Visitor’s Guide to Helena, Montana
Are you looking for things to do in Helena, Montana? You won’t have to look far. If you have ever been to Montana, you know that the stunning landscape and outdoor backdrop influences much of the lifestyle here, and this is especially true in the state’s capital city of Helena.
Helena is a city that is complete with outdoor gems, entertainment opportunities galore, interesting museums, and even some locales that will give you a fun, small-town feel.
Helena was founded in the mid-19th century as a gold camp and was quickly named as the capital of Montana. Today, it’s known for much more than just gold. Helena is home to a gorgeous capitol building, galleries, museums, and one of the greatest trail systems in the entire country.
Things to Do in Helena, Montana
Whether you are in Helena for a few days, or are looking for things to do while passing through, here are some of our favorite things to do in Helena, Montana!
Tour the Capitol Building
One of the top things to do in Helena is to tour the Montana State Capitol Building. This is a gorgeous capitol building that you can either tour on your own or via a guided group tour (call for reservations first).
If you want a different kind of tour, you can take the Last Chance Tour Train. This tour train will take you around the capitol area, starting at the Capitol building and past many of Helena’s other most prominent buildings and locations.
Mount Helena City Park
Another great thing to do in Helena for hikers is to head to Mount Helena City Park. This park features over 600 acres of outdoor paradise.
With miles and miles of hiking trails, you can find your ideal trail, whether it’s a challenging one like the Hogback Trail which leads to the park’s namesake’s summit at 5,468 feet, or the Trout Creek Canyon Trail which is a comfortable, family friendly hike.
If you’re curious about Montana’s history, don’t travel through Helena without stopping at the aptly named Montana’s Museum. This Helena gem is home to artifacts which span throughout Montana’s history.
You won’t just find historical pieces here, expect to find interesting pieces from today as well. Keep your eyes open for Montana based art such as sculptures, paintings, and you will even find illustrated letters done by the famous Montana artist Charles M. Russell.
ExplorationWorks is Helena’s own museum of science and culture. It is also one of the most popular attractions in the city. Here you can find interactive and hands-on exhibits that put a focus on health, nature, energy, and more.
Great Northern Carousel
Once you are finished with you ExplorationWorks visit, be sure to head right next door to the Great Northern Carousel. The always fun carousel atmosphere is welcoming to children of all ages.
The Great Northern Carousel was impressively named “The finest new carousel in the nation and possibly the finest built carousel in the world” by the National Carousel Association in 2010.
Also, don’t leave without trying one of their delicious treats. We highly recommend the ice cream!
Now that you have treats on the brain, does visiting an old-fashioned soda fountain and candy store sound fun to you? Then you need to head down to the Parrot Confectionery.
The Parrot Confectionery has been owned and operated by the same family for close to 100 years and serves up homemade, old fashioned ice cream, handmade chocolates, and more. It’s a delicious stop to make while you journey through Helena.
Helena Walking Mall
The Parrot Confectionery is located along another one of the must-do attractions in Helena: the Walking Mall.
The Helena Walking Mall is a cool part of downtown that is lined by some of the most popular shops, art galleries and murals, and eateries in Helena, such as Ten Mile Creek Brewery and the Windbag (located in a building that once housed a brothel!). Many of the places to eat have patios that line the walking mall, which are great coveted places to hang out in the summer.
Making the amble through the Helena Walking Mall even more special is the manmade creek running right through the center of the street that ends at the Miner Fountain.
Cathedral of St. Helena
In the very early 1900s, construction began on the Cathedral of St. Helena, and it is a sight to behold. The Gothic-style cathedral was inspired by the architecture of the Votive Church of the Sacred Heart in Vienna.
The Cathedral is open to visitors daily, or you can arrange to take a guided tour. Keep in mind though, that they do hold mass here, so check times before you go.
Archie Bray Foundation for the Ceramic Arts
If you have a love of art, you need to take a stroll through the grounds of the Archie Bray Foundation for the Ceramic Arts.
This public, nonprofit artist residency program was founded by world famous ceramic artist Archie Bray. His intention was to make the institution “a place to make available for all who are seriously interested in any of the branches of the ceramic arts.” The goal of the foundation is to allow ceramic artists to thrive, which is exactly what they do here. If you love art, specifically ceramic art, you will for sure enjoy visiting the Bray during your time in Helena.
Things to Do Near Helena, MT
In addition to all the cool things you can do in the city center of Helena, Montana’s capital city is also close to some incredible outdoor scenery. Here are some of the top excursions and places to visit near Helena.
Gates of the Mountains Tours
Perhaps one of the neatest things about Helena is that it was a major factor in the Lewis and Clark expedition, and the ability for those in Helena to retrace the steps of the historic explorers.
If you are visiting Helena during the summer months, a highly recommended activity to do is the Gates of the Mountains boat tours. The Gates of the Mountains were named as such by Meriwether Lewis of Lewis and Clark fame since it seemed as if the mountains were parting as he sailed down the water.
Now a peaceful two hour boat ride will awaken your eyes to the beautiful natural wonder that has brought spectators to Helena for centuries.
- We have written a massively in-depth article about the Gates of the Mountains to help you plan your time there — click here to read!
Helena National Forest
Outdoor lovers in Helena are all well aware of what a magical place the Helena National Forest is. If you are a hiking enthusiast, Helena National Forest is a must-visit, but it’s also a great place for a leisurely drive.
Helena National Forest is also home to many wildlife species, which you have the chance of seeing, including grizzly bears, wolves, antelope, big horn sheep, and mule deer.
Last Chance Ranch
If you are visiting Helena National Forest, do not miss out on your chance to visit the Last Chance Ranch. This is one of the Montana experiences that you will never forget.
Visitors here take a horse-drawn ride to Mountain Moose Cabin, where you can enjoy a delicious western meal that will make you feel like you are taking a journey to the wild west, all while listening to authentic western entertainment. You can even book a room here to stay. And did we mention that the Mountain Moose Cabin is all solar-powered?
Are you heading to Helena soon? What type of things are you most excited to do in Helena?