Great Falls, Montana, visitors can choose from a long list of activities and attractions. The region's culture, history, and scenic beauty provide enough fun things to do to fill several days.
Here are some of Great Falls top local attractions:
The artist Charles M. Russell captured the West as it transitioned from a lawless frontier to a settled region. The C. M. Russell Museum Complex in Great Falls includes not only 15 galleries, but the original Russell home and the artist's Log Cabin Studio. Highlights from the Museum's permanent collection include hundreds of Russell paintings and sculptures, a selection of illustrated Trigg family letters, and the Browning Firearms Collection. Russell's Log Cabin Studio is set up as if the artist was still working there, complete with painting gear and reference props. The Studio also contains an exhibit of cowboy and Indian artifacts from Russell's personal collection.
The distinctive Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail Interpretive Center is perched on a bluff overlooking the Missouri River. The Interpretive Center presents exhibits, films, lectures, and ranger-led activities that center on the Lewis and Clark Expedition on the High Plains. The Center focuses on the Corps of Discovery's experiences and relationships with the Native American peoples of the Missouri and Columbia River systems. In addition to informative exhibits and a 158-seat theatre, the facility offers five walking trails, an outdoor amphitheater, a gift store, native landscaping, and an outdoor living-history area.
Other local attractions in Great Falls include:
You don't have to drive too far out of Great Falls to visit these fascinating attractions.
Located just a short drive from Great Falls, First Peoples Buffalo Jump State Park (previously known as Ulm Pishkun State Park) is the site of a prehistoric Native American buffalo jump. Visitor Center exhibits address Native American methods for driving the buffalo over the cliffs and for processing the kill. You'll also learn about how the buffalo herds were devastated as the West was settled, and how the buffalo remains a potent symbol today. After a stop at the Visitor Center, you can walk or drive to the cliff site, where you can view the buffalo jump and take in fabulous territorial views. A prairie dog town occupies the land above the cliffs. First Peoples Buffalo Jump State Park also offers picnic sites, hiking trails, and special events.
The terrain at Benton Lake Wildlife Refuge is native shortgrass prairie and seasonal wetlands. Wildlife species you might see on a visit include tundra swans, bald eagles, burrowing owls, coyotes, marmots, badgers, ring-necked pheasants, and pronghorn. Take the Prairie Marsh Wildlife Drive Auto Tour, which includes 10 stops with signs providing details about the history and the wildlife. A map of the Auto Tour route can be found at an informational kiosk at the beginning of the drive. Cross-country skiing is permitted on the refuge in the winter. Big game hunting is prohibited.
When you think "Montana", you think outdoor recreation. Great Falls offers its visitors many ways to spend time enjoying natural beauty right in the city.
The 30-mile River's Edge Trail connects a number of Great Falls parks and viewpoints, including Black Eagle Falls, Rainbow Falls, Crooked Falls and "The Great Falls of the Missouri" below Ryan Dam. You can enter the trail, which is open for non-motorized forms of recreation, from any of 11 different trailhead parking areas. Just under half of the trail is paved and wheelchair accessible. Detailed maps are available on the River's Edge Trail web site.
The Lewis and Clark Expedition spent time at the site of this freshwater spring, which is one of the largest freshwater springs in the world. Giant Springs Heritage State Park is open for day-use activities such as picnicking, hiking, fishing, boating, and wildlife watching. You can take in views of Rainbow Falls or visit the fish hatchery and visitor center. The Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail Interpretive Center is located nearby.
There are several golf courses in the Great Falls area.
Riverside Railroad Skate Park
Skateboarders and skaters will enjoy this free skate park, which features a series of bowls, a full pipe, half pipes, a clamshell, and a street course.
Great Falls visitors can choose from a selection of 2- and 3-star accommodations. Here are some hotel recommendations.
Located right along the river, this lovely hotel offers a number of comforts, including in-room kitchenettes, seating and workspace, and complimentary hot breakfast. Guests will particularly enjoy this hotel's outdoor patio and BBQ space and the access to Great Fall's Rivers Edge Trail.
This hotel offers all the amenities business travelers appreciate, including comfortable beds, in-room coffee makers, meeting space, and high-speed Internet access. A complimentary hot breakfast is served each morning in the spacious breakfast room. Pets are welcome.
Located near Great Falls Airport, Crystal Inn is an affordable hotel that will appeal to families and business travelers. Amenities include an indoor pool, an Internet café, deluxe continental breakfast, and laundry facilities. Pets are welcome.
This downtown Great Falls Holiday Inn has a fitness center, indoor pool, casino, restaurant, and special event facilities. The guest rooms have coffee makers, refrigerators, pay-per-view movies, and high-speed Internet access. Small pets are allowed.
Fort Benton Day Trip
Known as the "birthplace of Montana," the small town of Fort Benton makes for a fun day's excursion. During your visit, you can walk along the riverside trail, canoe the scenic Missouri River, tour a few historic attractions, and then relax over an awesome dinner in an elegant hotel dining room.
The original Fort Benton began as a trading post for the American Fur Company in the 1840s before it became a military fort in the 1860s. This accurate replica, built on the original site, is a wonderful place to learn about early trade and settlement in the region. Tours, offered during the summer season, begin at the Museum of the Upper Missouri, located next door to Old Fort Benton.
