When I first drove into Philipsburg, Montana, 10 years ago, I knew my family and I had arrived somewhere special. Located along the 64 mile Anaconda-Pintler Scenic Route that cuts down from Interstate 90 and rejoins it again between Missoula and Butte, Philipsburg is well worth the trip.
Located in Flint Creek Valley, with the Pintler Mountains as a backdrop, this once mining town is the county seat of Granite County. Here, small town authenticity is blended with tourist town charm. Its historic, painted buildings have landed it a spot on The Today Show, and placed it on the finalist list of the Prettiest Painted Places in America.
Even though everything to see and do is mostly within walking distance of Philipsburg’s one stoplight that blinks red on and off in either direction, there’s enough to do that an overnight or couple days stay is worthwhile. Or, make Philipsburg a day trip from Missoula or Butte if that’s all the time you have.
Be forwarned, however. You may find, like we did, that Philipsburg is a town that evokes a love affair. One encounter is not enough. Either is two.
After becoming smitten by the hanging flower baskets that festoon the period lamposts in the summer, and the live theater performances at the Opera Theatre House that continue into September, we’ve gone back to Philipsburg every year since our first visit. If I ever miss seeing at least one of the Opera Theatre House’s shows, the rest of the year would not seem right.
Owned and operated by Tim and Claudette Dringle, the Opera Theatre House has the distinction of being Montana’s oldest, continuously operating theatre. Considering it was first opened in 1891, that’s an accomplishment. In the years since the Dringles have owned it, the theatre has been largely restored and rennovated to be handicapped accessible and as lovely as it was when it first opened.
The original backdrops are still used during some performances. Each summer season has three separate shows. One show is always a vaudeville version of several singing and sketch acts that are family-friendly, quirky and belly laugh funny. Show times rotate starting with a Thursday night performance to a Sunday afternoon matinee. On some Philipsburg visits, I’ve caught two shows in one day and have never been disappointed. Show descriptions and times are posted on the Opera Theatre House website.
Along with catching a show or two each year, we also visit the Granite County Museum. The museum, across the street from the Opera Theatre House, provides an interesting history of Granite County. Of particular note is the display that highlights the Chinese settlers who lived in Philipsburg and the exhibit about mining towns of the area.
Each time I visit the museum something new catches my attention but downstairs continues to be a favorite. There is a reconstructed miner’s cabin, an assay’s office and a walk through replica of a silver mine complete with equipment and mining sounds.
Shopping is another Philipsburg must do. Start at one end of town to meander among the bounty. No shop is like another. Some stores feature antiques, others local artists and others are a mix of clothing, jewlery and gift items. Almost all feature items with a Montana theme. If you can’t find something related to huckleberries, you aren’t looking.
The biggest draw in the shopping division is The Sweet Palace. Along with every childhood candy you can think of, the Sweet Palace creates its own confections. There are 50 kinds of fudge, 72 flavors of salt water taffy, 20 types of caramels and several types of hand-dipped chocolate. Plus, name a Jelly Belly flavor and the Sweet Palace probably has it. Each time we come to Philipsburg, our son makes a beeline to browse the Sweet Palace’s jar and bin lined-shelves almost before we’ve turned off our car’s engine.
As with any town that’s worth visiting, Philipsburg has enough restaurants and bars to provide variety at meal times. This summer I had breakfast at Doe Brothers, dinner at The Sunshine Station, drinks at The Silver Mill and coffee at The Daily Grind. The Silver Mill is where to head for more upscale dining. Unfortunately during this year’s trip, we ran out of time.
Although we normally don’t need a hotel during our Philipsburg visits, we have stayed at The Broadway Hotel (103 West Broadway, phone: (406) 859-8000), a boutique-style establishment that includes a deluxe continental breakfast. Each of the 9 creatively appointed guest rooms in this 1890s building has its own clever theme. Guests can use the common lounge sitting room where videos, books and games are available to use. Wifi is free.
One of the newest additions to the Philipsburg scene is the Philipsburg Brewing Company that serves up handcrafted beers. The brewery is below the Broadway Hotel, but it closes at 8 pm. Happily it is open 7 days a week. I highly recommend a stop here.
The area outside of Philipsburg is also worth exploring. Four miles from Philipsburg is Granite, a ghost town that was once a vibrant silver mining town of 3,000 residents. The road up to Granite is doable with a hearty car, truck or SUV—or park part way up the mountain and walk the rest of the way. There are remnants of buildings and signage that provide a glimse into 1890s history.
Boating and fishing can be found at Georgetown Lake, halfway between Philipsburg and Anaconda. If you do go to Philipsburg in the winter, there’s downhill skiing at Discovery Ski Area within an easy drive of Georgetown Lake, Anaconda or Philipsburg. Check out the ski and stay packages offered through a partnership between Discovery Ski Area and several hotels and B&Bs.
The Philipsburg Chamber of Commere website has information about lodging, shops and places to eat. Check it out to help plan your trip. Some of the hours are unexpected. For example, the Sweet Palace is closed on Saturdays and some shops are seasonal.
Philipsburg Insider Tip
If you are looking for a luxury dude ranch experience that is five star, consider a trip to The Ranch at Rock Creek in Philipsburg, Montana.
Post Courtesy of Jamie Rhein of the Midwest Travel Writers Association.
Philipsburg Brewery, Sweet Palace and Ranch at Rock Creek photos by Nancy D. Brown. Opera House photo courtesy of Philipsburg Chamber of Commerce. (Jamie Rhein took the photo overlooking Philipsburg and of Flint Creek)