Visit a genuine wild west mining town with over 50 buildings well preserved and open to the public. Bannack State Park, a National Historic Landmark, provides nearby camping on Grasshopper Creek and nearly unrestricted access to this entire ghost town.
Gold was first discovered in Montana right here on the banks of Grasshopper Creek in 1862. Enough gold was found in the creek that large river dredges were operated for seven years and millions of dollars in gold were recovered. The town of Bannack grew to 3,000 people in this isolated section of Montana when the state was still just a territory. The mine was shut down during WWII and never reopened. 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.
There are two small primitive campgrounds with room for tents and large RVs just a short walk from the buildings and they are reservable online.
At the park's Visitor Center, where you pay an entrance fee, there is a display of books, pictures, movies, and other items that give background information on the town. The $2 guide book is well worth it and will bring each building's history to life as you wander around town imagining what life was like in the wild west.
Bannack Days is the main attraction of the year. The quiet streets and buildings fill up with period-dressed workers, miners, and residents to recreate life of 1860's Territorial Montana. The park also puts on living history tours, ghost walks, gold panning seminars, and in the winter - ice skating.
If you 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.
The campgrounds are small, but the parking areas for day use have room for giant tour buses. There is no power, so make sure you have experience keeping your RV cool without the air conditioning if you visit in the middle of summer. Load up on supplies, fuel and water at Dillon, on I-15. There are no other services around.
These two small campgrounds offer a total of 24 sites without any hook-ups. Most are reservable online and there are a few pull-thru sites large enough for big rigs. Most of the sites are 30-40 foot back-in spaces. There is drinking water and vault toilets, but no dump station, so it's pretty much dry camping. All of the sites are near Grasshopper Creek and just a short walk to the ghost town of Bannack.
A detailed 20 page guide of each building in Bannack is available at the Visitor Center. The buildings are each 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. The photo opportunities are endless.
For those lucky enough to visit ghost towns across the country, touristy curiosity often gives way to a sense that some of these buildings may still be inhabited - by ghosts. Entertaining and spooky reenactments of Bannack history are presented by lantern light at the end of October. Reservations are required, and warm clothes and flashlights are essential as well.
The Dredge Pond freezes solid Jan-Mar and the State Park welcomes visitors to ice skate on weekends. Hot drinks and snacks are available in a warming house which is open 11am to 4pm Saturdays and Sundays. There are also skates free to borrow if you don't have some of your own. The town is beautiful when covered in snow, and it's a great time to visit as long as you dress warm.
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 of your visit. The Center staff are very knowledgeable about Bannack history, and love to answer questions and provide guidance for those looking for something in particular. There's lots to see at Bannack and you'll appreciate having some directions.
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. Watch a blacksmith at work, hand dip your own candles, and try your luck at gold panning. This is an incredible opportunity to connect with Montana history.
Weekends during the summer season, large tubs filled from nearby Grasshopper Creek are set up for everyone to try their luck at gold panning. Visitors often come away with tiny sapphires and garnets in addition to gold dust. This is fun for all ages, but extra-popular with the kids. Note that panning and prospecting are NOT allowed in the park generally.