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We Dare You to Visit These Hauntingly Beautiful Montana Ghost Towns

By Donnie Sexton
January 12, 2022
wood walkway and wood buildings of ghost town
Donnie Sexton
The miners are long gone, but the legends loom large in the stunning ghost towns of Montana.

Sure, you know Montana as the home of two of America's most famous national parks. But there's another side to Big Sky Country that's decidedly, well, haunting. 

Montana's history is largely based on the gold and silver deposits that lured miners here in the 1860s, hoping to strike it rich. Boomtowns sprang up providing the services they needed--lodging, saloons, schools, general stores, livery stables, and churches. And, for the troublemakers who couldn’t behave by the code of the West, there was a jail or two. This history remains frozen in time at many of Montana’s ghost towns where, thanks to preservation efforts, you can wander through the settlements. Some of the towns are still occupied, while others are abandoned, and, according to locals, ghosts of the past can occasionally be seen and felt moving about. 

Bannack

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When gold was discovered in Grasshopper Creek in 1862, the town of Bannack got its start as miners arrived hoping to strike it rich. Today, with over 50 buildings still standing, it is one of the best-preserved ghost towns in the US as well as a State Park. Town tours, living history weekends, ghost walks in October, and ice skating in winter make Bannack a year-round destination. Bannack Days, the third weekend in July, is a lively celebration of a bygone era, with demonstrations of pioneer life, reenactments, gold panning, music, wagon rides, and candle-making. Also, be on high alert: there's a likelihood of a stagecoach holdup by would-be robbers looking for the loot.

Elkhorn

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Peter Wyes, a Swiss immigrant, discovered a vein of silver back in 1870 at what is now Elkhorn Ghost Town State Park. In its heyday, the town of Elkhorn was home to 2,500 people, many of them immigrant families. While there are many ramshackle buildings scattered about, Gillian Hall and Fraternity Hall are the town's showpieces. These wooden structures were the heart of the community where the locals gathered for dances, prize fights, graduations, and theater productions. Various fraternal groups, such as the Masons and Oddfellows, used the second floor of Fraternity Hall for their meetings. A cemetery tucked into the mountains is the resting place of many children who died from the diphtheria epidemic that ravaged the town between 1884 and 1889.

Garnet

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Named for the semi-precious ruby stone found in the area, the town of Garnet sprung up in 1898, a year after gold was discovered in the Garnet Range by miner Sam Ritchey. The town haphazardly grew to 1,000 strong with four hotels, four general stores, two barber shops, a union hall, a school, a butcher shop, and 13 saloons, and numerous other businesses. Today, Garnet, which is located about 30 miles east of Missoula off Highway 200, is open year-round. Just keep in mind that winter access is only possible via snowmobiling or cross-country skiing. 

Granite

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The skeletal remains of Granite Ghost Town, at one time home to over 3,000 miners and their families, and business owners, sit above the delightful town of Philipsburg. The town got its start in 1872 when a prospector named Holland discovered silver. In its heyday, the Granite yielded $40 million worth of silver, making it the richest silver mine on earth. Bi-Metallic, a second mine in the area, yielded about $12 million worth of silver. But the town had its challenges. The soil was decomposed granite, which made it impossible to dig wells, so water had to be transported in. The mining came to a halt in 1893 when the demand for silver plunged.

Nevada City

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With news of gold being found in Alder Gulch in 1863, the sister towns of Nevada City and Virginia City sprung up and would eventually swell to a population of 10,000 people. By the end of the first three seasons, about $30 million worth of gold was removed from the Gulch within the first three seasons. Throughout the 18th and 19th century, it is estimated that this area in Southwest Montana yielded $100 million worth of gold. 

Today Nevada City is an outdoor museum with over 100 buildings, and thousands of artifacts which tell the story of Montana’s early mining days. Entrance into the Nevada City Museum takes visitors through the Nevada City Music Hall, a colorful antique collection of automated music machines, many of which are still in working order.

Virginia City

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Virginia City is both a ghost town and a lively summer destination, complete with historical accommodations, eateries, stagecoach tours, and theater productions. Every August, the Grand Victorian Ball is an occasion to dress up in period costume and parade across the boardwalks of Virginia City before heading to the dance hall to two step with the Virginia Reel, Spanish Waltz, and other period dances.

Boot Hill Cemetery, overlooking the town of Virginia City, is the final resting place of five road agents, who were hanged by the Vigilantes on January 14, 1864. The criminals' notorious leader, Sheriff Henry Plummer, was both lawman and outlaw famously responsible for orchestrating the robberies of stage coaches.  

