Making A Day Of It: Visiting Virginia City and Nevada City

Virginia City Montana

If you’re in Bozeman during the summer, Virginia and Nevada cities are not to be missed. This day trip is akin to a trip back in time. A National Historic Landmark, Virginia City is America’s finest collection of boomtown buildings on their original sites. Nevada City, just a couple of miles down the road, is a town-sized, open air museum with over 100 buildings, thousands of artifacts and real-time gem mining.

Virginia City was founded in 1863 during the gold rush. Thousands of gold seekers moved to this isolated area hoping to make their fortune. The bustling town soon become the territorial capital and the social hub of the state. At this time, the lawless town was full of brothels, saloons, dance halls and gambling parlors.

The story of Henry Plummer and the Plummer gang took place here at the height of the boom. Plummer, the local sheriff was at the helm of ongoing highway robberies being carried out by his gang. Eventually, a group of citizens, later known as the Vigilantes, took matters into their own hands, capturing and hanging the men in Plummer’s gang, including Plummer himself. You can still see the gallows where they were hanged, as well as the graves of the men which are located on Boot Hill.

In Nevada City, interpretive tours walk you through what life was like in this historic town. The buildings and artifacts are worth spending some time exploring— don’t miss the Nevada City Music Hall with the largest public collection of automated music machines including old-time music boxes, player pianos and calliopes.

Inside the walls of these historic buildings, you’ll find actual proprietors. You’ll be delighted with the variety and quality of food, from handmade pizza to fresh cut steaks and ice cream to cool you off during the heat of the day.

Be sure to pencil in enough time for some live entertainment. The Virginia City Players is the oldest continuously operating summer theatre west of the Mississippi. Performances take place in a 19th century-style opera house and feature classic melodrama plays followed by vaudeville variety acts. The Brewery Follies, located in Montana’s first brewery, the H.S. Gilbert Brewery, put on an (adult) comedy show like no other. Be prepared to literally laugh out loud.

Daily tours are available where you can learn the history and legendary stories of the area. For the brave folks in your party, evening ghost tours are a favorite.

The season starts Memorial Day Weekend and wraps up Labor Day Weekend, although some shops and tours continue into September. Keep in mind, the closest gas station is 15 miles away, so be sure you have enough in the tank! If you are visiting off-season, you can still explore the town, but food is very limited so plan accordingly.

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