Nestled in the rugged mountains of Montana, Garnet Ghost Town stands as yet another silent testament to the bygone era of the Gold Rush. If you’re a ghost town aficionado like me, you will enjoy seeing this ghost town.
Along with Bannack Ghost Town, this is definitely one of the many gems you won’t want to miss during a visit to Montana! Many people might miss out on this gem since it isn’t a state park. I’m embarrassed to admit that for several months, I didn’t realize Garnet Ghost Town wasn’t Granite Ghost Town near Philipsburg, since they both have “G” names!
Garnet Ghost Town is known as one of the most intact ghost towns in Montana. It is between Missoula and Helena. Garnet Ghost Town offers a captivating glimpse into the lives of the pioneers who once sought their fortunes in the wild beauty of Montana.
Garnet Ghost Town is managed by the Bureau of Land Management and the non-profit Garnet Preservation Association. According to the four-page informational pamphlet available at the town, Garnet is pronounced like “Darn-it.”
Enjoy some pictures of Garnet throughout this post. Unlike some of my other blog posts, I haven’t posted an excessive amount of pictures, in order to allow you to discover some of the town yourself with fresh eyes, and dream of days long past.
Discovering Garnet’s Golden Past
Garnet Ghost Town was a once-thriving mining community that boomed in the late 19th century. With its humble beginnings in the search for gold, Garnet quickly transformed into a bustling town, drawing prospectors and settlers from far and wide.
Unlike other ghost towns, Garnet had a higher population of married women, and a schoolhouse was also quickly established. Vices still existed in this as in other ghost towns, but it was still a notable difference. Family social activities also abounded.
Through the decades, Garnet went through much growth and decline, given that by 1900 many of the gold veins had disappeared and any remaining gold deep in the mines was too expensive and difficult to obtain. A fire and World War I also dealt blows to the town. After President Roosevelt raised the price of gold, the town regrew as miners tried to rework the mines and dumps. World War II then dwindled the population yet again a few years later.
Eventually, the town died, and was plundered by souvenir hunters, until the Bureau of Land Management and the Garnet Preservation Association acquired the properties’ titles.
Walking Through Garnet’s History
Garnet’s well-preserved structures are frozen in time. My husband and I enjoyed following the informational handout, which provides a map with facts and history about the town. From the iconic Kelly’s Saloon and J.K. Wells Hotel, two of my favorite buildings in the town, to the remnants of miners’ cabins, each building whispers tales of hardship, perseverance, and the pursuit of wealth. These architectural gems have weathered the decades and are in a great state of arrested decay. This complements a ghost town like Bannack State Park, and is a contrast from places like Coolidge Ghost Town.
Whether you’re a history enthusiast, a photographer seeking captivating scenes, or an adventurer hungry for exploration, Garnet offers an immersive experience that solo travelers, couples, history buffs, and families alike will enjoy.
The Best Time of Year to Visit
If you’re a casual tourist or explorer, I recommend visiting Garnet over the summer or early fall. The town is open all year from 9:30am to 4:30pm, but access in the winter is limited.
You can drive to Garnet May 1st to December 15th, but it is dependent upon snow, and thus you might need to cross-country ski or snowmobile into the town, and will need to ski or snowmobile into the town during the winter. Given Montana’s unpredictable snow and harsh winters, I would personally recommend visiting in the summer or very early fall, hopefully when it is dry to avoid mud.
In addition, the main buildings are open Memorial Day to October 1st, so that is another consideration to take into account.
- You will need to pay to visit. Bring a pen or pencil to fill out a pay envelope and tab to display in your car. Bring $3 cash per person or a check to write and drop in the self-pay station. Those 15 and under are free, so families with lots of young ones, fret not! Federal passes like America the Beautiful are also accepted. See their website for more information.
- There is a visitor center and gift shop. That is where I picked up a free copy of Montana’s highway map, which I recommend every visitor or resident to have in the car at all times.
- You can rent cabins during the winter, but need to contact the Bureau of Land Management and, again, plan on using snowshoes, cross-country skis, or snowmobiles to get there.
- Make sure to grab the four-page brochure about the town, as it has a two-page map of the buildings, with the stories and facts behind each building.
- You could have a picnic, as there is seating by the parking lot and it is a pretty area. Their website also has information about hikes to do.
- Bring a sweater in case it is cold, sunscreen to have sun protection, and water to avoid dehydration as you walk around. You’ll also want sanitizer and water and soap since the outhouse doesn’t have running water.
- Dogs are allowed if they are leashed.
- There are two dedicated handicap parking spots next to the town instead of up in the main parking lot. Be aware of limited accessibility in the park. For an idea of how others feel about the accessibility level of the park, check out this review and this review for opinions from others who are better judges than I.
Directions and Suggested Entrance
When we visited from Helena, Google Maps gave us a Southern route off Interstate 90 into the town, claiming it would save time. I highly recommend not taking this route. This led us up narrow, slightly confusing, winding mountain roads with deep ruts. At one point, a sign warned that the road was no longer maintained by the county.
We were only able to cope since we drove slowly, hardly ran into any ither vehicles, and had AWD. Thus it took a long time to drive this precarious route, probably longer than any time we “saved” according to the capricious GPS.
The northern route from Route 200 into the town, which we used when leaving, is so much smoother and better maintained! The south entrance isn’t ideal/recommended for RVs, motorhomes, or pull trailers, as both signs on the road and info on the website state.
Regardless of your vehicle, the road off Route 200 and Route 200 itself are pretty drives and so much smoother overall–save yourself a headache and take the North Entrance!!
Here are the official directions from Garnet Ghost Town’s website.
Garnet Ghost Town: A Montana History Gem not to Miss
Overall, if you are limited on how many ghost towns you can visit while on a Montana vacation, or if you’re prioritizing visiting only the best of the best in Montana, I highly recommend a visit to Garnet Ghost Town. It really is one of the best ghost towns in Montana.
It is a great day trip from Missoula, Helena, Polson, Philipsburg, Seeley Lake, or Butte.
Itching for more ghost towns? You’ve come to the right place! For more ghost towns near Helena, including Elkhorn State Park, check out my post here; for info on Bannack State Park, check out my post here; for info on Virginia City and Nevada City, see my post here, and for info on the drive then hike to the remote Coolidge Ghost Town, see this post I wrote here.
What is your favorite ghost town in Montana? Comment below and make sure to come back and comment your favorite part of Garnet Ghost Town after you visit!