10 Top-Rated Things to Do in Butte, Montana
Butte, Montana is one of the most historically significant cities in the state. Initial interest in the area's underground silver and gold led to the town's founding in 1872. But copper, which was in high demand due to the advent of electrical wiring and World War II, ultimately led to Butte's early 1900s prosperity. And the vast copper resources mined from Butte led to its popular nickname as the "Richest Hill on Earth."
The booming copper industry made Butte one of the largest cities in the American West during the early 1900s. The money to be made in Butte's mining industry attracted a multicultural community hoping to strike it big. And within this world of Copper Kings and Old West storefronts, the streets of Butte hummed with the height of early 1900s culture.
Today, much of Butte's history is readily on display. The entire town is designated as a National Historic Landmark District, with over 6,000 important cultural sites. And several tours, landmarks, and museums offer easy immersion into the past. Unique for such a historical setting, the town supports a fully functioning population of over 30,000 residents, offering a taste of modern Montana alongside the old architecture.
Dive into the history of the state with our list of the top things to do in Butte, Montana.
1. Experience the History of Butte
History is everywhere in Butte. Much of its heyday infrastructure still stands today, and historical buildings and plaques line every street. The entire town is a National Historic Landmark District, including the neighboring communities of Anaconda and Walkerville. This designation encompasses over 6,000 buildings and places of significant historical interest.
The city provides several opportunities to tour its past. Old Butte Historical Adventures is a popular first choice. This uptown tour company offers different guided trips. One of the most frequented is the classic Underground City Tour, which visits the Rookwood Speakeasy and the 1890 city cellar jail. Tours are available year-round and only by appointment in the winter.
Another guided opportunity is the Butte Trolley Tours offered by the Butte-Silver Bow Chamber of Commerce. These two-hour tours are narrated, and stop at nearly every in-town tourist attraction. Other places to visit with guided sightseeing tours include the Copper King Mansion and the Historic Chateau Museum & Gallery.
Just walking through town is one way to savor the history of Butte. The brick facades of several buildings stand out with their age, alongside their signs and advertisements from years past. A fun spot to add to a walking itinerary is one of the oldest continually operating Chinese restaurants in the West, the Pekin Noodle House.
2. Explore the World Museum of Mining
The World Museum of Mining is a non-profit museum on the west side of town, near the Montana Tech campus. It dives deep into the mining history of Butte, spanning back to the late 1800s. The museum's collection comprises several exhibits and artifacts. And the property itself is an actual mine yard, sitting atop the retired Orphan Girl Mine.
One of the most exciting things to do at the museum is the guided underground mine tour, which takes visitors 100 feet deep into Orphan Girl Mine. These reservable tours shine a headlamp on the conditions and lifestyles of Butte's early miners, and the tour guide offers invaluable information about the inner workings of the mining industry.
Another top attraction at the museum is the re-created Hell Roaring Gulch. This scale replica city block features several Old West storefronts and decorated interiors. It's fun to walk these old streets and peek into the windows of the past. Storefronts include a dentist's office, a bank, and an old-timey saloon.
Address: 155 Museum Way, Butte, Montana
Official site: https://miningmuseum.org/
3. Tour a Copper King Mansion
This unique tour allows visitors to see the opulence afforded by the Copper Kings of Butte. Specifically, this 90-minute narrated excursion walks through the house of William Andrews Clark, built in the 1880s. It features 34 rooms and several ornate furnishings like chandeliers, stained-glass windows, and an attic ballroom.
Only a few original household items remain, though the house has been meticulously re-decorated to represent its late-1800 origins. Narrated tours take place in the summer at four different times during the day. No reservations are necessary. The tour dives into the deep history of the mansion, which is still a private residence today.
If a 90-minute tour isn't enough, the mansion also operates as a historic bed and breakfast. Guests stay in period-authentic rooms furnished with modern comforts like running water and electricity. Overnight guests receive the guided tour with their reservation, and enjoy a full breakfast in the decadent dining room each morning.
Address: 219 W Granite Street, Butte, Montana
Official site: http://thecopperkingmansion.com/
4. Visit the Mineral Museum
On the Montana Tech Campus, the Mineral Museum is open to the public with free admission. It features a vast collection of rocks and minerals found in Montana and from across the world. To date, the museum has over 13,000 specimens in its collection, with approximately 1,000 on display.
Whether you're a rockhound or not, the collection is truly dazzling. Some impressive displays include an eye-catching smoky quartz cluster; several blue sapphires from the nearby Yogo Gulch; and one of the largest gold nuggets ever pulled out of the ground, weighing 27.5 ounces. And, of course, Butte copper is also on display. Other mineral interests include giant geodes and pieces of a meteorite that recently landed in Beaverhead County.
While the collection is primarily rocks and minerals beneath glass displays, a separate exhibit details the history of seismic activity in Montana. A gift shop is also available. And while visiting, it's also worth roaming around the Montana Tech campus. On the east side of campus, a bluff-lined walkway lends an excellent view of the city.
Address: 1300 W Park Street, Butte, Montana
Official site: http://www.mbmg.mtech.edu/MineralMuseum/main.asp
5. Check Out the Berkeley Pit
The Berkeley Pit, covering a massive area on the east side of the city, operated between 1955 and 1982. It marked the town's transition from underground to open-pit mining. In its 27 years of operation, approximately a billion tons of material were excavated from the site.
