Welcome to Helena, Montana, the state capital and a charming city steeped in history, culture, and natural beauty. Nestled between the Rocky Mountains and the Missouri River, Helena offers a mix of urban amenities and outdoor adventure. This travel guide will help you plan your visit and make the most of your time in Helena.
Explore Helena’s Attractions:
Helena, Montana, is a charming city with a rich history and beautiful surroundings. Here are some must-see attractions to explore during your visit to Helena:
- Montana State Capitol: This impressive Neoclassical building is home to the Montana Legislature. Take a tour to admire the stunning architecture, artwork, and learn about the state’s history and government.
- Last Chance Gulch: Wander through Helena’s historic downtown, where you’ll find unique shops, restaurants, and beautifully preserved 19th-century buildings. The area was once the site of a significant gold discovery, which led to the city’s establishment.
- Cathedral of St. Helena: This Gothic-style cathedral, modeled after the Votivkirche in Vienna, is a must-see for its ornate stained glass windows and intricate details. The cathedral is a prominent landmark in the city and a testament to Helena’s rich architectural history.
- Holter Museum of Art: Discover contemporary art exhibitions and participate in educational programs at this engaging museum. The Holter Museum of Art features rotating exhibits and supports local and regional artists.
- Original Governor’s Mansion: Step back in time with a guided tour of this beautifully restored 19th-century mansion, which served as the residence of Montana’s governors until 1959. Learn about the history of the mansion and the lives of those who lived there.
- Gates of the Mountains: Embark on a scenic boat tour through this stunning canyon, named by Meriwether Lewis during the Lewis and Clark expedition. Marvel at the breathtaking views and learn about the area’s unique geology and history.
- Mount Helena City Park: Hike or bike the numerous trails that lead to the summit of Mount Helena, where you’ll be rewarded with panoramic views of the city and surrounding landscapes. The park offers a variety of trails for different skill levels, making it accessible to all.
- Spring Meadow Lake State Park: Just a short drive from downtown Helena, this peaceful park offers opportunities for swimming, fishing, and picnicking. Enjoy the tranquil setting and take in the beauty of Montana’s natural landscapes.
These attractions showcase Helena’s unique history, architectural beauty, and stunning natural surroundings, making it a fascinating destination for visitors to explore.
Discover Helena’s Museums and Cultural Institutions:
Helena, Montana, is rich in history and culture, and the city’s museums and cultural institutions offer visitors the opportunity to learn more about the region’s fascinating past and thriving arts scene. Here are some notable museums and cultural institutions to explore during your visit to Helena:
- Montana Historical Society Museum: This museum, also known as Montana’s Museum, provides an engaging look at the state’s history, from Native American culture to early settlers and beyond. The museum features a variety of exhibits, including artifacts, artwork, and historical documents that bring Montana’s story to life.
- Holter Museum of Art: As a prominent cultural institution in Helena, the Holter Museum of Art focuses on contemporary art exhibitions, featuring works from local and regional artists. In addition to its rotating exhibits, the museum also offers educational programs and workshops for visitors of all ages.
- Archie Bray Foundation for the Ceramic Arts: This unique institution is dedicated to supporting and promoting the ceramic arts through artist residencies, exhibitions, and educational programs. Visit the grounds to explore the outdoor sculpture garden, gallery spaces, and artist studios.
- The Myrna Loy Center: Originally a historic jail, this cultural center now serves as a hub for performing arts and independent cinema in Helena. The Myrna Loy Center hosts a variety of live performances, film screenings, and community events throughout the year.
- Grandstreet Theatre: This community theater has been entertaining Helena audiences for over four decades. With a mix of local talent and professional guest artists, Grandstreet Theatre produces a diverse lineup of plays and musicals each season.
- ExplorationWorks: This interactive science center offers hands-on exhibits and educational programs designed to spark curiosity and inspire a love of learning. ExplorationWorks is a fun and engaging destination for visitors of all ages, making it a perfect family-friendly attraction.
- Helena Symphony Orchestra: As one of the leading arts organizations in the region, the Helena Symphony Orchestra performs a variety of classical music concerts throughout the year, including an annual outdoor Symphony Under the Stars event.
By exploring Helena’s museums and cultural institutions, visitors can gain a deeper understanding of the region’s history, artistic achievements, and cultural vibrancy.
Savor Helena’s Food and Dining:
Helena, Montana, offers a diverse and satisfying food scene, with a range of dining options that cater to different tastes and preferences. From casual eateries to fine dining establishments, here are some popular spots to savor Helena’s food and dining scene:
- On Broadway: Located in the heart of downtown Helena, On Broadway is a popular restaurant serving delicious Italian and American cuisine in a warm and inviting atmosphere. The menu features a variety of pasta dishes, steaks, seafood, and more.
- The Parrot Confectionery: A beloved historic soda fountain, The Parrot Confectionery is known for its homemade chocolates, candies, and ice cream. Indulge your sweet tooth and enjoy a taste of Helena’s history at this charming establishment.
