5 Tips to Enjoy Montana’s Best Old West Fest in Bannack
If the weather was always nice in Bannack, it probably wouldn't be Montana's first, and most famous, ghost town.
And this time of the year if the mosquitos don't finish you off, the scorching temperatures will.
Having said that, it's worth the effort to experience what is arguably Montana's most authentic celebration of the Old West when Bannack Days return to the dry mountains west of Dillon this weekend. And your enjoyment can be maximized by following these tips.
Nearly a half-century of celebration
Bannack Days was started in 1976 as a way of celebrating America's Centennial by drawing attention to Montana's first territorial capitol, which was "ghosted out" by the early 70s and on its way to being forgotten before being made into a Montana State Park. And while the buildings and grounds have been maintained, this is still a very tough corner of Montana, with more sagebrush and snakes than people. Little wonder those first pioneers moved on.
The park is open year-round but comes to life during Bannack Days
Falling in the middle of July, there's no time that's hotter, and drier in Bannack. And if you're heading to the festival, here are the steps to take to make your journey back in time a little easier, and safer.
5). Plan for a bigger crowd than you'd expect
If you visit Bannack the rest of the year, there's plenty of room. But this weekend, you'll need to deal with the crowds, as thousands of people flock to the camp on Grasshopper Creek. That's not a major problem, but you might have to wait in line for ice cream, or restrooms.
4). Parking is a challenge
Because of the crowds, parking fills up VERY quickly. That means a longer walk from the overflow parking on the east end of town, which can be a challenge for people with limited mobility. Try and arrive before 10 am, or take the shuttle buses from the fairgrounds in Dillon.
3). Bring your own snacks and food just in case
While there are some treats on-site, including that heavenly ice cream in the saloon, and a handful of other vendors, having food and drink with you is just a smart idea. There are NO convenience stores anywhere nearby.
If you arrive early, breakfast is served for a "nominal fee" at the Hotel Meade, starting at 7 am.
2). Take advantage of the shade
For a town that's so old, there are precious few trees. Two-thirds of the town is out in the open. So if you're walking from the east lot, plan to take a break at the west end, near the park office, where a handful of old cottonwoods and other smaller shrubs provide some relief. Or, my recommendation is to take advantage of a stop in the old church and listen to some of the live musical performances at the halfway point.
And bring bug spray, as the skeeters and flies will find you in the shade. After all, you're only a few miles away from Montana's Mosquito Capitol in the Big Hole.
1). Water, water, water
I can't emphasize this enough. I'm accustomed to photography and working outdoors for long hours and know all about hydration. But last year as the temps soared to 100 degrees I got slammed with heat exhaustion and it took a lot of additional water (thanks to the ladies in the saloon for the cups) to make a comeback. Carry two to three times the amount of water you'll think you use and make sure everyone in your family or group is "topping off" constantly. Humidity can drop well into the single digits and catch you off guard. If you need help, check with the rangers, Beaverhead County Sheriff's deputies, and others who are on-site throughout the day.
If you're really prone to having heat problems, consider visiting earlier in the morning, or later in the afternoon once that sun is no longer beating straight down. You might miss the gunfight at "high noon", but you won't need to find the "Doc" for that "frontier medicine experience."
There is a "special event" fee for Bannack Days of $5 per person, although kids 5 and under are free.
MORE INFO: Follow the Bannack Association on Facebook