Montana might not be your first choice for metal detecting as it can get pretty mountainous and treacherous to traverse. Admittedly, the beaches are non-existent unless you count the short walks near the lakes. However, Montana can be the perfect haven for you, with vast mountains with a previous history of prospecting, ghost towns with a definitive history of treasure hunting, and major cities with varied topography.
Montana’s state capital, the city of Helena, was the historical site for the Last Chance Gulch, an infamous gold place deposit. This article will focus on the following major cities, a few territories, and ghost towns here and there.
The Cities We Will Be Talking About In This Article:
- Great Falls
Helena, the capital of Montana, has the perfect backstory for you to get your metal detecting gear ready. The history of Helena is grounded along its golden origins, as the city initially served as a gold camp. Because of such an abundance of gold, despite its small population of less than a hundred thousand (only the sixth most populous in Montana), Helena stands strong as a wealthy city with 50 millionaires inhabiting the area by 1888.
Helena has a few interesting places you might want to consider for treasure hunting. Below are a few of them.
1. Helena Valley Northeast
The Helena Valley Northeast, located in southern Lewis and Clark County, is a census-designated place north of Helena City proper. For many people living in Helena, the Helena Valley Northeast is nothing but a large spread of nothingness, having a population of less than 3000, despite having a land area more extensive than Helena City proper.
However, what makes Helena Valley Northeast a fantastic place for treasure hunting is its proximity to Lake Helena. The beaches in Lake Helena might not be the most extensive, but they are a perfect place to wind down and start whipping out the good old metal detector.
Lake Helena is approximately three-square miles (eight square kilometers), so threading through its beaches might take a lot more time than intended. However, while it is easier to dig through the shoreline, do note that Lake Helena does not have an all-encompassing beach, as cliffs might border a portion of the lake.
Map to Helena Valley Northeast for Treasure Hunters – image Google Maps – link
Metal Detecting Tip: Treasure hunting doesn’t mean making a mess, digging holes and destroying historic sites. Use some ethics and preserve history. Sharing pictures and documenting the location and researching the back story is the most important part of finding treasure. Read my article 👉 Metal Detecting Rules, Ethics and Laws
2. Nob Hill Park
Nob Hill Park is a small hill southeast of Helena and directly south of Helena Regional Airport. Nob Hill Park is a small stretch of land with slight inclinations making the traversal incredibly easy. Wild animals are in the area, but the park is not far from any human settlement as several houses are in its proximity, making it relatively safe.
This small hill has endless possibilities, and it can be quite a fun day searching for treasure in the area. However, there can be problems while digging around as, unlike beaches, the ground in Nob Hill Park can be pretty sturdy.
Map to Nob Hill Park for Treasure Hunters – image Google Maps – link
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3. Black Sandy State Park
When it comes to treasure hunting in Helena, what is more of a classic compared to no other than the Black Sandy State Park? The Black Sandy State Park, a part of the Helena Valley Northeast, is connected to the Missouri River and is a functioning inlet for Lake Helena.
The Black Sandy State Park is probably the most accessible treasure hunting recommendation hotspot for Helena as it is near civilization. Moreover, the state park is near a campground for overnight trips and has access to other water sports such as skiing, boating, and trout fishing. Most importantly, it has a useable beach for our trusty metal detector.
Camping in the Black Sandy State Park is incredibly convenient as its campgrounds have access to electricity. However, there are fees to keep in mind.
What’s impressive is that because Black Sandy State Park is near the Missouri River, you can also try prospecting. There are reports of naturally occurring sapphires in the area. A little bit south of the Black Sandy State Park is the Montana Jewel Mine. Helena and treasure hunting are inseparable, and the state park is the perfect place.
Map to Black Sandy State Park for Treasure Hunters – image Google Maps – link
Metal Detecting Tip: After years of swinging my machine, I’ve come to realize find treasure is cool, but also having a conservation ethic is better. If you read just a little bit about the 1906 Antiquities Act you understand the idea of perseveration and conservation. Here’s a link. 👉 Antiquities Act U.S. Department of Interior
Billings is the largest city in Montana, despite not being its capital. Boasting a population of well over a hundred thousand, Billings also enjoys robust economic growth and proximity to a breeding ground of treasure hunting sites. Below, we list the best treasure hunting hotspots for Billings, Montana.
