Bannack is a Gem to See
Bannack State Park in Montana is an incredible state park that should be on your itinerary if you plan to have an unforgettable Montana adventure.
I have always been a fan of historical fiction. Whether it was reading a fictional diary of a girl living during the Great Depression, or reading a novel about a traveler sailing on the doomed Titanic, historical novels and dreaming of a world long gone have always piqued my interest. If you relate to this, or if you are a hardcore history buff, then Bannack State Park in Montana is the place for you.
What is Bannack State Park?
Bannack State Park is a very well-preserved ghost town in Southwest Montana. Since it has been preserved, it is authentic, as opposed to restored or embellished to he a tourist trap. There are over 60 buildings you can look at, most of which you can walk inside and explore. The park is open year-round. Check out their website to find special events and tours, just in case you want to plan your trip around festivities. Don’t miss the chance to see this remarkable ghost town!
Bannack began in July of 1862, when gold was discovered by John White and his fellow travelers in the Grasshopper Creek. In less than a year, the population grew to 3,000.
Reading the guide book you can get in the park, it definitely seemed like the wild west. Take this excerpt from a letter written by Ms. Emily Meredith in April 30th, 1863:
“I don’t know how many deaths have occurred this winter, but that there have not been twice as many is entirely owing to the fact that drunken men do not shoot well. There are times when it is really unsafe to go through the main street, the bullets whiz around so, and no one thinks of punishing a man for shooting another.”
In fact, that same year, 1863, a sketchy man–who had been tried and acquitted for a murder of another man–somehow became sheriff by election! Supposedly, according to legend at least, he started a gang of men who were responsible for tons of robberies and 102 murders.
After mining, eventually came the dredging period and later hard rock mining.
By the late 1940’s, most everyone moved away and soon there were no more essential services like doctors or a grocery store. But in 1940, some local residents of Dillon and Bannack banded together to preserve Bannack. There were additional preservation efforts over the next few years, and then in 1953 the town was put up for auction, and Chan Stallings bought the town at auction. He sold portions of the town to the Beaverhead County Museum Association. Then, the museum donated the property to the state of Montana. However, according to the aforementioned Bannack guide you can look at or buy at Bannack State Park:
“One stipulation was made as part of the donation: Bannack was not to be made into a tourist town in competition with Virginia City, the ghost town atmosphere was to be preserved.”
Throughout the 30 years afterwards, Montana bought the remaining portions of private property in the town. Thus, today, residents and visitors alike can visit this glorious town.
Bannack State Park Highlights
The following are some of the highlights of the park, and pictures to allow you to visit from home or hopefully convince you to visit in person!
The Methodist Church
The Methodist Church was the only building for worship in Bannack, and was built in 1877.
The Bannack Jails
You can look at the Bannack Jails, which were actually hardly used during the peak of the gold rush. Criminals were usually warned, hung, or banished from the town. You also see the first jail that was ever built in what eventually would become the Montana territory!!
This stately brick building was one of the coolest places in Bannack State Park. It is a stately hotel that operated on and off until the 1940s. You can see a couple of staged rooms as well as see old artifacts in the hotel. I personally liked walking around in the building as well as looking out the window at the beautiful countryside and imagining what it would feel like to rest there after a long, arduous journey to seek your fortune, or perhaps visit family, or to be the new school teacher. Who knows what transpired in this hotel!!
Supposedly, for social activities, people in the town enjoyed things like picnics, picking flowers, horseback riding, spelling bees, ice skating, sledding, and fishing.
However, life was also filled with hardships in this remote town, as written by Mary Edgerton in the winter of 1863-64:
“We had extremely cold weather here the week before last. The mercury in the thermometers after going forty degrees below zero froze in the bulb. I never knew such cold weather. I was so afraid that the children would freeze their noses or ears that I got up a number of times in the night to see that their heads were covered. Their beds would be covered with frost.”
The Masonic Lodge and School House
This was another well-preserved building in Bannack State Park. It was built in 1874 by the Masonic Lodge No. 16 and the bottom floor was a school for over 70 years.
Walk to and from the Gallows
One of the prettiest views was seen while walking back from the gallows.
Take in the Natural Beauty
Just outside the park on the way in, take a look at Grasshopper Creek. In the park, enjoy the mountain views and wonder if the miners and their families were also in love with the landscape. Find the bridge and pretty areas on the outskirt of the town not far from the visitor center and the more modern-like homes.
Some of the buildings are more rundown than others, but overall the town is preserved wonderfully.
“Bannack is not a dead ghost town, but a living classroom. For future generations to understand how far and from where we have come, we must recall our past, both the good and the bad.” –Stan Smith
Don’t Miss Out!
Bannack State Park is sure to capture your heart and intoxicate your mind with fantasies. Don’t miss out on this remarkable park on your next Montana adventure!
Top Tips for Bannack State Park:
Make sure to grab the Bannack booklet/guide. It is only a $2 donation if you’d like to keep it, and is chock full of facts, history, and a map/guide to the town.
Bring water and sun protection, and keep an eye out for snakes. The park can be hot!
Yes, there are restrooms there!! If you use the vault toilets, the ritual I use is to wash my hands with fresh water I’ve packed AND use hand sanitizer. But that’s me, your lovely germaphobe blogger. 😉
There are a lot of great Instagram photo opportunities–especially if you were to dress up in vintage clothing and do a Western-inspired photo shoot!
Bannack State Park allows pets, as long as they are on a leash and you pick up their waste.
You can’t remove any artifacts from Bannack State Park, no matter how small.
You aren’t allowed to use metal detectors or do gold panning in the creek.
The visitor center is closed from around mid-October to mid-May, BUT you can visit the park all year. Check hours and events before you visit on their website.