- The Windbag Saloon & Grill: Housed in a historic building that once served as a notorious brothel, The Windbag Saloon & Grill offers classic pub fare and a wide selection of local craft beers. The lively atmosphere and unique history make it a must-visit spot in downtown Helena.
- Benny’s Bistro: This cozy bistro features an array of creative sandwiches, soups, and salads, as well as a selection of house-made pastries and desserts. Benny’s Bistro is a great choice for a casual lunch or a leisurely weekend brunch.
- Lucca’s: For a fine dining experience, visit Lucca’s, an Italian restaurant known for its fresh, seasonal ingredients and expertly crafted dishes. The intimate atmosphere and attentive service make it an ideal destination for a special night out.
- Brewhouse Pub & Grille: As a popular gathering spot for locals and visitors alike, the Brewhouse Pub & Grille offers a diverse menu of pub favorites, along with an extensive selection of craft beers on tap. Enjoy the laid-back atmosphere and occasional live music performances.
- Taco Del Sol: For a quick and satisfying meal, head to Taco Del Sol for their delicious tacos, burritos, and other Mexican-inspired fare. This casual eatery is a local favorite for its tasty, affordable, and filling meals.
- Real Food Café: This health-conscious café focuses on providing delicious, organic, and locally-sourced meals. With options for vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free diets, Real Food Café is perfect for those seeking wholesome and nourishing dishes.
Whether you’re craving comfort food, sweet treats, or a memorable fine dining experience, Helena’s food and dining scene offers something for everyone, allowing you to savor the flavors of this charming city.
Shop in Helena and Enjoy Local Services:
Helena, Montana, boasts a unique and vibrant shopping scene that reflects the city’s charm and history. From locally-owned boutiques to well-established retailers, here are some popular shopping destinations and local services to enjoy during your visit to Helena:
- Downtown Helena: The heart of the city’s historic district offers a variety of unique shops and boutiques. Browse clothing and jewelry, antiques, Montana-made products, and other specialty items while enjoying the beautiful 19th-century architecture.
- The Base Camp: For outdoor enthusiasts, The Base Camp is a well-established local retailer offering a wide range of gear and apparel for all your adventures. The store also provides equipment rentals and guided trips, making it a one-stop shop for exploring Montana’s great outdoors.
- The Herb & Garden: Discover a diverse selection of herbs, plants, and gardening supplies at this charming local garden center. Whether you’re a seasoned gardener or just starting out The Herb & Garden is a delightful place to explore and gather inspiration.
- Birds & Beasley’s: This unique gift shop features a wide array of items, including jewelry, home décor, toys, and locally-made products. It also offers an impressive selection of birding supplies, making it a must-visit destination for bird lovers.
- The Montana Book & Toy Company: Located in downtown Helena, this independent bookstore offers an extensive selection of books, toys, games, and gifts for all ages. The knowledgeable staff and cozy atmosphere make it a favorite among locals and visitors alike.
- The Pan Handler: For those who love to cook or entertain, The Pan Handler is a kitchen and gourmet store offering cookware, bakeware, gadgets, and specialty food items. The store also hosts cooking classes and demonstrations, making it a hub for culinary enthusiasts.
- Aizada Imports: This eclectic boutique features handcrafted goods from around the world, including jewelry, textiles, home décor, and more. Aizada Imports is a great place to find unique gifts or add some global flair to your own home.
- The Painted Pot: Get creative at this pottery painting studio, where you can choose from a wide selection of pre-made pottery pieces and paint your own design. The Painted Pot is a fun activity for all ages and a great way to create a personalized souvenir from your trip to Helena.
From specialty shops to local services, Helena offers a diverse and engaging shopping experience that caters to a variety of interests and needs. Enjoy exploring the city’s unique retail offerings and supporting local businesses during your visit.
Experience Helena’s Outdoor Activities:
Helena, Montana, is surrounded by stunning natural landscapes, providing a wealth of outdoor activities for visitors to enjoy. Whether you’re an avid adventurer or just looking to experience some fresh air and beautiful scenery, here are some outdoor activities to experience during your visit to Helena:
- Gates of the Mountains: Take a scenic boat tour through this breathtaking canyon, named by Meriwether Lewis during the Lewis and Clark expedition. Marvel at the towering limestone cliffs, watch for wildlife and learn about the area’s unique geology and history.
- Mount Helena City Park: Hike or bike the numerous trails that lead to the summit of Mount Helena, offering panoramic views of the city and surrounding landscapes. With trails catering to different skill levels, the park is accessible for a wide range of visitors.
- Spring Meadow Lake State Park: Just a short drive from downtown Helena, this peaceful park is perfect for swimming, fishing, and picnicking. Enjoy the serene setting, watch for birdlife, and spend a relaxing day in nature.
- Great Divide Ski Area: During the winter months, head to the Great Divide Ski Area for skiing and snowboarding. With a range of trails suitable for beginners to experts, this ski resort offers a fun and exhilarating experience on the slopes.
