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A Travel Guide to Helena, Montana

William Howard

Copyright 2017 by William Howard

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Table of Contents

Welcome to Helena, Montana



Day Trips

Hotel/Motel Accommodations

Bed & Breakfast Establishments

RV Parks & Campgrounds


Breweries & Distilleries

Wine Bars

Art Galleries



Essential Services

Helena Memories

Welcome to Helena, Montana

The Helena area was long used by various indigenous peoples. Evidence from the McHaffie and Indian Creek sites on opposite sides of the Elkhorn Mountains southeast of Helena Valley show that people of the Folsom culture lived in the area more than 10,000 years ago. Before the introduction of the horse some 300 years ago, and since, other native people, including the Salish and the Blackfeet, utilized the area seasonally on their nomadic rounds.

By the early 1800s people of European descent from the United States and British Canada began arriving to work the streams of the Missouri watershed looking for fur-bearing animals like the beaver, bringing them through the area now known as the Helena Valley. Yet, like the native people, none of them stayed for long.

On July 14, 1864, the discovery of gold by a prospecting party in a gulch off the Prickly Pear Creek led to the founding of a mining camp in the area they called Last Chance. By fall, the population had grown to over 200, and some thought the “Last Chance” name of the town was too crass. On October 30, 1864, a group of at least seven self-appointed men met to name the town, authorize the layout of streets, and elect commissioners. After much debate a Scotsman name John Summerville proposed the town’s name as Helena. Later tales of the naming of Helena claimed the name came after the island of St. Helena, where Napoleon had been exiled, or was that of a miner’s sweetheart.

The town site was first surveyed by Captain John Wood. However, many of the original streets followed the chaotic paths of the miners, going around claims and following the winding gulch. As a result, few city blocks are consistent in sizes, rather they from Last an irregular variety of shapes and sizes.

By 1888, about fifty millionaires lived in Helena, more per capita than any city in the world. About $3.6 billion in today’s dollars of gold was taken over a 20-year period. Most of the production occurred before 1868. Much of the placer gold was found under streets and buildings of Helena. As late as the 1970s, when repairs were being made to a bank, a vain of placer was found under the bank’s foundation.

The large concentration of wealth was the basis of developing fine residences and ambitious architecture in the city. Helena’s Victorian neighborhoods reflect the gold years. The numerous miners also attracted the development of a thriving red light district. Among the well-known madams was Josephine “Chicago Joe” Airey, who built a thriving business empire between 1874 and 1893, becoming one of the largest and most influential landowners in Helena. The brothels of Helena were a successful part of the local business community well into the 20th century, ending with the death of Helena’s last madam, “Big Dorothy” Baker.

Today, Helena is the capital city of the state of Montana and the county seat of Lewis and Clark County. Helena has a population approaching 30,000. The city is served by Helena Regional Airport. The Cathedral of Saint Helena and the Helena Civic Center are two of many significant historic buildings in Helena.

With the mountains, Helena is the location for much recreation including hunting, fishing, hiking and horseback riding. It has a local ski area, Great Divide Ski Area, northwest of town near the ghost town of Maryville. Helena is also known for its mountain biking. It was officially designated as an International Mountain Bicycling Association bronze level Ride Center on October 23, 2013. Helena has a semi-arid climate with long, cold and moderately snowy winters, hot and dry summers and short springs and autumns in between.

The city has a long record of economic stability as being the state capital and being founded in an area rich in gold, silver and lead. Its status as the capital of Montana makes it a major hub of activity at the county, state and federal level. Notable people raised in Helena include movie actor Gary Cooper.

Higher education institutions include Carroll College, a Catholic liberal arts college found in 1909 with an enrollment of 1,500 students. Helena College University of Montana, a two-year affiliate campus of The University of Montana, provides transfer, career and technical education for more than 1,600 students. It opened in 1939.

Whether you’re a history buff, an arts connoisseur or outdoor enthusiast, Helena has something to keep your mind and body occupied. The Queen City treasures her reputation as one of the top 100 small arts communities in America. Summer festivals provide soothing sounds to the ears of lovers of all kinds of music. Helena is the perfect place to make your vacation dreams a reality.

Stop by or write the Helena Convention and Visitors Bureau for more tourist information:

Helena Convention and Visitors Bureau

225 Cruse Avenue Suite A

Helena, Montana 59601

Telephone: (406) 447-1530


Stop in or write Helena Area Chamber of Commerce for business information:

Helena Area Chamber of Commerce

226 North Cruse Avenue Suite A

Helena, Montana 59601

Telephone: (406) 442-4120



The following attractions are featured in Helena, Montana:

Montana’s Historical Society Museum

225 N. Roberts Street

Helena, Montana 59601

Telephone: (406) 444-2535


This museum’s collection—over 50,000 artifacts—contains art and three-dimensional artifacts relating to all aspects of Montana history and culture. The Native American collection (6,000 pieces) contains artifacts of the many tribes who called Montana home. The collection is especially strong in early reservation-era Blackfeet, Sioux and Salish materials. Other artifacts include Jim Bridger’s 1870 Hawken rifle and Sitting Bull’s 1866 Henry repeating rifle. The archaeological collection represents artifacts from the many eras of human habitation in Montana. The Society is also the official repository for archaeological materials found on State-owned lands.

