Montana, a state known for its breathtaking landscapes, vast wilderness, and storied history, also harbors an array of captivating abandoned places. From ghost towns that once thrived during the Gold Rush to historical forts and buildings, these abandoned places in Montana offer a glimpse into the past and evoke a sense of nostalgia and mystery.
The rugged terrain, with the Rocky Mountains as a backdrop, enhances the allure of these places. For history buffs, photographers, and urban explorers, these sites are treasure troves waiting to be discovered.
Note: Many of these locations are in an extremely delicate state. Specifics on locations, such as coordinates or maps, are not given. This is done so purposefully as a barrier to entry to those who may mean harm to these spots. I want to ensure that these abandoned places in Montana are known about, but stay as vandalism and destruction free as possible. Remember: Take only photos, leave only footprints.
Breakdown: The Top 10 and More
If you have a specific location from the list below that you would like to immediately get more information about, click the links in the list to snap straight to that abandoned places in Montana location.
- Garnet Ghost Town (Granite County)
- Bannack Ghost Town (Beaverhead County)
- Glendale Ghost Town (Beaverhead County)
- Fort Owen State Park (Stevensville)
- Comet Ghost Town (Jefferson County)
- Northern Montana State Fairgrounds (Great Falls)
- Smith Mine (Bearcreek)
- Canyon Creek Charcoal Kilns (Canyon Creek)
- Coolidge Ghost Town (Polaris)
- Chromium Mill Ruins (Columbia Falls)
Broaden Your Horizons Beyond Montana
Are you interested in venturing outside the state of Montana? Maybe you live close to the state line, or maybe you’re just looking for adventures outside your home state. Whatever the case may be, here are some guides to bordering states that may be helpful in effective urban exploration:
Don’t Forget About Trespassing Laws
It is important when considering abandoned places in Montana to know the basics of Montana trespassing laws. Luckily, we have developed a massive guide to trespassing laws in all 50 states. For laws that specifically relate to Montana, please click here.
Without any further ado, let’s hop into the list of abandoned places!
The Best Abandoned Places in Montana
Garnet Ghost Town (Granite County)
Garnet Ghost Town, located in Granite County, Montana, is one of the most well-preserved ghost towns in the state. This abandoned mining town sits high in the Garnet Mountain Range and offers visitors a glimpse into the past, and the challenging conditions early miners faced.
Garnet sprang to life in 1895 as a bustling mining town following the discovery of gold in the surrounding mountains. At its peak in the late 1890s, the town was home to around 1,000 people and had hotels, saloons, barber shops, a school, and even a weekly newspaper. However, the boom was short-lived. By 1905, most of the gold had been mined, and a fire in 1912 destroyed half the town’s commercial buildings.
The town saw a brief resurgence during the Great Depression when President Roosevelt raised the price of gold, and people returned to Garnet to work the mines and search for gold. But this resurgence was also short-lived, and by the end of World War II, Garnet was abandoned.
How Things Look Today
Today, Garnet Ghost Town is managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the Garnet Preservation Association, a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving this unique historical site. Over 30 buildings from the original town remain standing, offering a tangible glimpse into life as it was over a century ago. These buildings include the Wells Hotel, Kelly Saloon, Davey’s General Store, and several residential homes.
The town is accessible by car in the summer and by snowmobile in the winter. There’s a small visitor center where you can learn about the town’s history and get maps of the site. Additionally, some of the miner’s cabins have been restored and are available for overnight rentals.
Visiting Garnet offers a rare opportunity to explore a real, un-commercialized ghost town and to reflect on the boom-and-bust cycle that shaped so much of the American West. It’s important to note that preservation rules apply – visitors should not take any artifacts, and the old buildings should be treated with respect.
As of recently, Garnet Ghost Town was open to the public. However, opening hours and access can change, so it’s always best to check with the Bureau of Land Management or the Garnet Preservation Association for the most current information before planning a visit.
Bannack Ghost Town (Beaverhead County)
Bannack is a ghost town in Beaverhead County, Montana, United States, located on Grasshopper Creek, approximately 11 miles (18 km) upstream from where Grasshopper Creek joins with the Beaverhead River. Bannack was the site of a major gold discovery in 1862, and served as the capital of Montana Territory briefly in 1864, until the capital was moved to Virginia City.
Gold was first discovered in the creek waters by John White and company in July 1862. The find set off a massive gold rush that swelled Bannack’s population to more than 3,000 by the following year. The settlers formed a town named after the local Bannock Indians, but due to a clerical error, the town’s name was registered as Bannack instead.
