youtubeWelcome to part three of Montana’s Ghost Town Loop (article series links can be found at the end of this article). This 70-mile loop tour in southwest Montana passes through scenic territory with plenty of camping options while visiting ghost towns and mining camps that helped establish the state. You will find it easy to social distance yourself from others and world events as you enjoy this loop. If you missed the last entry you can read it here. This week we will head north on I-15 from our last stop at Farlin turning off at the small settlement of Melrose, Montana then heading west up Trapper Creek exploring the ghosts of Glendale, Hecla, Lion City and what is left of Trapper City.

Glendale will be the first stop as you head up Trapper Creek. In 1875, a 40-ton smelter was built on Trapper Creek about five miles northeast (downstream) from the mines in and around Hecla, Lion City and Trapper City. The settlement of mill workers that grew up around it was named Glendale with a post office being opened the same year. Numerous smelter employees and their families soon made their home in Glendale, which was much tamer and civilized than the (mostly male) mining camps upstream. The population averaged around 2,000 souls for the nearly thirty years the smelter operated. Today you can view ruins of the smelter and several other remaining buildings.

Remaining Building in Glendale

Continue up Trapper Creek to encounter the next three ghosts.

The first mining camp to be established in the area was Trapper City, which established a post office in 1873.  Quickly, the camp boasted a hotel, several saloons, a brothel, general store, butcher shop, livery stable and numerous cabins lined up and down Trapper Creek. The settlement reached a population of nearly 200, but was short lived, as mining operations began to move up onto nearby Lion Mountain.

Remains of a Mill in Trapper City

Also growing was the new camp of Lion City at the base of Lion Mountain and by 1878 almost everyone had abandoned Trapper City in favor of Lion City. Trapper City’s businesses followed the residents with Lion City soon boasting three saloons, two brothels, two hotels, several retail businesses, a school, mining buildings and numerous cabins. At its peak, Lion City had a population of five to six hundred people consisting mostly of miners and merchants.

Old Stamp Mill in Lion City

Many Buildings Remain in Lion City

In 1881, the Hecla Mining Company reorganized their mining efforts in the area founding the town of Helca a short distance above Lion City. The primary reason for the new town was to remove the miners from the saloons and brothels available in Lion City along with providing easier access to the mines. The town grew to an estimated 1,500 to 1,800 individuals and included boarding houses for the miners, a water works, fire protection, a church, a school for 200 students, company offices and other businesses typical of a small mining town.

Hecla Ghosts

Unfortunately, the mining district was hard hit when the Sherman Silver Purchase Act was repealed in 1893. Though operations continued on a smaller scale over the years, the ore was dramatically played out by the turn of the century. The company’s major producing mine, the Cleopatra, shut down in 1895.  All told, nearly $20 million was mined from the area mines over the years.

When you go:

Travel west from Melrose on Trapper Creek Road to the remains of Glendale which you will encounter at N45° 38.530 W112° 46.943 At the fork in the road in Glendale stay left along Trapper Creek on Trapper Creek Road for about 3.25 miles to the end of the maintained forest service road at N 45° 38.993 W112°50.663 There are several nice boondocking campsites along the creek at this point if you want to drive your RV this far. From this point to the mining camps (5-6 miles) the road is unmaintained with four wheel drive or ATV travel recommended. Note: Glendale is located on private property and you are requested to please view the remains of Glendale from the public road. The three mining camps farther upstream are on public property which you can freely explore while keeping safety in mind.

You will find "downtown" Lion City at: N45°36.215  W112°55.473, the scant remains of Trapper City at: N45°35.963  W112°54.966  and Hecla at: N45°36.205  W112°55.798


Those looking for full hookups or a place to dump and take on water before heading to a dry camp site will want to visit the Sportsman Motel and RV Park located at the north end of Melrose on Hwy 91.

Those wanting a less formal campground with easy access and minimal amenities will want to spend their nights at Salmon Fly Fishing Access Site on Trapper Creek Road. Not only does it make a great base camp, as all the sites you will be exploring are up Trapper Creek Road, but it is located on the beautiful Big Hole River offering world class fishing opportunities. Fees are $18/night or $12/night with a Montana fishing license.

Those that like to social distance themselves camping in the boonies with the wildlife will want to head west about 3.5 miles up Trapper Creek Road (well graded gravel) taking a side road crossing onto BLM land at N45° 38.169  W112° 44.904.  The author camped at this location and was treated to an evening showing of moose, deer and antelope coming out to feed in the farmers alfalfa field to the south of camp each night. Alternately there are the locations noted above at the end of the maintained portion of Trapper Creek Road.

In the next and final installment we will explore the Canyon Creek charcoal kilns that produced the much needed charcoal to operate the Glendale smelter and the mines of Vipond Park high above the kilns then completing up our loop at Quartz Hill.

Montana Ghost Town Loop Series:

Part 1 - Coolidge

Part 2 - Barnack & Farlin

Part 3 - Glendale, Hecla, Lion City & Trapper City

Part 4 - Canyon Creek, Vipond Park

Quartz Hill

Dave Helgeson
Author: Dave HelgesonEmail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Dave Helgeson is the MHRV Show Director. He and his wife love to travel across the west in their RV. Dave writes about all things RVing but loves to share destinations and boondocking advice.

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