Pony

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Pony, set against the mountain backdrop of the Tobacco Root Mountains, is unique in that it's a ghost town as well as home to about 100 residents and the Pony Bar, the only place for miles to get a cold one. Like many of the ghost towns in southwest Montana, the discovery of gold led to its creation. From 1860 to 1870, it was home to over 5,000 people who settled in to strike it rich or provide the services to miners. The town’s name comes from one of these miners, Tecumseh Smith, who was nicknamed "Pony" because of his small stature. The most notable building in Pony is the twenty stamp mill constructed in stone.

Virgelle

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The homestead-era town of Virgelle is located a short distance from the Missouri River in Central Montana. Two buildings remain, the Virgelle Mercantile and the Bank Building, owned by the town’s two residents. The Mercantile was built in 1912 by Virgil and Ella Blankenbaker, who had moved to Montana and settled in the area. The Mercantile was originally a general store serving the needs of local settlers, with upstairs used as boarding rooms for those working the spur line railroad that followed along the river. Today, the restored Mercantile is an antiques store on the first floor, with guest rooms upstairs. Six homesteader cabins, all from within a 40-mile radius of Virgelle, have been brought in for additional cozy accommodations.  

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Inspiration

Hotel We Love: Eastwind Hotel & Bar, Windham, NY

While it’s only a two-hour drive from New York City, in southeastern New York state's mountainous Catskills region, the idyllic town of Windham feels a world away. Once a thriving vacation spot known as the Borscht Belt, thanks to the lively Jewish culture that flourished there in the 1950s and '60s, the Catskills lost a bit of its luster as younger generations looked toward hipper, more exotic locales. Today, however, it’s experiencing a renaissance.  “There’s a large movement into more nature and adventure-driven destinations,” says Bjorn Boyer, who opened Eastwind Hotel & Bar in Windham in June. “More people are coming here now and trying to build simpler life up here, yet it’s a place that still has a New York character and all the finesse and qualities of any big city.” The hotel, which he owns with three others, fits that same bill, capturing the simplicity one seeks when escaping to nature while still offering sophistication and luxury alongside playfulness and style.  THE STORY Bjorn and his wife, Julija Stoliarova, are two of Eastwind’s four owners. A native of Germany who previously worked in both finance and hospitality, Bjorn says he was drawn to the Catskills because its rolling hills and small-town communities reminded him of Thuringia, a state in the east-central region of the country where he spent his childhood summers. In September 2017, Bjorn and his partners purchased the building, which dates to 1928 and was originally used by fishermen and hunters when they came to the area to work in the wilderness. The down-to-the-studs gut renovation involved new bathrooms, new plumbing, new electricity, and then some. Then Julija brought it to life with décor they describe as "Scandinavian electric,” all clean lines and elevated comforts. The place has a countryside soul with heavy measures of urban style, the result of months she spent hunting down everything from furniture to fixtures, like doorknobs and bookends, at Brimfield, the massive, long-running antique flea market in Western Massachusetts, and other antique markets and vintage stores. The salon, anchored by a mighty iron Malm fireplace, exemplifies the sleek yet idyllic style, with huge windows delivering sweeping views, blond wood tables and bar, Turkish rugs, and shelves lined with vintage books and games. THE QUARTERS The floors in each of the 11 minimalist rooms in the Bunk House, the main building, are made of wood reclaimed from the original building, giving the quarters a cabin-like feel. Each is uniquely accented with Julija's vintage finds, from macramé wall hangings to typewriters to old wood desks and chairs. (Request one of the two “writer’s rooms” if you’re looking to plug into your creative outlet.) Amenities, though, are modern, even lavish. To whit: indulgent Frette linens, sleek Otis & Eleanor speakers, free high-speed internet, and bathrooms with rainheads in the walk-in showers. The Hill House, situated slightly up the hill from the Bunk House, will open later this year and features accommodations for larger groups. Those seeking something more rustic can book one of the three Lushna Cabins, standalone A-frame units that are like tents, if tents were made of wood and had insulation, a window for a wall, a queen-size bed, and a private bathroom with a mirrored wall.  (Courtesy Jordan Layton) THE FOOD With the hotel being so new, the food and drink programs are still being hammered out. As of now, a European breakfast spread that includes yogurt, granola, fruit, cheese, meats, and hot items is available Saturday and Sunday from 8:30 to 11:00 a.m. ($20 per person.) The bar in the airy salon serves beer, wine, and cocktails Friday through Sunday from 5:00 to 10:00 p.m. Expanded hours are coming soon, and with that will come a bar menu that includes charcuterie, crudité, and dessert plates. THE NEIGHBORHOOD The Catskills have long been a destination for outdoor sporty types, and Windham’s location offers easy access to ski slopes, hiking trails, golf courses, adventure attractions, and streams for fly-fishing. A nearby spruce forest is a mellow wilderness paradise for hikers, bikers, and even horseback riders.  Windham Mountain, a popular ski destination, is a five-minute drive away, while Hunter Mountain, which hosts music events and other festivals when it’s not ski season, is about twenty minutes away. A mile from Eastwind is downtown Windham, established in 1798 and known as the Gem of the Catskills, with a collection of cozy restaurants, from French to Italian to hip American brewpubs, shops, and spas, many set in historic buildings. It’s the kind of enclave that Edward Hopper would have been quite comfortable painting. And speaking of painters, the galleries here are a crash course in the Hudson River School, an American art movement of Romanticism-influenced landscape painters that was largely originated by Thomas Cole, who resided here. His home is open for tours. RATES & DEETS Starting at $159 for rooms and $179 for Lushna Cabins.  Eastwind Hotel & Bar5088 Route 23 Windham, NY 12496(518) 734-0553 / eastwindnewyork.com

