Thursday, November 30, 2023


Ghost Town Trails – Elkhorn, Montana: The cover photo of popular “Ghost Towns of the West” book

Elkhorn, Montana, is the featured ghosted place in this month’s installment of Ghost Town Trails. If you missed last month’s installment, you can read it here.

I chose Elkhorn for this month’s entry as it is easily explored during a summer RV trip. It also holds a special place in my becoming an enthusiast of forgotten and abandoned places.

Cover of Ghost Towns of the West
Cover of Ghost Towns of the West – It adorned many coffee table tops in its day! Amazon photo

I suspect many of you reading this have seen a picture of Elkhorn without knowing its name. It was featured on the cover of the book “Ghost Towns of the West” which was first published by Sunset Magazine in 1971. It was widely promoted and graced the tops of many coffee tables across America.

My well-loved copy of the book. It has seen many miles over the years.

My introduction to ghost towns

I received a copy for Christmas in 1971 at the ripe age of 11. I would flip the pages, looking at the photos, dreaming about all the lost treasure that I was certain was in or under the abandoned buildings or the chunks of gold laying on the tailing piles the miners missed. Even as a preteen, the history behind each site intrigued me just a bit, too.

Fortunately for me, my future stepmother, who became part of my life several years later, was raised in Montana. In my teens, we would take RV trips back to see her family often. In the summer of 1976, we were in the vicinity of Elkhorn, close enough to make a visit. Finally, I was able to explore the buildings pictured on the cover of the book in person. Exploring ghost towns became such a passion for me that “Ghost Towns of the West” accompanied my wife, Cheri, and I on our RVing honeymoon and, yes, we visited a few. My wife is a keeper!

You can obtain your own copy of “Ghost Towns of the West’ on Amazon.


Elkhorn, MT
Elkhorn in the modern era. This was the Shoemakers Shop

The history of Elkhorn was tied directly to its namesake, the Elkhorn Mine, which many consider one of the nation’s richest and longest-operating silver mines. As the mine was developed during the 1870s, the town of Elkhorn grew up to support the mine and the miners. By the 1880s, upwards of 2,500 people lived in Elkhorn. It contained the typical structures of a Western boomtown, which included: stores, saloons, brothels, schools, hotels, livery stables, churches, etc. The post office was established in 1884.

Reports show by February 1888 the mine was producing $30,000 worth of ore monthly. The boom days for Elkhorn and the Elkhorn Mine ended in 1892, when the price of silver dropped dramatically, making the mine unprofitable to operate. The mine was reopened several times in later years, but never regained its previous glory. It finally closed for good in 1930.

No mining meant no jobs, causing the miners to slowly drift away. With fewer and fewer customers, the merchants drifted away as well. The Elkhorn post office closed in 1924. During its glory years, the Elkhorn Mine produced 8,902,000 ounces of silver, 8,500 ounces of gold and more than 4 million pounds of lead.

Our visits

As mentioned above, my first visit was in the summer of 1976 with my dad, stepmother and my (4 months younger) stepbrother. Exploring what seemed like an endless number of abandoned buildings and the derelict mine site was pure joy for two young teen boys. Better than being a lost boy in Neverland!

My son and daughter in front of the Gillian Hall and Fraternity Hall featured on the cover

In the summer of 1992, I returned to Elkhorn with my wife and our two young children. Since my visit as a teenager, the Fraternity Hall and Gillian Hall that are prominently featured on the book cover had become the Elkhorn State Park, the smallest state park in Montana. While maybe there were not as many abandoned structures as I remember from my youth, it was still enjoyable strolling the streets of town and sticking our heads inside of the structures that weren’t posted “keep out”.

With myself a bit more interested in history than during my previous visit, I found the cemetery a worthwhile stop. It seems each headstone has a story to tell regarding the hardships of living in a remote 1880s mining camp.

My children exploring one of the buildings, as I had years before

Getting there

Plan on driving your tow vehicle or dinghy to Elkhorn, as it is an 11-mile drive on a gravel road to reach Elkhorn. While the road is suitable for all passenger vehicles, including RVs, you will probably find it more enjoyable without the RV.

From Boulder, Montana, travel approximately 6 miles southwest on Hwy 69. Watch for the “Elkhorn” highway sign on your right, which will have you turning left onto White Bridge Road. Continue on White Bridge Road, which soon merges into Lower Valley Road, heading east. Continue on Lower Valley Road, which becomes Dry Creek Road, until you reach Elkhorn Road. Turn left (north) on Elkhorn Road and travel 11 miles to Elkhorn. Alternatively, if you are approaching from the south on Hwy 69, you can turn right on Lower Valley Road and travel in a northwesterly direction to the intersection of Dry Creek Road and Elkhorn Road. You will find the intersection of Dry Creek Road and Elkhorn Road at N45° 09.914  W111° 58.560

Elkhorn State Park can be reached at (406) 495-3260.

Trip Advisor rates Elkhorn as the #1 thing to do in Boulder, Montana, with a 4.5 out of 5 rating.

Please note: Several families still call Elkhorn home. Please respect their privacy and the private property in the area.


Galena Gulch Campground is the only developed campground of any kind remotely close to Elkhorn. This BLM campground is free with some spaces that can accommodate larger RVs.

Boondocking: I can’t share any firsthand knowledge as both my visits to Elkhorn were long before I became a boondocking enthusiast. There is a listing on iOverlander that details a boondocking site along Elkhorn Road at N46° 14.773  W111° 58.246 that can accommodate two RVs. Google Earth clearly shows this spot.


Dave Helgeson
Dave Helgeson
Dave Helgeson has been around travel trailers his entire life. His grandparents and father owned an RV dealership long before the term “RV” had been coined. He has served in every position of an RV dealership with the exception of bookkeeping. Dave served as President of a local chapter of the RVDA (Recreational Vehicle Dealers Association), was on the board of advisors for the RV Technician Program of a local technical college and was a board member of the Manufactured Home and RV Association. He and his wife Cheri operated their own RV dealership for many years and for the past 29 years have managed RV shows. Dave presents seminars at RV shows across the country and was referred to as "The foremost expert on boondocking" by the late Gary Bunzer, "The RV Doctor". Dave and his wife are currently on their fifth travel trailer with Dave doing all the service, repair and modifications on his own unit.



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Neal Davis (@guest_251910)
2 months ago

Cool stuff. Thank you, Dave!

Bill Byerly (@guest_251292)
2 months ago

Thanks again Dave for another great story and a glimpse back into the past. Love your stories

Dan (@guest_251257)
3 months ago

Been there 5 different times just because we enjoy the drive and the history…the graveyard is a sad part of history with sad outcomes…because of the harsh winters each year a little less stands……and yes better drive without ones rv….

Bill Braniff (@guest_251248)
3 months ago

Galena Gulch? For this eof you whop aren’t familiar with the name Galena, Galena is an ore where lead and silver is found.
I worked doing testing in the silver mines west of Montana in Kellogg and other places in Idaho in the 80’s Fantastic history there. If you make it to Montana drive bit further to the eastern area of Idaho right off of I 90. Wallace and Kellogg are two places yo don’t want to miss. Wallace as a nice mining museum and a brothel museum.

Sandie (@guest_188419)
1 year ago

My brother-in-law owns a cabin in Elkhorn that they use to get away from the city (Helena). He tells wonderful stories about people who were or are living there.

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