As Montana’s population and industries have changed over the years, there are several sites that have been preserved as reminders of time passed. A major player in the gold rush, the construction of railroads, and home to indigenous people for at least 12,000 years, Montana is home to many historical sites that you can visit to this day.
Montanans, compared even to other Americans, are very protective of their traditions, history, and way of life. You can see evidence of this all over the state in its many museums, lovingly maintained historic architecture and the preservation of many different types of sites that were home to pieces of the state’s history.
Here we’ll talk a little bit about some of Montana’s most important historic sites. Whether you’re planning a visit or just want to learn more, read on for a brief introduction to Montana’s past via sites that have lived on to this day.
The sites included in the list are:
- Bannock Ghost Town
- The Hanging Site of George Ives
- The Sperry Chalet
- Pictograph Cave State Park
- The Timberline Cafe
- The Izaak Walton Inn
- The Montana State Capitol
- The Old Prison Museum
- The Many Glacier Hotel
- The Roosevelt Arch
- The Hotel Finlen
- St. Ignatius Catholic Mission
- The Mint Bar and Grill
- The Fort Union Trading Post
- The Montana Bar
- The Glacier Park Lodge
- The Old Fort Benton Bridge
- The Cascade County Courthouse
- The Lake McDonald Lodge
- The Bale of Hay Saloon
- The Hungry Horse Dam and Reservoir
- The Old Milwaukee Train Depot
- Pompey’s Pillar National Monument
- Going-to-the-Sun Road
- Boothill Cemetery
The 25 Best Historical Sites in Montana
1. Bannock Ghost Town • Bannock Montana
Shortly after Gold was discovered in Grasshopper Creek, the city of Bannock, Montana was founded to house all the folks who arrived seeking their fortune. Although it’s just one of many towns in Montana that were abandoned after the gold rush, Bannock has been somewhat maintained; by turning it into a state park, it has the benefits of both stewards and a budget to help prevent its decay.
2. The Hanging Site of George Ives • Nevada City
Though his innocence has been debated since he was hanged in 1863, George Ives was convicted and killed by a pre-statehood group of individuals called the Montana Vigilantes. The whole affair took about an hour, and nearly 2,000 people watched him be hanged in the town square in Nevada City.
3. The Sperry Chalet • Glacier National Park
Originally built in 1914 as a simple lodge with a dormitory for passers-through, the Sperry Chalet has gone through several iterations, but is today a mess hall and lodge. It is only accessible by trail, if you’d like to book a room, you should be prepared for an arduous hike to reach it.
4. Pictograph Cave State Park • Billings
The oldest site on this list, Pictograph Cave State Park is so named because of the myriad of ancient red-ochre pictographs found splashed on the interior walls of the caves. Some of the cave paintings date to over 2000 years old.
5. The Timberline Cafe • West Yellowstone
Far more than just a roadside diner, the Timberline Cafe has been serving West Yellowstone since the very early 1900s. Its prime location right by the western entrance to Yellowstone National Park has kept it bustling for well over a hundred years and has become one of the most popular tourist destinations in the area. As they have been since they first opened, they are known for their rustic meals that are best followed by a slice of pie.
6. The Izaak Walton Inn • Essex
Essex, Montana was once deemed an ideal location for a south entrance to Glacier National Park. In an effort to accommodate the rush of tourists, the Great Northern Railroad erected the lodge in 1939. Unfortunately, WWII “derailed” their plans, and Essex remained simply the home to a vast railyard – and an exquisite lodge with every possible amenity. To honor this historic connection to the railway, The Izaac Walton Inn has, over the years, amassed a number of railcars and cabooses that have been converted into guest rooms and luxury suites.
7. The Montana State Capitol • Helena
The home of the Montana State Legislature and one of the most photogenic examples of architecture in Helena, the Montana State Capitol was erected between 1896 and 1902. It was designed by Bell & Kent in Greek Neoclassical style. They were awarded the contract after winning a design contest, though the building that stands today differs somewhat from the original design. It was altered to make the building seem grander, most notably by increasing the height of the dome.
8. The Old Prison Museum • Deer Lodge
This imposing former prison was built even before Montana’s statehood and incarcerated its first prisoner in 1871. Even though it resembles some sort of ancient fort, the building continued to hold prisoners until the 70s.
9. The Many Glacier Hotel • Glacier National Park
This mountain lodge within Glacier National Park was built by the Great Northern Railway in 1915. Though it has been remodeled here and there over the years to make the amenities more contemporary, its historic character has been preserved throughout. Even though they have well over 200 guest rooms, they tend to get reserved quickly. If you’d like to plan a stay at this historic lodge, do so well in advance.
10. The Roosevelt Arch • Gardiner
Crafted from thousands of pounds of local columnar basalt, The Roosevelt Arch marks the Northwest Entrance to Glacier National Park. Though it wasn’t originally being built to honor President Roosevelt, he was vacationing in Yellowstone during its construction, and it was decided that it should be dedicated to him. Roosevelt spoke at the dedication ceremony, but never again returned to Yellowstone: meaning he never actually saw the completed arch.
