Montana is known as a nature lovers paradise and the treasure state, but what it also holds dear are traditions of the past. In Philipsburg Montana you can not only experience beautiful scenery, but also life in an old western town now dubbed as a ghost town full of a rich history worth exploring. If you only have time for one adventure on your Yellowstone or Montana vacation, this is the place to go!
Here you can go sapphire mining, stroll through an old ghost town mining camp, go fly fishing and so much more. The adorable town lined with antique storefronts and shops make Philipsburg a picturesque start to any adventure in the state.
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Where is Philipsburg Montana?
Philipsburg, Montana is located about 30 minutes off the 90 Interstate, just west of Butte, in southwest Montana. This 18th century mining town is a great stop over between Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks or as a weekend road trip from Bozeman.
Silver mining is what brought life to the town back in the olden days, but now, the main attraction is mining for sapphires which is great fun for the whole family. Philipsburg is one of the best Montana towns for mining, indulging in locally made sweets and drinks and learning a little history along the way.
9 Fun Things to Do in Philipsburg Montana
Mine for Sapphires
One of the best things to do in Philipsburg Montana is to mine for sapphires. There are several shops in town offering this fun activity – Sapphire Gallery, Gem Mountain and Montana Gems of Philipsburg. We sampled 2 of the 3 and loved them both! At Montana Gem you can mine your sapphires outside using an old fashioned sluice that kids will love. At Gem Mountain you mine inside, but are given a large bucket and helpers to guide you along. We ended up with about the same amount of gems from both places.
At Gem Mountain you can also get an extra evaluation of your gems for an additional $5 which was fun for us to know more about our gems weight and clarity and understand how the entire process goes.
For families who want a sure thing, Montana Gem offers bags that have heat treated gems tucked inside, so you know you will find something.
Either way you can’t go wrong mining for sapphires in Philipsburg. It’s a fun family activity that everyone will enjoy.
Load Up on Local Candy
The Sweet Palace is a well known entity here in Philipsburg Montana as well as around southwestern Montana. This 3000 square foot candy shop specializes in locally made chocolate, fudge, taffy and traditional sweets. There is also a selection of ready made packaged sweets like zots, hot tamales and more, but I highly recommend trying as many of the local varieties as you can. We loved the jalapeno flavoured gummies. Crazy hot, but insanely delicious.
Note, the candy shop is closed on Saturday. Whatever you do, visit early in the day to get a sample bag of your candy so that you have plenty of time to return later in the day to refill on your favorites! Trust me, you will want more!
Hang Out with the Locals
One of the best ways to really get a feel for Philipsburg is to hang out with some locals. Even though this is a tourist town, everyone you will run into at the shops and in the local pub are most likely locals. We enjoyed sitting down for a chat over old fashioned sodas with an elderly gentleman who used to work in the mines, chatting with the family running the Broadway Hotel and of course learning more about the man who makes the most delicious ice cream in town. For true local flavor check out the Philipsburg Brewing Company in the historic building known as the Broadway Hotel located on Main Street. Here you will be sure to meet a host of interesting locals!
Take A Fly Fishing Casting Lesson
One of the best things about being in the Philipsburg area is it’s proximity to an amazing array of places to fish. People come from all over the state to try their hand at fly fishing in the creeks and lakes around town such as Georgetown Lake and Rock Creek. While there aren’t any options to rent gear here, you can start off your Montana adventures with a Fly Fishing Casting lesson. Since we couldn’t locate kids gear to rent, this is exactly what we did. We sourced our guide from the Flint Creek Outdoors shop located on Main Street. Make sure to call in advance to book your session and to find out more about where to get out on the water.
Visit Granite Ghost Town State Park
Granite Ghost Town is located just 4 miles up the mountain from Philipsburg and is a fun little detour for those interested in old ghost town remains. While very few buildings still stand, this is a nice area to hike around and get out into nature a bit. This is just one of many ghost towns in the area and in Montana. Granite Ghost Town is a state park, but is very limited on services. The best plan for visiting is to drive up the dirt road, park and head out on a hike around the area. Here you can adventure on the Granite Ghost Tour hike, although there are no maps to provide more information as you go along. Download AllTrails to keep yourself on track as there is limited phone service here.
Hike Boulder Lake Trail
If you are looking for a little heart pumping action and one of the most scenic drives, head out to Boulder Lake Trail located in the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest a bit outside of Philipsburg Montana. This is not a difficult trail, but getting to the trailhead might wear you out in itself! This partially dirt road requires a high clearance vehicle for the last .5 mile. Or do like we did and park on the side and walk the last bit to the trailhead.
Once you make the trailhead, you will be greeted with the most beautiful evergreen smells you can imagine. It’s like walking in a Christmas Tree shop! The trail follows along and crosses a beautiful creek over lovely wooden bridges before you begin your climb up into the brush. It’s a lovely hike, well worth the effort if you have time to really enjoy it. Bring bear spray and keep an eye out for moose and other wildlife.
