In Beaverhead County, Montana lies a sleepy little ghost town that has been deserted for years. The town was founded in 1862 after a man named John White and his companions discovered gold in Grasshopper Creek.
News spread fast and prospectors flocked to the area, and from a small settlement, Bannack quickly grew to accommodate the thousands of hopefuls who came looking to capitalize on the chance of a lifetime.
The state’s first boomtown was also declared the first Territorial Capital of Montana in 1864, although it only held this status for two years.
Unlike many mining towns of the era, its bubble slowly deflated rather than burst. Even though many people left for Alder Gulch (which would later become Virginia City), Bannack retained a thriving population. Over the next 60 years, people moved in and out as pockets of gold were discovered around the area. They developed a strong community of churches, stores, and homes. Residents had everything they needed.
As the gold became scarcer and market prices dropped, people gradually moved away. From a peak population of close to 10,000 in 1864, only around 400 people remained in 1890.
The town was almost completely deserted by 1930, and it was declared a State Park in the 1950s. The lack of deterioration and the active preservation works have made Bannack, according to the Montana State Parks website, the best ghost town in Montana.
Visitors can explore more than 60 preserved buildings, either through a tour or on their own. For those feeling extra adventurous, a guided Ghost Walk can be taken for only $10. Montana State Parks claims that visiting Bannack is one of the best ways to explore the “Old West” for yourself.
Those who visit from across the world get to see what life would have been like during the gold rush of the late 19th century.
The remaining buildings include a hotel, where breakfast is occasionally served, and a historic Masonic Lodge. Since 2000, the Lodge has been cared for by modern Freemasons who hold meetings there every year in September.
This allows them to maintain a link with a piece of their own history and they preserve the building so visitors can see it for many more years to come.
Bannack State Park includes a number of special activities to enjoy during your visit. You can view wildlife, go fishing, do some bird watching, or set up an afternoon picnic. You can even pan for gold like the first pioneers who came to the area.
Plus, there are areas where you can camp in your RV or tent. During your stay, you can make use of the park’s great amenities. These include a gift shop, toilets, trash removal, grills, wedding facilities, and wood for your campfire.
One of the most popular times to visit is during Bannack Days, a weekend-long festival held every July. During this time, the town is filled with period actors who are familiar with all the daily tasks of life out West. They demonstrate professions and trades of the time like blacksmithing and other essential pioneer skills.
They also hold grand performances of events, including an authentic church service and a stagecoach holdup. The reenactors truly bring the ghost town to life by demonstrating interesting parts of life that most people have only heard about in stories.
The historical town of Bannack and the surrounding campgrounds are all managed by the Montana State Parks department. Park rangers are there to ensure your safety and to make sure that everyone has a good time during their visit.
Those who decide to come to Bannack can make a reservation for a tour or campground ahead of time on the park’s website.
Bannack is a unique ghost town that has been well-preserved for the last 50-60 years. There is truly no place like it. Visitors get the very best experience of the “wild, wild West” and feel like they are on the set of a Western movie. The deserted streets leave an eerie feeling as people connect with those who lived long before them on this unexplored frontier.