Inspiration

Take an Eating (and Drinking!) Tour of Georgia

It’s no secret that Georgia’s cities boast some of America’s tastiest plates, with cool multicultural riffs on traditional favorites and fresh, locally sourced ingredients. But we’re here to tell you that you’ll also find good eats in the mountains, along the coast, and in small towns you’ll love discovering along the way. Here, your road map to discovering the best foodie finds in Georgia. SAVANNAH There may be no city in Georgia more “foodie” than Savannah, with soul food, seafood, Asian, Italian, and more - including the distinctive local “red rice.” - cooking in kitchens across the city, especially the revitalized River Street warehouse district. Start your day at B. Mathews for their great breakfast sandwich, and basically keep eating all day long. We love Old Pink House for shrimp and grits, especially the “Southern sushi,” which is smoked shrimp and grits rolled in coconut-crusted nori seaweed. Head to Pacci for contemporary riffs on Italian recipes and its gorgeous interior design. Bernie’s is the place when you just want fresh oysters and shrimp in a laid-back environment; and Collins Quarter serves up some of the city’s finest hamburgers. When evening rolls around, wet your whistle at Savannah Taphouse and tuck into their sweet tea fried chicken (yes, marinated in the iconic summer beverage - it doesn’t get any more Southern than that), or raise a glass and take in some live blues at Bayou Cafe. If you have room for dessert, you won’t regret a stop at Savannah’s candy Kitchen for a candy-dipped apple boasting indulgent ribbons of chocolate. THE COAST Remember, as good as the food in Savannah is, a visit to the nearby coast will deliver a dose of unforgettable dishes you shouldn’t miss. On St. Simons Island, Crabdaddy’s Seafood Grill has been family-owned for 30 years, delivering a welcoming ambience and fantastic food like shrimp and grits, the day’s catch, or great steak. Also on St. Simons Island, ECHO is renowned for its shrimp and grits, and the Public House offers succulent pork chops. On Tybee Island, the Crab Shack is a consistent favorite among Budget Travelers for its great prices and for its super-fresh seafood - try the steamed oysters or the extremely filling “Low Country boil,” which includes shrimp, sausage, and potatoes. ATLANTA It comes as no surprise that Georgia’s capital city is a must-eat destination for traveling foodies. Chef Wendy Chang’s Herban Fix serves Asian-inspired vegan dishes such as soy beef and soy chicken that even carnivores love. Atlanta is home to so many top-notch eateries, it deserves an eating tour all its own. Some highlights include seafood-centric Italian meals such as shrimp and lemon linguine at Saltyard and “black spaghetti at Boccalupo (psst, the color comes, of course, from squid ink). You’ll also want to head outside the city to some of the Atlanta metro area’s most delicious communities, including pimento cheese fritters at Chicken and the Egg in Marietta, and perfect buttermilk fried chicken at Food 101 in Sandy Springs. And we especially love the Iberian Pig in Decatur, where an array of, you guessed it, pork takes center stage, including incredible tacos with grilled corn salsa and avocado crema. ATHENS Ready to get beyond the big cities and beaches? Try something different: A cool college town. Granted, Athens is no ordinary college town, with a major university and incredibly diverse population that craves, in addition to great indie music and intellectual pursuits, the finest local food. Start with classic Southern fare at Weaver D’s, including fried chicken, mac and cheese, and apple cobbler, and grab a local cocktail like the bourbon and ginger ale at the Manhattan Cafe, then move on to some unique (and uniquely delicious) joints like Big City Bread Cafe for a spicy lamb burger or Mama Jewel’s Kitchen where the fried chicken and biscuits are given an imaginative upgrade thanks to jalapeno peach jelly and melted brie. THE MOUNTAINS A trip to Georgia’s mountains yields an entirely new world of good eating, with smaller towns grabbing the spotlight with delightful, imaginative culinary offerings. Those who know the state’s mountains know that two major fresh local ingredients are pecans and trout. Lake Rabun Hotel & Restaurant in Lakemont makes it easy to enjoy both with its pecan-encrusted mountain trout. Because no trip to the Georgia countryside would be complete without savoring some BBQ, drop by Jim’s Smokin’ Que in Blairsville for baby back ribs and smoked chicken smothered in the restaurant’s house-made sauce. And if you haven’t tried fried green tomatoes yet, there’s not better place to give them a try than Tam’s Tupelo in Cumming, where the BLT sliders are topped with the tasty Southern favorite, not to mention upscale fixins’ that include pepper-crusted bacon, arugula, and tomato jam. Learn more about everything there is to eat and drink in Georgia at exploregeorgia.org.