Indulge in Local Ice Cream
One of the places you must make time for on your visit is a stop at the local Philipsburg Creamery Ice Cream shop. This locally made (in shop even!) ice cream is absolutely divine.With a range unique flavours like White Lavender on tap (my son’s favorite!) to classic mint chip, you will be sure to find something for everyone in the family. If you are lucky you might even see the churning machines working hard on a new batch of ice cream while you are in store. There really is no way to accurately describe how creamy and smooth this ice cream is. You will want to return, so plan ahead and visit on your first day!
Granite County Museum
The Granite County Museum is located in the former Courtney Hotel in downtown Philipsburg Montana. Unfortunately during our visit the museum was closed due to COVID concerns, however we heard from locals that it’s a great spot to visit to really get a feel for the past of this historic town.
The museum and cultural center houses a display of historical exhibits, and a replica of an underground silver mine. The simulated mine shaft and drift includes a compressor, a hoist house, several ore cars, and various other pieces of mining equipment.
If the museum is open during, it is a great place to start your visit to really get an understanding of how this town developed and what life was like in the past.
Discovery Ski Area
Depending on what time of the year you visit this historic town, you might just be in luck to ski or mountain bike at the Discovery Ski Area. During the height of summer, locals love to head over to the mountain for some serious mountain biking fun in the Disco MTB Park. In the winter, it’s all about ski season! Both parks offer rentals for those who don’t have their own gear. We just missed the opportunity to mountain bike and there wasn’t enough snow just yet to ski, so we will have to go back to check these two options out in person!
Where to Stay in Philipsburg Montana
There are very few options for where to stay in downtown Philipsburg to be honest. There are two hotels currently operating in the downtown area. In recent years, there were a few guest houses and various Airbnb options, but some of those are more limited now.
The Broadway Hotel
For me, the only place to stay in Philipsburg is the Broadway Hotel. There are other places to stay, but honestly this is one of the best reasons to visit Philipsburg. In 20 years of travel, I have experienced a ton of hotels, but this one is special.
The Broadway Hotel is a unique property as it is operated in a late 1800s miners boarding house. This 9 room hotel feels like a cross between an AirBnb and a Bed and Breakfast.
The Great Room is the centerpiece of the house where visitors can hang out and chat to one another, read a book or sit by the fireplace. Along the sides of this great room are the rooms and suites. During our visit we stayed in the Angler’s Suite which was fantastic. Offering two Queen size beds and a small sitting room, this is perfect for families or even couples needing a little more space.
A continental breakfast is included in your stay as is the opportunity to really connect with other visitors.
Bonus Treasure Hunt
For guests with school aged kids, ask the caretaker Scott for a clue to the hotel’s treasure hunt. This treasure hunt had my son busy the entire stay, searching the hotel up and down for clues. He finally found his way on the last morning. It’s great fun for those who are curious, inquisitive and persistent! This has also made the Broadway Hotel my son’s absolute favorite hotel stay ever. He can’t wait to return to check on the treasure!
Best Places to Eat in Philipsburg, Montana
For a small town in the middle of the countryside, we were mighty impressed with Kiko’s Mexican food. And you know I’m very particular about my Mexican food! You guessed it, they even had my favorite – queso! The food is delicious, good value and quick! They are closed in the middle of the week, so plan accordingly.
Friday Night Pizza
We have it from locals that Friday Night Pizza (which is actually open Thursday-Saturday) offers the best pizza in town. OK they are actually the only pizza on offer in town, but this is the place to get your delicious pizza for weekend fun. We only learned about it on the last day of our stay so weren’t able to sample the pizza, but it looked great and is on our list for our next visit. You must order your pizza earlier in the day to get a timeslot for pick up later in the day. This is a small mom/pop restaurant serving truly homemade food.
Located outside the Broadway Hotel, the Sushi Shack is the newest offering in town. We didn’t have time to sample the sushi here, but the locals assured us it was amazing! It smelled so good everytime we walked by. I’ve been told the salmon is the best thing on the menu, but there are also several vegetarian rolls and tempura rolls that I was eyeing. Closed on Monday and Tuesday and open for limited hours other days, plan ahead.
Doe Brothers Restaurant
Comfort food at it’s best. Doe Brothers restaurant is open only for lunch and middle of the day eats. Doe’s is a good spot for old fashioned soda’s (try the huckleberry soda!), ice cream and diner type food. We enjoyed our quick mid day visit. The staff are friendly, the food is delicious and everything comes out very quickly!
The local pub, Brick’s, offers typical pub food and a sports bar type of environment. This is the place to go when you want to watch a little sports with your meal. Most of the seats in the restaurant face a TV making this a great spot for families looking to keep the kids entertained while the grownups have conversation! Note, the restaurant is cash or check only. There is an ATM on site that charges 3.50 per transaction.
Do you like exploring historic off the beaten path towns? Let us know what your favorites are!
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