Located in Central Montana, Great Falls provides a basecamp for adventure and fun on the road.
Beginning your journey in Great Falls, head north on Highway 87 for 2 miles (3km). At the Morony Dam Road intersection, turn right and drive 5 miles to the Great Falls at Ryan Dam. Marvel at the first falls Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery encountered. The height of the Falls will astound you, and give you an appreciation for the tenacity that shaped the expedition, and the city of Great Falls. While at Ryan Dam, walk across the suspension bridge, explore the grounds, and enjoy the view from what feels like the top of the world. After you’re done, head out the way you came and continue north for 3-40 minutes on Highway 87 toward Fort Benton, the birthplace of Montana.
During the era of steamboats, Fort Benton was the world’s most inland port as steamships carried supplies up the Missouri River; Mark Twain during his time as a Riverboat Captain, came to Montana. You can enjoy fine dining morning, noon, and night at the Union Grille in the Grand Union Hotel, the oldest operated hotels in Montana. You’ll find history around every corner in Fort Benton so plan your trip with some spare time to enjoy what was once termed the “bloodiest block in the West.”
If you’re an animal lover like me, a history buff like my husband, or just enjoy a good human interest story, Fort Benton has the compelling tale of Shep, the loyal dog that captured the community’s heart. In the summer of 1936, a sheepherder fell ill while tending his flock and was brought to the hospital in Fort Benton, Montana. A nondescript sheep dog followed the herder into town and soon set up a vigil at the hospital’s door. A kind hearted nun who ran the hospital kitchen fed the dog during those few days before the man died. The herder’s family in the East requested that his body be sent back home. The undertaker put the body on the east-bound train. As the gurney was rolled onto the platform, the dog with watchful eyes appeared out of nowhere and watched as the casket was loaded into the baggage car. Day after day, meeting four trains daily, Shep became a fixture on the platform. He eyed each passenger hopefully waiting for his friend to return. For almost 6 years, Shep kept vigil until one day in January. Stiff-legged and hard of hearing, Shep failed to hear the train as it rolled into the station. Shep’s funeral was attended by everyone in Fort Benton and 50 years after his passing, in 1994, legendary Western sculptor Bob Scriver created a heroic-sized bronze statue of Shep. Today, you can visit the statue and marvel at this dog’s loyalty, love, and legacy.
Cross the mighty Missouri River on the Fort Benton bridge, a marvel of modern engineering, and one of Montana’s first steel truss bridges. Follow MT 228 into Highwood, where you will find unspolied scenery set against pristine mountains. You’ll feel like you’ve taken a step back in time as you pass quaint farms, homesteads, and wildlife. The nearby Highwood Mountains is a popular destination among hikers and those seeking a unique outdoor experience. The Highwoods are at the northern end of the Lewis and Clark National Forest. At 7,760 ft, Highwood Baldy is the highest point in the Lewis and Clark National Forest, and the Highwood Baldy Trail is a great way to enjoy an easy 6.1 mile out and back hike. Bring water, good socks, and comfortable shoes so you can take in the magnificence Montana holds.
Along MT 228, enjoy a serene 45-minute drive through the Montana country side as you make your way to MT 331, where you will turn south to head into Belt, home of Montana’s first coal mine, and a quaint city in the heart of Montana. Belt offers the charm and potential that come only with small Montana towns. Belt is a town you’ll be happy to explore. Throughout Belt, look for interpretive markers to learn more about its history and architecture. The defining architectural style in Belt was the result of Finnish architect Matt Maki, a self-styled architect, carpenter, and builder who immigrated to Montana in the early 1900s. He brought fine Finnish craftwork to Montana, and 6 of his buildings are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Maki is regarded as …”the greatest influence and source of building knowledge in the area.” Stroll through the Commercial Historic District as you make your way to Harvest Moon Brewing, one of the best breweries in Central Montana, and a true small business success story.
In 1996, an idea was born to open a brewery in Central Montana with a name that reflected the region’s rich agricultural tradition. Thus, Harvest Moon Brewing set up operations in Belt. Why Belt? The region’s water supply comes from the Madison aquifer, the source for world-class springs in Great Falls and Lewistown. The water’s purity means the municipal supply system is not chlorinated or treated as most other city water supply systems. Pumped directly from the aquifer, the water is available to use straight from the tap without treatment or filtering. You can taste the purity in every pint. My favorite is the Charlie Russell Red, a pale ale is almost identical to pale ale found in England. While I usually favor blonde or light ales, the Charlie Russell Red is a great way to mix it up and enjoy something new. My husband, an avowed Scotch ale fan, always looks forward to a pint of the Loch and Lode. Stop by and sample what’s brewing to find your favorite.
After you enjoy a pint, head on MT 89 to head back to Great Falls, an easy 20-minute drive. As you enter the east end of the city, you’ll have plenty of dining, shopping, and lodging options to continue your Great Falls adventures. Be sure to check the ever-changing events calendar for live music, art, and adventure. Great Falls has it all, and you won’t want to miss anything!