Mining and natural resource exploration are two of the foundational tenants of Montana’s history as a state. Much of the regions development by western immigrants traces its roots to the search for gold and other precious resources. But as mines dried up, and mineral prices fluctuated, a slew of ghost towns were left in the wake of progress all across our state. The quintessential ghost town is almost a uniquely Montanan phenomenon, and among one of the best to visit is the beautiful Elkhorn, Montana, located in the unassuming Elkhorn Mountains of Jefferson County.
Elk Horn was initially developed beginning in 1870, but it took until around 1890 for silver mining to really take off in the Elkhorn region when demand for the mineral sky rocketed. Before it’s ultimate demise, over $14 million of silver was pulled out of mines in and around the small town. At it’s height, Elkhorn had 2,500 residents, a school, church, hotel, stores, fraternity hall and brothels. The proud Elkhorn Fraternity Hall, built in 1893 still stands today as one of the most well-maintained and photographed ghost town buildings in Montana, and was a hub for local dances, church gatherings, prize fights and music events. Shortly after its construction, the price of silver and the associated boom lessened, and Elkhorn began to suffer. In the winter of 1888-1898, a diphtheria epidemic hit Elkhorn, killing a significant number of the towns children, and railroad service was officially halted. Ever since, Elkhorn has stood weathering Montana’s harsh seasons, garnering a reputation as beautiful, and eerie destination.
While it is a registered ghost town, Elkhorn still has around 10 permanent residents and can be accessed by a county-maintained road off of I-15 outside of Boulder, Montana. The town is currently a Montana State Park, and is open year-round to the public. However, summertime is the peak season for visiting Elkhorn’s old mining buildings, town halls and churches. Take a stroll down main street and you’re sure to meet some of Elkhorn’s hearty and eclectic year-round residents who are eager to chat about their town’s deep history.
Traveling to Elkhorn is easy, and possible in the summer with a two-wheel drive vehicle. From Big Sky, travel north to Bozeman and take I-90 to Exit 256 towards Montana 69 and follow signs for Elkhorn on your right. After a ghostly visit to Elkhorn, book a stay or take a visit to Elkhorn Hot Springs for a soak and a delicious meal.