Virginia City, Montana is located 20 miles west of Yellowstone National Park (90 miles by road). In 1864, Virginia City was a booming mining town and was the largest town in the inland northwest. The population in 1864 was over 10,000 and although the current population is only 132, it continues to be a town that piques the interest of thousands of visitors. When the gold ran out, the town was left frozen in time, yet people still kept coming back to capture the essence of an authentic Old Western vacation.
Today, the original old west town is a popular Montana Vacation destination that is full of natural beauty, history and entertainment. Whether you are planning a visit to Yellowstone Park or want to step back in time for a day, here are 10 things to do in Virginia City during your time in the area.
1. Experience an Authentic Performance
A trip to Virginia City, MT would not be complete without a visit to the Virginia City Opera House to experience a performance by the illustrious Virginia City Players. Built at first to be the Old Stone Barn Theatre, the Virginia City Players’ opera house was renovated from an old livery stable, remodeled into a 19th century-era theatre. The theatre company continues to perform authentic 19th century melodrama and vaudeville variety to this day.
The Opera House is also home to one of the only remaining Cremona Player pianos in the world. This instrument was used to accompany silent movies and has a keyboard but also drums, whistles, cymbals and horns. Carefully maintained and restored, the Cremona is an amazing piece of working history.
2. Step Back in Time: Museum Tours in Virginia City
A visit to the Thompson-Hickman Museum will make you feel as though you are stepping back in time. The museum was built in the 1920’s and houses some of Virginia Citys most unique and interesting artifacts. Included in the artifacts is a photo collection of Virginia City, MT in the 1860’s, rare guns, an Indian Treaty, oddities, geological rock samples and much more.
3. Horseback Riding in Virginia City
Montana Carriage offers a variety of horseback riding options, including 1/2 hour rides – which is perfect for those who are slightly nervous about horseback riding – or a 1 hour trip that allows you to have a first hand view of the town from the south. For the more adventurous, a 2 hour ride is also available. Pony rides are also available for children.
4. Screen for Rubies like the Original Settlers
Whether you want to spend the day screening for rubies or simply want to get a taste of how it feels to find gemstones such as rubies, garnets or corundum, the Red Rock Mine & Garnet Gallery in nearby Alder, Montana has the tools and buckets ready for you. Here, you can get a feel for what occupational life was like for the miners panning for the same gems you’re seeing today!
5. Ride in a Stagecoach through Virginia city
When it comes to things to do in Virginia City, touring the town in a horse drawn stagecoach should be at the top of your to-do list. The Virginia City Overland Stagecoach provides visitors with a 25 minute, narrated tour up Alder Gulch. While on the tour you will see where the gold strike was originally discovered, hear stories about stagecoach robberies and road agents that were hung by vigilantes. Let the Wild West come alive!
6. Take in a Comedy
The historic H.S. Gilbert Brewery brews up comedy…served with beverages and snacks! The Brewery Follies is a hilarious comedy cabaret that provides the audience with sketch comedies, celebrity impersonations and of course, plenty of music. The Brewery is also a great place to relax and enjoy an ice cold micro brew. Mike Verdon and his talented foursome give a rowdy performance with a definite PG13 rating.
7. Ghosts and/or Microbrews
The Bale of Hay Saloon is a popular Virginia City, MT stop. The saloon claims to be the oldest “watering hole” in the state of Montana. Offering live music and festivals as well as ghost tours, the Bale of Hay is also the after-the-show hangout for cast members from the Opera House. If you are looking for stories of the ghostly history of Virginia City you can schedule a ghost tour through the Bale of Hay Saloon.
8. Dress the Part
If you want to truly get a feel for the old west, stop in at Ranks Mercantile in Virginia City and try on or buy authentic 19th century clothing. The mercantile sells the same type of clothing that they sold new in 1864. The historical mercantile is in the same location it was 150 years ago when they sold everything from formal gowns for the ladies to supplies for the miners and cowboys. Just down the boardwalk, you can live the old west fantasy as a cowboy, dude or saloon gal and preserve it with a sepia-toned period photo. A great family memory!
9. Pan for Gold
Virginia City, Montana was known as a booming gold mining town, so one of the things you must try while visiting is panning for gold with Gold Rush Adventures. Although you may not find the millions in gold that was discovered during the gold rush, you will still find gold and have an amazing time while doing it. Gold panning is a great activity for people of all ages and its the perfect way to teach kids about geology and nature.
10. A Short Drive to Yellowstone National Park
One of the most popular Montana vacation destinations is Yellowstone National Park, which is only a short drive from Virginia City, MT. If you are planning a trip to Yellowstone, be sure to include a stop in Virginia City. While you’re on your way to or from Yellowstone, don’t forget to stop in Ennis, MT for a night or two as you explore southwest Montana. You can pick up supplies you may need at the park, including fishing, hunting or camping gear.