Nestled in the northern-central heart of Montana, Great Falls is home to independent adventurers, and forward thinking innovators. Inspired by the surrounding mountains, the generous prairie, and a storied Western heritage, the town’s location on the alluring Missouri River calls to mind the explorers who passed through the countryside centuries ago. Great Falls is suited to those looking for outdoor experiences teamed with a heady dose of local culture and history. Families and independent travelers alike will find something to capture their imagination in this basecamp.
Get a Dose of Sunshine in Urban Green Spaces
Parks and urban outdoor spaces have been a fundamental aspect of Great Falls since the community’s inception. At the town’s founding, ample space for city parks was factored into planning and the city currently maintains 57 parks. From undeveloped open green space to sports courts, picnic shelters, and even water and skate parks, a generous supply of outdoor territory makes it easy for residents and visitors alike to enjoy the Big Sky sunshine without leaving city limits. The 60-mile River’s Edge Trail borders the Missouri River as it runs through town, and has served as outdoor development inspiration for other cities in recent years.
Delve into an Impressive Art Scene
While many travel to the region for outdoor adventure, the local art scene is worth exploring. Ten distinct museums reside in Great Falls, affording the community its title as “Montana’s Museum Capital.” Famed Western artist Charles M. Russell called the surrounding plains home for much of his life, documenting the lives of local cowboys and American Indians in his trademark style. His work is celebrated in the C.M. Russell Museum, where visitors can explore the artist’s house and studio.
The Paris Gibson Museum of Art is housed in an historic school building yet features a selection of contemporary art, and travelers can also explore the Galerie Trinitas at the University of Great Falls, the Children’s Museum of Montana, and The History Museum. A range of local art galleries dotted throughout town cater to collectors and casual art admirers alike. Additionally, the River’s edge trail is the largest collector of art, with 24 pieces. The art ranges from sculptures, murals, and statues.
The Rich History of Great Falls
The extensive scenery surrounding what is now the city of Great Falls was explored by Lewis and Clark during their famous expedition of 1804-06. They encountered the Plains Indians and the Great Falls of the Missouri River in the spring of 1805 and were subsequently forced to portage around the impressive series of waterfalls that drop the sizeable Missouri River more than 500 vertical feet in less than 18 miles. It took a month for the expedition to circumvent the falls and they then moved on, leaving the area largely untouched.
Paris Gibson is largely credited with founding and further establishing the community of Great Falls, and by 1886 the local population of settlers had swelled to more than 1,000. The final decade of the 19th century saw Great Falls embrace electricity, and the growing use of hydroelectric dams gave the town the nickname “The Electric City.” Throughout the majority of the 20th century, Great Falls grew, helped by the arrival of what is now known as Malmstrom Air Force Base during World War II. In recent years Great Falls has embraced its outdoor and cultural heritage, cementing its place as one of Montana’s core cities.
Dine Local: Food and Drink
Gourmands won’t be left wanting when visiting Great Falls. Montanans work hard and play harder, and as a consequence they refuel quite heartily. An array of local microbreweries, including the local favorites Mighty Mo Brewing (named after the Missouri River), The Front, and Black Eagle Brewery, cater to those seeking a casual atmosphere. Downtown offers a traditional Western bar scene, including the Celtic Cowboy, christened Montana’s best Irish pub.
A variety of coffee shops, ranging from homey to trendy, treat caffeine-seekers, and a well-attended Farmer’s Market sells local wares from June through September. A number of unique shops and cafes, featuring local food and products from local artists, cater to adventurers stocking up before leaving basecamp to explore down the river or into the mountains.
Set the Stage: Performing Arts in a Vibrant Community
Great Falls’ local heritage is frequently celebrated in the performing arts; Metis Indian Fiddlers and Blackfeet drummers perform at various venues throughout the year, offering visitors the chance to experience the true provincial music of the Great Plains. The well-outfitted Mansfield Center for Performing Arts draws in a selection of world-class symphonies and performers, and it also serves as the home of the Great Falls Symphony. A summertime series of outdoor concerts at Gibson Park includes performances from the Municipal Band, and an entertaining, random selection of live music can be found throughout town on any given night. Great Falls is a town that checks all the boxes—from outdoor adventure to a booming cultural and arts scene.
Originally written by RootsRated Media for Great Falls.
Featured image provided by Great Falls Montana Tourism