Great Falls, Montana is a hub for shopping, and entertainment, as well as, a great jumping-off point to explore the region’s most amazing nature. It is the 3rd largest city in Montana and, as the name suggests, boasts plenty of stunning waterfalls! Great Falls is a fantastic alternative to the more popular tourist destinations of Helena and Missoula where you’ll unique natural beauty, delicious food, and easy access to Glacier National Park.
Here are the most notable activities in the area.
Biking on River’s Edge Trail
The River’s Edge Trail stretches for nearly 60 miles along the Missouri River. This is a great trail for cyclists since it’s mostly flat and paved and has an amazing view of the river. Aside from the majestic river, this area features a ton of wildlife from birds to fish to curious prairie dogs. Make sure to stop at each waterfall to learn about its history and how it relates to the larger dam system, which manages the flow of this enormous river.
I rented my bike at Knicker Biker downtown, however, you can call around to any outdoor shop for a rental. Great Falls is truly a small town in the sense that you’ll need to talk to the locals to get the most current information.
Seeing all 5 waterfalls
Probably the most important activity to do in Great Falls, Montana is seeing all 5 waterfalls. Each of the falls provides its own unique style history and purpose. Traveling from east to west, you’ll find the following:
- Great Falls – The town’s namesake, this waterfall is located 12 miles outside of town. The result of Ryan Dam, this 148-foot waterfall is truly a sight to behold. Make sure to visit Ryan Island Park for the best views and to access some amazing hikes.
- Crooked Falls – 19 feet high and the only waterfall not fed by a dam, Crooked Falls is a natural beauty! For the best view, look for the overlook off of Giant Springs Road. The smallest of all five, it’s most active in the spring, following the snow melt.
- Rainbow Falls – close by Crooked Falls, this beautiful cascading waterfall is next to Rainbow dam, constructed in 1910.
- Colter Falls – Just half a mile from Rainbow Falls, Colter Falls is generally submerged. When it’s visible, it’s only 6 feet in height and located just above the Rainbow dam.
- Black Eagle Falls – Closest to the town of Great Falls, Montana, this 26-foot waterfall was originally named “Upper Pitch” by William Clark. The town changed the name when a black eagle built a nest in a nearby cottonwood tree.
Since these 5 waterfalls span only 12 miles, you can easily view them all within an hour. However, if you have time to spare, I’d recommend hiking around this gorgeous area. Great Falls and Rainbow Falls in particular have some great trails close by. You can also make a stop at the Lewis and Clark Interuprtive Center, located between Colter and Black Eagle Falls.
Hanging out in downtown Great Falls, Montana
Great Falls, sometimes referred to as Montana’s Basecamp for Art and Adventure, certainly has no lack of things to do. Even though it’s known for it’s proximity to outdoor adventure activties, do not discount its incredibly quiant downtown. Sprinkled with public art, music often plays from public speakers hidden in the light posts throughout downtown Great Falls.
An afternoon stroll may involve a stop at a local coffee shop, hours of shopping in unique stores (both vintage and new!) and a long relaxing drink at one of many pubs. Don’t miss this picturesque representation of small town life in the mountain states.
Soaking in the hot springs at White Sulphur Springs
Located 1 hour and 45 minutes from Great Falls, White Sulphur Springs, Montana is a charming mountain town with a vibe of relaxation. The town is best known for it’s hot springs, located in an unassuming hotel on the main road. Since the natural springs dried up a while back, the town pumps the underground spring water into three different pools. Set to different temptures, it’s easy to spend an hour or so moving between pools, while enjoying the crisp mountain air.
After your dip in the spring, the Castle and Carriage House Community Museum is a fun place to visit. Constructed in 1890, the museum is in a granite mansion that resembles a small castle. It includes a carriage house which was once used to house stagecoaches, buggies, and wagons.
Make sure to take some time for either lunch or dinner while you are here. While the town is small, each restaurant has it’s unique charm. Hopefully you can strike up a conversation with a local or two before heading back to the “big city” of Great Falls, Montana.
Visiting Blackfoot Pathways
About an hour and half drive from Great Falls, Blackfoot Pathways is well worth the journey! To begin with, you will cross the Continental Divide, which is a beautiful drive in and of itself. Once you arrive, you’ll be treated to a large-scale, outdoor sculpture park where everything is built from natural materials.
Founded after an international sculpture show in 2014, the sprawling land hosts installations from artists around the globe, as well as, an artist-in-residence program. Each sculpture speaks to the cultural, industrial and environmental hertigage of the sacred Blackfoot Valley. Additionally, the quiet pine forest that surrounds the massive sculptures adds a whole new dimension of sight, sound and smell to the more traditional art viewing experience.
Great Falls, Montana – Gateway to Glacier National Park
Great Falls is located about 3 hours from the main entrance to the Glacier National Park and 2.5 hours from the St Mary’s enternace on the east side of the park. Whether you spend the night or do a day trip, do not leave this destination off of your itinerary.
Glacier National Park, known as the Crown of North America, is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the nation. It officially became a park in 1910 and is currently the 10th most visited park in the United States. Featuring over 1 million acres, it consists of two distinct mountain ranges that are subranges of the Rockies. The park is best known for its pristine, glacier-fed lakes and stunning mountain valleys that house over 1,000 species of plants and animals.
It has more than 700 miles of trails for hiking enthusiasts and is a paradise for adventure-seekers from around the world. Avalanche Lake is a beautiful hike that ends up at a stunning location at a 700′ elevation. This is a perfect spot to stop for a delicious picnic while enjoying the scenery.
Make sure to also take the famous scenic drive across the park, known as the Going-to-the-Sun road. It twists and turns for 50 miles through the mountains and is the most scenic route in America. The road crosses over the Continental Divide and passes through a particularly beautiful area called Logan Pass. Logan Point, located in Logan Pass, is the highest point of the park that is accessible by car. Here you’ll find lookouts where you can gaze over the entire park with its fields of beautiful wildflowers and jagged mountain peaks. Keep an eye out for mountain goats, bighorn sheep, and many other types of wildlife.
Conclusion on Great Falls, Montana
In short, you can not go wrong with a getaway to Great Falls, Montana. Besides its quaint downtown and miles of bike paths, it’s also a known gateway to the beloved Glacier National Park. Visiting Great Falls, Montana is an opportunity to slow down and appreciate life in the mountains. Your trip to Great Falls is sure to leave you feeling relaxed and refreshed.