4. Lake Elmo State Park
Lake Elmo State Park is a reservoir for the city of Billings, with a 64-acre area great for water activities such as boating, fishing, picnics, birdwatching, and treasure hunting! It is a public recreational area, so it is prevalent to see many people while treasure hunting. Lake Elmo State Park has a peaceful vibe and a superb lakeside view that can mesmerize you while trying to find hard-earned treasure.
Lake Elmo State Park has fees that you might need to consider. Montana residents who have paid the $9 state parks fee along with the annual registration of their vehicles are exempted from incurring further costs. If you are a non-resident with a car, you will need to pay $8 as an entrance fee. However, if you are a resident but have not paid for their annual $9 during their vehicle registration, non-resident fees will still apply.
Map to Lake Elmo State Park for Treasure Hunters – image Google Maps – link
5. John H. Dover Memorial Park
John H. Dover memorial park is perfect for getting your metal detector on and searching for hidden treasure. Although not all sections of the park are open to the public, certain areas are available for public use. Aside from having access to a fantastic view of the Yellowstone River and the Five Mile Creek riverfront, there are over three miles of groomed trails for bikers, walkers, and mountain bikers, making the traversal of the park accessible.
Unlike most state parks with admission, John H. Dover memorial park is free, but they accept donations for anybody willing. The park is open from sunrise to sunset, but whenever deep snow is present, the park is closed at night. However, the park is open all year round and has limited parking for four-wheel vehicles.
Map to John H. Dover Memorial Park for Treasure Hunters – image Google Maps – link
6. Mystic Park
Mystic Park might not be as big as John H. Dover memorial park or Lake Elmo State, but it is a perfect place for a homey feel. Mystic Park is adjacent to Yellowstone River and can be a gold mine as the Yellowstone River runs through the city before Mystic Park, so coins, rings, and other jewelry thrown or accidentally dropped onto the river might find their way there.
Mystic Park is relatively clean and has trees providing shade. However, the park is not very developed, as it does not have a BBQ area and does not allow for overnight camping, but it does have a bike path. If you are considering rock hunting a thing, Mystic Park might also be the perfect place for your secondary hobby.
Map to Mystic Park for Treasure Hunters – image Google Maps – link
7. Riverfront Park
Riverfront Park is another fantastic place to go treasure hunting in Billings. Also connected to the Yellowstone River, Riverfront Park provides an incredible view, fresh ambiance, and a riverfront (it’s literally in the name). Moreover, the river offers you a soft ground to whip your metal detector in without threading through hard ground that is too tough to dig.
However, what differentiates Riverfront Park from most parks near the Yellowstone River is that aside from its proximity to the said river, it is also near Lake Josephine. The lakefront is a great place to dig for treasure, as you might find random coins and other metallic objects that may pique your interest.
Map to Riverfront Park for Treasure Hunters – image Google Maps – link
Missoula has a population of almost a hundred thousand, with its metropolitan area boasting a population of nearly 120,000, making it the second-most populous city in Montana. The city of Missoula has access to multiple valleys and rivers, making it an ideal place for treasure hunting and having a rich history of gold and archaeological artifacts. Below, we list a few areas that might pique your interest in treasure hunting.
8. Kelly Island Fishing Access
Kelly Island Fishing Access is one of the three best-known access points to Kelly Island. It is a 648-acre uninhabited island with a unique environment that includes cottonwood bottoms, ponderosa pine woods, and expansive meadows. Crossing the island through the Fishing Access might be difficult as there are no apparent human bridges. However, animal trails can help you find the right spots for entering the said island.
Kelly Island is the perfect place for treasure hunting because of its easy access to multiple rivers with previous records of treasure. East of Kelly Island and directly in the Kelly Island Fishing Access is the Bitterroot River, a river which, in 1904-1948, accounted for 88% of the county’s placer gold. On the other hand, to its west is the Clark Fork River, which, in Ninemile Creek, a tributary of Clark Fork River, had 100,000 ounces of gold recovered by 1954.
Map to Kelly Island Fishing Access for Treasure Hunters – image Google Maps – link
9. Milltown State Park
Milltown State Park is another park by the river connected to Clark Fork River. The state park is vast and has many entrances and a large area to traverse. Because it is near Clark Fork, there are endless possibilities for treasure. However, it might be on the far side as it is located in East Missoula and not in Missoula proper.
