This post is sponsored by the Southwest Montana Tourism, which we are so thankful for. However, our experiences and what we tell you here are exactly what we have told (and will tell) our family and friends!
So many families road trip to Yellowstone (and Glacier too!) very destination-focused and end up missing some real gems in Montana and Wyoming. Over the next few weeks we will be sharing some of our favorite must-see locations plus tips on how to make the most of them.
This past weekend we spent our time between Virginia City and Nevada City, Montana. Located just 90 minutes from the west entrance to Yellowstone, they’re a perfect stopping point especially for visitors coming from the north.
Spoiler Alert – this is a stop you do NOT want to miss!
While Virginia City is the bigger of the two, they are only 1.5 miles apart from each other and both are worth seeing. The cities are well-known for their ability to let visitors take a step back into time and get a little taste of what the bustling gold rush era was like.
We were lucky enough to visit over Memorial Day Weekend, which was their first weekend getting into the swing of things for the season. Honestly, things will look different in the middle of the summer by the sheer volume of visitors, but our timing was perfect for us. While we witnessed some hiccups (credit card machines not working, for example), we also got to experience the staff fresh and excited about the summer ahead.
Memorial Day Parade
First of all, if you happen to make it to the area over Memorial Day, the little parade through the downtown of Virginia City is cute and a highlight of the weekend. They still throw candy, the whole town comes, and it’s pretty quick (so don’t be late!)
What makes the area special:
- It is an area “frozen in time” with an astonishing amount of artifacts
- A great small-town feel (we ran into the same people and staff over and over again throughout the weekend in different places)
- Friendly and hospitable
- A obvious love for the town and the area by the people living and working there
Where we stayed:
We spent three nights in a cabin at Just an Experience Bed and Breakfast in Nevada City and highly recommend it. The owners, Carma and John, have lived in the area for 30 years and know it extremely well. They were a great resource for us and the other guests staying with them.
We stayed in the larger of the two cabins, which easily sleeps 6. The baby slept in a pack and play in our room downstairs (with a queen bed) and the rest of the kids loved being in the upstairs “treehouse” which has two twin beds and a double bed.
The B&B also has the following available to guests:
- A hot tub
- Two car “bikes” (which were a super big hit)
- A large yard for playing
- Many games and some toys
- A firepit
The breakfast itself was also a highlight. It was served family-style and was delicious each morning. They also had a high chair and a booster available, perfect for our kids.
What to do:
- Alder Gulch Shortline Railroad
- This short train ride (~30 minutes and only about a mile and a half long) is a fun way to travel between the cities and hear some of the history of the area via the tour guides. It’s an open-air train so wouldn’t be all that fun in the rain, but was perfect for us. And they even pick up shoes when your kid kicks them off (not that that ever happened to us….)
- Reservations are required just to secure your spot on the train, so be sure to call ahead!
- Contact them on their site or by calling 406-843-5247
- River of Gold Panning – Outside of Nevada City
- To be honest, the likelihood of finding actual gold is really low. BUT, it’s fun to do some panning (they teach you how) and find garnets. The area also has a ton of old machinery that is fun to look at.
- This is the sort of place it seems like it is pretty easy to just show up to and be able to get in.
- There is a small sandbox in the shade for kids to play in when they’re done (or for keeping toddlers, etc. busy!)
- Contact them here: 406-843-5247
- Virginia City Players
- While all plays aren’t necessarily awesome for young kids, this really is something not to miss (so find a babysitter if you need to!) We actually saw Sweeney Todd, which is pretty dark and not something I would normally expose my kids to. However, most of the stuff went right over their heads and they weren’t scarred for life like I thought they may be.
- If in doubt, do NOT miss the second half of the show after the intermission. It totally redeemed it for our kids (and me!) with “vivacious vaudeville variety acts” that we are all still talking about. They were interactive with the audience, hilarious and fully entertaining for everyone. There was a bit of adult humor, but nothing inappropriate.
- Over the course of the summer, they run about 3 plays. If you’re flexible, I would plan the trip around the one that fits your family the best! Robin Hood this year (June 27 – August 6) looks awesome!
- NOTE: Their day off is Monday and Saturday is the only day they do two shows.
- Contact them here on their site or by calling 1-800-829-2969 x2
- Nevada City Museum
- This is THE reason to visit on the weekends – the living history at the Nevada City Museum is interactive with volunteers on the weekends only and it’s AWESOME for the kids.
- It has the largest collection of Old West artifacts outside the Smithsonian
- 100 buildings dated from 1863-early 1900s
- While we were there, we got to see a gun demonstration and witness actors/actresses just living Old West life. The kids also got to participate in the following:
- Going to school in a school house
- Making rag dolls
- Weaving part of a basket
- Playing with toys from the era
- We visited for about two hours, but wished we had allotted more time. If you stay in Nevada City, it’s a great place to visit two different days (see family pass information below that is good for those two days!)
- Historic Fire Truck Tour – Virginia City
- This was neat because you get to get off main street in a 1941 covered fire engine. However, be sure to sit in the front so you don’t miss anything – their sound system was a bit lacking to reach us even in the middle of the fire truck.
- The ride is 35 minutes and is fully narrated – I love hearing the stories of the history of the town.
- If you don’t do this tour, at the very least go hike around the town off the beaten path – there’s tons you’re missing if you don’t!
- Call 406-600-2598 for more information!
- Walk around Virginia City
- You can easily just walk around the city and peek into a ton of the historic displays all through town. It’s literally like peeking into time frozen 100+ years ago.
- Be sure to allow time to do this! If you walk from the train station, it’s an uphill walk through town, so perfect to start going up and end going down when everyone is tired.
- All sidewalks are wooden – they’re in great shape, but watch for some loose boards and uneven ground.
Get a Deal for your Family!
The best deal for families is the “Family/Group Day Pass”. It’s good for 2 consecutive days (perfect for a weekend!) and comes with these perks for $99 (for up to 5 people):
- Unlimited rides on the train (yes, you’ll want to do it more than once!)
- River of Gold panning
- Nevada City Museum entry
This deserves it’s own post! Check it out here. There are SO many great places to eat – we don’t want you to miss a thing!
Is it a worthwhile place to stop and stay?
In a word, YES! While we were excited to go, we were blown away by how much we loved what we saw and experienced. It’s small enough to feel comfortable and like you are truly involved and large enough to provide a ton of information and events for the whole family.
Pin it and Plan Your Trip!
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