by Michele Kadison
Great Falls, Montana is a great city to launch your Montana vacation from. It is centrally located, has great Montana hotels, and has an international airport, making it a convenient city to fly into if you are going to see Glacier National Park. Great Falls area has many outdoor activities including Showdown ski resort in the Big Belt Mountains. Great Falls and central Montana is also known the elk and whitetail deer hunting.
Known as the “Electric City” due to its many power plants and dams, Great Falls is Montana’s second largest city. Sitting on the Missouri River, the area was a significant milestone for the Lewis & Clark Expedition in 1805, when the explorers spent almost a month adventuring around the five falls that provide Great Falls with its name.
Enjoy Crooked Falls and Rainbow Falls, two falls that remain true to their original form and are easily seen from River Drive, just outside the city. Black Eagle Falls is also visible from River Drive as you make your way to Giant Springs Heritage State Park. Ryan Dam is a must for visitors interested in local history. Here you can use the clubhouse and outdoor picnic site for an excellent day of sightseeing and relaxation.
Just above the Missouri River you will find an interpretive center that is ideal for viewing the spectacular sights in Great Falls. With its many exhibits and programs, the center provides visitors with a great education on the area’s historical value. Located on Giant Springs Road, the interpretive center sits on the bluffs that incorporate the National Historic Trail.
Be sure to visit Giant Springs Heritage State Park, the home of one of the largest natural cold water springs in the world that also provides water for the shortest river in the world, the Roe River. With a fully stocked trout hatchery, the park is a paradise for walking and observing the beautiful natural surroundings. Take a drive along Roe River, pulling over onto the scenic turnouts for the many photo opportunities. Walk, jog, or bicycle along the path known as River’s Edge Trail, where you can see three of the great falls in all their glory.
Another wonderful excursion is on the Great Falls Historic Trolley or taking the “Tour de Great Falls.” Here you will learn all about the Native Americans who inhabited the region as well as the facts around the Lewis & Clarke Expedition. Additional sights include Giant Springs State Park, the Historic Dome District, and the many historic buildings that populate the area.
Just a short drive from Great Falls finds you in Ulm Pishkun State Park where you can see the longest buffalo jump in the nation. Learn about how the Native Americans drove buffalo over the cliffs as you take in the amazing panoramic view from the Visitor Center there.
In town, make sure you visit the Paris Gibson Square Museum of Art where contemporary art is at its best. The museum was named after Great Falls’ founder and was built in 1895 out of sandstone quarried from the mines near Helena, Montana. With its exquisitely ornate interior, the building is a National Historic Landmark. Part of the museum includes the C.M. Russell Museum Complex, where you can visit the original home and studio of the cowboy artist, Charlie Russell. Have lunch at the Museum Café and enjoy the museum’s lovely gift shop.
The Cascade County Historical Society Museum is another must-see. Located in the High Plains Heritage Center, here you will find the Great Falls Genealogy Society Library where you can get a real sense of the area’s cowboy and homesteading history. The Cowboys Museum is another essential stop over where you can really absorb the life of the cowboy, stockmen, and early pioneers of the region. The museum itself is a wonderful relic of the past, housed in an authentic log cabin complete with hitching posts. There are more than 500 mementos in the museum, including rawhide ropes, branding irons, saddles, stirrups, and oxen yokes.
The first Minuteman Missile Complex was based in Great Falls, where now stands the site of the Malmstrom Air Force Base. You can learn about the base’s history from World War II up to the present, with displays such as a Stratotanker used for in-flight refueling, a Huey helicopter, and the many different aircraft used as bombers and fighters.
There are numerous events that occur in Great Falls throughout the year, including the PRCA Montana Circuit Finals Rodeo in January, the C.M. Russell Auction of original western art in March, the Lewis & Clark Festival in June, and the wonderful State Fair in July.
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