Upper Missouri Breaks National Monument Interpretive Center
The new Interpretive Center for the Upper Missouri Breaks National Monument houses interesting exhibits covering the natural and human history of the region. Highlight exhibits cover the Upper Missouri's short but prosperous steamboat era. Other exhibits touch on local geology, wildlife, the Lewis & Clark Expedition, and the Nez Perce Trail. The center also serves as a contact and registration location for boaters.
Take a short hike up a hillside to enjoy a spectacular view of the confluence of the Missouri and Marias Rivers. It was here that the Lewis & Clark Expedition faced the critical decision regarding which river route to follow. Decision Point is located a short drive outside of Fort Benton.
The elegant Grand Union Hotel was built during Fort Benton's heyday in 1882. The Grand Union dining room opens to the public in the evenings, providing excellent food and service.
Havre Day Trip
The town of Havre is located 115 miles north of Great Falls, at the junction of Highway 87 and Highway 2. If you're feeling ambitious, you can combine your day in Havre with a visit to Chinook. Visiting both towns can make for a full weekend getaway.
This modest museum, located inside Havre's Holiday Village Shopping Center, provides a good overview of local history. You'll see artifacts from the Wahkpa Chu'gn buffalo jump and from Fort Assinniboine. Part of the Montana Dinosaur Trail, the Clack Museum displays several Lambosaur fossils found in the local area.
This fascinating prehistoric buffalo jump site is located right behind Havre's Holiday Village Shopping Center. Wahkpa Chu'gn is one of the largest known buffalo jumps. Take a guided tour of the site to see preserved and protected archaeological digs that provide evidence of the activities that took place at this kill and campsite.
Occupied from 1879 to 1911, Montana's Fort Assinniboine was one of the largest military outposts west of the Mississippi River. Tour information is available at the Clack Museum or by calling (406) 265-4000 or (406) 265-8336.
Chinook Day Trip
Chinook is a farming and ranching community located 136 miles northeast of Great Falls, Montana, on Highway 2.
This is one of the best small-town history museums I have ever visited. The highlight of your visit will definitely be their multimedia presentation "40 Miles to Freedom." The show uses film and paintings to reveal the events leading up to the Battle and Siege of the Bear Paw, where Chief Joseph surrendered with the famous words "From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever." In addition to artifacts from the Bear Paw Battlefield, the Blaine County Museum offers a wide range of exhibits relevant to local history. You'll see and learn about dinosaurs, Native Americans, the early West, and the homestead era. Be sure to check out all the exhibits in the museum's basement, as well as the fine bookshop.
After viewing the multimedia presentation at the Blaine County Museum, you'll want to drive the 15 miles to the Bear Paw Battlefield, part of the Nez Perce National Historic Park. A battlefield brochure and trail map are available at either the museum or the battlefield, where a self-guided 1.25-mile interpretive trail winds through the historic site.
A road trip on one of Montana's scenic byways will allow you to experience the state's mountains and prairies up close and personal. Here are some of the best driving tours that you can enjoy out of Great Falls.
The Missouri Breaks National Back Country Byway winds through one of the most geologically unique and historically significant areas in Montana. This route passes into the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge and travels along a stretch of the Missouri Breaks Wild and Scenic River.
This 400-mile byway winds in and around a number of Montana's gorgeous parks, forests, and wilderness areas. Heading west out of Great Falls, you can enter the Montana Scenic Loop at either Choteau or the junction of Highways 200 and 287.
Located south of Great Falls, the King's Hill Scenic Byway passes through Lewis and Clark National Forest. Along the way, you can enjoy fishing, hiking, and skiing.
A number of historic trails pass through the North Central region of Montana. You'll enjoy learning more about the state's rich and colorful past by visiting the many sites and attractions along these routes.
Giant Springs State Park, the Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail Interpretive Center, and Decision Point are among the Trail attractions in this region.
This National Historic Trail, which begins in Northeast Oregon, ends at the Bear Paw Battlefield site outside of Chinook. The Battlefield site and Blaine County Museum are both great places to learn more about the Nez Perce Chiefs aborted flight to Canada.
Although not a literal trail, The Montana Dinosaur Trail consists of several sites that highlight the prehistory of the region. You can view fossils and artifacts from dinosaur digs in the region at the Rudyard Depot Museum, the Clack Museum, and Blaine County Museum.
Other Montana Historic Trails include:
How to Get There
Great Falls is located in North Central Montana in a region known as "Russell Country."
- By Car: Great Falls sits along Interstate 15. It is 89 miles north of Helena, and 153 miles north of Butte
- By Air: Great Falls International Airport is served by several major airlines, including Delta Airlines, Horizon Air, and United Express. Jet and helicopter charter services are also available. Rental cars and local ground transportation are available at the airport.
- By Train: Amtrak's Empire Builder route runs through Northern Montana, stopping in the city of Havre. Havre is 114 miles north of Great Falls.
- By Bus: Rimrock Stages provides regularly scheduled bus service between Butte and Great Falls.
Local public transportation is provided by Great Falls Transit District.