The Lewis and Clark Festival was earlier this summer, July 9-11, 2021. For the first time, it was held at the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center. In previous years, it was held at Gibson Park. The festival draws crowds from all over the nation. In fact, if you were to drive around the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center’s parking lot during the festival, you would be able to see license plates from all over the country. While the festival was three days long, the portion I attended was just on July 10th. On July 9th, they had a dinner with Dr. Gary Moulton, the Lewis and Clark journals editor, so you might say the man knows a thing or two about their history. On July 10th, Dr. Moulton also spoke in the evening at Great Falls High School, which was free for the public to attend. I, however, did not since I had a tired toddler from all the activities we did earlier that day. On July 11th, there was a guided float trip on the Missouri River. Fortunately, I met two people that traveled to Great Falls from California that were going to be on the float trip, and they were so excited to relive Lewis and Clark history.

 

Now, I know what you’re thinking. Why am I reading a blog about a festival that already happened? You think that you’ll have to wait another year to experience all the fun. Well, I’m here to tell you that you can have similar experiences all year round at the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center and Great Falls (minus the float trip). Here’s a breakdown of the day and how you can enjoy some of the same.

How to Build a Fire

Using flint, bison poop, and some determination, the rangers at the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center show people of all ages how fire was made during the expedition. Children are pretty excited to try it, but my former co-worker that moved off to Florida with her husband (we miss you in Great Falls, Kristin!) participated in the demonstration in 2020, and she LOVED it. You can watch the demonstration that we reordered here. And mind you, the quality wasn’t the best since we aren’t professional videographers, but still a valiant effort. While this demonstration was a part of the festival, the rangers do it on the weekend during the summer months too!

How to Build a Tipi

Tipis are TALL, like 14 feet tall. The women would traditionally set up the tipis, and it would take them about 15 minutes to do so. Native Americans set up tipis during the festival, and people were able to go inside and learn about different types of tipis, tipi etiquette, and just awe in their beauty. Rangers also set up tipis on the weekends during the summer months too. We have a time-lapse video of a setup, and it took the ranger about 30 minutes to set it up.

Native Games

Traditional Native games, like stick hoop, were played at the festival. My daughter loved trying to toss the hoop that was connected to the stick with a string and have the hoop land on the stick. It took her a few tries, but she did it and was hooked. I watched other families participate, and the parents loved playing the game too. Again, the rangers at the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center do demonstrations throughout the summer.

Activities Unique to The Festival

Skinning a Beaver: That’s right. The Lewis and Clark Honor Guard demonstrated how to skin a beaver and talked about how the men on the expedition prepared their food.

Snake Encounter: While we do have rattlesnakes in Great Falls and some of our guests see them while hiking, they aren’t planned interactions. At the festival, you can prepare yourself mentally that there will be snakes there and a chance to hold them (minus the rattlesnake). I held the snake for my daughter to hold, and the snake was adamant about going inside my purse.

Guns of Thunder: The Lewis and Clark Honor Guard fires off all the firearms at the same time. They have blank charges, but if it was on the expedition, it’s fired off during the Guns of Thunder demonstration. Want to see the demonstration that a ranger did for us this year? Watch the video here.

If you missed the festival, it’s okay. The rangers are here to talk to you.

We’ve said it time and time again, the rangers at the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center are the best. The volunteers there are absolutely a delight. Not only can you watch portions of Ken Burn’s documentary about the Lewis and Clark Expedition at the theater in the interpretive center, but you can ask the rangers questions about anything involving the expedition, and they’ll have the answer. Trust us; we’ve tried to stump them and can’t.

How do we know so much about the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center? A quarter of our visitors to Great Falls go to the interpretive center, so we have to be well-versed to answer any questions that arise. Often, we just repeat what we have heard the rangers say. If you haven’t visited with a ranger yet, you’re missing out. We have an immediate fix, though. Listen to our podcast, We’re No Dam Experts, and Duane Buchi, a Park Ranger at the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center, is on the podcast twice (and the first person to be a repeat guest). In the first episode, our sound quality is a little rocky, but the stories about John Colter are our favorite. In the next episode, Duane talks more about Lewis and Clark and gives some details on the festival too.

Have an idea about more ways to experience Lewis and Clark History? Send them our way!

 

Mari is the Content Director for Great Falls Montana Tourism and is passionate about getting people excited about what the best dam town in Montana has to offer. She loves going outdoors, and has always shied away from museums. Since working for tourism, she has been to all ten museums in Great Falls and has fallen in love with them, and thinks you should too.

If you’re traveling to Great Falls, send Mari an email with any questions you have. Or, give her a call at 406-761-4436 and she’ll tell you where to find the falls, upcoming events, and where to find art in Great Falls that was once in the Smithsonian.