- Helena National Forest: Explore the vast Helena National Forest, which provides opportunities for hiking, mountain biking, fishing, camping, and wildlife viewing. With hundreds of miles of trails and countless outdoor activities, the national forest is a true outdoor paradise.
- Missouri River: Embark on a guided fishing trip or float down the scenic Missouri River, which offers excellent opportunities for fly fishing, rafting, and wildlife watching.
- Tenmile Creek Park: This local park features a network of trails for hiking and mountain biking, as well as opportunities for birdwatching and wildlife viewing. The park is home to diverse plant life, making it a beautiful and tranquil place to explore.
- Black Sandy State Park: Located on the shores of Hauser Lake, Black Sandy State Park is an ideal destination for boating, fishing, swimming, and picnicking. The park also offers camping facilities, making it a perfect spot for an overnight adventure.
With its stunning landscapes and diverse recreational opportunities, Helena offers a wide array of outdoor activities that cater to different interests and skill levels, allowing visitors to fully experience the beauty of Montana’s great outdoors.
Navigate Helena’s Transportation:
Navigating Helena, Montana, is made easy with a variety of transportation options available to visitors. Whether you’re exploring the city or venturing out to the surrounding areas, here are some ways to navigate Helena’s transportation:
- Capital Transit System: Helena’s public transportation system, Capital Transit, provides bus service throughout the city, connecting major attractions, shopping centers, and residential areas. The system is a convenient and affordable way to get around Helena.
- Taxis and Rideshare Services: For more direct and on-demand transportation, taxis, and rideshare services like Uber and Lyft are available in Helena. These services can be easily accessed through their respective mobile apps or by hailing a taxi on the street.
- Bike Rentals: Helena offers several options for bike rentals, allowing you to explore the city and its many bike-friendly trails at your own pace. Local bike shops, such as Big Sky Cycling and Great Divide Cyclery, offer daily and weekly rentals.
- Car Rentals: If you prefer to have your own vehicle during your stay in Helena, several car rental agencies are available, including major companies like Hertz, Enterprise, and Avis. Renting a car provides the freedom to explore the city and its surrounding areas at your leisure.
- Helena Regional Airport: Located just a few miles northeast of downtown Helena, the Helena Regional Airport (HLN) connects the city to major destinations across the United States. Several major airlines service the airport, and ground transportation options include rental cars, taxis, and rideshare services.
- Walking: Helena’s downtown area and historic district are pedestrian-friendly, with many attractions, shops, and restaurants within walking distance. Exploring the city on foot allows you to fully appreciate the architecture and charm of Helena.
By utilizing Helena’s various transportation options, visitors can efficiently navigate the city and make the most of their time exploring all that Helena has to offer.
Find Helena Accommodations:
Helena, Montana, offers a range of lodging options to suit different preferences and budgets. From budget-friendly motels to upscale hotels and cozy bed & breakfasts, here are some popular accommodation choices in Helena:
- Best Western Premier Helena Great Northern Hotel: Located in the heart of downtown Helena, this hotel offers modern amenities, comfortable rooms, and easy access to local attractions. The hotel features an indoor pool, fitness center, and an on-site restaurant and bar.
- Elkhorn Mountain Inn: This comfortable, eco-friendly hotel is located just a short drive from downtown Helena and offers spacious rooms and amenities such as free Wi-Fi, a complimentary continental breakfast, and a 24-hour front desk.
- The Barrister Bed & Breakfast: For a more intimate lodging experience, consider staying at The Barrister Bed & Breakfast, a beautifully restored Victorian-style home. Guests can enjoy cozy rooms with private baths, a delicious homemade breakfast, and a convenient location near Helena’s historic district.
- Holiday Inn Express & Suites Helena: This well-known chain hotel provides comfortable accommodations, a complimentary breakfast buffet, an indoor pool, and a fitness center. It is conveniently located near shopping centers and a short drive from downtown Helena.
- Residence Inn by Marriott Helena: Perfect for longer stays or travelers who prefer more spacious accommodations, the Residence Inn offers fully equipped suites with kitchens, a fitness center, an indoor pool, and complimentary breakfast.
- DoubleTree by Hilton Helena Downtown: This upscale hotel, situated in the heart of Helena’s historic district, offers well-appointed rooms, an on-site restaurant, and a fitness center. Its prime location makes it a popular choice for visitors looking to explore the city on foot.
- Jorgenson’s Inn & Suites: Offering budget-friendly accommodations, Jorgenson’s Inn & Suites features comfortable rooms, an indoor pool, and an on-site restaurant. It is located just a short drive from downtown Helena and provides easy access to major highways.
- Airbnb and Vacation Rentals: For a more personalized and unique lodging experience, consider booking a private vacation rental or Airbnb property. Helena offers a variety of options, from cozy apartments to spacious homes, allowing you to find the perfect accommodations for your stay.
By exploring Helena’s diverse range of accommodations, visitors can find the perfect lodging option to suit their needs and preferences, ensuring a comfortable and enjoyable stay in this charming Montana city.