The small city of Butte, Montana, is known around the world for its colorful mining history. While Butte's glory days are past, there are many things for visitors to see and do. You can explore the city's mining background through underground tours and take cultural and historic walking or trolley tours of the town. Visitors can also check out an elegant Victorian mansion owned by one of the country's formerly wealthiest men, and explore the beautiful scenery on in-town trails and in the mountains. Butte, known as Montana's "festival city," offers fun family-friendly gatherings all year, from live music to international film festivals and events celebrating the area's Irish heritage.
One of the first things you'll notice upon arriving in uptown Butte is the former open-pit copper mine that measures 7,000 feet (2,134 meters) long, 5,600 feet (1,707 meters) wide, and 1,600 feet (488 meters) deep on the hillside. The Berkeley Pit, which was started in 1955, has been called the most contaminated water body in the country. It's both a Superfund site (a polluted U.S. location requiring a long-term response to cleaning up hazardous materials) and a popular visitor attraction. A viewing platform overlooks the toxic lake, allowing you to get a good view while learning more about its history (for a small ticket price).
The Butte-Silver Bow Chamber of Commerce provides approximately 2-hour trolley tours narrated by local experts, highlighting the city's fascinating mining and cultural history that started in the middle of the 19th century. Along the way, you'll see gracious mansions and stately public buildings in the National Historic Landmark District, including the Copper King Mansion and Dumas Brothel—the longest-running brothel in the U.S., which was established in 1890 and is said to be haunted by various spirits. You'll also tour the World Museum of Mining, Montana Tech university, and the Berkeley Pit, where you can get out and visit the viewing platform. Tickets are available online.
The Copper King Mansion, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is a large brick Victorian built for William A. Clark, one of Butte's wealthiest copper-mine developers who was considered one of richest men in the world in the year 1900. Much of the original beauty of this 34-room mansion built between 1884 and 1888 has been preserved, including its chandeliers, fabulous woodwork, stained glass windows, and magnificent furnishings.
Guided mansion tours of the building are available seasonally at designated times, usually from early May through the end of September. The bed and breakfast is open all year and has five different rooms—interestingly, you can even stay in the master bedroom where Clark slept, or in rooms that belonged to his children or butler.
Our Lady of the Rockies is a white, 90-foot-tall statue of the Virgin Mary, set high on a hillside overlooking Butte. Completed in 1985, the landmark statue is a memorial to women around the world and only came together with the help of people from various religions and backgrounds collaborating over a six-year period.
Tours that take about 2.5 hours (weather-permitting) leave from Butte in the summer and fall; you'll watch a 30-minute video and then head up a winding mountain road to visit the statue up close. In addition, the gift shop in the Butte Plaza Mall sells bookmarkers, prayer cards, and other items.
Have Fun at Fairs and Festivals
Butte puts on a variety of enjoyable special events throughout the year, many celebrating the city's Irish heritage. Events include the March St. Patrick's Day Parade, during which visitors can enjoy a parade and kilt-wearing bagpipers. Families love the free Montana Folk Festival held outdoors in July and the An Ri Ra Irish Festival in August, which is also free and celebrates all things Irish with dancing, music, a 5K, and more. Each September, the Covellite International Film Festival hosts over 100 films from around the globe, including everything from features to documentaries to shorts.
You'll see mining equipment of all kinds at The World Museum of Mining, including strange-looking antique machinery and modern haulers. More than 65 exhibits include hard rock mining tools, a reconstructed old mining town, and a large collection of minerals. The museum is located on the grounds of the Orphan Girl Mine, which was open from the 1860s to the 1970s. You can don a hard hat and take an underground mine tour to see the inner workings of the mine: The museum offers a 65-foot level tour that takes 45-60 minutes, or a 100-foot level tour goes for 1.5 hours.
Old Butte Historical Adventures offers three different walking tours—each about 2 to 2.5 hours—of uptown Butte throughout the year. With sometimes dramatic narration, the family-friendly tours by foot cover the decades from the 1890s through the 1950s. The tours provide an intriguing glimpse into times past with stops at places like the Roaring 20s Rookwood Speakeasy hotel built in 1912 and featuring stained glass skylights and hardwood moldings; Hotel Finlen, which has some rooms in a historic Tower from 1924; and the Old City Jail.
Tour reservations are recommended.
Engage in Outdoor Activities
Located in the Rocky Mountains on the Continental Divide, Butte is surrounded by 4 million acres of state and federal land where you can enjoy biking, hiking trails for all levels, camping, hunting, and fishing. In Thompson Park a bit south of Butte, you can have a picnic in various areas and learn about the park's history and natural features through interpretive signs. In the winter, skiing and snowmobiling are additional activities to engage in.
Tourists also head to interesting places such as the Ringing Rocks, an unusual formation of rocks that chime when tapped lightly with a hammer, about 18 miles (29 kilometers) east of Butte.