Things to do in Helena, Montana
Helena, Montana, is the capital city of Montana, and was initially founded with the discovery of gold in 1864. The town is now home to Carroll College, mining history, and stunning views of open countryside. I find Helena to be understated and overlooked of places to visit in Montana. The adorable streets, shops, and restaurants are sure to keep you satisfied during your stay.
The following is a list I have compiled of things to do in Helena. This is not meant to be all-inclusive, and is not listed in any particular order. Check out the things in Helena that interest you!
1. Reeder’s Alley
Reeder’s Alley is a restored mining village from the 1860’s. (Photo pictured above is of Reeder’s Alley.) As the miners staked their claims along Last Chance Gulch, Louis Reeder came to Helena for any opportunity he could find. Reeder became known for purchasing land and building projects for the miners. Reeder’s Alley is a steep hill where he built several brick and stone buildings, incorporated into the landscape that already featured the “Pioneer Cabin,” the log cabin that is the oldest documented building in Helena.
Reeder’s Alley was not as large as I was expecting, so you don’t need to plan a lot of time here for your visit. Enjoy lunch, stop in the Montana Heritage Commission, and take a tour of the Pioneer Cabin. Karmadillo’s Southwestern Cafe has a lovely view when the patio is open. Stop into “Cinnamon Toast” to see their antiques. This adorable street is a lovely place for an afternoon stroll.
2. Mount Helena City Park
If you continue walking up the hill from Reeder’s Alley, or continue driving past the Alley and follow the signs up the mountain to your right, you will find the Mount Helena City Park. This beautiful park is not only a place to go for a hike, it boasts some of the best views over Helena. A variety of trails lead to its peak at 5,468 feet.
3. Pioneer Park
Pioneer Park is a great place to stop if you have kids during your historical tour of Montana. Located directly across the street from Reeder’s Alley, this park will keep your children entertained on the playground equipment, slides, and swings before and after Reeder’s Alley. There is a nice green lawn to enjoy lunch.
4. Blackfoot River Brewing
If you are one to join the local brewery tours, be sure to stop by the Blackfoot River Brewing. Conveniently located close to Reeder’s Alley on South Park Avenue, a popular choice is the OPA — Organic Pale Ale.
5. Cathedral of St. Helena
You can’t miss this beautiful cathedral, standing over 240 feet high on a Helena hillside. You can set up a tour of the cathedral here.
6. Great Northern Carousel
The Great Northern Carousel is an absolute must if you have children with you. This colorful carousel boasts 37 hand-carved animals and incredible stained glass artwork. Pick from Big Horn Sheep, Buffalo, Cutthroat Trout, Otter, Grizzly Bear, Rabbit, Frog, Mountain Goat, or of course, the classic horse. I don’t know many carousels where you can ride a buffalo or a fish! At only $1.50 a ride, you can’t beat this for fun. Buy ten rides and get two free. Enjoy one of their 24 fun flavors of ice cream after your ride.
ExplorationWorks is a fun children’s museum for younger kids. This is located right next to the carousel, so you will be able to do both in one trip. My toddler had a great time in the “under two” section – you will find a slide, shopping carts, tunnel, puppets, the list goes on. The staff are also very friendly and helpful.
8. State Capitol and the Original Governor’s Mansion
Enjoy a FREE tour of the state capitol building. The Original Governor’s Mansion is just east of the capitol building, and is a well-preserved piece of Montana history not to be missed. Take the tour to learn lots of great information, but maybe not during the heat of a summer day.
9. Gates of the Mountains
The Gates of the Mountains should be a requirement on your visit to Helena. Travel down the Missouri River on this boat tour to see the site that Meriweather Lewis of the Lewis and Clark Expedition called the “Gates of the Mountains” in 1805. Here the limestone cliffs rise to heights of 1200 feet, appearing to block passage on the river, until the walls reach a point where they appear to open to allow entry. The two-hour tour departs just 3 miles off of Interstate 15 between Great Falls and Helena.
10. Last Chance Tour Train
Hop on the Last Chance Tour Train to catch all of the great sights and history of Helena from the pleasure of your seat! The train departs from the Montana Historical Society at the corner of 6th and Roberts just east of the capitol building. This is also a great way to see the old mansion district. Be sure to be there with your tickets purchased at least 30 minutes before your tour time during the months of July and August.
11. Montana Historical Society
Click here for more information on the Montana Historical Society. Be sure to stop by this museum, and see the “Big Medicine” (white buffalo) exhibit.
12. Tizer Botanic Gardens
The Tizer Botanic Gardens are found off of Interstate 15 toward Butte. A creek winds through the various gardens, making this a great place to stop and relax for awhile. Take the Jefferson City exit, take a left, and follow the signs up to the gardens. You will only want to visit these gardens during the summer months.
Warm Wishes from Big Sky Country,
Alex M. Neill
Montana Vacation Blog