Do you love an Old West ghost town?
I do! My family visited Bannack ghost town on the last day of a Montana road trip last summer. I've visited several ghost towns in the west, and Bannack is the best by far.
In my experience, most ghost towns are in ruins, with few standing structures. Others are tourist traps. Bannack is everything I wanted a ghost town to be. Dozens of original buildings are still standing, and you can go inside and walk around many of them.
Here is everything you need to know before you visit Bannack ghost town in Montana.
What to Expect
Bannack is an abandoned mining town in southwestern Montana. At one time, it was the territorial capital of Montana – a thriving community. People lived in Bannock from the 1860's through 1930's. From there the population dwindled and the town was empty by 1960.
Colorful characters lived in Bannack, including a sheriff who actually led a criminal gang of thieves and murderers. He and several his gang were eventually killed or hanged by an organized group of Vigilantes.
Today, there are dozens of standing buildings in Bannack. Visitors can walk inside and explore any that are unlocked.
Some buildings have been repaired and cleaned up to make them safer for visitors, but there are no plans to restore Bannack. It will remain a ghost town.
Bannack has restrooms, a small visitor center and on-site caretakers who give tours and answer questions.
There are lots of open buildings, and you'll have to be a hard-core history buff to walk through and read about every one of them. My kids (ages 12 and 15) didn't have that kind of patience. Here are a few structures that I found especially interesting.
Masonic Lodge and School House – The school room, complete with antique desks, is on the first floor. The Masonic Lodge is on the second. This is THE building that families with school-age kids won't want to miss.
County Court House/Hotel Meade – This was the first brick court house in Montana. After the county seat moved to Dillon in 1881, the building was renovated into a hotel. We climbed the stairs to the second floor, then I sat in the shade of the front porch while my husband climbed up the hill to see the Gallows.
Skinner's Saloon – This building looks a lot like you would expect of an Old West saloon, with a big wooden bar. Cyrus Skinner welcomed Sheriff Henry Plummer's criminal gang here. Skinner was eventually hanged for his association with the group.
Methodist Church – When “Brother Van” came to town, he was known to preach and sing in a bar. When an Indian skirmish threatened outlying homesteads, residents gathered in Bannack for safety. As the scare passed, Brother Van convinced the larger-than-usual population to build this church.
Bessette House – If there is a haunted house in Bannack, this is it. Victims of contagious diseases like influenza, scarlet fever, diphtheria and whooping cough were sometimes quarantined here. People have reported the sound of crying babies coming from this house. We did not see or hear anything unusual.
Bannack Jails – You wouldn't want to be imprisoned here. Prisoners could see the gallows at the top of the hill from the jail window.
Cemetery – You'll pass the cemetery on your way into Bannack. We stopped here at the end of our visit. It's a small cemetery, and you can read the inscriptions on many of the headstones.
What does it cost?
Bannack charges is an entry fee of $6 per vehicle for non-Montana residents. Montana residents can visit Bannack for free.
Get a self-guided tour pamphlet for $2 or take a guided tour on summer weekends for $4 per person.
The visitor center takes credit cards, but we arrived before it opened. We deposited cash into the self-pay boxes to cover our entry fee and pamphlet.
How to Get There
Bannack is about 30 miles from Interstate 15 in Montana. Take the exit to Highway 278. This rural road will take you nearly all the way to Bannack.
We used Google Maps directions from Dillon to Bannack State Park and had no trouble finding it.
The road is paved nearly all the way to Bannack. The short gravel road and parking lot are well maintained. Our minivan had no trouble.
Where to Stay
The closest city to Bannack is Dillon, Montana. Butte is your next best option, and it was our original plan until we discovered that the Montana Folk Festival was driving hotel prices way up that weekend. We shifted our search to Dillon, and were glad to be closer to Bannack and home.
Dillon is a small college town with several hotels. We chose the FairBridge Express, which has an indoor pool and complimentary breakfast for a moderate price, right off the interstate. The Best Western looks good too, but it was sold out.
There is also two campgrounds in Bannack State Park. This is by far the closest lodging, with RV and tent sites. A tipi is also available for rent. Learn more at http://bannack.org/camping.
Click the button below to check rates and availability for the FairBridge Express and other hotels in Dillon on TripAdvisor.com.
What to Bring
Dress for the weather. You'll be outdoors a lot, and the buildings are neither heated nor air conditioned. I recommend good shoes for walking on gravel, dirt and old stairs and floors.
Bannack is about 30 minutes drive from Dillon, and there is no food or fuel sold in between. There is a water fountain in the small visitor center. Pack whatever drinks, snacks or picnic you may need.
You may want cash in small bills if you arrive before the visitor center opens, which we did.
Related: What to Expect at the WWII Topaz Internment Camp in Utah
Bannack ghost town is a fascinating destination for history lovers. The Old West doesn't get any more authentic than this. It's worth your time if you're traveling through this part of Montana.
Good to Know
Where: Southern Montana, about 30 minutes from the city of Dillon. Take Highway 278 from Interstate 15.
When: Open year-round from 8 AM to 5 PM, with longer hours in the summer. The Visitor Center is open only on weekends from 11 AM to 5 PM, except in the summer when it is open every day.
How Much: $6 per vehicle for non-Montana residents. Free for anyone with a Montana license plate.
How Long: 1-3 hours, plus drive time
Amenities: restrooms, visitor center, guided tours