In my quest to continue to see more and more ghost towns in Montana, I recently visited Virginia City and Nevada City, which are located less than two miles from each other. Unlike Bannack State Park and some other Montana ghost towns, though, these towns have tourist attractions and amenities to take advantage of. Visit Montana’s Virginia City to get a taste of the American Old West in one of the country’s most preserved Ghost Towns. Read below for some history, tips, and pictures to convince you to add these locations to your Southwest Montana itinerary!
A Brief History
Montana’s Virginia City is a National Historic Landmark and is on the National Register of Historic Places. Today, there are about 150 residents that live there year-round, and about 300 live there over the summer.
Gold was found in Virginia City, Montana, in 1863. Virginia City and Nevada City were part of the Alder Gulch diggings, which were 14 miles of mining camps and settlements along the Alder Gulch that produced placer gold.
By the early 1970’s, many people moved on from Montana’s Virginia City and the population was a few hundred or so. In 1875 the territory of Montana’s capitol moved from Virginia City to Helena, Montana.
Nevada City, Montana, is a mining ghost town and has one of the largest collections of Old West artifacts. Nevada City contains over one hundred buildings that were built between 1863 and the early 1900’s. Nevada City was basically abandoned by 1876.
Charles and Sue Bovey were responsible for Virginia City’s preservation and restoration.
The Bovey family was also responsible for the restoration of Nevada city between 1945 and 1978–Nevada City had been almost entirely destroyed by dredge mining. More than 90 buildings from across Montana are located in Nevada City, where they are kept safe. For example, according to Legends of America, part of the buildings in Nevada City were relocated from Elkhorn, Montana, and Fort Benton, Montana–they were part of an exhibit by Charles Bovey called “Old Town” that was for a time located in the Great Falls Fairgrounds in Montana.
Things to Do in Montana’s Virginia City and Nevada City
When you visit Montana’s Virginia City and Nevada City, you can do whatever strikes your fancy, or you can buy various passes if you’re planning to do everything; one of the passes even includes overnight accommodations there. If interested, there are even limited opportunities to pay for a pioneer experience. Rather than getting a pass, my husband and I opted to pay to get into Nevada City and then just paid for other incidentals, like food. The passes would have included certain things for a set price. For example, the Vigilante Pass allows two people to ride the Alder Gulch Short Line Train, do gold panning, and includes admission to the Nevada City Museum.
Do note you need to make train reservations the day of your planned trip, if you plan to ride the train between locations instead of driving between the two locations. We were unable to get roundtrip tickets so we decided not to ride the train–plus the train looked like more fun for a family with small children.
I do highly recommend paying to go inside Nevada City. I enjoyed that part of our visit the most. If you don’t want to pay, you’ll be restricted to free things immediately outside the fenced off part of the town, and restricted to what you can see over the fence (sample below).
Definitely check out the Sedman House in Nevada City, which was built in 1873, and was one of the most ornate homes there. Also, in case you didn’t know, several movies have been filmed in Nevada City, Montana.
During the summer weekends, there are living history events at Nevada City, where people dress up in costumes and bring the Old West to Life through their exhibits and more. We were fortunate enough to visit during a weekend and see these exhibits in person.
Across from the Nevada City Museum, there is a little attraction with artifacts and you can also see some old trains and boxcars from bygone days.
During our visit, the Opera House in Virginia City was playing silent movies, which was a new thing they were doing in June 2021. They normally have live theater performances. We enjoyed being in the old theater and seeing a silent film, but be forewarned we had a couple of close encounters with spiders, so definitely check your seating area carefully for any eight-legged frenemies you probably don’t want to encounter!
When to Visit
Nevada City is only open from Memorial Day weekend through September–I highly recommend visiting during this time period if you want to get in to Nevada City.
Montana’s Virginia City is open all year, with all of the lodging, restaurants, shops, etc. being open from Memorial Day to Labor Day. As I’m sure you can guess, there were a lot of families and couples visiting during a summer weekend, but we avoided their big Memorial Day events (like their parade and rubber duckie race), so I imagine it was less crowded on the Sunday we chose to visit than it would have been on a day with several special events. We also visited mid-day and noticed toward the end of the day, when things were starting to close, it was much less crowded.
Tips & Cost
Between Ennis and Virginia City, there is a great scenic overlook along highway 287.
Make sure to bring some quarters during your visit, since there is a collection of old player pianos, music boxes, and calliopes in the Nevada City Museum and Music Hall. Some of them are still working, but sadly we didn’t have any quarters, so we couldn’t test them out. This is actually the largest public collection of automated music machines in the United States!
You have to pay to see Nevada City by paying at the Nevada City Museum and Music Hall. Tickets (badges you put on your shirt) are about $10-12 per adult depending on the day of the week. There are discounts for youth, seniors, and groups; children 3 and under are free.
Visit the Virginia city website https://www.virginiacitymt.com/index for trip planning information, including seeing if the train is up and running or if it is being repaired.
Depending what route you take home, you can hit up the Ruby Valley Brew in Sheridan, Montana. We got a growler of an IPA to go, but if you don’t drink, they also have root beer on tap that is supposed to be popular.
We ate at one of the restaurants in Virginia City. Restaurants there are a bit pricey, but convenient if you don’t want to pack a lunch or drive to another town to eat. However, this is pretty standard though for more touristy locations and you still get the benefit of supporting small restaurants instead of chain restaurants!
Do stop by the Star Bakery–we got some yummy cookies there. The owner was really friendly and nice.
Nevada City does not allow chewing or smoking of tobacco, and all real and fake weapons are prohibited. Nevada City allows pets, but a leash is required as well as picking up your dog’s waste. We saw people with dogs in both Virginia City and Nevada City, but noticed some people were leaving their pets in their open-air cars.
Overall, Montana’s Virginia City and Nevada City are fun attractions to add to your Montana adventure and to bring history to life.
If you want to read more about other ghost towns, make sure to check out my blog on Bannack State Park!