12 Top-Rated Things to Do in Great Falls, MT
Great Falls is an excellent basecamp on the Mighty Missouri River in Central Montana. Alongside being the third-largest city in Montana, with a population nearing 60,000 residents, it offers excellent access to this northern part of the state, where the outdoors expands unimpeded. Bountiful gardens, mountain views, and freshwater springs dot this city alongside its rugged history.
Famous characters to make their way through Great Falls include Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery. The renowned Cowboy Artist, C.M. Russell, also lived in Great Falls at the height of his career at the turn of the 20th century. Visitors have several opportunities to learn more about these influential visitors at places like the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center and the C.M. Russell Museum.
Whatever brings you to Great Falls, plan on spending time outside. The 60-mile River's Edge Trail is the main pedestrian route, following the contours of the Missouri River throughout town. This sprawling pathway connects several of the city's top attractions, including an array of public parks.
Find your next reason to visit with our list of the top things to do in Great Falls, Montana.
1. Explore the River's Edge Trail
The River's Edge Trail is the main pedestrian corridor of the city. It follows both banks of the Missouri River for 60 in-town miles and connects natural spaces, the historical downtown district, and several cultural attractions.
Of the many city parks connected by the River's Edge Trail, Gibson Park is considered the crown jewel of the city park system. This public space is within walking distance of downtown and features bountiful gardens and reflective ponds. It's a popular place to start the day exploring the River's Edge Trail on a bicycle.
Other notable attractions along the route include Giant Spring State Park and the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center. In the same area, northeast of downtown, pedestrians also get a great view of The Great Falls of the Missouri. And smaller attractions, like Warden Park or the several pieces of public art lining the pathway, are other fun places to pull over on the trail.
Any time of the year, expect joggers, cyclists, rollerbladers, or snowshoers sharing the River's Edge Trail. Benches, picnic tables, and drinking fountains are also interspersed along the route, as well as established single-track mountain biking trails.
Official site: http://thetrail.org/
2. Step Back into the Old West at the C.M. Russell Museum
One of the most legendary Western painters, Charles M. Russell spent much of his adult life in Great Falls, alongside his business-savvy wife, Nancy Cooper Russell. His style quickly began to embody the American West in the late 1800s, which was changing at great speed as settlers pushed out native populations. Russell captured this spirit with a robust collection of paintings and bronze sculptures.
Russell's presence in Great Falls didn't go unnoticed. Today, his original studio and home are still preserved near the center of town. Both are owned and operated by the adjacent C.M. Russell Museum. And this acclaimed gallery space displays several original works by C.M. Russell and other influential Cowboy Artists.
Admission to the museum allows guests the chance to enter the next-door studio and original home. Both are meticulously furnished to represent the era when Charles and Nancy lived in the house and conducted their business in Great Falls. And alongside the furnishings, artwork, and look into their lives, the museum provides invaluable insight into one of the great artists of the Old West.
Address: 1498, 400 Thirteenth Street North, Great Falls, Montana
Official site: https://cmrussell.org/
3. Soak in the Grandeur at Giant Springs State Park
Giant Springs State Park is on the Missouri River, along the River's Edge Trail, northeast of downtown. Alongside being one of Montana's best state parks, this sprawling public area also lives up to its name with one of the largest freshwater springs in the country.
The first modern recording of Giant Springs was by the Lewis and Clark expedition in 1805. Today, it's one of the most visited state parks in Montana. The Giant Spring is a main focal point of visiting, where visitors can dip their toes into the constantly warm (54 degrees Fahrenheit) water. Next door, an active Fish Hatchery offers interpretive information and a viewing tank.
But the state park offers much more than just the Giant Spring, encompassing over 4,500 acres on both sides of the Missouri River. Other outdoor opportunities include hiking, biking, fishing, and hunting. The state park also encompasses The Great Falls of the Missouri for a great hiking or picnic destination.
Address: 4803 Giant Springs Road, Great Falls, Montana
Official site: http://stateparks.mt.gov/giant-springs/
4. Dive into History at the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center
Lewis and Clark made their way along the Missouri River and through the modern-day city of Great Falls in 1805. And the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center, located within Giant Spring State Park and operated by the United States Forest Service, provides deep historical insight into the path of these two famous explorers.
The Interpretive Center encompasses over 25,000 square feet, including permanent galleries, an educational movie theater, and an interactive space for hands-on learning activities. Outside the interpretive center and connecting to the surrounding state park, interpretive trails literally let tourists follow in the path of Lewis and Clark.
Address: 4201 Giant Springs Road, Great Falls, Montana
Official site: https://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/hlcnf/recarea/?recid=61458
5. Hike the Interpretive Loop at First Peoples Buffalo Jump State Park
Fifteen minutes west of the city, First Peoples Buffalo Jump is an archaeological site believed to be one of the country's largest ancient buffalo jump sites. Over 1,000 years ago, the indigenous population used this mile-long sandstone cliff to stampede buffalo over the edge. And evidence of this ancient hunting tactic can still be found today.
The park provides two different ways to experience the top and bottom of the sandstone cliff. The recommended route is a three-mile hiking trail that traverses the cliffs and back. Interpretive markers along the route correspond to a trail guide, available at the trailhead. For those not interested in hiking, a gravel road also leads to the top of the cliff with parking available.
The first place to check out, however, is the 6,000-square-foot education center near the park's entrance. This interactive education space offers detailed information about the cultures that came before Lewis and Clark. The education center also details the prominence and demise of the buffalo in the American West.
