Thanks to the boom and bust mining cycles of the west, Montana, Wyoming and Idaho are filled with ghost towns. Most of these towns date back to the 1800s and were totally or mostly abandoned, leaving behind historic buildings, mines, mills and more. Some towns have been restored for visitors to explore and some have fallen into disrepair, making for a lonesome and eerie visit. We’ve rounded up six ghost towns to explore on your Yellowstone vacation.
Virginia City, Montana
Virginia City is the West’s best-preserved gold mining town from the 1860s. Visitors can walk the same boardwalks that desperate vigilantes once roamed, and guests are transported to a time when rowdy miners mingled in saloons. They can also tour more than 100 historic buildings, complete with artifacts and furnishings; ride a fully-refurbished 1910 steam locomotive and a stagecoach; attend live theater; shop in gift and specialty shops; and enjoy fine dining, old fashioned baked goods and candies. You can even stay in town. Find more information at www.virginiacitymt.com and southwestmt.com.
Nevada City, Montana
Nevada City, just 1.5 miles away from Virginia City, has 14 historic buildings original to the site, plus a collection of more than 100 historic buildings that were saved from locations all over Montana and moved here. Visit the Nevada City Music Hall—its collection of historic music machines, gaviolis and player pianos make up the largest public music machine collection in the world. You can also spend time panning for gold at Alder Gulch. Live interpretation is offered on weekends. For more information visit southwestmt.com.
Located near Dillon, Montana, Bannack State Park is home to the best preserved ghost town in all of Montana. It’s also where first major discovery of gold in Montana took place on July 28, 1862. It’s a little off-the-beaten path, requiring a 30-mile drive from Dillon. But it’s well-worth the journey to get there.
There are about 50 historic buildings lining the park’s streets, which the state park system maintains. You can walk into the buildings on a self-guided experience, but you can also go on a tour, which leaves from the visitor center. The visitor center is open Memorial Day through Labor Day. There’s also a gift shop. Throughout the summer, you’ll find activities offered from gold panning to painting with natural plants.
South Pass City, Wyoming
South Pass City State Historic Park, 35 miles south of Lander and just north of the Oregon Trail, is one of the most authentic and complete historic sites in the West.
Wyoming’s “City of Gold” is surrounded by mining claims, several of which are still being worked today. The restored area contains 20 original structures and a Gold Mining Interpretive Center, complete with an original working stamp mill.
In 1868, town resident William Bright introduced a bill in the territorial legislature granting women the right to vote, making Wyoming the first territory or state to grant suffrage to women. Two months later, Esther Morris was appointed the town’s justice of the peace, becoming the nation’s first female judge.
South Pass City is open to visitors early May through September and an entrance fee is required. Find more information at www.southpasscity.com.
Kirwin, located at the head of the spectacular Wood River Valley, is a historic mining town surrounded by breathtaking mountain peaks that top 12,000 feet. It’s totally abandoned, thanks to a vicious snowstorm in 1907, and a high-clearance, four-wheel-drive vehicle is required to reach the townsite. Amelia Earhart was building a summer home in the area when her plane disappeared in 1937 and you can reach the foundations of the cabin via a short hike from Kirwin. Tours of Kirwin are offered by Meeteetse Museums with local speakers giving presentations on different aspects of the area (meeteetsemuseums.org/tours/). Check the Meeteetse Museum’s Facebook page for event dates.
Old Trail Town, Cody, Wyoming
Old Trail Town, on the western edge of Cody, depicts a classic ghost town constructed from a collection of restored and relocated historic buildings from across Wyoming and Montana. It was here that Buffalo Bill Cody created the original townsite of Cody, Wyoming, in 1895. You’ll find the cabins used by Butch Cassidy and a saloon often visited by his “Hole-in-the-Wall Gang.” The town offers tons of historic artifacts. It’s open mid-May through September and an entrance fee is required. Find more information at www.oldtrailtown.org.
Silver City, Idaho
Idaho alone has about 150 ghost towns. The best, Silver City, was founded in 1864, just two years after silver and gold were discovered nearby, luring hundreds of miners from all walks of life. Today, you can stay in the historic Idaho Hotel and visit two shops in addition to exploring the town which still has 75 historic buildings. Learn more at www.historicsilvercityidaho.com.