Montanan’s Guide for Great Falls: What to Do, Things to See & Where to Stay in Great Falls, Montana
From fly fishing to natural attractions to following the trail of Lewis and Clark, no wonder Great Falls, MT has the tagline of “Genuine Montana.”
Great Falls isn’t just about adventure; it’s also a burgeoning arts community and is known as Montana’s museum capital. Some of the best things to do are focused around art and museum exhibits.
If you ask a local Montanan about Great Falls, and they’ll probably tell you the city is known for its history, beer, and mermaids.
Wait…did you say mermaids?
Yup, one of the top things to do in Great Falls involves mermaids. Read on for that and our recommendations for all of the best things to see and do while in Montana.
Best Things to Do in Great Falls, MT
We’ve split this things to do guide into four parts.
- Outdoor Recreation and Natural Attractions
- Historic Sites
- Art Activities and Museums
- Family Fun
- Food and Drink (and Mermaids)
Outdoorsy Things to Do in Great Falls
We’ll start with the outdoor activities since they’re one of the main draws of Great Falls. In this section, you’ll find information about:
- Dams and Waterfalls
- Gibson Park
- Rivers Edge Trail
- Fly Fishing
Waterfalls and Dams of the Missouri River
Visiting the waterfalls of the Missouri River will help you understand how Great Falls got its name and its nickname of the Electric City.
Great Falls is home to five major waterfalls along the Missouri River that power five hydroelectric dams.
They are Black Eagle, Rainbow, Colter, Crooked, and the similarly named Great Falls.
Black Eagle Falls
The first dam in the area was built at Black Eagle Falls. It is a scenic low waterfall that flows over large rocks in front of Black Eagle Dam.
You can see the falls from the Black Eagle Memorial Island, which has scenic trails, picnic tables, and a public restroom.
Just a short distance from Rainbow Falls is the now mostly submerged Colter Falls.
Beautiful Rainbow Falls was there even before the dam and was commented on by Meriwether Lewis on his trek. Today, Rainbow Dam, built behind the falls, harnesses the power of the water. The railway bridge running across the river behind the falls adds to the picturesque setting.
Rainbow Falls is best seen from the Rainbow Scenic Overlook at 6201 Giant Springs Road.
A dam was never built here, so it’s just the rushing water of the 19-foot falls framed by the nature of the riverbanks, so you’ll have to take a hike.
The Great Falls
The Great Falls is the tallest waterfall of the five, hence its name. Ryan Dam juts up magnificently behind the original waterfall for a combined 148 feet of cascading water. A fun way to see the Great Falls is with a walk across a suspension bridge to Ryan Island Park.
Downriver from the Great Falls is the Morony Dam, while upriver is the Cochrane Dam, before the water flows through Crooked Falls, and onto Rainbow, Black Eagle, and Colter Falls all the way through the city.
Giant Springs State Park
You can view the spring Giant Springs State Park while walking along the park’s trail system, which spans two miles. It is home to one of the largest freshwater springs in the country.
Picnic facilities are also located in the state park, where you can enjoy a picnic with views of the Missouri River.
Gibson Park in Great Falls
One of the most charming state parks is Gibson Park. It offers a variety of amenities.
Visitors can get their heart rate pumping with a brisk walk down one of the park’s walking trails that weave through flower gardens in the spring and summer.
In the warmer months, visitors can also sit on the grass or a park bench and simply enjoy the leafy ambiance and colorful flowers as you take in gorgeous river views.
Those looking for things to do with kids will appreciate Gibson Park’s large playground.
Lastly, don’t miss checking out the Historic Vinegar Jones Cabin located on the premises of Gibson Park.
Walk Rivers Edge Trail to Top Things to Do
If you like hiking or bicycling, the Rivers Edge Trail is an incredible network of trails that cover 53 miles and connects directly to some of the top things to do outdoors.
From Rivers Edge Trail, you can access the historic downtown, the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Museum, Rainbow Falls, and many more parks and attractions.
The trail journey itself is great for nature lovers as it takes you through trees and valleys with gorgeous views of river canyons, mountains, and waterfalls.
