Get a taste of the Wild West without having to go far when you take a day trip jaunt to Virginia City. This historic town was Montana’s first territorial capital, boasting up to 10,000 residents in its mining-town heyday. Gold was king as miners flocked here to seek out a spot along the riverbanks where they could get their pans in in search of gold nuggets.
After the boom of the gold rush days, Virginia City’s history took a turn, leading up to the controversial and swashbuckling Vigilantes who took justice into their own hands against the infamous Road Agents. History lives on here, with plenty to do without staying stuck in the past.
Know Before You Go
The summer season is king here, with most businesses and attractions catering to the May to September crowd. But it never hurts to head down for an off-season wander through town. You never know what you might stumble upon, and the whiskey flows freely year round at the Pioneer Bar.
Virginia City likes to celebrate, so you may want to time your visit with one of the town’s many events and festivals. The calendar fills in the summer months, so it can be a challenge to pick between horseback and poker rides or brew festivals and art shows.
The Road to the Past
From the Sacajawea Hotel, take Highway 287 south to Ennis, then make a right to follow the signs to Virginia City itself, all taking just over an hour to drive from Three Forks. This scenic highway takes you right into the heart of town.
Drink and Dine
Refuel and enjoy the culinary journey at unexpected spots in town. When it comes to drinking, quench your thirst at the Pioneer Bar or the Bale of Hay Saloon—home of the town’s fabled Ghost Tour. Both offer a whole lot of Old West ambiance and good, stiff drinks.
To sate a hearty appetite, you can search out everything from cafes to steakhouses. Jade Monkey Chinese Cafe may be an unexpected addition to the restaurant options, but the atmosphere and shrimp balls are well worth the stop.
Tour through Town
Meander your way down streets lined with clapboard and log-built structures dating back to the town’s heyday. Dive deep into history when you peruse the informational displays located inside the historic buildings, or get fun and a little flirty with period portraits taken in full costume. You can slip into a shop or two for some souvenir hunting along the way. When your feet are ready for a rest, catch the Virginia City Shortline Railroad to enjoy the scenery on the way to neighboring Nevada City.
Photo credit to WikiMedia Commons.
This old west destination may not scream “nightlife” to you, but you’d be missing out on some of Montana’s favorite shows. These theater options get you out on the town, but part of the tradition is to close down the bar afterward. Theatergoing is thirsty work.
The Virginia City Players keep things family friendly at the Virginia City Opera House, with melodramas like Treasure Island or Cinderella as the main attraction. Vaudeville acts and variety show-style entertainment follow the performance for a two-for-one experience that brings in a little bit of historic flair while keeping things fresh.
The Brewery Follies raunches things up in a delightfully inappropriate romp in the rustic setting of Montana’s first brewery. Leave your ire at home, since these guys are equal-opportunity offensive, and no one’s politics, orientation or preferences are off limits. Head to the Pioneer Bar after the show and enjoy a drink with members of the cast under metallic ceiling tile and trinket-lined shelves that give a peek into the ways of yesteryear.
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