Canyon Ferry Lake's Cemetery Island – Helena, Montana - Atlas Obscura

Canyon Ferry Lake's Cemetery Island

This cemetery is one of the last remaining traces of a drowned old Western town. 


Beneath its translucent green waves, Canyon Ferry Lake reservoir hides the remains of the small town of Canton, Montana. Founded in the 1860s, Canton’s cemetery was perched on top of a hill high enough to escape being flooded during the construction of the Canyon Ferry Dam between 1949 and 1954.

The dam was constructed to flood the Missouri River and replace a much smaller dam built in 1898. Canyon Ferry Lake is now Montana’s third-largest lake and a popular spot for fishing and boating in the summer, as well as skating and ice-boat speed sailing in the winter.

Cemetery Island contains graves that date from the late 1800s to 2000. New burials are no longer allowed, but visitors can explore the small island, which is filled with dramatic rock formations and small beaches. Iron fences, crooked tombstones, and dramatic lake views combine for an atmosphere that would be the perfect setting for a horror film or Scooby Doo episode. The only remaining building from the town is a Catholic church built from 1875-76, which was moved two and a half miles onto the mainland.

Know Before You Go

Located only 20 miles east of Helena, Montana, Cemetery Island is only accessible by boat. You can rent a boat at Kim’s Marina and Resort. If you are unable to rent a boat, you can go to the Canyon Ferry Lake Visitor Center to learn more about the island. The visitor center is only open from May 1 through October 1. The island is a day-use area with three picnic tables and no toilets.

You can find the church from Canton at 3497 Highway 284, Townsend, Montana. Tours of the church are sometimes available on Fridays from 3-6 p.m. More information is available on the Canton Church website.

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August 27, 2022

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