Bannack State Park, a National Historic Landmark, is the site of Montana's first gold discovery in 1862. Enough gold was found on the banks of Grasshopper Creek that large river dredges were operated for seven years, and millions of dollars in gold were recovered. The small town of Bannack, located in an isolated section of Montana Territory, grew to a population upward of 3,000 people as many hopeful souls rushed to the area in search of gold. During World War II, the mine was shut down and never reopened. Without the steady stream of gold, many residents began to leave the area until eventually the town was abandoned.
Today, Bannack is one of the most well-preserved ghost towns in Montana with over 50 historic structures still standing. The buildings along Main Street are in great shape and it's easy to imagine each place filled with people in a time long past. Park visitors will want to be sure to pass by the Visitor Center, where they can obtain more information about Bannack's history. The displays and information there will help bring each building's history to life as guests wander around town imagining what life was like in the wild west. Come visit during Bannack Days, the park's main attraction of the year, and see the quiet streets and buildings fill up with period-dressed workers, miners, and residents to recreate life in 1860's Territorial Montana.
In addition to the many opportunities to see history up close, other things to do at Bannack State Park include fishing, photography, bicycling, bird watching, ice skating, and more. The park provides nearby camping on Grasshopper Creek and nearly unrestricted access to this entire ghost town. Two small primitive campgrounds with room for tents and large RVs are just a short walk from the abandoned buildings.
For guests who have any interest at all in the wild west, Montana history, pioneer living, or gold mining, this is one of the best opportunities in the country to experience an authentic and well preserved historic town.
Driving to the park should be relatively easy following paved state and local roads. However, as visitors get closer to the city of Bannack, most roads become gravel or dirt. These roads can be uneven at times and occasionally have a tight turn. Drivers of larger rigs will want to go slow and be cautious of any wildlife that may cross their path. Once inside of the park, visitors will find that the roads continue to be dirt and gravel. The campgrounds are small and the loops are very tight turns. However, the parking areas for day use have room for giant tour buses. Be aware that there is no power within the park. Visitors will want to make sure they load up on supplies, fuel, and water when they pass through the town of Dillon because there are no other services around.
Scenic mountain views and beautiful rivers await visitors who choose to stay at the Dillon KOA in Montana. Here, guests will have easy access to a variety of outdoor activities like fishing and kayaking whenever they need a break from hiking the gorgeous trails. Try panning for gold, visiting a ghost town, or just relax in the beauty of nature. The Dillon KOA has sites for rigs up to 120 feet. Amenities include Wi-Fi, cable TV, a swimming pool, and bike rentals. Propane and firewood are available on-site for purchase.
One of two small campground loops, the Vigilante Campground offers a total of 15 campsites. Twelve of these sites are available by reservation only while the remaining three sites are reserved for first-come, first-served campers. Most of the campsites are back-in only sites, but there are a few pull-through sites large enough for big rigs. Be aware that none of these sites include any hookups. However, there is drinking water as well as vault toilets available in the campground, but no dump station. Each site includes its own fire ring and picnic table.
The campground is pet-friendly, but pets must be kept on a leash at all times. All of the sites in Vigilante Campground are near Grasshopper Creek and are just a short walk away from the ghost town of Bannack.
In addition to its standard campsites, the Vigilante Campground also offers a small area with four tent-only sites. These are walk-in only sites, and they include the same amenity access as the standard campsites. Also, the campground has one rustic Tipi situated on a back-in only site that visitors can reserve for a fun night of primitive camping.
The smaller of two small campground loops, the Road Agent Campground offers a total of eight campsites that are available on a first-come, first-served basis. None of these campsites have hookups of any kind. These sites tend to be a bit closer to each other than the sites in the Vigilante Campground and are generally smaller. Visitors with larger rigs should consider making a reservation in the Vigilante Campground where they can ensure there is enough room for their vehicle. Each site includes its own fire ring and picnic table.
Within the Vigilante Campground, there are three campsites that are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Like the reservable sites, these campsites do not have any hookups available. However, they are located near restrooms and a drinking station, and each site does come with a fire ring and picnic table. Guests who plan to use one of these campsites should make an effort to arrive early in the day in order to ensure that they can obtain a spot. Additionally, any spots in the campground that have not been previously reserved are available on a first-come, first-served basis.
The Dredge Pond freezes solid during the months of January through March and the state park welcomes visitors to ice skate on weekends. Hot drinks and snacks are available in a warming house and there are also free skates to borrow for visitors who don't have skates of their own. The town is beautiful when covered in snow, and it's a great time to visit. Be sure to dress warmly as these are some of the coldest months of the year.
When the sun sets and the darkness falls across the town, tourist curiosity often gives way to a sense that some of these buildings may still be inhabited — by ghosts. For guests who love a good tale, entertaining and spooky reenactments of Bannack history are presented by lantern light at the end of October. Visitors who make a reservation ahead of time have the chance to explore the town at night with only their flashlight to guide them.
Open seven days a week in the summer and weekends in May and October, the Bannack Visitor Center is filled with historical photos, books, maps, and lots of fun souvenirs to remind guests of their visit. The staff are very knowledgeable about Bannack history and love to answer questions and provide guidance for those looking for something in particular. There are lots to see at Bannack and guests who pass by the Visitor Center first will appreciate having some direction.
During the summer season, large tubs are filled every weekend with water and sediment from the nearby Grasshopper Creek so that park visitors can try their luck at panning for gold. Generally, panning and prospecting are not allowed within the park, so visitors come from all over to participate. They often come away with tiny sapphires and garnets in addition to gold dust. Summer visitors will not want to miss out on this seasonal activity that is fun for all ages.
Always held the third weekend in July, Bannack Days breathes life back into these quiet buildings with demonstrations of pioneer skills, period dress, live music, food, wagon rides, dancing, and even mock gun fights. Park visitors can watch a blacksmith at work, hand dip their own candles, and try their luck at gold panning. This incredible opportunity only comes once a year and is the most popular event at the park, giving visitors a chance to really connect with and experience Montana history.
Guests who like to explore at their own pace will appreciate the detailed, 20-page guide of each building in Bannack that is available at the Visitor Center. The buildings are numbered on the boardwalk making for a great self-guided tour. Most of the buildings are still in good shape and open for public curiosity. Be sure to check out the jail, church, schoolhouse, and the large two-story Hotel Meade. With so much well-preserved history, the photo opportunities are endless.