Butte (pop. 33,000) is a city built upon the spoils of mid-1800s gold strikes by immigrants that traveled here to mine from around the world. Once Montana's largest city, Butte was the United States single largest source of silver until the late 1800's and the largest source of copper in the US until the 1930's. Butte's lavish mining past is plainly evident in the prominent architecture of the homes and business district of its downtown area. Located just a few miles from the intersection of Interstates 15 and 90, Butte has convenient lodging and good restaurants, and serves as a good home base city for side trips to interesting historic and recreational areas around southwestern Montana.
Taking I-90 westward from Butte toward Missoula, visitors will approach Deer Lodge, which has been the home of Montana's state prison facility for over 100 years. The original state prison, built out of red brick and resembling a foreboding medieval castle complete with towers and embattlements, is now a museum and is open daily. Just north of town, visitors can get a feeling for what cowboy life was like in the late 1800's by visiting the Grant Kohrs ranch, the first ranch built in Montana and now a national historic site.
Visitors should consider taking a spin off I-15 onto the Anaconda-Pintler scenic byway at Anaconda. This road winds westward away from the freeway, circumnavigating the Flint Mountain Range and running along the eastern edge of the Sapphire Mountain Range for well over 30 miles. Visitors will find excellent boating and lake fishing opportunity at Georgetown lake, a reservoir located at the head of Flint Creek, and a byproduct of the oldest hydroelectric dam project in Montana. Located only a few miles from the lake, Discovery Basin ski area is a local favorite during the winter months and boasts an impressive 2700 vertical feet of drop. Visitors with extra time and a full tank of gas shouldn't miss a ride on the Skalkaho Pass Road, a combination of paved and gravel roadways which wind through the Sapphire Mountains to the west and eventually connect with Hamilton in the Bitterroot Valley. Open from mid June to late October, the Skalkaho Pass Road is also one of the best ways to access Rock Creek, one of the premier fly fishing streams in Montana.
Just to the southeast of Butte and easily accessibly by I-15, the Jefferson River valley is known for its fishing and assortment of historical sites. The Jefferson River runs along the western flank of the Tobacco Root Mountains and is created by the confluence of the fishing streams of the Beaverhead, the Big Hole and the Ruby River. This stretch of water is a fantastic place to hook into massive brown trout. There are a number of guide and outfitter services that specialize in wade and float based fishing trips for this area. Just to the north of the Tobacco Root Mountains, Lewis & Clark Caverns located in Whitehall are the third largest known cavern system in the lower 48, were formed in a vein of exposed limestone and boast up to 3000 foot long chambers that are over 300 feet under the surface. Visitors will be amazed at the size and intricate delicacy of the stalactites and stalagmites of these caves.