Inspiration

Affordable American Winter Beach Escapes

When the mercury drops a little too much and the snow piles up a little too high, it’s time for a winter escape. We’ve rounded up some of America’s finest winter beaches, each with its own distinct flavor at a price that’s right. THE GEORGIA COAST When it comes to warm beaches, great price, and convenience, Georgia should spring to mind this time of year. The barrier islands of the state’s southern coast offer some of the best stretches of sand, great weather, and the welcoming vibe every vacationer craves. We love St. Simons Island for its incredible white-sand beaches, history, and ample golf courses, but we also love that the best way to get around the island may be on a rented beach cruiser bike, giving you the opportunity to leave your car behind and truly disconnect from all the stuff you went on vacation to escape. Points of interest on the island include a charming lighthouse, a 19th-century church, and ancient oak trees with their distinctive moss drapery. Grab a plate of shrimp and grits at Crabdaddy’s Seafood Grill and grab an affordable room (well under $150/night) at the Village Inn & Pub and other hotels on the island. To learn more about St. Simons Island, visit exploregeorgia.org. An easy day trip from St. Simons Island, Jekyll Island is relatively wild (more than 60 percent of its land is protected from development) and home to some of the most beautiful beaches in Georgia. Just drive back to the mainland from St. Simons and over the bridge to Jekyll, where you’ll find 10 miles of beach (including favorites Driftwood and Glory), the 250-acre Historic Landmark District, the Georgia Sea Turtle Center, a water park, and four golf courses. To learn more about Jekyll Island, visit exploregeorgia.org. Tybee Island is a 20-minute drive from Savannah, making it one of the most convenient winter escapes in the U.S., not to mention one of the most affordable. Here, you’ll find classic beach activities like a boardwalk, pier, and souvenir shops, low-key restaurants like the Crab Shack (yu must try the steamed oysters and Low Country boil with shrimp, sausage, and potatoes), and comfy motels, the beachfront Hotel Tybee (well under $150/night) and others. What’s not to love? Don’t miss the Tybee Island Light Station and Museum, a 270-year-old site with historic buildings that visitors can tour and the Civil War-era Fort Pulaski National Monument on nearby Cockspur Island. To learn more about Tybee Island, visit exploregeorgia.org. MOLOKAI, HAWAII No traffic lights. No resorts. The world’s highest sea cliffs. Volcanoes (don’t worry they’re extinct). If you can’t relax on Molokai, the least-visited of the major Hawaiian islands, it’s possible you’re just not trying hard enough. Seek out the gold sand of Papohaku beach, visit the island’s biggest town (a whopping 7,000 people live there), and head to downtown Kaunakakai for local Hawaiian favorites such as mahi-mahi. CATALINA ISLAND, CALIFORNIA For anyone who has visited Los Angeles and complained about the traffic (aka, everyone): We love the fact that cars aren’t allowed on Catalina, just 22 miles off the Southern California coast, unless you count golf carts, which you can rent if you really need to. Yes, this is a place to really get away from it all. After the 90-minute ferry ride, you’ll enter another world, where bicycles are the best way to get around, and exploring the island’s interior in search of birds (you may even see a bald eagle), is one of the prime activities. The town of Avalon is where you’ll find charming shops, restaurants, and affordable lodging. PUERTO RICO Besides being a quick flight from many U.S. cities, no passport required, Puerto Rico can also use your help: Tourism dollars help fund the island’s recovery from hurricane damage sustained in 2017. You’ll love the beaches, great food, and natural beauty, typified by El Yunque National Forest, a rainforest (bring a poncho!), perfect for a half- or full-day guided tour of sites such as La Coca Falls and the Yokahu Lookout Tower. Feast on traditional local fare such as arepas and plantains, washed down with a pina colada (the drink was invented in Puerto Rico in the 1950s), and tour charming Old San Juan, one of the oldest and most historic city centers in the U.S. For great views, visit El Morro National Monument, a 16th-century Spanish colonial fort that offers some of the most Instagrammable moments in the Caribbean. ST. CROIX, U.S. VIRGIN ISLANDS The easternmost point in the United States is in the Caribbean, in the U.S. Virgin Islands: St. Croix may be small as far as islands go, but when it comes to winter getaways, it sure reminds you that good things come in small packages, with great opportunities for swimming, snorkeling, eating Caribbean favorites such as conch and snapper, and acres of golf for those who define “vacation” as time on the links. We love historic Christiansted, where you’ll find reliable hotels and restaurants at good prices.

