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Montana: Gold West Country, Family Summer Vacations with Ghost Towns, Cowboy Stories, and Pool Time. 547MTGoldwestKids Located between Glacier National Park and Yellowstone National Park, the area is dotted with ghost towns, acres of wilderness, trout-filled rivers, mysterious caverns and cowboy culture. Ride horseback; dig for gems; hike a ridge line; discover a ghost town; hook a trout ; attend the theatre; experience living history – vacation Gold West Country style. Summer is easy.
Montana’s Gold West Country has the “good stuff” for a family vacation in any season. Summers bring rodeos, rock hounding, fly fishing, cattle drives, horseback adventures and living history. Southwestern Montana offers natural beauty, slightly quirky history and plenty of fun for families on vacation. Expansive valleys and tree-draped mountains frame family friendly communities, state parks and working ranches.

Lively western spirit can be found in Helena, Butte, Dillon, Deer Lodge, Virginia City, Anaconda, Ennis, Townsend, Twin Bridges, Lincoln or Philipsburg. We have created a family vacation action list. 
Spend a day on a ranch. A well-preserved slice of western history on the north edge of Deer Lodge, Grant-Kohrs Ranch was once the home of one of Montana's original cattle barons. Now part of the National Park Service, the ranch house still has the original furnishings and the barns are full of the ranch equipment used in the 1800s. The ranch includes more than 1,600 acres, and more than  80 historic structures, historic artifacts, and walking trails. There are plenty of activities for families to do at the ranch. During the summer months they offer a variety of ranger programs for both adults and children. Kids are also welcome to try on cowboy clothes, read cowboy stories, practice cowboy skills by roping Woody the wooden steer, try walking on stilts, and visit the horses, cows and chickens. Bonus points:  A free Junior Rancher booklet which includes activities to complete at the ranch is available for children ages 6 to 12.
Visit a ghost town.
Montana is filled abandon gold camps and early settlements deserted by pioneers. One such ghost town, Bannack located not far from Dillon, has new lease on life. More than 50 log and frame structures still remain standing along the Main Street of what was Montana's first territorial capital. The town preserved rather than restored. and protected rather than exploited. This is not Williamsburg of the West but it is unique and rewarding window on history of the West. Open year round visitors are permitted to walk the street and imagine. Sometimes historians or volunteer staff members provide stories about Henry Plummer, Chief Snag, Club Foot George, Dutch John Wagner and how gold was discovered in July of 1862 at Grasshopper Creek.  

Discover a frontier town.
Walk the streets of Philipsburg and feel history come alive. Founded in 1866 as a trading center, Philipsburg was home to Hope Mill, the first silver mill in Montana. Today it is lively and very much alive. Visit the Ghost Town Hall of Fame and peruse the accounts of more than 21 ghost towns in the vicinity. See the state's oldest operating school, take a look at the jail or attend the theatre at the restored opera house. Bonus points: Try gem mining on Main Street or indulge your sweet tooth at the candy store.
Sift for sapphires. In the enchanting town of Philipsburg, no matter what the weather, it is possible to go gem hunting. The sapphire sifting room, with windows on the street, is the hands-on part of the Sapphire Gallery. Visitors purchase a bag filled with gray soil and stones. Bag in hand they proceed to the water wash for sifting and then to a table top for the sorting. Some skill is required but all ages may try the sifting and searching. Finding the gems and sapphires takes a little patience and keen eyesight but it definitely fun. Once the gems have been extracted a staff member will evaluate the stones. This is an easy family outing that may result in a family heirloom or at the very least terrific memories; no mittens needed.

Dance in a candy store. 547MTGoldwestSweetsLocated next door to the Sapphire Gallery is an extraordinary Victorian style candy store where even oldsters feel little like children as they take in the candy lined walls. Amid 1890’s ambience the candy emporium provides a showcase for divine chocolates and fresh fudge, plus 72 flavors of saltwater taffy, and more than 750 sweets from which to choose. From sampling treats or watching taffy being pulled and wrapped by an antique wrapper to playing with Folkmanis puppets or dancing on Sunday afternoon, it is almost heaven.