11. The Hotel Finlen • Butte
First opened on New Years Day 1924, the Hotel Finlen is still the premier hotel in Butte Montana. In addition to the original tower, the property incorporated a retro motel under its umbrella in the 50s. Its design was inspired by the Hotel Astor in New York City, and the building is registered as a historic landmark.
12. St. Ignatius Catholic Mission • St. Ignatius
St. Ignatius was completed in 1893 and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973. The congregation dates way back to 1854, originally founded by Fathers Pierre-Jean De Smet and Adrian Hoecken. Today it is still an operating parish, welcoming both locals and tourists alike.
13. The Mint Bar and Grill • Livingston
In operation for over a century, the Mint Bar & Grill – or just the Mint, as locals call it – was originally a bar, package store, trading post, and even an ad-hoc bank for railroad workers. Many of the original fixtures and details are still on display though it has been restored and remodeled several times over the year. The Brunswick barback alone is 120 years old.
14. The Fort Union Trading Post • Bainville
Dating all the way back to 1828, the Fort Union Trading Post was a hub for settler fur traders as well as members of several different tribal groups to sell and barter goods. Though the focus was on furs, a variety of goods were peddled here over the years, including textiles, beads, and firearms.
15. The Montana Bar • Miles City
Though it originally opened way back in 1908, the Montana Bar is widely considered to be the best-preserved example of an authentic western bar in Montana. While there are several design elements within that hearken a Montana of yesteryear, maybe most interesting is a taxidermied Audubon Big Horn Sheep, a species that is now extinct.
16. The Glacier Park Lodge • East Glacier
It took over a year and a half to construct the two main buildings of the Glacier Park Lodge, but it was finally completed in 1913. It was built by the Great Northern Railway to house both workers and tourists arriving to Glacier by train and still accepts guests annually between May and September.
17. The Old Fort Benton Bridge • Benton
The first bridge to span the Missouri River in the state of Montana, the current iteration was built in 1921 after a flood destroyed the old one. The bridge had fallen into disrepair from years of use, but a community restoration project succeeded in reopening it to foot traffic.
18. The Cascade County Courthouse • Great Falls
An example of English Renaissance Revival architecture, the Cascade County Courthouse was completed in 1903. Notable features are the granite columns that greet you near the entrance and the immense copper dome that tops the building.
19. The Lake McDonald Lodge • West Glacier
Located 10 miles inside Glacier National Park from the entrance at West Glacier, this lake-adjacent lodge still has many of the original details from its original construction back in 1913. In addition to the guest rooms on the second and third floors of the main lodge, the property boasts a number of cozy guest cabins scattered throughout.
20. The Bale of Hay Saloon • Virginia City
Dating all the way back to the 1860s, the Bale of Hay is Montana’s oldest bar. Today, the building is owned by the Montana Heritage Commission, and several different groups and individuals have run it for the annual summer high season. Though a fire destroyed the roof in 1983 spurning a comprehensive renovation, the original back bar and facade are still standing.
21. The Hungry Horse Dam and Reservoir • Hungry Horse
An arch-style dam built-in 1953. It spans the south fork of the Flathead River and produces electricity for the surrounding region. The resultant reservoir is used recreationally for boating, water skiing, and fishing.
22. The Old Milwaukee Train Depot • Missoula
The Milwaukee & St. Paul railroad expanded their lines all the way to the Puget Sound in 1906, a project they called “Lines West.” Though they never recouped their investment and the project was a direct contributor to their eventual bankruptcy, the Missoula Train Depot was constructed as an integral part of the infrastructure. It was purchased and restored by the Boone and Crockett Club and now houses their national headquarters as well as a visitor center.
23. Pompey’s Pillar National Monument • Yellowstone County
Jutting from the surrounding plains is this enormous sandstone outcrop, now named Pompey’s Pillar. It has been used as an observation point for over 10,000 years, since the beginning of the human occupation of the area. It bears a number of petroglyphs, pictographs, and assorted graffiti from both contemporary times and dating to the arrivals of settlers. Lots of folks come to see where William Clark inscribed his own moniker into the rock upon his first visit to the site.
24. Going-to-the-Sun Road • Glacier National Park
The construction of Going-to-the-Sun Road was no small feat; it took 11 years to complete this road which passes across the continental divide through Glacier National Park. It’s one of the most beloved scenic drives in the entire country, and because of this legacy, it was registered as a National Historic Place, a National Historic Landmark, and a Historic Civil Engineering Landmark.
25. Boothill Cemetary • Billings
What began as little more than a burial ground on a hill above Virginia City, Boothill Cemetery was the final resting place for many of the people “tried” and murdered by the Montana Vigilantes during the time they controlled the region. The graves were left unmarked for many years, though local residents eventually strived to turn it into a rustic, proper cemetery by erecting small markers on the graves they could identify.