Montana Kickass Experience: Garnet Ghost Town

Less than 1 hour from our Montana property, lies a very special place, where if you squint you can visualize saloons and barbershops of yesteryear with over 1,000 people that used to call this place home back in the late 1800s. If you listen quietly, you can almost hear the 50 mines in the area that were being used in order to search for gold, ore, copper, silver, and garnet — the semi-precious stone this town was named after. Visualize panning for gold first by washing the sand and gravel with water, eventually by using rockers and sluice boxes as you hoped to strike it rich ( back in 1896, the richest mine produced $690,000 in its peak year). The profits and successes didn’t last long though and what once was a very promising town of saloons, schools, barbershops, hotels, stages, candy shops, a Chinese laundry, and stores, had instead become Montana’s Best Preserved Ghost Town today – Garnet Ghost Town.

More than 30 buildings have been preserved here. Visiting Garnet you can find a Visitor’s Center, interpretive signs, self-guided trails as well as books, souvenirs, cards, and other memorabilia to help you remember this place fondly.

Lying at 6,000 feet, this town, turned Garnet Historic District, encompasses an area of 134 acres (54 ha). As a surprise to most visitors, there are a lot of activities available here. The most obvious would be to come here during the Garnet Days celebration to partake in the panning for gold, educational tours, pie auction, quilt displays, wool-spinning demonstration, and others. Each year’s date varies,  though it is usually scheduled for the early summertime, you’re encouraged to call the BLM office (406)329-3914 to inquire about this year’s Garnet Day. We visited it a few years back and had a lovely time winning a rhubarb pie at an auction, failing at panning for gold (but buying souvenir gold flakes instead), listening to live music, and walking around the premises.

Feel like stretching the wheels? Take one of these suggested hikes: Warren Park Trail, Sierra Mine Loop Trail or Placer Trail, which will help to guide you on your sightseeing tour of the Garnet Mountain Range. Just be mindful, this is Montana, so wilderness mountains most certainly house a number of wild critters (moose, deer, bears, mountain lion) that you may or may not run into along your way.

There is more to this place than you think, for the outdoorsy, adventurous types, there are a number of exciting activities to do nearby the park, such as camping, fishing, hunting, mountain biking, off-roading, and snowmobiling/cross country skiing. With over 110 miles of trails available in the Garnet Mountain Range, whenever we decide to move back to Montana or spend a winter here, I know where I’m going for some cross country action!

Good luck guessing what these ancient things were used for in Garnet’s interactive game inside one of its buildings.

“Garnet Ghost Town was named one of America’s Coolest Ghost Towns” by Travel + Leisure.

If visiting with children, I know just the way to keep them occupied/entertained/educated while on the way to/from Garnet. There is a 16 page Garnet Ghost Town Coloring Book available for a free download from the BLM Office.

Did you know that you can also rent a cabin here?

Even though the road is closed from December 1 to April 30, still if you can find a way to snowmobile or cross country ski your way up here (11 miles off the highway), you can rent one of two primitive cabins available here. But how primitive is primitive (at very affordable $30 and $40/night mind you)?

Here are some of the things you can expect at your cabins:

  • Rodent-proof can
  • Firewood and ax
  • Water containers
  • Two-burner propane cook stove
  • Wood-burning heat stove
  • Fire extinguisher and smoke alarm
  • First Aid kit
  • Propane light
  • Table and chairs
  • Beds
  • Broom and dustpan
  • Snow shovel
  • Dishpan, drying rack, and drainer
  • Frying pans, pots, and kettle
  • Plates, bowls, cups, glasses
  • Silverware, can opener, basic utensils

With suggested items to bring being just as long, I’m going to guess that this stay would be a memorable one, especially since one of the first pieces of information on their Rent a Cabin page being “DO YOU WANT TO SLEEP WITH THE GHOSTS?”

You asked for adventure, right!


Garnet Ghost Town is open year-round, daily from 9:30-4:30 pm with limited access in the wintertime.

Fees are $3 for people over the age of 16.

The drive up here is remote and pretty as you make your way higher and higher into the Garnet Mountain Range. Every once in a while you can peak through the trees and witness a pretty spectacular vista that just begs for a picture!

How to get to Garnet Ghost Town:

From Route 200

Turn south at the Garnet Range Road located between mile markers 22 and 23, about 30 miles east of Missoula. Follow the Range Road for approximately 11 miles to Garnet where the parking area is located. Follow signs.

From Interstate 90

Take either Drummond or Bearmouth exit. Then follow the Northside frontage road to Bear Gulch Road, watch for a sign, which is located 10 miles west of Drummond or 5 miles east of Bearmouth exit. Approximately 7.5 miles up Bear Gulch Road is the Cave Gulch Road Junction. From here, Garnet and the parking lot are 4 miles up Cave Gulch.

Pets are allowed if leashed at Garnet, so bring your fluffy buddy and roam the trails that are slowly overgrowing and hiding the time that once was as vivid as the time we live in today. Maybe one day, our future ancestors will walk the streets of New York or Seoul or Madrid, calling it the best-preserved ghost town.

Have you ever visited a Ghost Town? Would you dare to stay overnight inside one?

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