Virginia City rose to fame as a mining town in the mid-1880s when gold was discovered in the Alder Gulch. Settlers trickled in from every corner of the state to take part in the renowned gold rush and get a piece of the pie. As a result, the population of Virginia grew steadily.
This population grew even further when Virginia City was made the territorial capital of Montana State and the legislative seat of Madison County. However, when the territorial government moved its capital to Helena in 1875, and with the gradual degradation of gold, people moved away and Virginia City’s population dropped. This once-thriving town got deserted and buildings got abandoned.
In the 1940s, Charles and Sue Bovey fell in love with the city and embarked on a mission to restore it. They were determined to preserve its historical significance. They acquired old buildings, renovated some, and made them into what they would have been if they had been maintained.
Through Bovey Restorations, most buildings regained their functionality and businesses thrived once more. Virginia has since been a tourist destination, known for its rich historical background.
Read on to find out some of the best things to do in Virginia City, Montana.
12 Best Things To Do in Virginia City, Montana
1. Visit the Virginia City Historic District
Recognized as a national historic landmark, this district comprises the famous Alder Gulch, where gold was discovered and hard rock mining was done, and many other preserved historical buildings. The Alder Gulch mining pits are the place to visit to get some historical feel of this once famous mining town.
Some of the significant buildings in this district include:
- The Thompson-Hickman Library and Museum: Constructed in 1918, William Thompson and his wife founded this building to conserve Virginia City’s history. They opened it officially in 1922 for use. It contains exhibits of precious artifacts from Alder Gulch, geological remains, historical photographs from the 1860s, and much more.
- Original Madison Courthouse: In 1866, the Montana territorial government constructed this building following the creation of Madison County by the first territorial legislation in 1865. This architectural structure still stands 155 years later.
- Territorial Governor’s Mansion: Governor Benjamin Potts served from this house for the first 3 years of his 12-year rule. He was appointed as Montana’s territorial governor by President Ulysses Grant in 1870. He carried on as the territorial governor way after the capital was moved from Virginia City.
- Hangman’s Building: This is where vigilantes hang five infamous road agents. The year was 1864, and this building was still under construction. It has since been occupied by many people and is still in good shape.
Other significant buildings to check out are Lewis McKay House, Lewis / Gohn House, the CL Dahler House, Ealing Bank, and more.
2. Go Riding on Horse Carriages
The Vigilante Carriages are famous for their horse carriage rides. They offer stagecoach tours, sleigh rides, dinner rides, and more. Take a stagecoach tour around Virginia City’s historic district and listen to experts narrate the history of the land. Delve into the intriguing history of the gold rush era, as you take in all the scenic views from your carriage window spaces.
Winter has never been better! With their sleigh rides, you’re certainly in for some winter horse carriage fun. The dinner rides are relaxing and epic. You get to be toured around the old gold claims, as you view wildlife along your way. Take your camera with you and capture these beautiful scenes. Enjoy the amazing sunset views from the hilly horizons of the city.
For your romantic getaway, make reservations for horse carriage weddings, romantic events, or celebrations of anniversaries. You can also reserve services for family events, birthdays, and more. You get to list your specifications and have your event as personalized as you want it to be.
Virginia City Overland Stagecoach also offers guided tours along Virginia City’s historic district and Alder Gulch. You will get views of the town and some of its oldest social amenities. The experts narrate the history of the town every step of the way. Enjoy this sightseeing and wildlife viewing tour.
3. Stop By the Bale of Hay Saloon for Food and Drinks
This bar is housed by a historic building that has stood the test of time. This building was formerly a lot of things, some being Smith and Boyd Saloon and The J.F. Stoer Saloon between 1869 and 1908. The building would later be abandoned for over thirty years. This was not until its rebirth as a saloon in the late1940s thanks to the Bovey Restorations.
Popularly known as Montana’s oldest watering hole, Bale of Hay Saloon is the place to be for some of Montana’s finest brews. They also offer cocktails and non-alcoholic beverages. Enjoy refreshing live music as you sample some of Virginia’s best cuisines in this friendly restaurant. They also offer ghost tours around the saloon.
4. Enjoy Rib Cracking Comedy at the Brewery Follies
The Brewery Follies is where you get to sip on some of Montana’s best-brewed beers, as you enjoy humorous comic performances and music shows. Their comedy is a mix of folly, satire, sarcasm, and everything silly. The Brewery has some historical significance too. It was built in 1984 and was acquired as part of the Bovey Restorations. It is also one of the oldest breweries in Montana.
They host two shows a day at 4.00 pm and 8.00 pm and their reservations are made only by telephone. Way to spend your summer!
5. Gold Panning and Adventure
River Gold Mining panning adventures are another must-do activity in Virginia City, Montana. They are located In Alder Gulch, between Virginia and Nevada City. At the mining pits, you will get to be taken through panning tutorials for gold and other precious stones. It’s a whole interesting treasure hunting spree.
You also get a vial upon entry where you can put your items and souvenirs. There’s also a gift shop where you can shop for unique rock supplies. They’re open from late May through to September. Gold Rush Adventures also offer similar tours.
