Located on the far western edge, most people might not think of Great Falls as part of the Great Plains. However, this town of almost 60,000 has the perfect blend of Big Sky country and the beauty of the rolling plains before the towering Rockies reach skyward in the western part of the state.
If you’re passing through Montana, you might find yourself in Great Falls for a number of reasons; maybe you’re driving I-15 or headed to Glacier National Park. In any event, Great Falls is worth a stop, and there are a number of fun things to do in Great Falls whether you have an overnight or a few days to explore. Read on to learn about the best of these things to do in Great Falls and the surrounding area – and no surprises, but it includes a lot of enjoying the great outdoors!
In this post, I promote travel to a destination that is the traditional lands of the Niitsítpiis-stahkoii ᖹᐟᒧᐧᐨᑯᐧ ᓴᐦᖾᐟ (Blackfoot / Niitsítapi ᖹᐟᒧᐧᒣᑯ), Michif Piyii (Métis), Apsaalooké (Crow), Salish, and Očhéthi Šakówiŋ peoples. With respect, I make a formal land acknowledgment, extending my appreciation and respect to the past and present people of these lands. To learn more about the peoples who call these lands home, I invite you to explore Native Land.
1. Hike or Ride River’s Edge Trail
There’s plenty of things to do in the Great Falls, and a good way to get a glimpse of them is to go running or biking through the River’s Edge Trail. Following the banks of the Missouri River, the 60-miles of paved trail connects many of Great Falls’ signature attractions and offers spectacular views of the Great Falls natural landscape.
If you don’t know where to start your running session, Gibson Park is a good starting point, with its gardens and reflective ponds.
2. Visit the C.M. Russell Museum
Visiting the C.M. Russell is one of the top things to do in Great Falls. This museum commentates on the life and artistic legacy of the influential American West artist Charles M. Russell. An authentic cowboy, Russell portrayed and transmitted Western cultures and landscapes through his paintings. But the museum goes beyond exhibiting his paintings and also shows Russell’s log cabin and studio. You can also find plenty of information explaining what influenced the American artist.
3. Explore Giant Springs State Park
Of course, being in the Great Falls means visiting the Giant Springs, State Park. First recorded by Lewis and Clark in 1805, this park is home to the largest freshwater spring in the country and encompasses over 4 miles of the Missouri River shoreline. Its sprawling nature is a perfect place to enjoy outdoor activities, including hiking, biking, fishing, and hunting.
If you like photography, Giant Springs State Park is a good option. The park’s unique geologic features would definitely make an excellent shot.
4. Visit the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center
Whether you’re a Lewis and Clark enthusiast or not, you can’t miss the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center. Found along the River’s Edge Trail, the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center exhibit the arduous 18-mile portage these two American explorers had to endure in the Great Falls to get their boats in the Missouri River. The museum includes permanent galleries, an educational movie theater, and an interactive space for hands-on learning activities; there are also interpretive trails following the path of Lewis and Clark that you can walk.
5. Explore First Peoples Buffalo Jump State Park
If you want to learn what the indigenous cultures were like before Lewis and Clark arrived in the Great Falls, visit the First Peoples Buffalo Jump, State Park.
Located fifteen minutes west of the city, this park is an archaeological site believed to be one of the largest ancient buffalo jump sites in America. Indigenous people would use the cliff formation as part of their hunting tactic to hunt and kill plains bison in mass quantities. The park also has an education center where you can learn all about the indigenous culture.
6. Spot Wildlife at Benton Lake National Wildlife Refuge
Bird-watchers out there here is one of the top things to do in Great Falls for you. Located on the western edge of the northern Great Plains is the National Wildlife Refuge. This federal refuge is home to hundreds of migrating bird species and extends over 12,000 acres of mixed-prairie environment.
During spring and fall migrations, up to 150,000 ducks, 2,500 Canadian geese, 40,000 snow geese, 5,000 tundra swans, and 50,000 shorebirds can be seen on the marsh, making it a prime spot for birders.
7. Visit Ryan Dam
This hydroelectric plant known as Ryan Dam sits atop The Great Falls and is the best spot to admire the fall’s grandeur. The best feature of the dam is that it follows the natural break that the falls created, and, although the water flow is controlled, the force of the falls is still impressive.
To get the best views, head to the highest peak of Ryan Island Park, which is accessed from a suspension bridge across the Missouri River.
8. Ski Fresh Pow at Showdown Montana (Winter Only)
If you’re wondering what to do in Great Falls in winter, stop by Showdown Montana to do some skiing. Located an hour south of Great Falls within the Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest, Showdown Montana is one of the oldest operating ski areas in the state. It has 640 acres of skiable area and offers many services at affordable prices. Lessons for beginners are available, and you can also book a private mountain rental if you visit with a large group.
9. Explore Downtown Great Falls
Scattered throughout downtown Great Falls are many places you can explore on your own. For a little history, visit the Great Falls’ historic Lower North Side, the second oldest and grandest neighborhood in town. If you’re visiting during summer and want to do some shopping, head to the Farmers’ Market to buy from local farmers and artists; there are also many ready-to-eat options if you feel hungry. When looking for Montana-made souvenirs, you can visit the Montana Mosaic Gallery.
10. Eat and Drink Locally
Would you like a refreshing pint of local craft beer? Head to one of the local breweries scattered around town. Great Falls has an excellent beer scene, with many award-winning breweries, like The Mighty Mo.
For a little fun and dine, visit The Sip’n Dip Lounge. This iconic tiki bar was listed as the #1 bar on earth worth flying for by GQ magazine. So it must be good, right? The bar is mostly known for the glass wall between the bar and the swimming pool, where you can see girls dressed as mermaids swimming.
11. Visit Glacier National Park
Visiting Glacier National park is among the best Great Falls things to do that you can’t miss. The Glacier National Park’s east entrance at St. Mary’s is located 2.5 hours north of the Great Falls. The Crown of the Continent is every hiker’s dream, where you can experience panoramic views of the spectacular landscape. The best way to absorb the alpine beauty of this place is to take the Going to the Sun Road, a 52-mile road that takes you from one end of the park to the other.
Admittedly Glacier is quite a ways outside of Great Falls, but any list of the best things to do there would be remiss without mentioning it as an option!
Where to Stay in Great Falls
If you’re sold on spending some time in Great Falls, you probably need a place to rest after each day of adventure. There are a few dozen hotels in Great Falls, so you have plenty of options – but most are (as expected) national hotel chains. Below, I’ve chosen some of the hotels that most appeal to my own style and are mostly locally owned and operated.
- Budget: Midtown Motel (from $65/night)
- Mid-Range: Great Falls Inn by Riversage (from $101/night)
- Luxe: SpringHill Suites by Marriott (from $269/night)
- Other Local Options: Heritage Inn (from $118/night) or Historic Hotel Arvon (from $146/night)
Do you know of other great things to do in Great Falls, Montana? Let me know in the comments!