Touring The Byway
12 Miles | 4 Days / 3 Nights | Gateway City: Missoula, Montana
We recommend starting your journey in Missoula where you can take the Downtown Missoula Historic and Art Walking Tour, visit the Montana Natural History Center, the Montana Museum of Art and Culture, and the Historical Museum of Fort Missoula, and take the Riverfront Walking Trail before staying at the Blue Mountain Bed and Breakfast. From there, you’ll be headed to explore the Garnet Ghost Town, which 100 years ago was a thriving, bustling place. Coloma, another Ghost Town, is just up the road. Moving on, in Drummond, you can visit the Ohrmann Museum and Gallery, plus the New Chicago Schoolhouse Museum.
Next up is Helena, where you can explore the Last Chance Gulch, site of the original gold discovery, visit the Montana Historical Society, the Original Governor’s Mansion, and explore art galleries before a stay at the Carolina Bed and Breakfast, located in the Mansion District.
View the Detailed Itinerary below to see the full route, which is complete with dining, shopping, and lodging recommendations!
Over one hundred years ago, Garnet was home to more than 1,000 gold miners and their families, working hard to carve out a community in the heart of the mountains. There was a school and crime was low. Liquor flowed freely in the town’s many saloons, serving tired, dirty men moving tons of rock. Today, this preserved 1890s gold-mining town is home to compact log cabins with period furnishings. Pay dirt from the Top-O-Deep is available for purchase at the Visitor Center and there are water troughs and pans, if you’d like to pan for gold.
As the story goes, in 1863, six prospectors camped along a small stream seeking to prospect in a place with rimrock. One dug the dirt and filled a pan while the other washed the pan in hopes of getting enough gold to buy tobacco. When the first pan turned up with $2.40 of gold (nearly $50 in today’s dollars), they knew the gulch had great potential. When word spread of the discovery, miners covered the hillsides with tents, brush shelters and crude log cabins. The Varina Town Company platted Virginia City and supporters of the Confederacy intended to name the new town after Jefferson Davis’ wife. However, the newly elected miners’ court judge was an equally stubborn Unionist and when the time came to file the official documents, he submitted the name Virginia instead. The town was designated the new territorial capital in 1865, at a time when Alder Gulch held most of Montana’s population. At its peak, 10,000 people flooded the area named “Fourteen-mile City” for the numerous settlements that lined the gulch.
After lodes of super enriched silver were discovered here, it took another six years for a mine to be developed. Over $14 million in silver was carried out, spurred on by the Sherman Silver Purchase Act that created a high demand. At the peak of its history, the town had 2,500 residents, a school, hotel, church, stores, saloons, and brothels. Unlike most mining towns populated by single men, the residents of Elkhorn were mostly married European immigrants with families who used Fraternity Hall for social gatherings. After the silver boom declined, an epidemic struck and railroad service stopped. Very few of the original buildings other than Fraternity Hall and Gillian Hall are still standing, but a number of cabins have been restored by the 10 residents. The now ghost town of Elkhorn is reached through a turn of the century mining landscape, nestled in the privately owned town of Boulder.
A 36-stop walking tour takes you through the area where the first gold was discovered in 1864 by a group of miners from Georgia, down on their luck. Before leaving for good, they decided to take one more look through the gulch and finally, on the last try, found gold. In the great frenzy to stake claims, miners stripped the landscape of everything green, churned up the soil, and built buildings on their claims. Working tirelessly, miners in the Gulch ultimately produced 19 million dollars’ worth of gold in the first four years. After that, hydraulic mining took over and workers used powerful pressure hoses to viciously wash the hillsides. The tour begins in Reeder’s Alley.
Fort Missoula was established by the US Army in 1877 to protect settlers in the region. Nearly 100 years later, the Historical Museum encompasses 32 acres with over 20 historic structures and a collection of nearly 50,000 artifacts.