The old smelter stacks that were a common sight in the early days of industry were usually prominent features across the landscape of any industrial town or region.
One such stack—in fact, a somewhat unique and outstanding structure due to its size—belonged to the Anaconda Copper Company, and this smelter stack stands today as a monument to an age gone by in Anaconda Smoke Stack State Park.
This smelter stack in Anaconda in the southwest of Montana remains one of the tallest free-standing brick structures in the world.
At 585 feet high and with an inside base diameter of 75 feet, this monolith is taller even than the Washington Monument, which is 30 feet shorter.
Located atop the foothills of the Anaconda Pintler Mountain Range, the landscape-dominating tower dates back to 1918 and can be seen from miles around.
The entire area around the structure is a designated state park, and the disused stack also stands as a symbol of economic change and the challenges faced by communities relying on exhaustible resources from the land.
The last time the smelter functioned was more than 40 years ago, and this monument to the period of industrialism so integral to the state highlights the scale to which mining and other related activities dominated this part of Montana at one point in time.
Now listed in the National Register of Historic Places, the smelter stack, the smelter, and a few remaining nearby buildings were listed as a Superfund cleanup site after a group of local residents formed a committee dedicated to the preservation of the site.
The cleaning up of contaminated soils and structures continues today, and the Atlantic Richfield Company closed the area around the stack and limited public visits to organized tours or events for safety reasons.
Today the committee continues to work on ways to keep the stack preserved as well as make it more publicly accessible.
Visitors are currently able to view and photograph the stack from a distance in a viewing site near Goodman Park complete with interpretive signs describing the history of the stack.
Access is still limited to the viewing/interpretive area, but it is free as there is no visitor center or any staff at the state park. You can get to Anaconda Smoke Stack State Park along I-90, less than 25 miles from Butte.
Anaconda Smoke Stack State Park Stats
- 12 acres
- Open year-round
- 585-feet tower
Main Attractions in the Area
Aside from the obvious historical and heritage attractions in the state park, the main section of Anaconda is also located right at the end of the Pintler Veteran’s Memorial Scenic Highway.
This is a scenic route that links Anaconda to nearby Philipsburg and the various recreation opportunities that exist within the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest. The Scenic Byway is a fantastic alternative route from I-90 on any outing in the region.
The scenic detour route is ideal for anyone traveling between Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks, and it is also a popular day trip from nearby Missoula. The 100-mile drive from Missoula to Anaconda is amazingly picturesque.
Another major nearby attraction is encountered on the highway heading west from Anaconda–Georgetown Lake. This is a huge, man-made reservoir backed up by the Anaconda Pintler Mountains which obviously makes it some of a point of attraction for day use or weekend outings.
The lake encompasses over 3,000 acres and there are several campgrounds and day-use areas surrounding the highway closest to the lake.
The Old Works Golf Course is another major attraction in Anaconda and offers one of Montana’s most unique golfing experiences by way of the only Jack Nicklaus course in the state open to the public.
The 18-hole course is located atop what was formerly the location of Anaconda’s first copper smelter—hence the name.
The disused site was designated as a Superfund site in 1983, and it took around six years and a lot of local effort—not to mention some help with the design from Jack Nicklaus—to bring the Old Works Golf Course to life.
There are various tee locations to suit different levels, and reminders of the copper mining origins of the site are inherent throughout the course.
Views of the smelter stack are more than visible from this spot, which has its own share of mining relics lining some of the fairways.
The course’s most noteworthy historical touch comes by way of the black sand traps, which are actually infused with the former copper smelting process by-product slag.
Discovery Ski Area
Farther along the scenic highway closer to Philipsburg and about 20 miles out from Anaconda is the Discovery Ski Area.
This is a favorite local ski destination, and when the snow thaws in the spring it reveals what are basically professional-level mountain bike trails that get heavy use throughout the summer.
With over 2,200 skiable acres and a healthy mix of beginner, intermediate, and expert-level runs, this popular mountain is also perhaps more laid-back and friendly than some of the bigger resorts.
Aside from the top skiing, there are equipment rentals, ski lessons, and a lodge with a restaurant to get warmed up in.
On top of that, Discovery also helps maintain an extensive series of Nordic trails nearby. These cross-country and snowshoe paths circle the nearby Echo Lake and link back to the lodge.
Lost Creek State Park
Anyone looking for some adventure close to town will love Lost Creek State Park which is just 12 miles out of central Anaconda.
Another state park unit with impressive mountain scenery and forested slopes, but the main attraction is undoubtedly the 50-foot Lost Creek Falls which cascades down a rock face.
It’s easy to get to the falls from the parking area to the falls which makes it a very family-friendly place. Some ambitious hikers continue the trail past the waterfall as it winds its way alongside Lost Creek for a few more miles.
The park is also an ideal spot for a picnic or some mountain biking, and there is also a 25-site campground that is operated on a first-come, first-served basis.
RVs up to 23 feet long are accommodated here, and even if you are not camping wildlife like mountain goats and bighorn sheep are often spotted here.
In the Anaconda Smoke Stack State Park, there is an area for walking or hiking but there is no real trail as such. It is just an easy, half-mile walking area unlikely to challenge anyone, and it is basically a 10-minute walk.
If you are looking for some hiking close to this state park or just in the vicinity of Anaconda you won’t be too disappointed as there are several accessible trailheads along the Pintler Veterans Memorial Scenic Highway.
Some of these trails venture into the iconic Anaconda Pintler Wilderness and its rugged terrain complete with jagged peaks cresting the Continental Divide.
This whole area is something of a backpacking paradise and a must-do for any Montana outdoor enthusiast.
These trails are particularly appealing to anyone who prefers to have wild, open spaces without too many other people around.