Helena, MT » Attractions

Montana Historical Society Museum – Montana State Capitol – Cathedral of St. Helena

Helena, MT (pop. 31,169) is a friendly town with lots to offer visitors.   An early day gold mining camp, it’s now the state capital and a major tourist center. The main part of town lies at the foot of the mountains and overlooks the beautiful Helena Valley. The entire Helena Valley is rimmed by mountains on all sides.

In October 1935, earthquakes rocked Helena, Montana. When the shaking finally stopped, Helena had suffered over $4,000,000 in property damage, including the collapse of parts of the new high schoool and the Kessler Brewery. Industrious citizens quickly repaired the damage and luckily the city has been quiet since.

The main landmark in the city is the Cathedral of St. Helena. The Cathedral is a magnificent building by any standard and without doubt an inspiring place to go for worship. The Montana State Capitol is Helena’s top architectural treasure. Tours available.

Travel to magnificent architectural gem the catholic church's cathedral in Helena, Montana.
Cathedral of St. Helena is a spectacular work of architecture and a place of worship in Helena, Montana.

The Montana Historical Society Museum is located across the street from the State Capitol. Hundreds of exhibits tell the story early Indians, trappers, miners, and homesteaders. A real gem! A special gallery contains numerous original paintings of western art by C.M. Russell, Montana’s most famous artist.

If visiting Helena, Montana in late September, don’t miss the Last Chance Community Pow-Wow.  Native Americans, many in native dress, celebrate their culture at one of America’s best Pow Wows.

The Helena Ice Arena offers year-round fun for the entire family. This is an classy indoor ice skating rink. Rental skates are available.

Casinos and saloons get plenty of business, too. Video slot machines are common. Lottery tickets sold by the State lead to a quick buck for a few gamblers.

The most fun in Helena is found outdoors. Bordering the city on the south is the famous Mt. Helena. It’s a short hike on foot to the top of Mt. Helena and every bit worth the trip. The view of the Helena Valley and the mountains to the south and west is spectacular. Even in the summer, it’s usually quiet on the top of Mt. Helena, making this a place of solitude and peace. Travel tip: Comfortable shoes are a must for hiking.

The Gates of the Mountains, a few miles northeast of Helena, is another area of uncommon beauty and serenity. The Missouri River flows through an enormous gorge cut deep in the mountains. Boat trips, open to the public, follow the river as it passes though the Gates. Mountain goats are often seen high on the cliffs which border the river. Ancient Indian paintings can be seen high above the river on the walls of the canyon.

The Missouri River in this area of Montana is popular with fisherman. Many folks fish the river below Holter Dam, downstream toward the village of Craig.

Bird watchers and other naturalists visit Helena in late fall (mid-October to mid-December) to see large numbers of bald eagles at Hauser Lake east of Helena. The eagles, migrating south from Canada, stop at Hauser Lake for several days to feast on kokanee salmon.

The kokanee salmon die after spawning, and the eagles take advantage of this plentiful source of food. It’s a great experience to watch a bald eagle, flying high in the sky, drop down rapidly, yet gracefully, to lake level and clutch a dead salmon and then soar away. Many bald eagles rest in the trees bordering the lake, making prolonged viewing easy. Bring binoculars.

South of Helena, near the town of Boulder, is the old ghost town of Elkhorn. It’s a reminder of better days gone by. Abandoned dwellings are commonplace and huge heaps of slag rock mark the site of the old mine. The bones of many miners are buried in the high alpine forest close by.

The Continental Divide is a few miles west of Helena. Along Highway 12 west of Helena is the The Prospector Shop, a place to pick up all kinds of supplies needed for prospecting. Gold mining pans, sold at the Prospector Shop, make nice souvenirs. Call (406) 442-1872.

Lakes formed by dams on the Missouri River near Helena are popular for boating, fishing, and camping. Canyon Ferry Lake, Hauser Lake, and Holter lake offer some of Montana’s best walleye fishing.

Restaurants are plentiful in Helena. Those who like superior Italian cuisine and good wine dine at Ristorante Bella Roma on Last Chance Gulch.  Exceptional service here.

For other upscale dining, try The Wassweiler Dinner House & Pub.  Pan Seared Salmon with creamy goat cheese couscous, tomato, mushroom, sweet corn, spinach, and lemon caper beurre blanc is on the menu at $34.  Drive a short distance west of Helena on U.S. Highway 12 to arrive at the Wassweiler.

For a good wine selection and splendid cuisine, many dine at On Broadway (Yelp Reviews) near the downtown. The Brewhouse Pub & Grille (Yelp Reviews) in the Great Northern Town Center, a few blocks north of the downtown area, is very popular.

Old-time Helena residents recommend the Parrot (Yelp Reviews), located on Last Chance Gulch in downtown Helena. The Parrot serves chili, malts, and milk shakes, and sells many kinds of chocolates and caramels. A neat spot if you have a sweet tooth.

Try Steve’s Cafe (Yelp Reviews) for the best breakfast.  For tasty coffee, tea, baked treats, and lunch in Helena try Hub Coffee on Last Chance Gulch downtown.  Great Harvest Bread is always a good choice.  The Grub-Stake, a few miles north of Helena on I-15, is an interesting hang out for locals.

Top Ethnic Cuisine:

  • Ristorante Bella Roma (Italian)
  • Karmadillos Southwestern Cafe (Mexican)
  • Jade Garden (Chinese)
  • Nagoya Japanese Steakhouse and Sushi
  • Edelweiss Bistro German restaurant (in Missoula, Montana)

Shopping is very limited in Helena.  The city’s mall closed down a few years ago.  Dillard’s department store, JC Penney, and numerous specialty shops once in the mall are gone.  Be sure to stop at the Montana Gift Gallery, a few blocks west of the mall on 11th Avenue, for neat Montana stuff.

DoubleTree by Hilton Helena Downtown(406) 443-2200
Great Northern Best Western Hotel (downtown)(406) 457-5500
Jorgenson's Inn & Suites(406) 442-1770

A ride with Last Chance Tour Trains and Trolley is a great way to see historic Helena up close. Helena is more than a one day town. There’s just too much to do and see in one day. Grimes Motors in Helena is a great place to service GM, Honda, and Jeep vehicles.

Photo gallery of Helena. View map of Helena.  Use two fingers to navigate on map.  View map, terrain or satellite images.



Copyright © 2018 John Sandy

One thought on “Helena, MT » Attractions”

  1. Nightlife can be fun when traveling or on vacation. In Helena, Montana look for the sidewalks to roll up after 6:00 pm. So not much going on for party animals in this city.

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