A few summers ago, my family and I spent a weekend in Butte during the National Folk Festival. The National Folk Festival moves locations every two years, but now we can enjoy the Montana Folk Festival in Butte annually. Besides enjoying the music, crafts and activities, it gave us a chance to explore Butte. Turns out that Butte is more than the Berkeley Pit and Our Lady of the Rockies.
There are a lot of things to do and attractions to see in Butte. “The Richest Hill on Earth” is home to the largest historical district in the country. You can’t see everything in a day, but if you head west to Butte, make sure you fit a couple of historical stops into your itinerary.
Granite Mountain Memorial Overlook
This memorial is a lovely and moving tribute to miners who lost their lives in Butte’s mines. Interpretive plaques and memorial bricks commemorate the June 8, 1917 fire that took 168 lives. It was the nation’s worst hard rock mining disaster. The memorial plaza affords a view of the Continental Divide, Summit Valley and surrounding signs of more than 100 years of hard rock mining.
The Butte trail system has a trailhead just to the south and west of the Granite Mountain Memorial site. This trail connects the Top of the World trail down to the Mountain Con Park (a restored historic mine site).
Granite Mountain Memorial Overlook, Cora Terrace Road, Butte, MT 59701
Butte City Underground Tour
After our visit to the Granite Mountain Memorial we needed a little levity. And to get out of the rain. The tour of underground Butte is as colorful as it is fascinating. The walking tour is led by a costumed historian who cracks jokes and leads you through the Roarin’ 20’s Rookwood Speakeasy, the 1950s Hirbour Barber Shop (with hidden bar), and the 1890 Old City Jail (where Evel Knievel once spent the night). They also offer above ground historical tours and evening ghost walks.
Old Butte Historical Adventures, 117 North Main Street, Butte, MT 59701
Mai Wah Museum
The permanent exhibit at the Mai Wah Museum chronicles the immigration experience of thousands of Asians who came to Montana and the inland west between 1860 and 1940. They were lured to the remote inland west by the promise of wealth from mining activity and the potential for lucrative trade. The Wah Chong Tai Company and Mai Wah Noodle Parlor buildings are the most important and least altered physical remnants of Butte’s Chinese Heritage. They are also home to the Mai Wah Museum. The museum’s artifacts, images and interpretive text tell the story of the Butte Chinese Experience.
Mai Wah Museum (museum is open 11-5, Tues-Sat., June-Sept. Individuals may also visit the museum when it is closed as an add-on to the East Tour provided by Old Butte Historical Adventures): 406.723.3231
Where to stay in Butte, Montana
For a convenient spot in Uptown, we like the Finlin Hotel, one of Butte’s landmarks. The Finlin is a unique 1920s hotel that will take you back to the time when “copper was king” and Butte was a prosperous mining town and the largest city in Montana. Sparkling clean rooms, high ceilings, period woodwork, a gorgeous lobby, and original features make this the place to stay in Uptown.
Holiday Inn Express and Suites
The Holiday Inn Express and Suites is a good option for those wanting to stay near the intersection of I-90 and I-15. The rooms are clean, new, and quiet and the breakfast is pretty good. It’s exactly what you expect from a Holiday Inn Express.
Cross Country Skiing in Butte
There are so many trails for cross country skiing in Montana, and given Butte’s proximity to the mountains and the Continental Divide, it’s no surprise that there a plenty of options here.
The approximately 14 kilometers of trails are maintained for classic skiing by the Forest Service in cooperation with the Mile High Nordic Ski Education Foundation. All of the trails are dog-friendly and feature lots of hills. Trail names, including Neversweat, Prospect Meadow and Motherlode, reflect Butte’s mining industry. Drive about eight miles north of Butte on Moulton Reservoir Road. The road dead ends at the parking area. No fee.
MHNSEF maintains groomed cross-country ski trails in cooperation with the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife & Parks. Great views abound on the nearly 28 kilometers of trails. About 10 kilometers are groomed for skate skiing, and all of the trails, with the exception of the Spire Loop, are groomed for classic skiing. Ski trails can also be used as access to backcountry skiing along the Continental Divide. Volunteers groom the trail system once or twice per week. Drive west on Highway 569 from Anaconda, about 24 miles to the parking area on the left (south) side of the road. No fee.
Nestled at the top of Homestake Pass between Butte and Whitehall, Homestake Lodge grooms 37 kilometers of trails for classic and skate skiing. Ten kilometers of trail are dog-friendly. Trained instructors lead lessons for all ages. Lunch is served in the lodge on weekends, where there is also a ski shop. A yurt, cabins, and bunkrooms are available for rent.
Thompson Park/ Milwaukee Railroad (Milwaukee Road)
Thompson Park is a municipal area with 25 miles of trails for non-motorized activities. The Milwaukee Road — a rails-to-trails conversion, runs through the middle of the park and this is the best place for cross country skiing. This gently sloping 4.5-mile trail extends from the forest boundary south to Pipestone Pass and the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail, passing through two tunnels and over a 600-foot steel trestle along the way.
The Milwaukee Road is groomed for fat biking in the winter, but we like to ski it, too. Be prepared to take your skis off to go through the tunnels.
This section of railroad was one of the first in the country to be electrified; Thomas Edison even came out to Butte to ride the Milwaukee Road. You’ll see relics of this period, along with interpretive signs, along the route.
Thompson Park is nine miles south of Butte on Highway 2. After passing Continental Drive, look for a “Recreation Area” sign and turn right onto a dirt road. The northernmost access to the trail can be reached from the Sagebrush Flats parking area via a trail that says “Milwaukee Road 800 feet.”
Know before you go:
Butte-Silver Bow Chamber of Commerce: 406.723.3177 1.800.735.6814, www.buttechamber.org,