Great Falls is home to two fantastic state parks. One is First People’s Buffalo Jump State Park, home to one of the largest North American prehistoric bison pishkuns, cliffs where Native Americans forced buffalo to their death during hunts. It is one the most significant Native American heritage sites in North America—without question. Another must-visit state park is Giant Springs State Park, full of breathtaking beauty and the world’s shortest river, the Roe River, which is only 201 feet long. The park has one of largest freshwater springs in the world, with water flowing at a rate of 156 million gallons of water each day, and it’s the most-visited state park in Montana.
While most of Montana can claim “outdoor recreation” as a great feature, not every city has a park-and-trial system quite like the River’s Edge Trail in Great Falls. Traversing the 60-mile urban trail along the Missouri River is an absolute must-do in Great Falls, says local historian Norma Ashby. The trail connects city parks, the downtown area, the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center and Giant Springs all along the river. You can hike and bike this trail in warm weather, or explore in snowshoes during the winter.
Becky Nelson, River’s Edge Trail board member, shares a few of the trail’s most important stats: “The trail system is more than 57 miles long and over 21 miles are paved in asphalt or concrete,” she says. “There are 22 miles of single track trails along reservoirs east of town, with 19 trailheads, 15 bridges, six tunnels and 13 underpasses.” You can see freshwater springs and a trout hatchery, fish and access motorized or non-motorized boat launches. In addition, travel past hilltop gazebos and a baseball stadium, playgrounds and public art, horseshoe pits and tennis courts—all without ever leaving the trail.
City Parks are found throughout town, 57 of them in fact, including two golf courses, Eagle Falls, and Anaconda Hills, and one of the top five skate parks in the northwest United States. The free Riverside Railyard Skate Park comprises 27,000 square feet and ‘bowls’ whose largest depth is more than nine feet. At Electric City Water Park, Mitchell Pool is the state’s largest heated outdoor pool. Kids love the winding 20-foot slides and bodyboarding in deep channels. Soccer fans enjoy Siebel Soccer Park, Montana’s top soccer facilities, with 15 fields across 65 acres.
Also in Great Falls is Gibson Park, named for the city founder Paris Gibson. Located between the historic downtown and the river, Gibson park features lush landscape architecture and trees, plus a bike and walking path and a new play area. Picnic tables, a busy band shelter and feeding water birds entertain summer visitors. More bird-watching opportunities await you in Great Falls at Benton Lake Wildlife Refuge and further outside of town at Freezeout Lake, home to breathtaking spring migrations.
Other amazing parks to visit outside of Great Falls but within easy driving distance include Glacier National Park, where drastic landscape changes characterize the dramatic eastern entry for this popular Montana park. Another park, the Waterton Lakes National Park, is connected to Glacier and is one of Canada’s national parks. It’s offering free admission in 2017.
Finally, encompassing more than 1.5 million acres, Bob Marshall Wilderness is a hiking-and-backpacking paradise, where the ‘Chinese Wall’ is a gorgeous, 22-mile-long escarpment and part of the Continental Divide, averaging more than 1,000 feet tall.