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12 Top-Rated Attractions & Things to Do in Helena, MT

Written by Brad Lane
Feb 1, 2019

The state capital of Montana, the city of Helena traces its roots back to the 19th-century Montana Gold Rush. Millions of dollars of gold would eventually be extracted from the mining camp once known as Last Chance Gulch, and you can still see evidence of the city's prosperity and history on the streets today.

Mount Helena and its city park of the same name backdrops the entire city, with plenty of hiking trails to explore, and the century-old Cathedral of Saint Helena provides inspiring architecture anyone can appreciate. Other fun outdoor places to visit include Spring Meadow Lake and the nearby Lewis and Clark Caverns and Gates of the Mountain Wilderness. Places like Centennial Park and ExplorationWorks in Helena provide even more family-friendly things to do in the city, and the Montana State Capitol is an inspiring place to visit and learn more about the Montana Territory and its statehood.

Plan your sightseeing with our list of the top attractions and things to do in Helena, Montana.

1. Mount Helena City Park Editor's Pick

Mount Helena City Park

Mount Helena City Park | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

An iconic landmark of Helena, Mount Helena is the flagship natural attraction of the city. The park encompasses 620 acres, and many trails stem from the paved parking area and information kiosk, including the well-maintained 1906 Trail, which leads to the summit for dramatic views.

Popular with trail runners, dog walkers, and anyone who enjoys a good view, Mount Helena has been attracting Helena residents and Last Chance Gulch settlers ever since the community was created. Many more green spaces surround Mount Helena, including the Helena National Forest, as well as the neighboring Mount Ascension City Park.

2. Montana State Capitol

Montana State Capitol

Montana State Capitol | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Surrounded by manicured hillsides and stately neighborhood buildings, the State Capitol has proudly overlooked Helena for over 100 years. The tall dome and "Lady Liberty" perched on top give the capitol building extra presence, and the granite columns alongside the Greek architecture help lend a sense of importance to this now historic building.

The real beauty and craftsmanship of the Capitol is found within the interior, however, and any member of the public is welcome to tour the space during daily operating hours. Specific areas of interest within the capitol include the Old Law Library, the Capitol Rotunda, and the many pieces of statehood paintings and art that adorn the entire facility.

Address: 1301 East Sixth Avenue, Helena, Montana

Official site: https://mhs.mt.gov/education/Capitol

3. Reeder's Alley

Reeder's Alley

Reeder's Alley | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

With buildings and architecture dating back to the 1800s, Reeder's Alley in the southwest corner of the city presents a fully immersive look into Helena's past. Serving as an intact piece of the local history, the historic Reeder's Alley is now also filled with modern storefronts, including a restaurant, office space, and the Visit Helena Montana office.

Interpretive signs and information enhance a stroll through the area, and the moment you step on the brick walkway, it feels like stepping into the past. The adjacent Pioneer Cabin is the oldest registered domicile in the city and available for public tours.

Address: 212 South Park Avenue, Helena, Montana

Official site: http://reedersalley.com/

4. Cathedral of Saint Helena

Cathedral of Saint Helena

Cathedral of Saint Helena | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Near downtown and the Old Governor's Mansion, the twin spires of the Cathedral of Saint Helena have overlooked the city for over a century. Damaged in a 1935 earthquake, this Gothic cathedral has seen significant restorations and improvements over the years, but the sheer architectural presence of this place of worship has always been a defining feature.

Any visitor can attend public services at the cathedral, and guided tours are available during the week between Memorial Day and Labor Day. The cathedral's vast collection of stained-glass windows are reason enough to visit, and simply walking around the exterior of the property along the manicured green grass is a fun way to take in the beauty of the building.