6. Catch a Live Performance by the Illustrious Virginia City Players
The theater scene in Virginia City during the summer is hearty, educative, and fun. Be sure to catch live theater performances at the Opera House by Virginia’s very own Illustrious Virginia City Players.
Playing classic films and more, you will have about two hours of non-stop fun. Every session consists of about an hour of melodrama, 15 minutes of intermission, and about 45 minutes of vaudeville.
Get your tickets, carry your popcorns and or your favorite drink, sit back, and get entertained. Their shows are scheduled for 4.00 pm on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, 7.00 pm Fridays, 2.00 pm and 7.00 pm on Saturdays and 2.00 pm on Sundays. They are family-friendly and suitable for all ages.
7. Try out Food in Some of Virginia City’s Restaurants
What is a trip without some space to try out new cuisine? Another thing to do in Virginia City, Montana, is trying out food from some local restaurants. Here are a few suggestions.
The Wells Fargo Steakhouse serves some of the best Montana steaks, right in the heart of Virginia City. It’s also a historical building from the 1880s. Enjoy your classic boneless ribeye, New York Strip, and more served with the sauce of your choice. They serve amazing pasta, meatballs, and pork scaloppini with the accompaniment of your choice. You might catch a live event, and the ambiance is nothing but classy. They pride themselves on making food from organic products sourced locally. They also have an extensive list of drinks to pick from. Reserve a table and dine at this amazing restaurant.
Another restaurant to try out is the Virginia City Café. Located at 212 Wallace Street, this restaurant is open all year round. They serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner all day long. Get your day started with the best breakfast choices, including bread, muffins, eggs, pancakes, and much more. Enjoy the best burgers, sandwiches, tacos, chicken, fish, and chips for lunch or dinner with the salads and sides of your choice.
Bob’s Place is where to go if you want pizza and sandwiches. It’s located on 304 West Wallace Street and they make the best pizzas in town. They have an extensive list of pizza flavors to try out so you will have numerous choices to pick from. Their sandwiches and wraps are amazing too. Order these with salads of your choice. Stop by this tiny hotel for a quick lunch if you’re around town.
8. Take an ATV Tour with Nelson Studios LLC
From Downtown Virginia, take an off-road tour to Virginia City Historic District on Nelson Studios’ “Beast” tour truck. The truck is especially suitable for the grounds around the mining pit with its massive build and huge off-road tires.
The trail stretches seven miles through the former hard-rock mining grounds of Alder Gulch and ends at Mount Baldy, elevating 7,800 feet up. On your tour along this bumpy route, you will get educated on how hard-rock mining is done and how resources get extracted from these grounds. Listen to stories of miners and get beautiful views of the historic Virginia City.
9. Shop for Goodies at the Cousin’s Candy Shop
Do you have a sweet tooth? Then Virginia’s first candy shop is the place for you. The Cousin’s Candy Shop makes all sorts of candies, sweets, and chocolates you can think of. They make homemade candies, hand-dipped chocolates the old-fashioned way. For non-sugar lovers, there are scores of sugar-free candy options for you.
10. Stop by Boot Hill Cemetery
Located North of Daylight Gulch, the Boot Hill Cemetery is a memorial ground for the five infamous road agents that were hung at the Hangman Building in 1864 by vigilantes. Their graves went unnoticed for a long time and were even forgotten until 1907. By this time, only one person knew where these graves were and he helped get them labeled.
People rallied for the preservation of the cemetery’s historical significance and funds were raised to have the location reserved and memorial stones put up. This led to the creation of the Boot Hill Cemetery as it’s known today. Stop by this memorial ground and catch up on some of Montana’s ancient history.
11. Visit The Virginia City Creamery
Get some of the best hand-crafted ice creams at the Virginia City Creamery. They make fresh ice cream every day in a homemade, traditional, and unique way. Get your ice cream here in any of their sixteen flavors. They serve you your classic favorites such as chocolate, vanilla, raspberry, strawberry, and everything in between. You can also try out any of their other special rotational flavors.
Get your ice cream served in a waffle cone, dish, or bowl depending on your preference. Also, try out their good old-fashioned milkshakes, hot fudge sundae, soda float, fudge in the jar and so much more. Cool your throat off on a sunny afternoon with these creamy options. The scoops can also be customized to your liking. The Virginia City branch is only open from May through to September. If you’re traveling in summer, be sure to pass by here.
12. Visit The J. Spencer Watkins Memorial Museum
This historical museum holds some of Virginia’s cultural heritage. Some exhibits to expect from your visit include pieces of clothing, old gun collections, and photographs from the 19th century. There are lots of materials containing the history of ranchers and miners from this old town.
Free things to do in Virginia City, Montana
- Visit the Boot Hill Cemetery. There is no entry charge required.
- Stroll around the city and view historic buildings and shopping areas. Get to interact with locals who have lived here their whole lives.
- Take a Virginia City Scenic drive towards Nevada City and get epic views of the small mountain ranges and some of Virginia’s historic areas.