Deer Lodge is a small town in the Gold West Country. The Montana state prison has been here for a long time. The old prison complex, in the heart of town, is now the Old Prison Museum. A complex of other museums is scattered through the town center.
Before Europeans and settlers arrived, this area was unclaimed by first nations. People from the west, such as the Pend d'Oreilles, passed through here on the way to buffalo hunting, and horse races were held here. A small hill with salt licks and shelter against winter winds attracted deer to gather here, leading to the name "Deer Lodge". Lewis and Clark's expedition passed near here in 1805-6, the first recorded visit by settlers. More visitors passed through during the early 19th century. In 1860, European-American settlers established permanent residence here, notably Johnny Grant. His ranch site is preserved. The Oregon Treaty between the US and Britain made this area official part of the USA.
In 1869, the Montana Territorial Prison was built here, and the town of Deer Lodge was laid out. Nine years later, the first university in Montana was established. It closed in 1914. The town, the prison, and its modern successor, remain here to this day.
Interstate 90 runs nearby, giving access by automobile from the north (Missoula) and the southeast (Bozeman). Interstate 15 passes about 15 miles to the southeast, connecting from Helena and Pocatello.
This is the West, distances are large and transit is scarce. You will need an auto to get in and to many parts of town. The heart of town is small and flat, so it's possible — albeit hot in the summer — to walk between the sights.
A complex of five museums in the heart of town, operated by the Powell County Museum and Arts Foundation, share a common entrance ticket. The Old Prison Museum is the most prominent of them. They are open daily from March–December.
- 1 Old Prison Museum, 1106 Main Street, ☏ . Daily 9AM–6PM (closed Jan–Feb). The grey, castle-like walls of the old prison dominate Main Street at the heart of town. Prisoners were incarcerated here from 1871 to the late 1970s. Now the cells and buildings hold memorabilia of prisoners and guards alike. Several buildings on the grounds are accessible, though getting to them requires walking outside under the elements. Shared PCMAF ticket.
- 2 Montana Auto Museum, 1106 Main Street (Next to the Old Prison Museum), ☏ . Daily 9AM–6PM (closed Jan–Feb). Over 150 cars on display, mostly classic American models. Shared PCMAF ticket.
- 3 Frontier Montana Museum, 1107 Main Street (Across from the Auto Museum), ☏ . Daily 9AM–6PM (closed Jan–Feb). Genuine artifacts from the American west between 1829 to 1900. Not the inaccurate reproductions seen in the movies. Shared PCMAF ticket.
- 4 Yesterday's Playthings, 1017 Main Street (Across from the Old Prison Museum), ☏ . Daily 9AM–6PM (closed Jan–Feb). Model railroad artifacts, as a tribute to Deer Lodge's history as a railroad town. Antique dolls from as far back as 1835. Also a case of antique Hot Wheel cars. Shared PCMAF ticket.
- 5 Powell County Museum, 1117 Main Street (One block south of the Old Prison Museum and across the street), ☏ . Daily 9AM–6PM (closed Jan–Feb). Pictures and exhibits of life in early Montana. Mining, furniture, and wagons are displayed. Shared PCMAF ticket.
- 6 Milwaukee Road Exhibits, 1110 Main Street (South of the Auto Museum), ☏ . Daily 9AM–6PM (closed Jan–Feb). Historic caboose and a pair of locomotives, a tie to the time when Deer Lodge was a major railroad town. You can see the exteriors any time, with no ticket.
- 7 Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site, 266 Warren Ln (On the north end of Main St), ☏ . Summer: daily 9AM–5:30PM; rest of year: daily 9AM–4:30PM. At the site of ranches belonging to Johnny Grant and Conrad Kohrs, this park commemorates the role of cattlemen in the American West. Free.
|Routes through Deer Lodge|
|Coeur d'Alene ← Missoula ←||W E||→ Butte → Bozeman|