Garnet Ghost Town

Back in March, our friend Barbara emailed us a link to the Missoulian newspaper titled “Garnet Ghost Town seeks volunteer resident”. It sounded like a pretty unique opportunity. But we decided that we wouldn’t pursue this, mainly because we had just started living on the road. We really want to have the freedom and flexibility of making our travel decisions as we go.

Garnet Ghost Town sits at 5,824 ft.

Fast-forward to now - we’re staying outside Missoula, MT at Niff’s place (Barbara’s friend), parked on her 24 acres of land at the top of a mountain. Turns out that Garnet Ghost Town is pretty close by, only 19 miles from Niff’s (one way). Jerud and I decided that it would be a great way to spend the day on our bikes.

We knew the first part of the ride going down Niff’s neighborhood road to Hwy 200 would be a little rough because it’s your typical worn out, pot-holed country road. The short section on Hwy 200 was fine because of the wide shoulder on both sides of the road. But little did we know, the town of Garnet was built on the top of a mountain and that 3 miles after entering Lubrecht Experimental Forest the paved road disappears and turns into gravel for the next 8 miles until Garnet is reached.

Biking along the Garnet Range Backcountry byway, which climbs 2,000 ft. to Garnet.

It was a steady climb from Hwy 200 until we reached the town. It wasn’t exactly what we expected, but this is what happens when we don’t do any research on the route beforehand.

Fields of lupines.

View of Rattlesnake Mountain Range, Mission Mountain Range, Blackfoot River Valley, Swan Mountain Range, and Bob Marshall Wilderness Area from almost the top of our climb.

Rolling into Garnet Ghost Town we realized that this isn’t some kitschy tourist trap. The town was preserved and presented in a historical way. There weren’t any tourist attractions of people walking around in period clothing or cardboard cut outs for visitors to stick their heads through for photo ops. The town stands as it was left essentially. Most buildings have been shored-up and structurally protected from further decay. But they haven’t been restored or rebuilt extensively, so the buildings still showed their wear and tear. Cloth backed wallpapers are hanging from walls, turning black and peeling. Furniture, tools, and household goods are left in houses out in the open and not behind glass cases. Some broken windows are still broken along with cracks in walls and floors. It was a lot more authentically displayed than we expected.

Inside the Frank A. Davey's General Store:

Garnet was founded in the 1860s by miners looking for gold and silver. The buildings were hastily constructed over the years, lacking foundations, probably because the town residents thought that the town would be short-lived like most mining camps. But Garnet’s life surpassed expectations and experienced several booms and busts with the change in value of gold and silver, discovery of ore, and wartime.

At one point the town had over 1,000 residents and four stores, four hotels, three livery stables, two barber shops, a union hall, a butcher shop, a candy shop, a doctor’s office, an assay office, numerous miner’s cabins, 13 saloons and one school.

J.K. Wells Hotel:

The 1912 fire burned down half the town and it was never rebuilt. In 1942 the post office closed for the last time and only a few residents remained until around 1947. After that souvenir hunters came into town and started stripping buildings and the town bare. 

The Adam's House:

Today the Bureau of Land Management and the Garnet Preservation Association oversee protecting Garnet, which is Montana's best intact ghost town.


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