You Can Ghost Hunt in Over 60 Haunted Buildings at This State Park
Ghost Adventures > Great Outdoors.
There are plenty of wholesome state parks out there for fans of scenic drives, fresh-air hikes, and a general sense of serenity that can only be found in Mother Nature’s warm embrace. But if you’re an absolute maniac who wants less to do with the Great Outdoors and more to do with Ghost Adventures, Bannack State Park is what you’re looking for.
Located in Dillon, Montana, about three hours southwest of Bozeman and Big Sky, this ghost town-turned-state park initially rose to fame as the site of Montana's first major gold discovery in 1862. It also served as the state’s first capital before handing over the title to Virginia City and then Helena in the late 1800s.
As it so often went in the Wild American West: where there was gold, there was chaos. Bannack quickly became a lawless land; even the town’s original sheriff, Henry Plummer, is rumored to have secretly been the leader of a ruthless band of outlaws called The Vigilantes, who were allegedly responsible for over 100 murders between Bannack and Salt Lake City. (Nathaniel Pitt Langford, the first superintendent of Yellowstone National Park, was on the committee that ultimately convicted and hanged Sheriff Plummer alongside 21 other bandits.)
As the years went on, the town’s prosperity dwindled, and by the 1950s, it was all but abandoned. Wanting to preserve its historic strike-it-rich capital, Montana officially declared Bannack a state park in 1954. Though there’s no gold left in them hills, today, over 60 near-perfectly preserved mining-era buildings still stand—almost all of which are open for visitors to explore and many of which are considered highly haunted.
A guided tour gets you stories about the town’s rowdy outlaws and townspeople, as well as access to otherwise restricted areas like the abandoned Hendricks Mill. But you’re also welcome to gather your bravest friends and embark on a self-steered exploration of the town’s remnants, treading lightly through decayed, century-old schoolhouses, storefronts, saloons, and hotels.
In the Meade Hotel, you may run into the ghost of the former manager’s daughter, who drowned in a nearby pond; you might also hear the pained wails of other long-lost souls from the days the hotel was used as a hospital. Head to The Chrisman’s Store, and you could hear voices whispering in the halls or even catch one of the building’s spirits—including the specter of disgraced Sheriff Plummer—on camera.
The ghosts of the outlaws executed alongside Plummer also tend to appear around town—and considering the park doesn’t close until sundown, odds are high for spotting at least one or two. Come for the annual ghost tours around Halloween, when the park stays open until 9 pm. All attendees are asked to bring flashlights, and a spirit-sighting is almost inevitable.
Now, personally, you could not EVER catch me here after dark. But if you for some reason want to get your Ghostbusters on and stay in Bannack overnight, the option does exist: there are 24 campsites in the park (as well as a sole teepee).
You can also see Bannack resurrect itself twice a year. Every third weekend of July, the town hosts Bannack Days, during which actors reenact what everyday life would have looked like during the town’s boom days. Visitors can watch skill demonstrations, take wagon rides, pan for goal, witness gunfights, and eat an old-fashioned breakfast served out of the haunted Hotel Meade. A similar event, Living History Weekend, goes down the third weekend in September, when role-players act out Bannack’s first 20 years.
Now, we’re not telling you to leave the scaredy-cats at home—there’s plenty of laid-back fun to be had in this ghost town. In the summer months, you’ll find opportunities to pan for gold in Grasshopper Creek and stargaze the big skies ‘round these parts, while winter brings ice skating amongst frosted willows around the frozen dredge pond (the latter will return in 2022!). Either way, something in this town is sure to send a chill down your spine.