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Montana Stops on the Way

10 True Montana Gems between Yellowstone and Glacier National Park

Southwest Montana is stunning, offering everything from historic towns to boat rides, from sapphires to saloons.

Located a short drive from Yellowstone National Park, Southwest Montana is stunning, offering everything from historic towns and boat rides to sapphire-sifting and historic saloons. Here are some top sights to explore.

Virginia City Players Theatre Company

Enjoy the vaudeville and melodrama acts of the Virginia City Players performing in the historic Virginia City Opera House, May through September.
Enjoy the vaudeville and melodrama acts of the Virginia City Players performing in the historic Virginia City Opera House, May through September. Photo: by Chuck Haney courtesy of Partners Creative

Sit back in this historic theater in Virginia City and be entertained by 1800s-era melodramas and vaudeville variety acts. You can purchase a drink at the Bale of Hay Saloon next door and bring it into the theater.

Nevada City Music Hall

Instrument at Nevada City Music Hall in Southwest Montana
Instrument at Nevada City Music Hall in Southwest Montana Photo: Courtesy Montana Office of Tourism and Business Development

Part of the Nevada City Museum, this ornate hall holds the largest collection of automated music machines in the country, including the world’s biggest music organ. Many of the music machines are still working today.

This unique building was built as the recreation hall at Canyon Lodge in Yellowstone National Park around 1910. In 1959, it was disassembled and moved to Nevada City.

Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site

Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site in Deer Lodge, Montana
Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site in Deer Lodge, MontanaKen Lund

Once the headquarters of a 10-million-acre cattle empire, this National Historic Site in Deer Lodge, Mont., offers tours of the ranch home built in 1862. At this National Park Service site, you can explore the bunkhouse, blacksmith shop, horse barns and cattle sheds. Spend time with the horses, chickens and cows on site.

Old Montana Prison Complex

Montana Auto Museum, part of an old prison in Deer Lodge
Montana Auto Museum, part of an old prison in Deer LodgeJohn Lloyd via Flickr

See more than 165 cars, from classic Chevys and muscle cars to a 1915 Trumbull Cycle Car, at the Montana Auto Museum in Deer Lodge, Mont.The museum is part of the Old Montana Prison Complex and houses five museums in total, including the Old Montana Prison. Although the prison has been on-site since 1871, its iconic medieval look came from the work of prisoners at the turn of the century.

Copper King Mansion

The lush B&B accommodations of the Copper King Mansion in Butte.
The lush B&B accommodations of the Copper King Mansion in Butte. Photo by Kimberly Tate courtesy Partners Creative

Sleep in the Butte mansion that belonged to W.A. Clark, one of the world’s richest men in 1900. African mahogany sleigh beds make you feel part of the world’s 1-percent club. Go on guided summer tours of this 34-room mansion. Clark made money mining but also owned the Los Angeles Sugar Co. and land in Nevada that later became Las Vegas.

Headframe Spirits

Headframe Spirits serves up whiskey, liqueur and gin at the tasting room in Butte, Montana. Courtesy photo
Headframe Spirits serves up whiskey, bourbon cream liqueur and gin at the tasting room in Butte, Montana. Photo courtesy of Headframe Spirits

Mix Rocky Mountain snowmelt with Montana-milled rye and white winter wheat, and you get a boutique distillery and tasting room in Butte, Mont., run by John and Courtney McKee. Each spirit is named after a mine in the Butte district, recalling life in Butte when the town provided the copper ore that electrified America at the turn of the 20th century.

Butte Trolley Tour

The trolley in Butte, Mont.
The trolley in Butte, Mont. Photo courtesy Butte, Montana

Ride the trolley to hear about Butte’s colorful history and present-day attractions, including the 90-foot Our Lady of the Rockies statue. Visitors can go 65 feet underground into the Orphan Girl Mine at the World Museum of Mining (not part of the trolley tour).

Sapphire-Sifting

Sapphire sifting in Philipsburg, Montana
Sapphire-sifting in Philipsburg. Photo: by Eric Bunting courtesy of Southwest Montana

Many don’t know that Montana has caches of sapphires in some of its mountains. Sift for your own sapphires in charming Philipsburg. Head to Sapphire Gallery, Gem Mountain or Montana Gems of Philipsburg to sift for sapphires. After you find sapphires, create earrings, necklaces and more with your gems.

Gates of the Mountains

Gates of the Mountains near Helena
Gates of the Mountains near HelenaCourtesy Southwest Montana

Experience the awe Lewis and Clark felt when they first set eyes on the “Gates of the Mountains,” spectacular 1,200-feet-high limestone cliffs presiding over the Missouri River near Helena. See nature and wildlife on a 120–minute cruise on board one of two tour boats—Canyon Voyager or Sacajawea. The cruise starts at the marina three miles off Interstate 15 in the foothills between Helena and Great Falls.

Bale of Hay Saloon

The Bale of Hay Saloon is Montana's oldest watering hole, located in Virginia City.
The Bale of Hay Saloon is Montana’s oldest watering hole, located in Virginia City. Photo courtesy of Bale of Hay Saloon

Get a dose of the West in Montana’s oldest continuously running bar in Virginia City, a historic gold mining town. The saloon is open mid-May to late September. In 1863, when the first gold seekers paid for goods in town with gold dust from Alder Gulch, more than 200 people allegedly followed them back to their gold claim to get in on the riches.

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For more information:

Southwest Montana
800-879-1159
southwestmt.com

Butte Convention & Visitors Bureau
(800) 735-6814
buttecvb.com