Many places throughout the American West are billed as “ghost towns,” but Garnet, MT, is the real deal. No corny-fake shoot-outs, no costumed saloon girls, none of that crass commercial nonsense.
Nestled high in the Garnet mountain range about an hour’s drive east of Missoula, the abandoned mining town has roots dating to the 1860s. Following the discovery of gold and silver in the late 19th century, its population ballooned to more than 1,000 residents. At its peak, Garnet was home to 13 bars, three hotels, a pharmacy, a school, a laundry, and even a newspaper. But a devastating fire ravaged the town in 1912 and much of it was never rebuilt. With gold and silver supplies depleted, the miners and their families were forced to move on.
Today Garnet is overseen by the Bureau of Land Management and remains in a perpetual state of “arrested decay.” Entrance is $3 and visitors can tour the old miners’ union hall, a saloon, a general store, a once grand but now very creepy hotel, and a number of private homes. There are also two rustic cabins available for rent from Dec. 1 through April 30; one sleeps six and costs $40/night, the other sleeps four for $30. Accommodations are primitive: no electricity, no running water, and definitely no internet. Cabins are heated with wood stoves and lit by propane lamps. Outhouses are a short trek away. Because Garnet gets snowed in this time of year, it is only accessible by snowmobile or snowshoeing and skiing. A rental lottery is held every fall; after that, remaining reservations may be booked by calling 406-329-3914.
Some folks believe a winter stay is the best/only way to encounter the town’s elusive spirits; visitors have reported seeing historically attired apparitions lurking in the hotel windows, hearing tinkling piano music emanating from the long-gutted saloon, and spotting footprints to and from nowhere in the untouched snow.
We get chills just thinking about it.
From Montana Rte. 200, turn south at the Garnet Range Road located between mile markers 22 and 23. Drive 11 miles to Garnet and follow the signs from the parking lot.