Virginia City: Ghost town echoes the heyday of historic gold strike

The six men had been traveling on foot for weeks, escaping encounters with hostile Indians and ultimately just trying to get back to where they started. But when they set up camp beside a small stream in the high mountains of present-day Southwest Montana, the wayward prospectors made a discovery that would transform the fortunes — and even the map — of an entire region.

The flecks of gold they found in the bottoms of their pans on that warm May afternoon 150 years ago hinted at vast underground riches — and quickly drew a crowd. The town of Virginia City sprang up virtually overnight: Within three months its population swelled to more than 10,000. The town on the banks of Alder Creek soon was named the capital of the new Montana Territory. Over the next quarter-century, at least $90 million in gold was extracted there, making it the richest placer gold strike in history.

Today, Virginia City stands as one of the best-preserved ghost towns in the Northern Rockies. More than 100 historic false-front shops and rough-hewn cabins echo the boomtown sizzle of Montana’s first major settlement. Thanks to the dedication of preservationists as well as year-round residents who embrace the town’s history and mystique, Virginia City buzzes with activities that reflect its deep, colorful heritage. Every summer, visitors flock to the town to experience reenactments, demonstrations of pioneer skills, nightly cabaret at the Gilbert Brewery and authentic 19th century melodrama performances by the Virginia City Players at the old Opera House.

Virginia City is just one of many cultural treasures to be found in Southwest Montana, a large swath of mountains, valleys, rivers, lakes and hearty communities smack dab in between Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks.  Southwest Montana offers a sampling of all of Montana’s lightly-tread amenities, including mega-mountains, lunker trout, budding melting pots for art and culture in Butte and Helena, remote yet luxurious escapes, and a slice of the Wild West through the numerous and well-preserved ghost towns in its mineral-rich hills.  For more information, please visit

Tags: , , , , ,

Back to the full list >