Two Ghost Towns for the Price of One: Virginia City & Nevada City, Montana

During a trip through the Rocky Mountains in Montana, my husband and I stumbled onto two of the most exciting ghost towns we'd ever seen — Virginia City and Nevada City.

Located in a remote area of southwest Montana, Virginia City sprang to life after gold was discovered in nearby Alder Gulch in 1863. The gold ran out a few years later, leaving Virginia City frozen in time. It's virtually unchanged since its days as Montana's territorial capital.

Virginia City's buildings and boardwalks are extremely well preserved. In fact, the town is on the National Register of Historic Places. The structures in Nevada City are just as authentic but have been moved there from other Montana ghost towns.

Together, the two towns boast 150 cabins, homes, stores, penny arcades, hotels and other Victorian-era buildings. Many of the smaller structures house souvenir shops and confectioneries during the tourist season. Historic trains, mining equipment, machinery and farm implements are also on display.

From mid-June through Labor Day, the Opera House in Virginia City comes alive with 19th-century melodramas put on by the Virginia City Players, the oldest continual summer theater in the Northwest (call 1-406/843-5314 for details). In addition, you can enjoy vaudeville revues at the H.S. Gilbert Brewery (1-406/843-5218), one of Montana's first breweries, and dramas played out in the streets by locals in period attire. Watch out for the vigilantes!

Railroad buffs will enjoy riding the Alder Gulch Short Line Railroad, which links the two towns. It's powered by a 1910 Baldwin steam-driven locomotive. There's a railroad museum at the Nevada City station as well.

You can also see the sights while riding in a 1941 fire engine or taking a 25-minute stagecoach ride up into Alder Gulch. Children love it when the coach is "robbed" by local orphan Calamity Jane and her pal Annie Oakley.

There are several campgrounds in the area. We camped at Ennis RV Village, 1 mile north of Ennis, next to the beautiful Madison River.

During our stay, we found a variety of inviting eateries in Virginia City. One of our favorites was the Star Bakery and Restaurant. The sandwiches were delicious and reasonably priced.

We spent hours exploring these towns and immersing ourselves in the past. The "spirits" in these ghost towns make you feel right at home.

Before You Visit

Virginia City and Nevada City are on U.S. Highway 287, about 12 miles west of Ennis (the "Fishing Capital of the World") and about a 90-mile-drive west of Yellowstone National Park. The towns are open for tours from late May to mid-September.

Accommodations and dining are avail-able in historic buildings. For details, contact the Virginia City Chamber of Commerce at 1-406-843-5555.

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3 Comments

  1. For you and others coming through the territories to Alder Gulch, I would suggest stopping by for a Living History Event on the weekend during the summer be it a day time event, or one of our new lantern tours. During the day we do different events, following the historic time line of Alder Gulch 1863-1865 starting with the Gold Discovery and ending with the hanging of Capt. J.A. Slade. We have over 50 volunteers, and we will be in the museum, doing period hands-on demonstrations from blacksmithing, gambling, log hewing, cooking, period firearms demo and much more. Doesn't quite seem like a ghost town then! We have done a lot of research and do our best to bring life in the Montana gold camps of the 1860's back to life. You can meet some very interesting folks, and some events such as the George Ives trial and Hanging, the visitors get to be involved, such as being a jury member for the miners court. We interpreters do not interact with the visitors during the night time events called "Lantern Tours". They start at dark and you are guided through Nevada City via a lantern. You get to be a ghost, and we go about our business. Each tour has been larger than the last and the feedback has been great. When you enter the museum, you have no doubt that you just stepped into the past, as the soft glow of the oil lamps and candles light homes, the saloon, and shops, and the visitors get a glimpse into the lives of the people in Alder Gulch during the gold rush of the 1860's. for more info you can visit the Montana Heritage Commissions web sight, and just click on Nevada City Living History events at mt.gov. Thanks for the nice things you said about all of us in Alder Gulch. Dan

  2. We were in Virginia City last week and took the stagecoach ride...very neat! However, as I'm sorting and captioning my digital photos...we have forgotten the names of the two draft horses pulling the coach. Could you refresh our memories...they were named as a pair...sort of like "Abbot and Costello, Laurel and Hardy..." or something like that. -Thanx, Ed & Maryl

    • Ed, Were they Betty and Barny? We have used them at Nevada City with the Living History Program a few times. I often visit with the owners each summer, but they have 3 or 4 teams. Dan

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