Tucked high in the Garnet Mountain Range is Montana’s most intact Ghost Town and one of the most visited, during the summer months. Winter brings a whole new element to visiting this ghost town as visitors must either snowshoe, cross-country ski or snowmobile in.
The journey begins at the Beartown parking area and from there are two choices of trails. The first is the Cave Gulch Trail, which is the longer but easier way into Garnet. Gaining about 1,500 feet in elevation this trail meets up with the Summit Cabin Loop Trail a couple of miles in where snowshoers will turn off and head the last mile into Garnet.
The second trail, the Bear Gulch Trail is shorter and steeper and follows the Chinese Grade–where a miner supposedly buried his fortune in a baking powder can which has never been found. Both trails are used by snowmobilers, often on the weekends but can be empty and peaceful during the week. For a more grueling trail try the Garnet Range Road that is closed starting in January to vehicle traffic. This 12-mile trek is not to be taken lightly and snowshoers should be prepared for all types of weather and fatigue.
The ghost town of Garnet was once a bustling small town complete with a school, hotels, barbershops, a butcher shop, a number of saloons and “bawdy houses” (houses of prostitution). The liquor flowed freely and the bawdy houses did a brisk business in this town. It was once a mining town in which miners collected gold by at first panning and then by using rockers and sluice boxes.
The town is now empty and desolate, besides what remains of the twenty log cabins, 30 some odd buildings and a unique visitor’s center in the downtown area. If you listen closely enough you may still be able to hear the laughter that once rang out in Kelly’s Saloon or the music drifting from the Minors Union Hall that doubled as a dance hall back a 100 years ago, as this ghost town is rumored to be haunted. Legend has it that footsteps are often heard in the old Wells hotel along with the clinking of glasses from one of the saloons.
This ghost town is kept up by a caretaker in the winter–responsible for grooming the cross-country trails and is more than happy to suggest the best routes for skiers and snowshoers alike. With 116 miles of multi-use trails along with plenty of opportunity for off-trail snowshoeing this ghost town warrants more than just a day visit.
There are two very rustic cabins for rent in the midst of this town for those brave snowshoers who want to spend a night. Campers must come prepared though as the only amenities that are offered is running water from a hand pump and a couple of outhouses. The cabins are outfitted with woodstoves, propane cook stoves, lanterns, beds, dishes and nicely cut wood for the fire. Campers must carry in all of their food and carry out all of their trash.
The miles of trails that surround this ghost town perhaps make this place even more intriguing and beautiful. Before you head out make sure to hop over to the visitors centre and get a self-guided tour brochure and snow trail maps. Once you step outside the town the silence surrounds you and the trails invite you to explore.
The summit log cabin trail is an excellent 8.8-mile loop trails that leads snowshoers on a scenic tour that passes through another old mining town and offers breathtaking views of the area. Heavy snow often blankets this area and provides snowshoers with a great opportunity to step off the trails and explore the backcountry. Trekkers do need to be cautious of active open mines that still do exist around this area.
Getting into Garnet Town in the winter is half of the fun of this adventure and spending a night here listening for the rumored ghosts takes this experience to the next level. Although it is legal to enter on snowmobile we only see it fitting to enter on snowshoes or skis–quietly and undisturbing of anything or anyone who might still call this town their home.
The ridgeline provides some of the most breathtaking views in all of Montana and as you cozy up in front of the woodstove–no one else around you for miles, you will then understand why this snowshoe adventure is so unique.