Ride with the cattle.
It is a fact that Montana Gold Country is also cattle country. And from about April 15 to October 15 each year it is possible to join an authentic cattle drive. Russ Kip from Montana High Country Lodge organizes one-of-a-kind adventures including cattle drives. His lodge is located in the heart of cattle country and ranchers welcome help along the same trail used for more than 100 years. The  main drive takes place the last week of June every year when cattle are moved from their winter home in the valley to the high mountain pastures for the summer. During the summer months they offer short drives every week with  lots of riding, great scenery, and plenty of real vacation memories. Bonus points: When not in the saddle, this area is rock hound heaven and a trout fishing dream.
Hit the trail in style. From June through August spend a day or a week in the saddle with someone else taking care of the details. Explore along mountain trails on horseback like the prospectors and trappers did. Stop a ghost town and hear firsthand about its demise. Ride at sunset when the sky creates and ever changing canvas of colors and blankets the mountains in hues of purple. Montana Horse Country Adventures offers several cattle drives, horse roundups and pack trips for riders of varying ages and riding ability. Your family will be comfortably lodged in the mountains throughout your adventure; served custom cooked ranch meals and given personal attention to ensure a safe and unforgettable horseback vacation. For round up experiences the riding is fast; previous cattle drive, fox hunting, cross country, riding experience is helpful. Bonus points: There is no cell phone service, so for parents with teens text messaging will be out of the question.  Need to know. The horse roundup is limited to riders age 16 and older.
Explore Science. ExplorationWorks is a hands-on, interactive science museum originally developed by Community Works Inc. in order to create a local learning and gathering facility for the local community and tourists alike. Exhibits cover a diverse range of topics from culture, humanities and social studies to science, technology and biology. The current main exhibit is "Good Vibrations" focuses on how vibrations result in sound and patterns. Bonus Points: ExplorationWorks has a series of programs designed for kids, from afterschool programs to Extraodinary Sundays. Discovery: ExplorationWorks is offering free Admission for everyone on the first Tuesday of every month for a year from December 2009 until December 2010. 
Express Yourself. The Holter Museum of Art has five galleries which are host to a variety of exhibitions: the Artworks/Nicholson Gallery, the Sherman, Bair, and Millikan Galleries, and the High Gallery. The Holter offers self-guided tours and docent-led tours for people of all ages and interests from pre-school and high school to community groups of any of the current exhibitions. The Holter is a non-profit, free admission art museum serving 30,000 visitors and 7,500 students annually. Bonus Points: The Holter offers the categories of art classes for kids, grouped by age: ages 3-7, 8-12, 11-15.

See six museums in one place. Normally family vacation do not include a stop a a local prison but in this case it is a must. The Old Montana Prison is just plain cool. The complex in Deer Lodge offers guided and self-guided tours beyond the gray stone wall and towers through a massive cell block. Inspect the hanging gallows, see the solitary confinement rooms, visit the prison kitchen; gaze at the guard turrets.  Built by convict labor, the prison was in use until 1979. Bonus points: Adjoining museum you will also find the Montana Auto Museum with interpretive exhibits and more than 120 antique cars on display. Also in the complex The Frontier Montana Museum, Powell County Museum, and the Montana Law Enforcement Museum.
Family vacation Planning Details
Bannack State Park. 4200 Bannack Road. Dillon, 59725. 1(406) 834-3413 or
Sapphire Gallery. 105 E. Broadway Philipsburg, 59858. Toll-free 1-800-525-0169, 1(406) 859-3236 or
The Sweet Palace. 109 East Broadway, Philipsburg, 59858. 1(406) 859-3353, 859-3631, Toll-free 1-888-793-3896 or
Montana Horse Country Adventures. 16 North Fork Road Townsend, MT 59644. 406-266-3515, toll-free 1-877-596-3267
ExplorationWorks. 995 Carousel Way. Helena, MT 59601-3396. 1(406) 457-1800 or
The Holter Museum of Art. 12 East Lawrence Street, Helena, MT 59601-4019. 1(406) 442-6400 or
Old Prison Museums. 1106 Main St. Deer Lodge, MT 59722. 1 (406-846-3111) or
Grant-Kohrs Ranch NHS. 266 Warren Lane Deer Lodge, MT 59722. (406) 846-2070 ext. 250 or  
Race to the Sky Event. More details at 
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Text updated by Travel Communications Inc. staff. Images provided by Montana Gold Country D. Sexton Updated copyright 2014.