Montana’s ghost towns: Elkhorn

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Chad Thompson
  • 341st Missile Wing Public Affairs
(Editor's Note: This is the first in a series of stories highlighting some of the forgotten gems of Montana. From booming mining towns to bustling trade routes, we will try and explore them all in hopes of rekindling some of these ghost towns' grandeur. Get out and explore Montana while you're stationed here, you won't regret it.)

Nestled in the Elkhorn Mountains in southwestern Montana at an altitude of nearly 5,500 feet lies a once booming mining town--Elkhorn.

In its heyday, pack mules probably lined the streets as their owners dreamt of striking it rich by finding gold, silver or iron ore from the surrounding area mines.

At one point during its prime, Elkhorn was producing nearly 11 tons of ore per day. The total value its mines produced is estimated at nearly $14 million in gold, silver and iron from 1880 to about 1971.

Today, the town still houses several historic landmarks--Gillian Hall and Fraternity Hall--and several other buildings of its good old years. Now a state park among privately owned homes, visitors can get lost in the history of Elkhorn by exploring the old buildings and trying to imagine what it was like in the late 19th century.

It's truly a sight to see. Bring a camera, a good pair of hiking shoes and snacks because if you are like me you will enjoy exploring everything the areas has to offer. The only section I missed during my trip was a mine that was about a four-mile hike up a rocky secluded road. The road was a bit narrow to drive on but I'd surely like to go back and see what's up there.

Driving through town almost felt wrong, I would have preferred riding a horse-drawn carriage or pack mule with my pick, mining equipment and dirty old hat. It's like taking a step back in time seeing the buildings located there. You could almost hear the hustle and bustle of the town back then if you stopped and listened close enough.

The highlights were definitely Fraternity and Gillian halls, both owned by Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks. An interesting fact about the halls is that they are two of the most photographed buildings in Montana.

Taking the dirt road northeast through town you eventually run into one of the mines. It's fenced off with warning signs all around but I would have loved to explore it further.

Continuing around the road to the east you eventually get a nice high-vantage view of the town. Elkhorn is a must see if you are interested in the rich mining history of Montana.

For more information on Elkhorn visit