What to expect in Great Falls

Surrounded by pristine wilderness and water, Great Falls, Montana, is this year’s basecamp for discovering “Genuine Montana.” Located in the heart of Montana’s Big Sky Country, Great Falls is surrounded by spectacular natural wonders and scenery. The city is nestled between rich, productive farmland and is only miles away from the majestic Rocky Mountains to the west and the Little Belt Mountains to the east.

An exciting community of more than 58,000, Great Falls was settled around the mighty Missouri River, one of nature’s most magnificent waterways. The Missouri River provides Great Falls with its name as it cuts through the city and drops more than 500 feet in a series of rapids and five breathtaking waterfalls—the great falls of the Missouri.

Known as “The Electric City,” Great Falls has a long history which began with the famous 1805 expedition by Lewis and Clark who explored the newly purchased Louisiana Territory filled with herds of buffalo roaming the prairies. Lewis and Clark were the first known white explorers to catch sight of the “great falls” of the Missouri River…they heard the roaring of the falls more than seven miles away.

Paris Gibson came west in May 1882. He made plans for a city, then laid them out before James Hill, a man of great importance in the railroad industry. Hill gave his financial backing to Gibson, knowing that a city in such an area would make a valuable connection for the railroads.

While organizing the town, Gibson made sure the streets were laid out in a precise, arrow- straight pattern, plus he set aside 886 acres for city parks. Gibson believed beauty was important in a city and personally made sure that elm, ash, and fir trees were planted on every street and boulevard.

While at the rally, be sure to bring your tackle to fish one of the world’s best trout streams or pack a lunch and take a hike into the pristine wilderness of the Bob Marshall Wilderness, one of the largest roadless areas in the U.S., just 45 minutes outside of town. Anyone yearning to hike “The Bob” needs a good supply of bear spray, as this area boasts the highest population density of grizzly bears in the U.S.

Depending on the route you’ve taken to the rally, bucket list roads are abundant in the area and include some of North America’s most scenic routes, including Glacier National Park’s Going-To-The-Sun Road to the north, Yellowstone National Park to the south and Highway 12 and Lolo Pass near Missoula to the west.

Thirty miles south of Great Falls, the Upper Missouri River bends through the rock walls of Wolf Creek Canyon. This scenic stretch of river has roughly 3,500 to 5,500 trout per mile, one of the highest populations in the U.S. Visitors there are also likely to see eagles, osprey and even bighorn sheep along the banks.

Although there’s lots of it, Great Falls isn’t all untamed wilderness. Visitors can enjoy the region’s unique heritage in both art and history at modern museums and galleries in town. The Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center chronicles the Corps of Discovery’s epic journey through the West. The Corps spent more time in Great Falls than any location other than their winter camps, and many of their most famous adventures occurred here. Charles M. Russell, the renowned Western Artist, spent the majority of his life in Central Montana. The largest collection of his works and his home are both located at the C.M. Russell Museum in Great Falls.

Finally, visitors to Great Falls will also enjoy many microbreweries, bistros, and quirky coffee shops in the eclectic downtown where Genuine Montana culture feels a lot more “hometown” than “resort town.” Prices are affordable and the locals are friendly, living up to the Montana moniker: “The Last Best Place.”

10 Comments

  1. Terrie Sledziewski

    Awesome, already looking forward to the whole experience!!! The MOA does such a great job putting it all together, thank you so much!
    From this eastern couple, it just gives us a good reason to explore the west and it’s always been wonderful in the past and I’m sure it will be great this time too. See you there!

    1. Wes Fleming

      You’re more or less on your own. I recommend contacting the Montana Visitors Bureau (https://www.visitmt.com/) and requesting a free visitor’s pack. I received mine yesterday – it has a couple of good maps in it (road/trail) and other materials that will no doubt help you plan your excursions.

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