Fly Fish in the Missouri River
The majestic Missouri River runs right through Great Falls, and one of the best ways to experience it is on a fly fishing excursion.
You’ll find fly shops and renting gear you’ll need. You can then head to the river and do it on your own if you know what you’re doing, or sign up for a group outing with a guide or even take a beginner’s class.
Read More: Local’s Guide to the Rivers of Montana
Historic Things to Do in Great Falls
As you’ve probably already begun to realize, history abounds in Great Falls. Here are some specific historic structures you might want to see during your trip to Great Falls.
Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center
Learn more about Lewis and Clark’s expedition at this informative center that has a number of sculptures, dioramas, videos, and hands-on displays to teach you about the journey of these two famous explorers.
In addition to the information found inside, you can walk along the center’s walking paths that have stunning views of the mountains and the land that was traversed by Lewis and Clark two centuries ago.
Self-Guided Walking Tour of Great Falls’ Historic District
Great Falls is home to a number of historical buildings and the city makes it easy for you to do a guided tour. Simply stop by the visitor center, pick up a map, and begin your journey while you stop to read about each point of interest.
Notable architecture styles you’ll see on a historical walk through Great Falls’ Lower Northside include Colonial Revival, Tudor, Craftsman, Prairie, Second Empire, and Queen Anne style homes.
Tenth Street Bridge
The Tenth Street Bridge in Great Falls is a historic bridge that stretches across the Missouri River for 1,130 feet. It was built in 1920.
When the bridge was originally built, it was the longest open-spandrel ribbed concrete arch bridge in Montana, and it’s still the oldest such bridge in Montana.
The Tenth Street Bridge used to be the only way to cross the river, but today it is still undergoing preservation plans and can’t be accessed. Still, you can see the historic bridge and its eight arches stretching across the the flowing waters of the Missouri from the banks of the river.
First People’s Buffalo Jump State Park
Learn about the importance of buffalo jumps to Montana’s native people with a visit to this unique park, which is home to the largest buffalo jump in North America.
A buffalo jump involved the herding of buffalo and driving them to their death over the edge of a cliff. It may sound violent, but buffalo jumps were an important part of Native American culture and livelihood.
Another thing honoring the buffalo history of Great Falls is an artistic endeavor: the Great Falls Buffalo Hunt. And that leads us into our next section of things to do: The Arts.
Artsy Activities in Great Falls
Discover mesmerizing sculptures and visit incredible art museums while in Great Falls. In addition to contemporary art exhibits, Great Falls is the former home of the great western artist, C.M. Russell.
C.M. Russell Museum
See the paintings of a cowboy — and one of the e most renowned old western artists in the world — at the C.M. Russell Museum.
The museum is named after that aforementioned cowboy and proudly displays many of his works of art in the museum. The C.M. Russell Museum is located on the property where he and his wife lived. You can tour the house they resided in and walk around the adjacent grounds in addition to touring the main museum to see his works of art.
Do the Great Falls Buffalo Hunt
Located all around Great Falls, MT are artistic renderings of buffalos.
You can go on a hunt around town to find all of these fiberglass buffalo sculptures that are colorful and creative. Make the hunt easier by getting the location points here.
Paris Gibson Square Museum of Art
See contemporary art with a Montana flair at the Paris Gibson Square Museum of Art. The Museum is dedicated to preserving the works of contemporary and self-taught artists in Montana.
In addition to all the art inside, the actual building that art is housed in is of architectural significance. The building served as a school until the 1970s and then was reopened as an art and cultural center, and continues to thrive as one today.
Family Fun in Great Falls
Traveling with kids in Great Falls, MT? Here are some family friendly things to do during your trip.
Electric City Water Park
Escape the Montana summer heat at the Electric City Water Park.
Kids and adults alike will have a blast on the Flow Rider surf simulator, or taking it easy on the Lazy River. There is a massive plunge waterslide called the Power Tower as well as a large circular waterslide.
Families with younger kids will no doubt like hanging out near the children’s water play structure, which is the largest in Montana.
Children’s Museum of Montana
If you’re traveling with kids, the Children’s Museum of Montana is definitely at the top of the list of best things to do in Great Falls. It has a hands-on approach and a low entrance fee.
