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Deer Lodge, Montana

Deer Lodge, Montana is one of the longest inhabited areas in Montana. Its location at the base of two mountain ranges and surrounded by fertile grassland made it an ideal place for native peoples and settlers to find shelter from winter weather and a space filled with game animals used for food.

Though the area had seen travelers pass-through for hundreds of years prior, the first recorded settlement of European-Americans in the area comes in 1860. The area is named for the natural salt deposits in the valley that attract deer and other wildlife.

The town of Deer Lodge wasn’t incorporated until 1888, however, the area was already a bustling community of miners, farmers and ranchers, and fur traders.

Today, you can find the remnants of the mining history that spread from here to Anaconda and Butte, where copper mining was the base of the economy. In Deer Lodge, farming and ranching, along with the Montana State Prison are the base of the town’s economy.

Besides being a bustling agricultural community, the town has plenty of things for tourists to see and experience.

From a large number of museums dedicated to the area’s history and artists, to recreational activities and live performing arts, Deer Lodge is a great place to visit, and shouldn’t be missed on your next trip to Montana.

Main Attractions

Deer Lodge isn’t a large community, but with its rich mining history and its location tucked at the base of the Anaconda Range, there are plenty of things to see and do. When you visit Deer Lodge there are, however, a few must-see attractions.

Old Prison Museum

old prison museum

The Old Montana State Prison was the primary prison for the state. This prison was in operation for over 100 years, starting in 1871.

The entire complex is around 9 acres in size and features a number of different buildings and building styles. The Prison Museum documents the history of the prison and some of its more notorious inmates.

Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site

grant-kohrs ranch national historic site
Image: Ken Lund

First established in 1862 by Johnny Grant, though eventually becoming the home of Conrad Kohrs, the Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site gives visitors insight into the ranching and farming history of the area.

Conrad Kohrs, one-half of the area’s namesake, was known as one of the “Cattle Kings” of Montana. At one point this ranch covered more than 10 million acres of land.

The historic site today offers guided tours of the site, as well as self-guided tours. On-site you’ll see the main ranch house with its original furnishings, the bunkhouse, horse barns, blacksmith shop, cattle sheds, and other ranch buildings, many dating back to the 1860s.

Montana Auto Museum

montana auto museum
Image: JOHN LLOYD

Located in the Old Montana Prison complex is another great museum in the Deer Lodge area. It is home to over 160 classic and antique cars.

The Montana Auto Museum gives visitors a tour through the history of the automobile and highlights some of the more unique car-related memorabilia and artifacts.

Frontier Montana Museum

View thousands of items actually used by American cowboys, frontiersmen, women, and ranchers of the Deer Lodge area.

In the Frontier Montana Museum, all of the artifacts are real and were donated by area families to Don Cappa whose collection was turned into a museum after his death.

Firearm enthusiasts will love visiting this museum which is home to more than 300 guns used in the Old West, some made famous by the likes of Doc Holiday, Big Nose Kate, and Billy the Kid.

Recreation Activities

recreation activities
Image: simpleinsomnia

There are ample opportunities for outdoor recreation in the Deer Lodge area. With mountain ranges to the east and west, combined with the beauty of the valley’s grasslands, if you’re in Deer Lodge to enjoy the outdoors, you’ll not be disappointed.

Hiking

Beaverhead-Deer Lodge National Forest is located just a short drive from Deer Lodge. Within the National Forest, you’ll find plenty of opportunities for hiking. If you’re looking for a bit of a challenge, one of the most popular hikes in the area takes you to the summit of Mount Powell, a stand-out peak in the area.

Camping

Like hiking, if you like to camp, the Beaverhead-Deer Lodge National Forest has plenty of places to pitch your tent or park your camper. National Forest Campgrounds have limited amenities for RVs, so if you are looking for full hook-ups or just a place closer to town, you’ll find a KOA Campground in Deer Lodge.

Hunting

One of the first things that brought people to the area was the deer herds. Today, the Deer Lodge area is a popular place to stay for folks looking to hunt deer, elk, and game birds. There are local outfitting companies that can provide guides and gear if you’re in the area to hunt.

Before heading out with your outfitter, you will need to get a Montana hunting license. The Montana Department of Fish Wildlife and Parks website has all the information you’ll need to know on how to acquire a hunting license.

Accommodations

As Deer Lodge is a pretty small community, you’ll not find a lot of lodging opportunities, so if you are planning to visit Deer Lodge, you’ll want to make sure to reserve a room in advance. We recommend Travelodge by Wyndham.

Besides a chain hotel, the community does have a few bed and breakfasts, and the Deer Lodge KOA has a limited number of camping cabins.

Special Events

There are a few special events that are held in Deer Lodge each year. Most special events in the town are coordinated by the Powell County Chamber of Commerce.

Activities Near Deer Lodge

Recreation Activities

National Parks and Forests

Museums

Performing Arts

 

What Is the Cost of Living in Deer Lodge?

Compared to the rest of the country, Deer Lodge’s cost of living is slightly lower by around 4-6% when compared to the national U.S. average. Healthcare seems to be the exception when it comes to lower costs and housing tends to be about the same as the national average.

The median home value in Deer Lodge is approximately $118,400 which is lower than the national averages of $204,900.

Is Deer Lodge Safe to Live in?

Considering the Deer Lodge crime rates, it seems the town is safer than the Montana state average and as safe as the national average. The crime rates are also higher in surrounding towns and cities.

The majority of crimes occur in the central parts of Deer Lodge, while the northwest region of the town typically has fewer incidents or even none at all. Property crime is the main issue and rates are typically around 4 times higher than those related to violence. The areas least likely to be affected by property crime are generally in the western regions of the city.

What is Deer Lodge Known for?

Deer Lodge was largely settled by homesteaders and the culture and history of the region reflect this. The Old Montana State Prison in Deer Lodge houses no less than 5 different museums by way of the Prison Museum and Montana Auto Museum, Frontier Montana, an antique toy museum called Yesterday’s Playthings, and the Powell County Museum. The Grant-Kohrs Ranch and National Historic Site is another addition to the historic theme running through Deer Lodge.

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