The East of Missoula is infamously riddled with artifacts from the earliest inhabitants of Missoula Valley from 12,000 years ago. However, there are also horrendous finds in East Missoula. One of the said finds materialized when many started to name it the “Gate of Hell” due to the remains of human bones in the area. However, do note that this was before the 1900s, and finding bones would be the least of your concern.
Map to Milltown State Park for Treasure Hunters – image Google Maps – link
10. MacClay Flat Nature Trail
Part of the Lolo National Forest and technically outside the city limits of Missoula, the Maclay Flat Nature Trail is a perfect place to go treasure hunting with your metal detector. It can get quite bug-infested at dawn and dusk, but aside from that, it is an ideal area for trailing and treasure hunting.
The area is for day use only and is open from 10 to 6 in the afternoon. However, the Lolo National Forest is incredibly strict, so check their latest list of guidelines before visiting.
Map to Milltown State Park for Treasure Hunters – image Google Maps – link
Great Falls is another major city in the state of Montana. The city is located east of the Rocky Mountains, with the Missouri River running in the middle of the town, making Great Falls a fantastic place to treasure hunt with endless possibilities. Below is a list of potential areas for you to treasure hunt in Great Falls.
11. River’s Edge Trail
River’s Edge Trail is a trail in the northern part of Great Falls and provides a fantastic view for walking, cycling, and, most significantly, treasure hunting. It runs along the Missouri River and has an expansive space to enjoy.
Map to River’s Edge Trail for Treasure Hunters – image Google Maps – link
12. Black Eagle Memorial Island
Black Eagle Memorial Island is a city park formerly Great Falls’ site for their first hydroelectric power plant. A fun fact is that the Black Eagle Memorial Island houses the waterfalls that gave Great Falls its name. There are a lot of areas to treasure hunt in this section of the city. Moreover, since the Missouri River runs through the town before reaching Black Eagle Memorial Island, there might be some exciting finds by the bank.
Map to Black Eagle Memorial Island for Treasure Hunters – image Google Maps – link
13. Haystack Butte
Haystack Butte is a summit in Montana, standing more than 7500 feet above the ground. Henry Plummer, an infamous prospector and a serial killer, claimed to have hidden $650,000 in gold bullion along the Missouri River in Haystack Butte.
Map to Haystack Butte for Treasure Hunters – image Google Maps – link
14. Garnet Ghost Town
Garnet Ghost Town is an abandoned mining town north of Bearmouth. There have been reports of miners burying treasure in the area.
Map to Garnet Ghost Town for Treasure Hunters – image Google Maps – link
Unlike Garnet, Garnet Bearmouth is not a mining town but was instead a trading post for neighboring mining towns. Because Bearmouth is the trading post of nearby mining towns, there have been theories of ores buried by the miners.
Map to Bearmouth for Treasure Hunters – image Google Maps – link
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On private lands, extracting treasure is perfectly legal as long the owner permits you. In Montana, you can use your metal detector on all lands owned by the Bureau of Land Management. However, you cannot remove any artifacts you might find. You can use metal detectors for state parks, but do not remove the topsoil as this is illegal.
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Montana is a state rich in history regarding treasure hunting. Below are a few examples.
According to the tale The Gold Treasure of Phillipsburg, an Indian invasion in 1873 forced a prospector to bury fifty pounds of gold nuggets in a tin can. He hid the can of nuggets in the soft mud. However, when he tried to retrieve the treasure, he couldn’t find the location. The site is rumored to be two miles south of Phillipsburg, along the banks of the Flint River. Read more Here
A prosperous rancher and businessman in Fort Peck concealed $35,000 in gold coins on one of his ranches during the Great Depression. Read more about this treasure and others in Lost Treasures of Montana
Just before being executed, Henry Plummer confessed to hiding $650,000 in gold bullion on the Missouri River’s banks near Haystack Butte, close to Choteau. A cool story about 👉 Plummer’s Treasure Here
Looking for some “How To” metal detecting articles? I’ve got you covered
- Metal Detecting Digging Tools – Tells you all about shovels, scoops and how to dig a plug.
- Where are the Best Places for a Beginner to Metal Detect? – Just like the title says, this article points the beginner to the highest probability places.
- Can You Metal Detect on BLM Land? – So many people have asked me about BLM detecting I had to write this article.