Inspiration

Hotel We Love: Aloft Boston Seaport District, Boston

Today it seems that every city has one: a once decaying industrial neighborhood that's blossomed into a destination for shops, restaurants, breweries, museums, and all things creative. In Boston, that neighborhood is the Seaport District. The area is home to the sleek Boston Convention Center, which opened in 2004 and set off a hotel-development boom in the surrounds that continues to this day. The Aloft Boston Seaport District, which opened in February 2016, is just one of the neighborhood's many accommodation options, but it stands out for various reasons: its stylish decor, its live music performances, and its futuristic amenities. THE STORY The Aloft is a growing Marriott brand known for its tech-centric sensibility, lively vibe, and hip design. With its many technology startups and youthful population, Boston is a perfect fit as the global chain extends its national footprint. In fact, this location is an incubator where they often test some of their high-tech amenities THE QUARTERS The 330 rooms have five sizes ranging from one king-size bed to two queen-size. The brightly colored accents, from the the throw pillows to the images on the walls, are designed to look like pixelated cartoon images, giving the otherwise neutral room a jolt of energy. All rooms have Netflix streaming capabilities, a mini fridge, and Bliss bath products. Vast windows offer sweeping views; rooms that face the city fetch a higher rate, as do the ten high-tech rooms with voice-activated features. Select floors have dog-friendly rooms for pets under 60 pounds. They're each equipped with toys, food and water bowls, and more. THE NEIGHBORHOOD The Seaport District is best explained as a wide peninsula between downtown Boston and South Boston’s ever-evolving residential area. Less than 15 years ago, it was a stark patchwork of piers lined with seafood storehouses, rundown brick warehouses, and beat-up roads. The main reason for coming here was the federal courthouse. But in 2006, the Institute of Contemporary Art opened a stunning, futuristic location that cantilevers over the water, setting off a frenzy of development. Restaurants, some of which are Las Vegas–caliber in size, line the streets today. There are chophouses, Mexican cantinas, Italian eateries—from familiar names to smaller independent operations. Many offer outdoor seating in the warmer months, giving the entire neighborhood a unified pavilion-like feel. That’s good news for the countless employees who work in the startup and biotech companies that have their offices here. The hotel sits across from the Lawn on D, a lively green space that draws crowds for its food trucks, movie screenings, live music, bocce, ping pong, and various activities, like cornhole tournaments. The Seaport is about a ten-minute drive to the airport (on a good day) and a 15-minute walk to South Station, the train and bus terminal. THE FOOD The eating and drinking options perhaps best capture the hotel's fun, creative vibe. The spacious, art-adorned, sunlit lobby features WXYZ bar, which serves cocktails, beer, wine, and elevated bar bites and sandwiches. There’s no formal room service, but you can bring your food and your nightcap to your quarters. Re:fuel is a grab’n’go offering hot breakfast in the morning and artisanal snacks, pastries, juices, and espresso drinks throughout the day and night. For a sit-down meal, hit the elegant yet laid-back Social Register, an adjoining eatery specializing in New American fare that’s heavy on the seafood. ALL THE REST It isn’t often that a hotel lobby is a local hangout, but this one draws them in droves. Aloft has made itself a destination by offering a variety of activities, from paint nights to classes like flower arranging. There's also live music each Thursday, so you can drop by for a taste of the local talent while you indulge in a cocktail from WXYZ. Aloft’s green initiative is no joke. They offer 250 Starwood points or a $5 voucher for WXYZ bar and Re:Fuel for each day you skip housekeeping. RATES & DEETS Starting at $199. Aloft Boston Seaport Distrtict401-403 D StreetBoston, MA 02210(617) 530-1600 / aloftbostonseaportdistrict.com