After closing the pit down and turning the water pumps off, the Berkeley Pit filled with water. Due to various contaminants, the water in the Berkeley Pit is so highly acidic that regulators use propane cannons to prevent birds from landing on its surface. Today, the Berkeley Pit is a significant contributor to Butte's Superfund status.
The dug-out walls of the Berkely Pit are easy to see from several vantage points in town, including driving past on Interstate-90 or Interstate-15. Seeing the water, however, is a little trickier. One of the only spots to get a good look at the acidic reservoir is the Berkeley Pit Viewing Stand. The viewing stand is open to the public between March and October, with a small price of admission.
Official site: https://pitwatch.org/
6. Commemorate the Past at the Granite Mountain Speculator Mine Memorial
High above uptown on the north side of the city, the Granite Mountain Speculator Mine Memorial commemorates the greatest loss of life in Hardrock Mining history. The accident occurred on June 8, 1917, and claimed the lives of at least 168 miners. Today, the memorial pays respect to those lost in the Speculator Mine accident, as well as the countless miners that succumbed to the dangerous mining conditions in the city's history.
The memorial sits high above the Berkeley Pit, with surrounding views of the Highland Mountains. A narrated audio recording at the memorial details the infamous day when the Speculator Mine burst into flames. Inscribed at the top are the names of those whose lives were lost.
7. Catch a Show at the Mother Lode Theatre
Like many of Butte's attractions, the Mother Lode Theatre was built in the early 1900s during the boom of copper mining. It was first known as the Fox Theatre. By the Great Depression in the 1930s, the theater converted into a movie house to solicit income for its upkeep. And like other historic theaters across the country, the Fox Theatre eventually closed its doors.
The newly refurbished theater reopened to the public in 1996 as the Mother Lode Theatre. The extensive restoration brought this ornate theater and 1,200-person auditorium back to its early 1900s heyday. Today, any show at the Mother Lode Theatre comes with this touch of history and the feeling of stepping back in time.
The theater is home to several performances throughout the year. The primary programming comes from the Mother Lode Series, featuring Broadway acts, musical performances, and nationally touring shows. The theater is also home to the Butte Symphony and is a venue for the Butte Community Concert Series.
Address: 316 W Park Street, Butte, Montana
Official site: https://buttearts.org/
8. Explore the Outdoors
Alongside rich mining resources, Butte also has ample outdoor recreation surrounding the town. And it's not a Montana vacation without exploring the Great Outdoors. Butte makes it easy, with several in-town adventures and a sprawling landscape surrounding the city.
A few popular hiking and biking paths in Butte include the Copperway Trail and the BA&P Trail. These trails meander throughout the town and offer excellent views of the city and its historical headframes. Another popular spot to hike, Big Butte Open Space is home to the giant letter "M" on the hillside overlooking the city.
South of town, Thompson Park is a popular outlet to connect with nature. This stunning natural space, approximately nine miles south of uptown, features over 25 miles of multi-use trails and a professional disc golf course. The converted Milwaukee Road is the main corridor of exploration in the park, offering a relatively flat and wide path to follow.
9. Go Underground at Lewis and Clark Caverns
Lewis and Clark Caverns is one of the best state parks in Montana. It's located approximately 45 minutes east of Butte on Interstate 90. Several natural resources attract visitors to the state park, including over 30 miles of multi-use trails. But the main draw to Lewis and Clark Caverns is the vast underground world to explore.
The only way to see the caverns is on a guided tour. These narrated trips take place throughout the day between the end of May through September. Visitors have two cave tours to choose from, including a two-hour Classic Tour spanning approximately two miles. The other trip, the Paradise Tour, offers an easier half-mile trek.
All tours into the cave follow a paved walkway with lighting. No crawling in the dark takes place whatsoever. The Classic Tour does involve navigating up and down some stairs. The state park also has 40 campsites that support RVs and tents for those looking to spend the night.
Address: 25 Lewis & Clark Caverns Road, Whitehall, Montana
Official site: https://fwp.mt.gov/stateparks/lewis-and-clark-caverns
10. Visit Anaconda
The city of Anaconda ties to the mining history of the Richest Hill on Earth and offers an excellent day trip from Butte. It's on the southeast end of the Pintler Veteran's Memorial Scenic Highway, approximately a half-hour drive away. And like Butte, much of the city is on the National Register of Historic Places.
The most prominent historical artifact in Anaconda is the nearly 600-foot Anaconda Smelter Stack. This impressive piece of masonry stands above the city and is visible from almost all vantage points. Smelter Stack State Park is an excellent place to learn about this copper smelting remnant.
And Anaconda's smelting history is visible throughout the rest of town. This history includes places like the historic Washoe Theatre and the Old Works Golf Club pocketed by deep bunkers filled with black slag. If the history of Butte piques interest, a visit to Anaconda won't disappoint.
A day trip to Anaconda can be easily extended thanks to the Pintler Veteran's Memorial Scenic Highway. This 64-mile route traverses gorgeous scenery in the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest, including the shores of Georgetown Lake. On the opposite end of the scenic byway, closer to Missoula, the tourist-friendly town of Philipsburg also warrants a visit.