This post is sponsored by Visit Helena Montana.
We love getting out and exploring the natural beauty, interesting history, and fun outdoor recreational opportunities Montana has to offer. On this day trip from Helena, Henry, Anders, and I explored Elkhorn State Park and Elkhorn Ghost Town on cross-country skis and soaked in Boulder Hot Springs.
Elkhorn and Boulder Hot Springs are both close to Helena and are affordable options for a day trip. I recommend getting a picnic lunch from a cafe in Helena before departing. There are a few restaurants in Boulder, but they aren’t always open. Plus, you will want your lunch with you so you can eat at Elkhorn — at least we did!
Visiting Elkhorn State Park – Elkhorn Ghost Town
This park offers visitors a chance to explore the rich history of Montana while enjoying the great outdoors. The park and the ghost town are accessible year-round thanks to a plowed road.
When we visited there was a ton of snow – just how we like it. Park in the plowed lot at the National Forest Elkhorn Picnic Area, which is 0.02 miles before you enter the town. There is a vault toilet there, which is the only public bathroom in town.
We cross-country skied up the road, but it is easily walkable, even in winter. There are around 10 people that live in Elkhorn and all of the buildings are private save for the two in Elkhorn State Park —Fraternity Hall and Gillian Hall.
As you walk up the road, many of the abandoned buildings have signs describing what they were used for, but they are private so don’t try to enter or tramp around them. We were pretty fascinated just seeing them from the road and trying to imagine life in Elkhorn at its peak.
As I mentioned, Elkhorn State Park (Montana’s smallest state park) is comprised of just two buildings. These are architecturally interesting and highly photographic. They are open and we wandered around inside both.
After touring Fraternity and Gillian Halls, we continued up the main road past other buildings, including the only place to take a bath in Elkhorn, and old mining equipment. It’s about 0.5 miles one way from the parking area to the end of the plowed road.
We were eager to keep going, so we stepped off the plowed road and skied about 0.75 miles farther to the cemetery. The ski or snowshoe trail is well-marked at the first turn (right) and follows an old road. Pay attention, because you need to make a left up a hill and it isn’t marked, but it is wide and if you look up to the top of the short hill, there is a sign.
We missed the turn and started to follow a marked trail (the second “Trail” sign), but it was too steep for skis. We went back the way we came and found the right trail and were soon at the cemetery. The “Trail” actually starts at the picnic area where we parked and takes a different route to the cemetery. This is the summer trail but it seems very doable on snowshoes.
The cemetery has the tombstone of Swiss miner Peter Wys who originally discovered the silver veins in the Elkhorn Mine and is a lovely setting in the trees.
History of Elkhorn, Montana
Elkhorn State Park is located in the heart of the Elkhorn Mountains, which were the site of a major silver mining boom in the late 1800s.
At its peak, the town of Elkhorn had a population of over 2,500 people and was one of the largest cities in Montana. A school, hotel, church, stores, saloons, and famous halls filled the town.
Unlike most mining towns, Elkhorn was populated mostly by families of married European immigrants.
After the Silver Crash of 1893, the town saw a drop of 75 percent of its population in just two months. In total, the Elkhorn Mine yielded about $14 million in silver. By the 1940s, it was almost completely abandoned. It became Montana’s smallest state park in 1980.
At Elkhart State Park we found ourselves transported back to the 19th-century mining landscape.
Fraternity and Gillian Halls are picturesque structures, preserved as outstanding examples of frontier architecture that are the big draw of a visit to Elkhorn. They offer a glimpse into this early-day silver-mining ghost town. Both buildings have been documented in the Historic American Buildings Survey.
Get more info about visiting Elkhorn State Park from the Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks website.
Getting to Elkhorn State Park
Elkhorn State Park is located approximately 50 miles and 1 hour from Helena, Montana.
- From Helena, take Interstate 15 South to exit 164. Take a left onto State Highway 69 east through Boulder and then turn left onto Elkhorn Road. The park entrance is approximately 10 miles up Elkhorn Road.
Boulder Hot Springs
After our visit to Elkhorn, we took the scenic drive to Boulder Hot Springs. With its natural hot springs, spa services, and easy access to Elkhorn Ghost Town, it’s easy to see why this historic resort has been a popular destination for over a century.
Boulder Hot Springs
The hot springs at Boulder Hot Springs are the main attraction, with several natural hot spring pools to choose from.
The pools are located indoors and outdoors and are heated naturally by the geothermal water that flows from the surrounding mountains. The pools range in temperature from 98 to 106 degrees, so there’s something for everyone.
For women only, there is an indoor hot pool, cold plunge, and sauna. Additionally, there is a coed hot pool and sauna.
The hot springs are open daily from 10 am to 8 pm, and day-use passes are available.
Boulder Hot Springs also offers a variety of spa services, including massage therapy, facials, body wraps, and more. The spa is located in a separate building from the hot springs and offers a tranquil and relaxing setting for your treatment. Spa services are available by appointment only, so be sure to book ahead of time to ensure availability.
If you’re looking for more to do during your visit to Boulder Hot Springs, there are several activities available in the area. The resort is located near several hiking trails, including the Boulder River Trail, which offers beautiful views of the surrounding mountains. There’s also a nearby golf course, fishing opportunities, and several historical sites to explore.
Get up-to-date hours and fees at Boulder Hot Springs’ website.
Getting to Boulder Hot Springs
Boulder Hot Springs is located approximately 25 miles south of Helena, Montana, and about 80 miles north of Butte, Montana.
- From Helena, take Interstate 15 South to exit 164, then follow the signs to Boulder Hot Springs, which is located just off the highway on the right.
- From Elkhorn, drive back to Highway 69 via Elkhorn Road. Turn right on Highway 69 and drive 3.5 miles to Boulder Hot Springs on the left.
Elkhorn State Park and Boulder Hot Springs are great destinations for a day trip from Helena. We enjoyed learning and recreating in these peaceful, natural settings.
More Resources for Visiting Elkhorn Ghost Town and Boulder Hot Springs
Touring Hot Springs Montana and Wyoming: The States’ Best Resorts and Rustic Soaks by Jeff Birkby
This is a comprehensive guidebook that invites readers on a captivating journey to explore the natural wonders of Montana and Wyoming’s hot springs.
With vivid descriptions, practical tips, and useful photographs, Birkby delves into the history, geology, and culture surrounding these therapeutic and scenic destinations. From luxurious resorts to secluded rustic soaks, this book provides a wealth of information for travelers seeking relaxation, rejuvenation, and adventure in the beautiful landscapes of Montana and Wyoming.
Ghost Towns of Montana by Donald C. Miller
This is a captivating and meticulously researched exploration of the forgotten towns and communities that once thrived in the rugged wilderness of Montana.
Miller takes readers on a fascinating journey through Montana’s history, unraveling the stories of abandoned mining camps, deserted homesteads, and other ghostly remnants of the state’s past. With vivid descriptions, historical anecdotes, and evocative photographs, this book paints a vivid picture of the rise and fall of these once-booming towns, and the lives of the people who called them home.
A must-read for history buffs, adventurers, and anyone curious about the hidden treasures of Montana’s past.