Bannack State Park is located in the southwestern region of Montana. It is less than 20 miles from Dillon and accessible via Highway 278.
The state park features within its region one of Montana’s best known and most-visited ‘ghost towns’, which comes by way of an almost complete town of original buildings and structures from the original Old West period in the state’s history.
The buildings are registered historic landmarks that relate back to the first gold discovery in the region way back in 1862, and this Montana Ghost Town is regarded as the most complete and well-preserved of all the existing sites.
The state park covers 1,600 acres of land in total with elevations close to 6,000 feet. The Ghost Town is certainly the main attraction of the area for many visitors and features various seasonal events and highlights.
On top of the available historical aspects within the park there is plenty of scope for various other activities. Aside from the Wild West vibes, you can camp here year-round and enjoy a variety of other outdoor activities such as picnicking, hiking, fishing, biking, bird and wildlife viewing.
The park is open between 8 am and 5 pm under normal conditions of operation, and there are a few fees involved for non-residents. Drive-in costs $8.00, walking or biking in will set you back $4.00 and there is a $5.00 fee for the use of the Winter Warming house
Bannack State Park Stats
- 1,600 acres
- Park and campground accessible year-round with limitations on some amenities
- Historical registered landmarks within the park
- Over 28 campsites
As the most-visited of all Montana’s existing ghost towns, the Bannack site is undoubtedly one of the main reasons why people visit the park.
Bannack Ghost Town
The best-preserved ghost town in Montana contains the echoes of the state’s frontier history, gold mining glory days, rogues, and vigilantes, all in one concentrated loop.
The town was once the most developed in the region with as many as 3,000 residents including prospectors, miners, traders, bartenders — and crooks. With its hotels, schools, jails, saloons, brothels…well, you get the picture, this was the Old West personified.
Today visitors can explore the buildings independently or by way of guided tours that explain the somewhat fascinating history behind this uniquely preserved gold rush town. Bannack offers what could be the most accurate glimpse into the lives of the Montana gold rush era prospectors.
The town still boasts around 50 buildings lining its main street. The Hotel Meade, for instance, presents a whiff of former boomtown opulence, while just along from that is the old saloon bar which doubtless saw a few real characters come and go.
Then there is the somewhat haunting scaffold – the site built by the Sherriff for hanging various miscreants, which also proved to be his own final destination once the vigilante residents discovered he was actually the brains behind the local murderous group of outlaws creating havoc in the region.
There is a visitor center and a few other activities around the town which include displays, tours, and re-enactments, and there is an activity-packed summer festival known as Bannack Days.
This annual festival is packed with historic displays, activities and events, and takes place during the third weekend in July.
The visitor center does the tours and it is open between Memorial Day and Labor Day. In late December through March, visitors also get the chance to skate on Grasshopper Creek’s dredge pond (weather and conditions permitting), and in October night-time tours of the town take place for those looking for another type of chill — courtesy of the Bannack Association’s presentation of ‘Ghost Walks’, featuring historical re-enactments with a few creepy twists.
When you first enter the wide-open space and rolling hills of the park you may start to become aware of the various activities that likely await you. There are walking and biking areas, especially in the surrounding hills, and close to the camp, there are fishing opportunities by way of Grasshopper Creek.
As the park is open all year though if you’d prefer you could ski through the terrain and skate on the pond. The warming hut is on hand, as are rentals of skate, ski, and various other types of winter weather equipment.
There are two campgrounds with 28 available sites available and even a tipi. The camping sites come complete with tables, fire rings, and firewood, and there is a group picnic site. Some of the sites can be reserved, and the Vigilante Campground, the larger of the two, is most suitable for RVs.
Restroom facilities are available in the visitor center, but to add to the rustic vibe there are no showers or electricity. A 14-day maximum camping limit is also in effect on the sites, and fees for non-residents are somewhere between $4 and $34 depending on the season and amenities available.
The nearby activities include biking, hiking, wildlife viewing, and picnicking, and the camp facilitates access to Grasshopper Creek for a spot of fishing.
Grasshopper Creek runs through the park and is a decent spot for some fly fishing. There is plenty of trout in the region and occasional tales of 20-inch Cutthroat Trout and decently-sized Brown Trout coming out of the creek abound.
There are various access points to fishing the creek, including the ghost town and the campsites, and this winding stream surrounded by green banks provides a pleasant few hours’ fishing for many a visitor.
Bannack Ghost Town
Yes, the actual Bannack Ghost Town is a trail with a difference, whether you are interested primarily in an actual hike or a sightseeing tour on foot. The trail follows a moderately trafficked loop and is just over 1.5 miles long.
This trail is primarily used for hiking and regular walking is ideal for all skill levels and includes some picturesque wildflowers along the route. A trail map is available from the visitor center for around $2.00.
Birds Eye Loop View
Birds Eye View Loop is a trail of just over 3.5 miles in length, rated by most hikers as moderate in difficulty. The loop is lightly trafficked and again features the lovely wildflowers that permeate the area. The trail is used mainly for hiking and walking, and is probably the most picturesque route within the state park.
The trail will take you off across the surrounding rolling hills, and some of the routes was once used by wagons heading for Salt Lake City. There are a couple of picturesque vistas of the old town along the way, and a few perhaps less beautiful sights of old hydraulic mining equipment and former lode mines.
The trail is interpretive, which makes it all the more interesting, and the visitor center has guide brochures with more details of the route. The trail features easily identifiable numbered posts and elevation gains of around 500 feet.
Hendricks Lode Mine Trail
Hendricks Lode Mine Trail is very short at less than a mile long. This is an out-and-back-style trail that includes a river and is good for all skill levels. The route is not particularly scenic due to its location around a former mining area, and it is used mainly for walking, near camping and fishing spots. Dogs are also allowed on this trail which is basically a quick and moderately easy hike through the hills of the park.