Helena was founded seemingly by accident. The Four Georgians as they are affectionately called, had spent months prospecting the region in hopes of striking it rich and finding the next big claim. By the time they reached Helena, they decided that this would be it, they would give it “one last chance” before packing it up and returning home. Unlike the countless boom towns in the area, Helena has stood the test of time, largely as a result of the decision to make Helena the state capital. This itinerary will give you an opportunity to explore the Queen City of the Rockies and explore what those early settlers found so appealing about the charming capital city. Helena lies at the heart of Southwest Montana and offers visitors with not only a rich history to explore, but also incredible access to the wide-open spaces so often associated with Big Sky Country.
Each of Southwest Montana’s communities provides unparalleled access to the outdoors, that is just the nature of the Treasure State I suppose. Wherever you go in Southwest Montana, you will find hiking trails, campgrounds, water recreation, areas to explore on ATV or Snowmobile, ski hills, nordic ski areas, horseback friendly terrain, and glimpses to the past. Around Helena, you will always find people taking advantage of Mount Helena City Park. There are countless trails that cover the mountain offering superb hiking and mountain biking opportunities. Mountain biking is one of the most popular activities in Helena, and the community offers a Trail Rider shuttle. Gates of the Mountains is located just 15 miles north of town and gives visitors a chance to follow the Lewis & Clark Trail. You can either explore the area in personal watercraft, hiking, or take a scheduled boat tour. Or maybe a day on the lake is just what you need, and Canyon Ferry Reservoir may suit your fancy. Whatever you choose to do, we promise you won’t regret a day out under Montana’s big sky.
Mount Helena City Park covers 620 acres on the edge of Helena. Trails crisscross the entire park, some summit the mountain, while others connect with trails in the surrounding Helena National Forest. This park provides the best for both hikers and bikers, and it is all in the backyard of the Queen City.
“In many places,” wrote Meriwether Lewis, “the rocks seem ready to tumble on us... I shall call this place ‘gates of the mountains.’” During the summer months, tours are offered throughout the week through the Gates. The 105-minute cruise starts in the marina, just three miles east of I-15, between Helena and Wolf Creek.
When it comes to water recreation in Montana, Canyon Ferry nearly always makes the list. Recreational opportunities on the reservoir include boating, year-round fishing, camping, sightseeing, picnicking, hunting, waterskiing, and more! This is a great base camp, especially if you are planning to camp while traveling through the region.
Helena, the Queen City of the Rockies, offers visitors countless ways to spend their vacation. Today’s itinerary focuses primarily on the downtown area of the Capital City. The Holter Museum of Art is located in the heart of Helena. With rotating exhibits, there is always something new to see. Once you have had a chance to explore the museum, head up the hill to the east and visit the Cathedral of St. Helena. Legend has it that in 1945, a military fighter plane roared through Helena, flying sideways between the twin spires of the Helena Cathedral before disappearing over the mountains to the north. After taking in the stunning beauty of the Cathedral, it might just be time to grab a bite to eat. Luckily for you, you are in the middle of Helena’s busiest area. Try Bert & Ernie’s, Taco Del Sol, the Windbag, Mediterranean Grill, or the Brew House. Final stop today will be the Helena Walking Mall which provides visitors a beautiful stroll outdoor, shops, restaurants, and even a brewery.
The Holter Museum fuels artistic creativity and imagination in Montana through exceptional contemporary art exhibitions, collections, and programming. The Holter is committed to promoting participation of diverse audiences through outreach, innovative education, and collaboration. Admission is always free.
The Cathedral of St. Helena was constructed at the turn of the century under Bishop John Carroll. It is an outstanding example of Geometric Gothic architecture, patterned after the Votive Church of the Sacred Heart in Vienna, Austria. This breathtaking cathedral is a centerpiece of the Helena skyline and well worth a visit.
Today’s suggestions will give you a taste of Helena as the State Capital. Following a rather large gold rush to Last Chance Gulch, Helena became the third territorial capital of Montana. When it came to statehood in 1889 however, there was a controversy over whether the capital should remain in Helena or if it should be moved to Anaconda. This controversy led to a questionable vote that allowed the capital to remain in Helena. The Capitol building that resides in Helena today was constructed in 1902 and is a stunning feat with breathtaking architecture, design, and furnishing. After you dive into the Capitol's history, take a tour on the Last Chance Tour train, exploring the historic district of Helena before you dive into the history of the entire state at the Montana Historical Society.
The Montana State Capitol has served as The People’s House since 1902. The Capitol is open for self-guided tours Monday-Saturday year-round. Self-guided tour booklets are available at the information desk on the first floor, and provide a chance to discover the building’s incredible history, stunning art, and classic architecture.
The Montana Historical Society predates the state by over 20 years. The territorial legislature created the Society in February of 1865, less than a year after Montana was established as a territory. This ambitious move resulted in the second oldest such society west of the Mississippi. The exhibits trace the area’s history back 12,000 years.