“In many places,” wrote Meriwether Lewis, “the rocks seem ready to tumble on us… I shall call this place “gates of the mountains”.
Named by Meriwether Lewis in his journal entry on July 19, 1805, Lewis called this canyon “the most remarkable cliffs that we have yet seen”. The Lewis and Clark Expedition passed through the spectacular Missouri River Canyon, remarking on how the towering 1,200-foot high cliffs seemed to close upon them like gates. They viewed bighorn sheep along the narrow shelves and perpendicular cliffs, common wildlife seen today. The Gates of the Mountains are located 17 miles north of Helena on I-15.
“in the afternoon we passed a verry high part of the mountain & Steep up from the River on each Side about 600 feet from the Surface of the water, which we name the gates of the rockey mountains”.
July 19, 1805 Joseph Whitehouse
Today, most visitors enjoy the beauty of the Gates of the Mountains from aboard one of two tour boats - the “Sacajawea” (named after the only woman and indigenous person on the Expedition), and the “Hilger Rose” (named after Nicholas Hilger, who began the tours in 1886 on a vessel named “Rose of Helena”). The 105-minute cruise starts at the marina, just 3 miles off Interstate 15 in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains between Helena and Great Falls, Montana.
At Meriwether Picnic Area, the boat stops for 15 minutes of leg stretching. If you like, you may temporarily abandon the tour here and complete the trip on a later boat. You can bring a picnic and the whole family will enjoy a day out next to the Gates of the Mountains Wilderness Area and the Missouri River, enjoying swimming, fishing and hiking.
From the picnic area you can hike to Mann Gulch, the site of the raging forest fire that killed 13 smokejumpers 50 years ago. This tragedy was the main subject matter of Norman Maclean’s book "Young Men and Fire". The story of Mann gulch is one of the more interesting stories told by the guide and pilot.
Between Meriwether Picnic Area and Mann Gulch the pilot will hug the shoreline to give you a look at Indian pictographs painted on the rock wall. Proof that indigenous people lived here long before Meriwether named it the Gates of the Mountains.
Gates of the Mountains Boat Tours
PO Box 478
Helena, MT 59624
Montana Lewis and Clark