The outdoorsy, range-influenced capital of Montana, Helena provides plenty of outdoor havens, unique entertainment options and great experiences. In fact, Helena has been recognized by many publications and websites, including Livability.com, as one of the best places to live and visit in the U.S. Here are our picks for the best things to do in Helena:
Gates of the Mountains Boat Tours
A major bragging right of the Helena area is its history with Lewis and Clark and the ability to retrace their steps. Perhaps the best example is the Gates of the Mountains, the name of which came about after Lewis penned his best description of the Missouri River. During the summer months, the Gates of the Mountain boat tours run a two-hour trip down the Missouri, where expeditioners can soak in the powerful Gates of the Mountain as well as waterfalls and other hard-to-believe scenic 'scapes.
Helena National Forest
Outdoor lovers in Helena rejoice for what is arguably the city’s most notable landmark, Helena National Forest. This wilderness area consists of a handful of hiking trails for all levels, from the 3-mile Trout Creek Canyon Trail to the nearly 9-mile Refrigerator Canyon Trail. In addition to these trails, the nearby Mount Helena National Forest has plenty of opportunities for biking, fishing, camping and mostly anything else any outdoorsy heart may desire.
Last Chance Ranch
Situated on 80-plus acres, Last Chance Ranch is about as far West as you can get. With a journey to the solar-powered Mountain Moose Cabin via horse-drawn carriages, the ranch takes visitors back in time to the days when cowboys roamed the land. At the cabin, visitors can enjoy dishes like prime rib with potatoes du jour, huckleberry cheesecake and cowboy coffee to the crooning tunes of the ranch’s live music. For out-of-town ranchers, Last Chance Ranch also includes a two-room lodge, which is steps away from biking trails, hiking and other adventures in the encompassing Helena National Forest.
Lewis & Clark County Fairgrounds
The West is also manifested through Montana’s state fairgrounds. For nearly 150 years, the Lewis & Clark County Fairgrounds have hosted a variety of events, including the carnival extravaganza known as SpringFest, which includes live music and numerous carnival rides. More notably, the fairgrounds host the Last Chance Stampede & Fair, a four-day event that consists of a kids’ and youth rodeo, a professional rodeo and other fair events. Additionally, the fairground hosts an equine expo, which showcases the area’s finest horses and includes a chili cook-off, cowboy competition and a barbecue face-off.
Helena may harbor many chances to experience the gritty Wild West, but that’s not exhibited in every facet of the town. Take Lucca’s in an area known as the Last Chance Gulch, for example. The downtown fine-dining spot is open for dinner and serves Old Italian favorites like lasagna and risotto, in addition to signature dishes such as pork chops with apples or marinated veal porterhouse. Either way, guests can enjoy the dishes of Chef Mike Hyyppa, who had a hand in Lucca's recently earning the title of Best Restaurant in Montana.