Deep in the Montana mountains, down a dirt road, miles away from civilization, you can take a step back into Montana’s history in the town of Garnet. It’s now a ghost town – Montana’s best-preserved ghost town, as the town’s website promises. And Garnet Ghost Town lives up to that promise, with intact buildings filled with items that haven’t been touched for decades.
Garnet Ghost Town is located on dirt roads between Montana Route 200 and Interstate 90, east of Missoula. From the south, exit onto the I-90 Frontage road at either exit 138 or 153 (Drummond). Turn onto Bear Gulch Road near the rest area (you can’t access the rest area, but you can see it from the frontage road). There are signs along the way to point you towards Garnet. At one point, you’re given two options — I took the road on the left, and it was an easy drive. I don’t know about the quality of the road on the right. From the north, turn off Route 200 onto Garnet Range Road (near the community of Greenough). I found the road between Garnet and Route 200 to be wider and smoother than the road from I-90 to Garnet – so if you’re concerned about road quality, or you are driving an RV, stick to the northern route.
The roads to Garnet are snow-covered and closed to wheeled vehicles during the winter and spring months – you can snowmobile or cross-country ski to the town, but not drive.
When you arrive at Garnet, you’ll park on the hill above town. Garnet is located in a gulch, and you’ll need to hike a short distance downhill — although there is handicapped parking closer to the town itself. You can also go the opposite direction, to the mining area. We’ll talk more about that in a moment. For now, head towards town.
Garnet Ghost Town
The photo at the top of the page is your first view of Garnet Ghost Town. From the trail, there’s a viewpoint of the entire town, looking much like it did 100 or more years ago. Keep going downhill…
… and you arrive on what remains of a 19th-century Main Street. No doubt, this building was the center of activity at the turn of the 20th century. Kelly’s Saloon served drinks to men downstairs, while women were welcome in the family residence upstairs (accessed by a discreet entrance in the back).
Be a man, and walk through the front door, then step right up to the bar — which is still stocked with a few empty cans and bottles.
You can also try your luck on the rickety stairs.
Down the street, Davey’s store was stocked with just about everything you would need, to live fairly comfortably in this remote location.
Davey’s is still packed with interesting items that have been hanging around for a century or more.
The Wells Hotel was probably Garnet’s nicest building. The three-story hotel had a pulley system for delivering heavy baggage up to the second floor.
It looks rough now, but you can still tell that this was a very elegant place, especially considering the surroundings.
Rooms remain decorated with some furnishings on the second floor.
The third floor would have been a much more basic accommodation. Poor miners would have stayed up here, in rooms separated by plank walls — no wallpaper, and no heat, except for what made its way up from the lower floors.
You can spend plenty of time walking around Garnet Ghost Town’s other buildings, which range from houses to shacks…
… many of which you can explore. If you find any historical artifacts, don’t take them with you — leave them here.
Once you’ve thoroughly explored the town, and headed back to the parking lot, you can decide whether you want to check out the mining area. It’s located on the opposite side of the parking lot, and once again, you’ll need to hike downhill a bit.
I’ve got to be honest, there isn’t a lot to see on this path. There are a few holes in the ground, that were, at one time, big enough for guys to go into, and gold to come out of. Some miscellaneous equipment is also scattered around.
Near the end of the hike, there’s a system of pulleys and cables that still stand overhead. This is just about the most exciting thing you’ll see on the entire path.
The mining trail ends at the road, and you can choose to either walk back the way you came or follow the road back to the parking area. I figured the road would be quicker, so I followed it back to the car.
The route from Garnet Ghost Town to Montana Route 200 is a much smoother, wider dirt path than the road from Interstate 90 to Garnet. The views are also better.
You’ll find a few places to stop and enjoy the valley below, and the mountains to the north. The Blackfoot River is down there, somewhere, at the bottom of that valley, along with Route 200.
Here’s a look at the drive from Interstate 90 to Garnet to Montana 200:
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The Bottom Line
I always enjoy exploring historic, abandoned, and untouched places. Yes, Garnet has been preserved, and on the day I visited, there were a lot of other people, which took away from the “ghost” feel of the town. Even so, it’s still a very interesting place, filled with history and artifacts from the past, and it’s well worth the dirt-road adventure required to see it.