to Georgetown Lake, a reservoir that sits higher in elevation than town making it the perfect place to cool off in the summer. Rent a kayak or stand-up paddleboard at Moose Marina or enjoy a picnic along the shores of the lake.
Get a taste of the Continental Divide Trail, which crosses the entire United States from the Canadian border in Glacier National Park to the Mexican border in New Mexico outside of Anaconda by hiking the 13-mile out-and-back section to Upper Seymour Lake. Start at the trailhead just past Lower Seymour Lake Campground and hike to the stunningly clear alpine lake framed by craggy peaks.
For a mellower hike right in town, hit Anaconda’s trail system at the end of Cedar Street near the Visitor Center. You’ll reach a junction at 0.4 miles where you can head east to see the site of the Old Works Smelter, or west to reach Washoe Park which was built by the Anaconda Company and still has a duck pond, a swimming pool and a fish hatchery.
If you’re camping, Lost Creek State Park is one of the area’s best kept secrets. Forested campsites with views of picturesque cliff bands await. Don’t miss the short hike to Lost Creek Falls, where a 50-foot waterfall cascades down the mountain.
Or, for a unique perspective on the surrounding Montana wilderness, experience it from the air. Book an adventure with Montana Zipline Adventures just outside of Anaconda where you’ll soar through the air at the state’s longest zipline course.
Hungry? Head for the Caboose
When it’s time for dinner, head to Smelter City Brewing. Try the town-favorite Anaconda Standard, or one of the seasonal offerings. Grab dinner from Anaconda Taco Company’s food truck housed in a caboose on-site. Don’t miss Stoplight Art Gallery, which is adjacent to the brewery.
Learn more at DiscoverAnaconda.com, or stop by the Visitor Center at 306 E. Park Ave.