The Pintler Scenic Route, begins in Butte.
The Berkeley Pit is rumored to be visible from the moon. It is located just off the Continental Drive in Butte. Starting in 1955, nearly 1.5 billion tons of material were removed from the pit -- including more than 290 million tons of copper ore -- before mining ceased in 1982. A short walk through a dimly lit tunnel (fully accessible for those with disabilities) takes you to an observation deck where you can view the pit, which is doggedly filling with groundwater. Unfortunately, the water flows through several thousand miles of underground pit tunnels through the mineralized zones and becomes heavily acidic en route to the surface. In 2003, a newly built water treatment plant began processing the polluted water, sidestepping the possibility that the toxic water would seep into the city's drinking water and render the town pretty much uninhabitable. The viewing stand is at the east end of Mercury Street on the fringes of the downtown area, and is open to the public ($2 admission) during daylight hours May through September. It's free at other times of year, weather permitting. A good online resource is www.pitwatch.org. As the Pit is Butte's most-visited attraction, the viewing area underwent a recent face-lift, including a rest area and other new facilities.
The 585-foot Anaconda Smelter Stack, just off Mont. 1 on the outskirts of Anaconda, is one of the tallest standing brick structures in the world and is designated a Montana State Park, though there is no public access to the structure. Once considered the largest copper-smelting stack in the entire world, all 58 stories of the desolate shaft rise starkly to meet the Montana sky. A few interpretive displays detail the smelter stack's history and construction.
Anaconda Touring Tips -- You can take the Vintage Bus Tour of Historic Anaconda from the Anaconda Chamber of Commerce, 306 E. Park St. (tel. 406/563-2400), Monday through Saturday at 10am and 2pm, from mid-May to mid-September. The cost is $8 adults, $4 children 6 and under. The tour includes a stop and inside tour of the fabulous Washoe Theater, which is usually open only at 8pm. The chamber also has a historical walking tour brochure for $2, but you won't see the inside of the Washoe unless you get lucky. For a different perspective, take a train ride on the historic Copper King Express, 300 W. Commercial Ave., Anaconda (tel. 877/563-5458 or 406/563-5458; www.copperkingexpress.com), from Anaconda through rugged Durant Canyon to Ramsay and back, a 3-hour round-trip. Tickets are $25 adults, $20 seniors, $18 students, and $5 kids 5 and under.
Butte Touring Tips -- From June through September, the Butte Trolley tour leaves from the Butte Visitor Center for a 1 1/2-hour tour of the city's key attractions. Driver/tour guides are chosen for their knowledge of the town's history. Fares are $10 for adults and $5 for kids 5 to 18. Call tel. 406/723-3177 for schedules and other information. Year-round Old Butte Historical Tours (tel. 406/498-3424; www.buttetours.info) offers historic walking tours, covering old speak-easies, brothels, hotels, and more ($10 adults, $5 kids).
Philipsburg: Off the Beaten Path -- Located southwest of Butte on the Pintler Scenic Route (Mont. 1), Philipsburg is one of the best little towns in the state, complete with a vibrant and historic downtown and outdoor recreation in every direction. Many of the historic storefronts are impeccably kept and painted in every color of the rainbow; instead of housing brothels, gambling dens, and saloons as they did in the mining heyday of "P-burg," they now are more likely occupied by boutiques and galleries. Officially designated a town in 1867, Philipsburg boomed until World War II, at which time the population began to decline. Today the town is livelier than it's been in many decades, as retirees and tourists discover the area. Besides a fair number of B&Bs and other lodgings, there are several restaurants, a theater company, and the Sweet Palace, 109 E. Broadway (tel. 406/859-3353), a confectionery that makes its own fudge, taffy, and caramel on-site. For more information, contact the Philipsburg Chamber of Commerce (tel. 406/859-3388; www.philipsburgmt.com).
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.