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.
We will take a closer look at Deer Lodge, Montana so you can best plan out your next visit!
Your Guide To Deer Lodge, Montana
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 average 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.
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.
Best Time to Visit Deer Lodge
If you’re planning a trip to Deer Lodge, choose a time when you can create endless memories and sample different natural sites. Make your way here when the temperatures are generously welcoming, and activities are in plenty.
A Trip During the Summer Season
The summer sun and vacation vibe are a terrific combination for any tourist. Deer Lodge might be quite underestimated, but it deserves all the recognition for hosting some of the most sought attractions in the world.
The general temperature during this season favors traveling. Not too cold to keep you indoors the whole day and not sizzling hot to make you sweat as you explore the natural sites in Deer Lodge.
If sunny weather ticks all the boxes for a perfect vacation, then the month of September is for you. Explore summertime activities like sightseeing and hiking.
Summers in Deer Lodge begin in June and extend through to early September.
The season is relatively short, and many tourists constantly fight for accommodation space. High demand for the limited number of hotels and campsites means a slight rise in the prices for flights and accommodation.
Summers in Deer Lodge are short, warm, and dry. The three months are the hottest in Deer Lodge, with July recording the highest temperature of 30 degrees Celsius. Temperatures at night are relatively chilly, sometimes dropping as low as 10 degrees Celsius.
The warm temperatures are ideal for tourists who prefer outdoor experiences while they soak in the therapeutic sun.
What To Pack
Unlike the winter period, when you need to prepare well enough for the chilling weather, the summer period doesn’t demand so much.
Airy and casual clothes will keep you stylish and comfortable. However, pack one or two jumpers to cushion yourself from the chilly night temperatures.
Things To Do In Summer
Most tourists flock to different destinations during summer to soak in the sun and bathe in the warm waters. Deer Lodge, however, does not have the pristine sandy beaches that attract hordes of tourists.
That said, you can take picnic walks or go fishing in Madison River, a trout stream perched on the lush ranch valley.
Apart from fishing, you can enjoy uninterrupted hiking, sightseeing, and small craft boating along the meanders and natural channels of River Madison.
1. Explore the Warm Springs of Browns Lake, Blackfoot Waterfowl Area
The Deer Lodge area and the nearby surroundings are home to some excellent bird-watching sites.
Down at the South end lies the Warm Springs Wildlife Management Area. Here, you will meet unique meandering streams and expansive ponds that are home to different birds.
Before you leave, visit Browns Lake and Blackfoot Waterfowl Area, located north of the area. These two water bodies provide a perfect opportunity to sample all kinds of wetland birds, songbirds, and raptors.
All the mentioned places offer unforgettable fishing, hiking, and picnicking experiences.
2. A Fishing Afternoon at the Little Blackfoot
Blackfoot is a rarely talked about river, yet it provides a perfect opportunity for fun fishing. The rumbling waters of this averagely expansive river flow through the Boulder Mountains, creating a fantastic scene for photography.
You can go fishing the whole afternoon and ultimately return to your room with both amazing photos for your album and a handful of fish for dinner.
3. Fun Day at the Sculpture in the Wild
Nestled on a 26-acre piece of land, Sculpture in the Wild combines contemporary art with a natural look of Montana forest. The result is a rustic ambiance perfect for fun activities and picnic walks.
A Trip During the Fall Season
The summer period is understandably crowded, and the prices are deservedly high. If you find such conditions inconvenient, you can plan your trip during the fall season.
During this cool season, the weather is quite pleasant, and the city of Deer Lodge is less crowded. If you adore a day that wakes you up to a mountain of snow, the months between February and April would be ideal for visiting Deer Lodge.
The fall season experiences a relatively reduced number of visitors to Deer Lodge. A smaller crowd means the rooms are available and slightly reduced prices. Perhaps one of the kept secrets of the tiny Deer Lodge is trips during the autumn season.
Mornings during fall are foggy, and snowballs are a common sight. Temperature ranges from 3-10 degrees Celsius, with the average temperature being 40℉.
However, you can expect to see nature at its best during this period, with lush vegetation in parks replaced with charming shades of crimson and gold.
What To Pack
Never forget to pack extra layers for the chilly weather. The nights and early mornings are freezing, and only thermals would keep you warm and comfortable.
But even during the day, when temperatures unexpectedly fall, you will need an overcoat to stay warm.
Things To Do in Fall
The autumn season might be frigid, but the beauty during this period is unmatched. The lush green in the parks paves the way for crimson gold canopies along the streets.
If you find indoor activities boring, you can jump out for endless biking and hiking trails along the rivers and in the wilderness.
There’s never a shortage of activities, even as the fall season peaks up and the snow continues to flood road surfaces.
1. Take a Scenic Drive Along Montana Highway
Montana 141 is a fine art of work that soothes the soul. Beautifully constructed, the expansive road passes over the Garnet Mountains and ultimately connects Avon to Highway 200.
A magical art of work, with incredible scenery on both ends of the road. You can drive several kilometers without encountering any house or anyone in sight: only lush high mountain cattle pastures and hay meadows.
2. A Chilly Evening at the Garnet Ghost Town
With over thirty buildings preserved in the state, Garnet ghost town is an ideal stop for those wanting to get a glimpse at Montana’s past.
3. Visit the Monumental Montana Prison
If you have never been to a cell, a guided tour into one of the oldest correctional facilities in the U.S. will undoubtedly change your perception of inmates.
At first sight, the walls and corridors appear intimidating, and sidebar cells can numb your movement.
As you dig deeper and encounter several other queer structures, you’ll appreciate the architectural design behind this building and understand what it means to live behind bars.
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.
- June – Territorial Days
- August – Montana Shakespeare in the Parks
- September – Clark Fork River Celebration
- December – Christmas Stroll and Parade
Activities Near Deer Lodge
- Cottonwood City Park
- Little Joe E-70 Park
- Jaycee Park
- Arrow Stone Park
- Deer Park Golf Course
- Deer Lodge Golf Course
National Parks and Forests
- Old Montana Prison Museum
- Frontier Montana Museum
- Powell County Museum and Arts Foundation
- Montana Auto Museum
- Yesterday’s Playthings
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