Explore History with a Stay at Grand Union Hotel in Fort Benton, the Birthplace of Montana
Do you know where the oldest continuously running hotel in Montana is? It might not be where you would expect. It’s called the Grand Union Hotel and it’s located in Fort Benton, Montana.
Where is Fort Benton and the Grand Union Hotel?
Fort Benton is located about 40 minutes northeast of Great Falls. It’s in a less-visited part of Montana. But between this lovely hotel and all the things you can do while you stay in Fort Benton, we think you should put this special small town onto your Montana itinerary.
This is especially the case if you are driving toward Glacier National Park from the east. That’s because Fort Benton is just roughly an hour from the east entrances of Glacier National Park. We recently stayed at the Grand Union Hotel on a road trip from Billings, before making our way to Glacier National Park.
Read More: Best Things to Do in Glacier National Park
Fort Benton truly feels like a town in the middle of nowhere. You’ll drive through miles and miles of prairie with nothing around you but farmland.
Then suddenly you veer around a turn in the road, go slightly downhill, and voila! You’re in a beautiful valley where an adorable and historic little town awaits you with a picturesque river running right alongside it.
In the center of that town is the Grand Union Hotel. Upon arriving, my mom (who has lived in Montana for most of her life but had never been to Fort Benton and seemed a bit surprised I put it on our itinerary), exclaimed how lovely the hotel looked and how peaceful the setting was.
The Grand Union Hotel is located right next to the river, alongside Main Street. It’s across a small parking lot from the Shep statue, a bittersweet memorial to a beloved dog that once lived in the area.
You can read more about Shep the dog in our things to do in our Fort Benton article here. For now, though, let’s talk more about the Grand Union Hotel!
Fancy and Fine at the Grand Union Hotel
One of my favorite things about staying at the Grand Union Hotel is what happened when we first walked in: my 4-year-old said “ooh this is fancy” in an awestruck voice.
Then we got to our room and she ran to the big window and said in excitement “this is the fanciest hotel I’ve ever seen!” Then she and my oldest ran around pretending to be princesses.
Who knew such a fancy hotel existed in the middle of nowhere, Montana?
Even if you’re not a preschooler with a penchant for princesses, you’ll no doubt appreciate the architecture and history of the Grand Union Hotel. It’s also been beautifully updated in recent years to return it to its former turn-of-the-century glory.
When the Grand Union Hotel was built in 1882, it was said to be the most luxurious hotel west of the Mississippi. The Grand Union Hotel catered to those traveling to Montana by river along the trade route that was also beginning to become a travel destination for the wealthy.
A huge party was thrown for the hotel’s grand opening. But two years later it was nearly bankrupt.
History of the Grand Union Hotel
Well, the Grand Union Hotel had the unfortunate timing of being built right before train travel took over. Soon those traders and travelers took the faster way to Montana: a train to Great Falls. The train and its passengers bypassed little Fort Benton.
Fort Benton, known as the birthplace of Montana because of its trade fort, slowly saw its visitors and residents dwindle.
Through all this change, however, the Grand Union Hotel somehow stayed open and kept running. For many years it was no longer an opulent or luxurious place to stay, but it kept its focal point in Fort Benton and gradually built its way back to prominence.
In 1995, a local couple bought the hotel and extensively renovated it, all while keeping a focus on its original character and charm.
The renovations and additional updates have served the Grand Union Hotel well. Today, it is a beautiful, historic, and comfortable place to stay with modern amenities — including air conditioning and Wi-Fi! These two amenities are not always so easy to find in rural Montana.
Plus, it’s an incredible bargain since Fort Benton is just far enough off the usual tourist trail. Montana is not a cheap place to stay overnight these days! But at Grand Union Hotel we got a large, 2-queen room with a river view for just $189 at the height of summer.
Fort Benton’s Grand Union Hotel also has larger suites, such as this one I peeked in when the door was open for cleaning: Room #205 , also known as the Master Suite.
Eating at the Grand Union Hotel
Grand Union Hotel is also home to one of the best places to eat in the region. The historic dining room has excellent cuisine and a unique ambiance.
The Union Grille Restaurant was closed for dinner the evening we were there (it’s closed on Tuesdays). But we were still able to enjoy a simple, yet filling breakfast in the historic Union Grille the morning we checked out, which was included in our stay.
The muffins in particular were exceptionally good and seemed homemade or from a local bakery.
I especially loved the old west touches like the wooden booths and swinging doors to the bar.
Those glam old west touches continue into the lobby where the carpeted staircase winds in one corner and a grand piano and fireplace are in the opposite corner. The reception desk also has an old-fashioned window that was a fun touch at check-in.
Be sure to also look up when visiting the Grand Union Hotel since the ceilings are also gorgeous.
Also adding to the loveliness of our stay was the convenience of the hotel. It’s in walking distance to all of Fort Benton’s main attractions.
Read More: Best Things to Do in Fort Benton
Overall, we loved our stay at the Grand Union Hotel and wouldn’t hesitate to stay there again!