The best piece of advice for planning a road trip through Montana? Be prepared to change up your plans and make unexpected stops, because you never know what you'll stumble across on an adventure through Montana-- it's really full of extraordinary surprises! You could wind up stopping for a quick photo op at one of the country's most unique superfund sites, or spending a full night drinking fishbowl cocktails with mermaids. You might even find yourself exploring the hidden history of one of Montana's quaintest little towns, or solving a mystery about musical rocks.
No, you didn't have one too many fishbowl drinks-- that's a real, live mermaid swimming in the tank behind this Montana bar! Okay, so "real, live mermaid" is a bit misleading, but still-- the Sip 'n' Dip Tiki Lounge's mermaid shows are pretty incredible. Located inside the retro-tastic O'Haire Motor Inn, this vintage bar has a glass window that lets patrons see into a pool, where women (dressed in costumes hand-designed by the bar's owner) put on a fun show most nights. They've even attracted celebrity mermaids; Daryl Hannah once reprised her role in Splash by donning a tail and taking a dip! The perfectly kitschy, 1960's-era tiki decor, cheap tropical drinks, and jazzy music from "Piano Pat" have earned Sip 'n' Dip a nod from GQ Magazine, which declared it one of their top 10 bars worth flying for.
The town of Havre, Montana might seem like your average small town, but below the streets, sidewalks, and landmark buildings lies an interesting secret, and an incredible bit of hidden history. One of the unique features about Havre is that when it was first built, there was an underground level to the city, with enough room for several seedier businesses to run their operations. Some of the most notable uses for Havre Beneath the Streets have been a bordello, saloons, a drugstore, a Chinese laundromat, an alcohol-smuggling ring during Prohibition, and no less than three opium dens-- whatever your vice, you could find it below downtown Havre. Today, it's run as a tourist attraction, complete with recreations of some of the more notorious operations-- a tour guide will take you through the underground tunnels and back into Havre's legendary past.
Looking for a place to unwind while adventuring across Montana? You won't find any place more calming and peaceful than the Jocko Valley's Garden of One Thousand Buddhas. It's exactly what it sounds like: a lovely plot of land adorned with native plants, flowers, and one thousand hand-cast concrete statues of Buddha. You'll also find a thousand stupas, or shrines, dedicated to Tara, a female deity, and a giant representation of Yum Chenmo, the Great Mother, who is wisdom personified. The dream of Buddhist lama Tulku Sang-ngag Rinpoche, it's meant to be a place of prayer and meditation for people of all faiths. Seriously, it's impossible to deny the beauty and positive energy of this garden set in Montana's lovely landscape!
A mere 20 miles away from the bustling metropolis of Missoula lies another town that, had history turned out a little differently, could have been just as big: a ghost town known as Garnet. Despite fires, neglect, and the wear and tear of time, Garnet remains one of the state's most popular and better-preserved ghost towns. It was established in 1895 when gold was discovered nearby, and within three years, the population had exploded to over 1,000 settlers, who were mostly miners. The town also boasted three hotels, 13 saloons, a barber shop, several grocers, and plenty of cabins for the miners at its peak, but by 1910, the gold had dried up, and the town was mostly abandoned. Several of the buildings have managed to survive, and the remains of the once-thriving town attract thousands of visitors a year, drawn in by the town's distinct feeling of preserved ruin. It's a strange feeling to imagine what the place looked like in its glory days, but that's the fun of visiting!
It might not seem like your average tourist attraction, but not every state can say that they've got an acid lake! The former open-pit copper mine was abandoned in the 1980's, and water began filling in the leftover pit. The superfund site has been cleaned up and is well under control, and the Pit remains an interesting point of research for scientists: recently, new bacterial and fungal species have been discovered inside, and might help with a breakthrough in cancer research! It's also a pretty popular tourist attraction-- a few bucks gets you access to the observation deck over the lake (which makes for an epic photo op), and they even have a gift shop!
Make sure you grab a hammer before heading to this unusual attraction-- because it'll turn into a musical instrument when used to tap one of the Ringing Rocks outside Butte! No one is really sure what causes this fascinating phenomenon that causes the rocks to make a distinctive ringing sound when struck, but it's suspected that a unique combination of the rocks' composition and the way joining patterns have developed as they erode might have something to do with it. What they do know, however, is that the rocks don't ring as well when moved off the pile, so don't even think about taking home a souvenir-- you'll have to hone your rock-playing skills at the boulder pile!