Life in Bannack was tumultuous in the early years, marked by lawlessness and the lack of a stable government. The infamous sheriff, Henry Plummer, allegedly led a band of road agents, leading to a period of vigilante justice. Plummer and his band were hanged by the vigilantes in 1864.
As with most mining towns, Bannack’s prosperity did not last. The yield of gold began to decrease by the late 1860s, and by the 1930s, the town was mostly abandoned. The state of Montana acquired most of the land in 1954 and made it a state park.
How Things Look Today
Today, Bannack State Park preserves more than 60 structures, making it one of the most well-preserved ghost towns in the state. Visitors can explore the old hotel, schoolhouse, gallows, and many other historic buildings. The park offers self-guided tours, and special events such as “Bannack Days” in July, where history buffs can enjoy reenactments, stagecoach rides, and other activities that celebrate the town’s rich and colorful past.
Most recently, the park was open to the public year-round. However, I recommend checking with Montana’s Department of Fish, Wildlife & Parks for the most current information on visiting hours and any potential restrictions due to ongoing preservation work or seasonal conditions.
Glendale Ghost Town (Beaverhead County)
Glendale is a ghost town located in Beaverhead County, Montana. The town sprouted in the 1870s due to mining activities, notably silver and copper, and at its peak, had a population of around 1,000 people.
The history of Glendale began with the discovery of rich deposits of silver in the area. In 1872, the Hecla Consolidated Mining Company was founded, and it established a smelter in the area which led to the birth of Glendale. The town quickly grew, with the development of houses, shops, a school, and other facilities. Notably, it had one of the first telephone lines in the state of Montana, connecting the mine’s office with other facilities.
However, the town’s fortune started declining by the end of the 19th century as the mines began to deplete. The Hecla company went bankrupt in 1893, leading to a significant decline in Glendale’s population. By the early 20th century, the town was mostly abandoned.
How Things Look Today
Today, the ruins of Glendale are spread over a wide area. Some of the structures that still stand include the foundations of the smelter, a charcoal kiln, and the remnants of some residential buildings. The cemetery is also a point of interest, providing a somber reminder of the lives once lived here.
Glendale is located on private property, but the site is accessible to the public for respectful exploration. However, it’s recommended to check for any updated information or requirements for visiting. The site, in its ruined state, offers a unique glimpse into the life of a mining town from the late 19th century.
Fort Owen State Park (Stevensville)
Fort Owen State Park, situated near the town of Stevensville in Montana, is a historic site with a rich past dating back to the early days of the fur trade and the beginning of the Jesuit missions in the region. It is recognized as the location of the first permanent white settlement in Montana.
The site began as a fur trading post established by John Owen in the 1850s. He named it Fort Owen, and it quickly became a hub for traders, settlers, and the indigenous Salish people. Owen also used the fort as a base to conduct agricultural experiments, making it a center of innovation in the region.
In the late 19th century, after the buffalo hide trade declined and newer trading posts were established, Fort Owen’s significance dwindled, and it was eventually abandoned. It wasn’t until the 1930s that efforts were made to preserve the site, culminating in its designation as a state park in 1968.
How Things Look Today
The site today offers a mix of original and reconstructed buildings, including the main house, trade store, barracks, and root cellars. There are interpretive signs throughout the park that provide information about the history of the site and its occupants.
Fort Owen State Park is managed by Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, and is open to the public year-round during daylight hours. However, because the site is unstaffed, visitors are encouraged to call ahead to ensure access and to check for any updates or changes. The park is an intriguing destination for those interested in the early history of Montana and the evolution of the fur trade in the West.
Comet Ghost Town (Jefferson County)
Comet, located in Jefferson County, Montana, is an authentic ghost town that speaks volumes about the region’s historic gold and silver mining era.
Founded in the late 19th century following the discovery of gold, Comet was a bustling mining town at its peak, with several operating mines, including the High Ore mine which was one of the most productive in the area.
The town was named after the nearby Comet Mine. At its height, Comet had hundreds of residents, and it boasted a number of amenities including hotels, saloons, stores, a school, and a post office.
However, like many mining towns, Comet’s prosperity did not last. As the mines became depleted, residents began to leave. Although there were a few periods of brief revival in the early 20th century as new mining techniques were introduced, the decline was irreversible. The town was completely deserted by the mid-20th century.
How Things Look Today
Today, the ghost town of Comet provides a fascinating snapshot of the past. Numerous structures still stand, including the remnants of the mill, a number of houses, the old hotel, and various other buildings. These structures, weathered by time and the elements, stand as silent witnesses to the rise and fall of a classic Western mining town.