The Children’s Museum of Montana has interactive exhibits where little hands can touch and move things around to learn more about the world and their environment.
Exhibits include a play hospital, play credit union, frontier homestead play area, plus exhibits where they can learn more about math, science, and Montana’s culture.
Mermaid Tales and Beer Trails in Great Falls
Alright, it’s time to talk about those mermaids! Here are two places you won’t want to miss checking out in Great Falls if you like unique dining experiences or breweries.
Watch Mermaids at Sip ‘n Dip
Montana might be far from the first place you’ll think of for beach and ocean ambiance, but that’s just what you’ll find at Sip ‘n Dip, a wildly unique and fun restaurant that’s main feature is — you guessed it — mermaids.
This is a place you need to see to believe. I finally dined there this past summer with my daughter and granddaughters and we had an absolute blast.
Walk into Sip n’ Dip restaurant and you’ll immediately notice the beachy decor. Glance at the menu and you’ll discover fruity Mai Tais and other island sounding fare on the menu. Then let your eyes linger to the far wall (ok, let’s be honest, this is probably the first thing you’ll be looking at) and you’ll see a large pool with what appears to be real live mermaids swimming in it.
These mermaids are actually humans just like you and me, but they have perfected the art of gracefully swimming around underwater with a large mermaid tail covering their legs!
This place gets busy on weekends, but when we were there on an early Tuesday night, it was pretty quiet. We got there around 5:30 since kids are only allowed in Sip n’ Dip until 7pm.
It’s also important to double check when the mermaids are swimming before arriving. They don’t swim all day, every day. Follow the Instagram page for updates or call the morning you plan to visit to confirm swim times.
Sip ‘n Dip is located up the stairs from the lobby in the O’Haire Motor Inn.
Go on the Great Falls Beer Trail
Great Falls is home to several breweries. Located in downtown is the Mighty Mo Brew Co, Jeremiah Johnson Brewing Company, and Harvest Moon Brewery. A bit farther outside of the city is Black Eagle Brewery.
It’s common for these local breweries to even source their barley right in Montana.
Where to Stay in Great Falls, Montana
Planning to spend a night or two (or longer) in Great Falls? Here are a few recommended options:
O’Haire Motor Inn
Sleep close to the “mermaids” with a stay at the O’Haire Motor Inn, home to Sip n’ Dip Lounge, plus another restaurant and casino. There is a parking garage located right onsite, and it’s within walking distance of the Paris Gibson Square Museum of Art and the C.M. Russell Museum (each roughly a 15-minute walk from the hotel).
Springhill Suites by Marriott Great Falls
For some more space, opt for the suites at Springhill Suites by Marriott. This hotel also has free Wi-Fi, an indoor pool, and a gorgeous location right by the river with an outdoor fire pit overlooking the water.
For a budget-friendly stay that still has some local charm, check out Heritage Inn. It also has an onsite indoor pool and an adjacent casino and sports bar.
Getting to Great Falls, MT
Now that you’re excited for all the things to do in Great Falls, here’s how you get there.
The closest major airport in Montana is Bozeman, which is 178 miles from Great Falls (about a 3-hour drive).
Billings has Montana’s other international airport, which is roughly 220 miles away.
However, don’t despair if you don’t want to spend tons of time driving to Great Falls. The city is also home to the Great Falls International Airport, albeit a much smaller one and one which is usually more expensive to fly into than Billings or Bozeman.
If you’re traveling to or from Great Falls to one of Montana’s National Parks, it’s 222 miles to Glacier National Park and 217 miles to Yellowstone National Park.
You’ll want to rent a car if you’re not road tripping to Montana since public transportation can be sporadic, and you’ll likely want the flexibility to stop at viewpoints and other Montana attractions along the way. There’s a big car rental shortage in Montana right now so check for car rentals when you’re booking your flight to make sure you can get one upon landing in that city.
Great Falls is known for its waterfalls, but it’s also one of the great cities of Montana with a wide variety of things to do and see. For travelers venturing to the north-central part of Montana, it’s a taste of Montana city life without all the tourists.
Enjoy your time in Great Falls!
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