Address: 530 North Ewing Street, Helena, Montana

Official site: http://www.sthelenas.org/

5. Gates of the Mountain Wilderness Area

Gates of the Mountain

Gates of the Mountain | Mark Holloway / photo modified

Twenty miles north of Helena and managed by the Helena National Forest, Gates of the Mountain is steeped in history and natural beauty. Coined by Meriwether Lewis during the Corps of Discovery expedition, the Missouri River meets limestone cliffs at this stunning wilderness area and a sense of grandeur is immediately imposed on anyone who visits.

Miles of hiking trails wind throughout the area, and the surrounding national forest with picnic areas encourages visitors to enjoy lunch with a view. A popular means of experiencing Gates of the Mountain, boat tours are available throughout the summer and include a guided narration about the history and dramatic geology of the area.

6. Centennial Park

Centennial Park playground

Centennial Park playground | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Just north of downtown, Centennial Park is a sprawling landscaped space filled with many family- and canine-friendly attractions. Baseball fields and abundant lawn space comprise much of the park, connected by a trail system lined with various fitness equipment.

The "Paws Park" dog park is a popular place to visit within Centennial, providing two separate areas for big and littles dogs to play independently.

A universally accessible playground and bicycle pump track can also be found at Centennial, and adjacent to the city park, a 17,000-square foot Skate Park accommodates skateboards, rollerblades, and scooters. A simulated rock-climbing boulder also invites exercise for all ages.

Address: 200 North Last Chance Gulch, Helena, Montana

7. ExplorationWorks

ExplorationWorks plaza

ExplorationWorks plaza | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

With rotating exhibits covering all areas of science and technology, ExplorationWorks is a science museum dedicated to having a fun time. Featuring summer camps, community groups, and a wide array of hands-on exhibits, ExplorationWorks also has a dedicated discovery area for children five and under.

Educational workshops, family-friendly events, and summer camps add the real community appeal to this educational space, as do the free Explore Kits available for teachers through the museum. The outdoor plaza at the entrance of ExplorationWorks is also appealing, including next door access to the Great Northern Carousel, a favorite for birthday parties and children's events.

Address: 995 Carousel Way, Helena, Montana

Official site: https://www.explorationworks.org/

8. Holter Museum of Art

Holter Museum of Art

Holter Museum of Art | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Hosting regional, national, and international art exhibits in downtown Helena, Holter Museum is a cultural hub of the city. Rotating displays at the museum relate to expressions in current culture, and permanent installations within the collection encompass a wide variety of art forms.

Admission is always free to appreciate the art, and the museum hosts numerous events throughout the year, including family trivia nights, fall art walks, and artists' speaker series. Educational programs at the museum include classes and workshops for all age levels. For extra-special occasions, the entire art facility can also be rented out for group events.

Address: 12 East Lawrence Street, Helena, Montana

Official site: https://www.holtermuseum.org/

9. Spring Meadow Lake State Park

Spring Meadow Lake State Park

Spring Meadow Lake State Park | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

On the western edge of the city with an impressive view of Mount Helena, Spring Meadow Lake State Park is a popular family destination for experiencing nature. Spring Meadow Lake is the central attraction at this state park, and depending on the season, you can find visitors swimming, fishing, or skating. Non-motorized boating is also popular on the water during the summer, and the park offers free personal flotation devices to use upon your visit.

The park also provides numerous shaded picnic areas overlooking the water for afternoon enjoyment. A short nature trail under a mile in length circles the entire body of water, and various wildlife is often spotted from the path.

Address: 2715 Country Club Avenue, Helena, Montana

10. Montana Historical Society

Montana Historical Society sculpture

Montana Historical Society sculpture | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Adjacent to the State Capitol, and hard to miss with large sculptures on the lawn, the Montana Historical Society proudly celebrates the state's rich heritage by preserving it for the future. Popular permanent exhibits at Montana's Museum within the Historical Society include a Charles M. Russell gallery, collections detailing Lewis and Clark's interactions with Montana, and an immersive look into the Montana frontier and past pioneers who lived it.

Thousands of artifacts relating to indigenous peoples, archeology of the area, and the advancement of transport comprise the museum's vast collections. Numerous educational and social events are facilitated by the Historical Society every month, including guided tours of the nearby Old Governor's Mansion.