Comet is located on private property, but the owners have allowed respectful visitors to explore the town. However, it’s crucial to confirm the latest access rules and guidelines, as these can change over time. Always remember to respect the site and its historical significance: do not remove any artifacts, and leave the place as you found it for future visitors to enjoy.
Northern Montana State Fairgrounds (Great Falls)
The Northern Montana State Fairgrounds located in Great Falls is a place imbued with a rich tapestry of local history and culture. The fairgrounds were once a pivotal meeting point for communities not only from the city of Great Falls but from across Montana.
On a warm, sunny day, the fairgrounds would be buzzing with people who came to appreciate and celebrate Montana’s proud agricultural heritage, sample an array of gastronomic delights, and enjoy the adrenaline rush of the thrilling rides.
The fairgrounds were an annual spectacle, a stage where farmers showcased their livestock and crops. The old barns would have been filled with cows, sheep, horses, and a variety of other farm animals, their proud owners hoping for a blue ribbon. The agricultural exhibitions were a highlight of the fair, as they provided an opportunity to share knowledge, build connections, and celebrate the best of Montana’s farming community.
Children would eagerly anticipate their annual visit, yearning for the chance to taste cotton candy, ride the Ferris wheel, and play carnival games. The laughter and cheers echoing from the grandstands were a testament to the fun and camaraderie that the fair brought to the community.
Unfortunately, as years passed, the allure of the fairgrounds began to wane. Changing societal trends and a decrease in funding and community interest led to a decline in the use of the fairgrounds. Eventually, they fell into a state of abandonment.
How Things Look Today
Today, the Northern Montana State Fairgrounds stands as a shell of its vibrant past. The grandstands, once filled with cheering crowds, are now silent. The barns, which used to house well-groomed livestock, are now empty. The paint on the buildings peels away in the wind, and the paths, once trampled by excited fairgoers, are overgrown and desolate.
But, even in its state of abandonment, the fairgrounds possess an undeniable charm. For urban explorers and history enthusiasts, the site provides an interesting look at the past. Its rusted structures and quiet buildings are a stark contrast to the excitement and energy that once permeated the area.
Nevertheless, while the site is alluring, it’s important to remember that it is private property. Visitors are advised to respect the property, avoid trespassing, and seek the necessary permissions before exploring.
The Northern Montana State Fairgrounds, despite its present state, remains a significant landmark in the history of Great Falls and Montana as a whole. Its silent grounds and structures are a poignant reminder of a time when the fairgrounds served as the beating heart of the community.
Smith Mine (Bearcreek)
The Smith Mine is a significant site in Montana’s history due to the devastating mining disaster that occurred there. Located near the small town of Bearcreek in Carbon County, Montana, the Smith Mine was once a bustling site of coal extraction. In the early 20th century, it contributed significantly to the region’s economy, providing jobs for many local residents and fueling industry with its coal output.
On February 27, 1943, a catastrophic event forever marked the Smith Mine. An explosion, believed to be caused by a build-up of methane gas, ripped through the underground tunnels. Of the 77 men working in the mine that day, only three survived. The loss of 74 lives in the disaster was a devastating blow to the community.
The aftermath of the tragedy led to the mine’s closure. As the years passed, the once busy mine fell into disrepair. Today, it stands as a solemn memorial to those who lost their lives in the disaster.
How Things Look Today
Several buildings, including the mine’s entrance and other mining infrastructure, remain on the site, though they are weathered and slowly being reclaimed by nature. A hauntingly beautiful monument, it speaks to the dangers that workers in the mining industry faced during that time.
The Smith Mine disaster is often remembered for its impact on Montana’s mining industry, highlighting the importance of safety regulations in hazardous working conditions. The event served as a catalyst for changes in mining safety practices, contributing to the improvement of working conditions in mines across the country.
It’s important to note that as of the last information available, the Smith Mine is privately owned. While its story is a part of public history, the land itself is private property. Anyone wishing to visit should ensure they obtain the necessary permissions and respect the property and its historical significance.
The Smith Mine serves as a poignant reminder of the risks and sacrifices associated with the mining industry. Its legacy continues to echo through Montana’s history, a testament to the men who worked and tragically lost their lives there.
Canyon Creek Charcoal Kilns (Canyon Creek)
The Canyon Creek Charcoal Kilns in Montana are historical remnants of the region’s thriving mining industry in the late 19th century. These large beehive-shaped structures were primarily used for producing charcoal, a key ingredient in the smelting process of ore mining operations.
Situated near Helena, the capital city of Montana, the kilns were constructed in the 1880s during a boom in the local silver mining industry. The charcoal produced here was used to fuel the smelters that extracted silver from raw ore. Wood from nearby forests was burned in these kilns for days to produce the charcoal necessary for the smelting process.