Address: 342 Ulm Vaughn Road, Ulm, Montana
Official site: http://stateparks.mt.gov/first-peoples-buffalo-jump/
6. View the Great Falls of the Missouri River
Within Giant Springs State Park on the Missouri River, this set of four waterfalls lends the city its name and provides a stunning place to visit. Lewis and Clark recorded their encounters with these massive waterfalls in 1805, and while the landscape has changed since with the implementation of dams, the area is still intriguing as ever.
The four falls include The Great Falls over Ryan Dam, Crooked Falls, Rainbow Falls, and Black Eagle Falls. The closest to town is Black Eagle Falls, while The Great Falls are the largest. Water plunges throughout the year, but the best time to see the falls at their fullest is spring.
7. Paris Gibson Square Museum of Art
The Paris Gibson Square Museum of Art is a central hub for culture in Great Falls. It features rotating exhibits and countless community activities and is centered around the aesthetic Paris Gibson Square. This prominent piece of architecture, constructed in 1896, was transformed into a museum in 1977.
Many different works line the museum today, including local, regional, and international installations. Much of the art is on rotation within the museum, ensuring something new to see with each visit. The museum also has a unique sculpture garden outside the building.
Regular events at Paris Gibson include workshops, auctions, and art walks on the first Friday of each month. Admission is free, with donations appreciated.
Address: 1400 1st Avenue North, Great Falls, Montana
Official site: http://www.the-square.org
8. Bask in the Nice Weather at Gibson Park
Gibson Park is one of the most popular city parks in Great Falls and a prominent stop on the River's Edge Trail. The park has several landscaped attractions. On any bright and sunny day, families and visitors enjoying the nice weather pack the park.
The Gibson Park Duck Pond is a central feature of the park, displaying a wide array of wildlife throughout the warmer months. Several picnic benches and shelters sit near the pond and throughout the park, offering the perfect place for an outdoor meal. And throughout the summer, the Snack Shop at Gibson Park offers seasonal concessions.
Alongside ample green grass to spread a blanket or take a seat, other park attractions include flower gardens, playground equipment, and a historic cabin. Basketball courts are also available. The park also features a bandshell, where the Great Falls Municipal Band performs every Wednesday between late June and mid-August.
9. Hike at Sluice Boxes State Park
Sluice Boxes is another adventurous state park within a short drive of Great Falls. It's approximately a 40-minute drive southeast of the city, en route to White Sulphur Springs and Showdown Montana. The park encompasses a scenic section of Belt Creek Canyon, where Belt Creek cuts through picturesque limestone cliffs.
The main activity at Sluice Boxes is hiking and enjoying the easy access to Belt Creek. An approximately 7.5-mile trail follows the creek with several small spur trails leading to the water. It's common to see other hikers and families utilizing the small shoreline on the creek to sunbathe and keep their feet in the water.
The trail crosses the creek several times along its route. These water crossings are icy cold and can be dangerous during high spring water or otherwise turbulent conditions. The best time to visit for the easiest creek crossings is during the summer (mid-July through September). No camping is available at this day-use state park, and a vault toilet is available.
Address: 38 Evans Riceville Road, Belt, Montana
Official site: https://fwp.mt.gov/stateparks/sluice-boxes
10. Ski Showdown Montana
An hour south of Great Falls within the Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest, Showdown Montana is one of the oldest operating Montana ski areas. With a local feel and friendly staff, the 640 skiable acres at Showdown receive ample snowfall, providing fun terrain to explore all season long.
Lift tickets to Showdown are affordable, as are the concessions found at the grill and café on the mountain. Lessons and gear rentals are available at Showdown for beginners, and several powder stashes wait to be discovered by more seasoned athletes.
Address: 2850 US-89, Neihart, Montana
Official Site: https://showdownmontana.com/
11. Benton Lake National Wildlife Refuge
On the western edge of the northern Great Plains and a thirty-minute drive from Great Falls, this National Wildlife Refuge is home to hundreds of migrating bird species. It covers roughly 12,000 acres of mixed-prairie environment.
Popular things to do at this federal refuge include bird-watching, photography, and automobile touring, as well as hunting and fishing. A kiosk at the refuge's main entrance provides interpretive information for a self-guided visit, and the Refuge Visitor Center is open throughout the week for additional insight.
Address: 922 Bootlegger Trail, Great Falls, Montana
Official site: https://www.fws.gov/refuge/benton_lake/
12. Visit The History Museum
A few blocks from the River's Edge Trail along historic Machinery Row, The History Museum offers a distinctive look into the heritage and cultures that define Central Montana. Operated by the Cascade County Historical Society, the History Museum has over 10,000 artifacts and thousands of photographs.
Rotating exhibits at the museum cover a wide range of unique moments in Great Falls history. And The vast archive at The History Museum contains detailed county records, homestead records, and maps from the past 200 years.
Address: 422 Second Street South, Great Falls, Montana
Official site: http://www.thehistorymuseumgreatfalls.com/
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Discovering Montana: Every city in Montana offers unique things to do and places to visit. The state capital of Helena has a long history tied to the Montana Gold Rush, and exciting attractions like Reeder's Alley. For some collegiate appeal and culture, both Bozeman and Missoula feature a college campus surrounded by gorgeous mountain surroundings. For a gateway to great skiing and Glacier National Park, the resort city of Whitefish is ideal for vacations and adventurous weekends. Skiers should be sure to check out our complete list of the best ski resorts in Montana.