Address: 225 Roberts Street, Helena, Montana

Official site: https://mhs.mt.gov/

11. Lewis & Clark Caverns State Park

Cathedral Room at Lewis and Clark Caverns

Cathedral Room at Lewis and Clark Caverns

Montana's first state park, the subterranean world of Lewis & Clark Caverns can be accessed from Helena in just over an hour's drive. Underground exploration of the elaborate cave system at Lewis and Clark, one of the most complex in the northwest, is only available via guided tours between May and September. The three different tours offered by the park cater to different comfort levels, including a classic cave tour; a beginner-friendly Paradise tour; and a guided Wild Cave expedition, which explores underground for hours.

Lewis & Clark State Park also provides aboveground activities, including 40 campsites comprising one of the best campgrounds in Montana. A network of hiking trails can be found above the cave system as well, providing popular outlets for exploring when the cave system is closed for the season. A recently renovated visitor center at the state park is also open throughout the year and offers information on the complex geology and history of the area.

Address: 25 Lewis & Clark Caverns Road, Whitehall, Montana

12. Original Governor's Mansion

Original Governor's Mansion

Original Governor's Mansion | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Located on the National Register of Historic Places and near downtown Helena, the Original Governor's Mansion was built in 1988 as a private residence. The three-story Queen Anne mansion began hosting the Governor and relatives in 1913 and housed nine different families over nearly 50 years.

Today, this antiquated home is operated by the Montana Historical Society and is open for guided tours between the months of May and September. Within the refurbished interior of the home, visitors can see period authentic furniture and decorations that lend insight on what life was like in the early 20th century in Montana.

Address: 304 North Ewing Street, Helena, Montana

Official site: https://mhs.mt.gov/Museum/historichouse

Where to Stay in Helena for Sightseeing

  • Mid-Range Hotels: Helena has a great selection of high-class hotels for a moderate rate, and the downtown Best Western Premier Helena Great Northern Hotel is one of the best places to stay the night. Featuring spacious rooms and a well-decorated interior, one of the biggest appeals of this Best Western Premier is its immediate access to downtown Helena and its many surrounding attractions. East of the downtown area, Hampton Inn Helena is another good hotel that provides king beds, friendly staff, and proximity to the airport. Farther north, the Residence Inn Helena is popular for families or anyone looking for extra space, and with an upscale lobby area and large indoor aquatic facility, guests can find comfort outside of the rooms as well.
  • Budget Hotels: A large number of affordable hotels can be found throughout Helena, and hotels like Baymont by Wyndham Helena set a high bar, with clean facilities, comfortable beds, and an overnight rate that won't break the budget. A few blocks from the Baymont, the Howard Johnson by Wyndham Helena is another great budget option that features quiet rooms, a pool and jacuzzi area, and a reputation for friendly service. Farther west of downtown, the Lamplighter Motel is a gem hotel of the city. Tucked into a quiet neighborhood, it provides non-chain accommodations that are clean and comfortable.

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More to Explore in Montana: The top-tourist attractions of Montana range from the enormous mountain scenes of Glacier National Park to the exhibits at the World Museum of Mining. Other prominent cities in Montana worth exploring include the collegiate towns Missoula, Bozeman and Whitefish. For an extra special retreat, browse through our list of the top-rated resorts in Montana feature stunning backdrops and spacious accommodations.

Exploring Neighboring Idaho: Over the western border of Montana, the state of Idaho is filled with natural and cultural attractions. Among the many top-rated tourist attractions of Idaho, world-renowned areas of outdoor interest include the Sawtooth Mountains, Lake Coeur d'Alene, and Craters of the Moon. The best resorts in Idaho also lend access to great outdoor adventures. For cities to visit in Idaho, Boise is always a good first choice, as are Idaho Falls, Twin Falls, and Coeur D'Alene.

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