As the silver industry in the region declined in the late 19th century, the need for charcoal diminished, leading to the abandonment of the kilns. Today, they stand as fascinating monuments to a bygone era of mining and industry in Montana.
How Things Look Today
The kilns themselves, made from bricks and stones, are slowly decaying, bearing the scars of time and weather. Still, they retain their characteristic beehive shape, providing a clear glimpse into the past. Over time, nature has begun to take over the surrounding area, further adding to the haunting beauty of these historical structures.
The site is an interesting place for those who appreciate history, industry, or architecture. Visitors should bear in mind, however, that these structures are old and may be unstable. Safety should be a primary consideration, and any posted signs or warnings should be respected. Always check if access to the site is permissible, as property ownership could have changed over time.
Coolidge Ghost Town (Polaris)
Coolidge Ghost Town is located near Polaris, in the mountains of Montana. Once a thriving silver mining town in the early 20th century, it now stands abandoned, a haunting reminder of the past. Coolidge, named after Calvin Coolidge, the 30th President of the United States, experienced its peak in the 1920s when the Elkhorn Mine was in full swing.
The town was uniquely established, featuring a number of amenities that were ahead of their time. Coolidge was equipped with electricity, telephone lines, and even had a ballfield for recreation. The town also had a post office, school, and various commercial establishments, supporting a population that numbered around 500 at its peak.
The community was predominantly made up of miners and their families who were drawn to the area due to the promise of wealth from the nearby silver and copper mines. The Elkhorn Mine was the primary source of employment and economic activity in the town. Ore from the mine was transported down the mountain using an electric trolley system, a remarkable feature for a remote mining town during that time period.
Unfortunately, the prosperity did not last long. The silver market took a downturn in the late 1920s and was further hit by the Great Depression. By the mid-1930s, the Elkhorn Mine had closed, leaving the residents of Coolidge without a livelihood. The population dwindled as people moved away in search of work, and by the 1940s, Coolidge was essentially abandoned.
How Things Look Today
Today, the Coolidge Ghost Town is a fascinating place to visit for history enthusiasts and lovers of the Old West. Although most of the original buildings have been lost to time and the elements, several structures still stand, including parts of the old mill, several homes, and the shell of the old school building. The remnants of the electric trolley system can also be seen.
Visiting Coolidge offers a unique window into the past, a chance to step back in time and imagine what life would have been like in this remote mountain town during the silver boom. Visitors are reminded to treat the site with respect, preserving it for future generations to learn from and enjoy. As always, it’s important to remember that exploring such sites should be done responsibly, respecting all posted signs and rules.
Chromium Mill Ruins (Columbia Falls)
Located near Columbia Falls, the Chromium Mill Ruins in Montana are a testament to the region’s past industrial activities. The mill, originally operational during the mid-20th century, was a significant part of the region’s economy, focusing on the processing of chromite ore which was then used in a wide range of industrial applications.
At the height of its operations, the mill was a hub of activity, playing an essential role in the local economy and employing a large number of people. The chromite processed in the mill was used in the production of various goods including dyes, paints, and several other products, which were then shipped and sold both domestically and internationally.
However, over the years, as resources diminished and the cost of operations increased, the mill gradually became less viable. Environmental regulations and competition from other sources of chromite also contributed to its decline. Eventually, the mill was forced to cease operations and was subsequently abandoned.
How Things Look Today
Today, the Chromium Mill Ruins stand as a poignant reminder of Montana’s industrial past. The site is characterized by large, decaying industrial structures, including the remnants of the processing facilities and storage areas. Nature is slowly reclaiming the site, adding an eerie beauty to the rusting metal and crumbling concrete.
Urban explorers and history enthusiasts may find the Chromium Mill Ruins intriguing, but caution is advised when visiting the site. As with any abandoned structure, the ruins could be unstable, and the site may contain industrial residues. Therefore, visitors should respect any posted warnings and regulations. Additionally, as the area may be private property, it is always important to secure permission before exploring.
Our Final Thoughts on Abandoned Places in Montana
Those who are into urban exploration in the Montana area should get comfortable with Montana trespassing laws. Luckily, we have developed a massive guide to trespassing laws in all 50 states. For laws that specifically relate to Montana, please click here.
For more about obtaining permission to explore abandoned places, check out our guide Explore Abandoned Buildings: How To Get Permission. Finally, if you are wanting to find more abandoned places in Montana, check out my resource How To Find Abandoned Places With Google Maps.
- John Bourscheid, Killer Urbex