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If you’ve never driven your way from Helena to Missoula, you’re in for a nice treat. After first driving over the Great Divide, overlooking the capital city, and grabbing a drink from the spring at the top, you’ll be met with beautiful scaping scenery before heading down to the bottom of the mountain along rivers and railroad tracks. After about an hour of driving, you’ll pass by the small town of Drummond and onto Missoula. Eventually, you’ll soon see a beautiful river valley where people float their summers away before heading into the town for a local brew. The drive is nice, and for those of you who’ve never been, probably quite a sight. There is an alternative to this route though, that isn’t much longer in terms of length, but is a road that you won’t regret.
The Pintler Highway
The Anaconda-Pintler Scenic Route, also known as The Pintler Veterans’ Memorial Highway, is a 55-mile drive stretching from the old historic mining town of Anaconda up to a tiny little town on the side of the highway known as Drummond. The drive takes you along winding roads, over mountains, past old mines, and along the shores of the popular Georgetown Lake. If you have an extra hour to see some views, this one is worth it, if you have an entire day or two, even better.
The Old Mining Town of Anaconda
If driving from Helena, you’ll start in Anaconda. Once a thriving city, you can still see the old mining charm in some of the older local haunts. Bars, hotels, and food joints can be found along the main drag. If you do get the chance to check one out you’ll, most likely notice an old black and white photo or two back from the good ole prohibition days.
For those into history, the smelter stack is the first thing you’ll see even before reaching the town. At one point that was the lifeline of Anaconda, and is still the tallest man-made masonry structure in the world at 585-feet. Being so close to Butte, the mining capital, the smelter was made for the copper mines way back when and is still the world’s largest non-ferrous processing plant ever to be built. Having such a major part in the mining history back in the day, Anaconda was actually almost Montana’s capital. One look at the courthouse will give hints as to the amount of money that once flowed there.
Some of the Best Golfing in Montana
We mentioned a few days might be worth the time. When we said that, we were thinking of you golfing fanatics out there because the championship 18-hole golf course designed by Jack Nicklaus himself is undoubtedly worth a stop. Old Works Golf Course is nestled at the base of the mountains and littered with old mine ruins. The course is pristine and considered one of the top 100. With the rocks and black sandpits to round out the feel of an old coal mine, you won’t regret staying for a play.
Once you’ve spent the morning or day out golfing and wandering around town, the drive will take you up into the mountains and open up to the views of the beautiful Georgetown Lake. Made after the damming of the Flint Creek, the average depth here is only 16-feet. Stocked with blue ribbon fishing in summer and winter, the lake is surrounded by campsites and mountains and is a very popular recreation spot in the summer. It’s recommended here to book camping ahead of time or to find an Airbnb to spend a weekend exploring. The lake itself is surrounded by three mountain ranges, has a good number of hiking trails, and is known as a place to see some moose!
A Drive Through the Flint Creek Valley with a Stop at Historic Philipsburg
Driving over the lake damn will take you down a steep winding canyon to the bottom of the flint creek. Around the bend, you’ll enter into a large open valley with scenic old ranch buildings with rolling fields and mountain backdrops Here you’ll be able to make a stop in the old mining town of Philipsburg, which we wouldn’t recommend missing. This charming little place consists of only a main street, but it’s one of the cutest in the state. In 1893, silver crashed and Phillipsburg became a ghost town but not too long ago the town decided to revive itself. After adding a brewery, a chocolate shop, theatre, quaint restaurants, and more, Philipsburg became a popular tourist destination for families and single folk alike.
The Quaint Ranch Town of Drummond
Philipsburg may be the last stop before driving back towards I-90, but don’t head to Missoula just yet, the town of Drummond deserves special recognition. Home of only a few hundred people, the “Bullshipper Rodeo Days” are held here the second week in July and are a ton of fun if you happen to make it. If not, Parker’s is a small restaurant that you might miss if you blinked. They are known for their classic cafe style decor and crazy burger menu with over 100 different choices that are sure to round up an awesome drive along the Anaconda-Pintler Scenic Highway!
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