Original Governor’s Mansion

304 N. Ewing Street

Helena, Montana 59601

Telephone: (406) 444-4789


This museum includes decorative and furnishings (3,000 pieces) many of which are housed in room settings at the Original Governor’s Mansion, a three-story Queen Anne-Style home. The best known works in the arts collection (8,000 pieces) are by Montana’s “Cowboy Artist” Charles M. Russell. This collection (numbering over 200 pieces) is the most significant collection of Russell art anywhere in the world.

Montana Military Museum

419 Hayes Avenue

Helena, Montana 59601

Telephone: (406) 443-2878


Two centuries of military experiences in Montana are displayed in a museum complex approaching completion at Fort Harrison near Helena. Limited hours! It is recommended that you call ahead. The museum’s displays follow the military in Montana from the arrival of the Lewis and Clark expedition in 1805, through the Indian Wars, the Spanish-American War, World Wars I and II, the Korean Conflict, the Vietnam War, Desert Storm and various peacekeeping operations. The military tradition dates from 1806 when Blackfeet Indians fought the U.S. Army.

Cathedral of St. Helena

530 N. Ewing Street

Helena, Montana 59601

Telephone (406) 442-5825


The Cathedral of St. Helena was constructed at the turn of the century during the episcopate of Bishop John Carroll. It is an outstanding example of Geometric Gothic architecture with extensive stained glass windows.

Centennial Park

By the YMCA between Carroll College and downtown Helena

Helena, Montana 59601

Telephone: (406) 447-8463


After much work by the City of Helena Parks Department, Centennial Park is now a true destination of Helena. The bike park features pump tracks and skills course. There is a loop trail with fitness stations, a dog park, seasonal running water, benches and a barrier-free playground. Soccer and softball fields as well as a climbing for practicing climbing skills are available at the Centennial Park.

Exploration Works! Montana’s Science Center

995 Carousel Way

Helena, Montana 49601

Telephone: (406) 457-1800


Geared for both children and adults, there are many hands-on science exhibits at Exploration Works! Examples of interactive exhibits include bees and trout fingerlings.

Gates of the Mountains

P.O. Box 478

Helena, Montana 59624

Telephone (406) 458-5241


Great towering walls of limestone stand guard over the Missouri River. The Gates of the Mountains Wilderness is located about twenty miles north of Helena and has a thirty-eight-mile stretch of the river. Boat tours and online booking are available.

Great Northern Carousel

989 Carousel Way

Helena, Montana 59601

Telephone: (406) 457-5353


This is not your ordinary carousel! This world-class, hand-carved work of art consists of 37 unique Montana animals, and 14 Helena scenic-carved rounding boards and stain glass artwork. The National Carousel Association said it is the finest carousel in the nation, if not one of the finest in the world. Riders can choose to whirl around on Big Horn Sheep, Buffalo, Cutthroat Trout, Grizzly Bear, Otter, Bobcat, Mountain Goat, Frog, Rabbit and horse. After you’ve had the ride of your life, enjoy ice cream with over 24 flavors to choose from.

Helena Fire Tower


Efforts are currently underway to restore the old Fire Tower in Helena. Currently it is not available to climb. Check at the fire station for a current update on the tower.

Last Chance Tours

P.O. Box 6338

228 N. Roberts Street

Helena, Montana 59601

Telephone: (406) 422-1023


Last Chance Tour Trains offer historic tours of Helena aboard open-air tour trains and climate controlled trolley. See the mansion district, Cathedral of St. Helena, governor’s homes and restored miner’s village. Also offered are guided day and half day tours.

Memorial Park Last Chance Waterpark and Pool at Memorial Park

1203 N. Last Chance Gulch

Helena, Montana 59601

Telephone: (406) 447-1559


Open swim, lessons and pool parties are offer at this facility.

Holter Museum of Art

12 E. Lawrence Street

Helena, Montana 59601

Telephone: (406) 442-6400


The Holter Museum of Art fuels artistic creativity and imagination in Montana through contemporary art exhibitions, collections, and educational programming.

Myrna Loy Center

15 N. Ewing Street

Helena, Montana 59601

Telephone: (406) 443-0287


The mission of the Myra Loy Center is to present the arts, including media (films), performing, literary, visual, in an educational context, with culturally enriching programs.

Spring Meadow Lake State Park

P.O. Box 200701

Helena, Montana 59620

Telephone: Summer, May 15–Labor Day (406) 449-5109

Winter, Helena Area Resource, (406) 495-3270


Spring Meadow Lake State Park is located on the western edge of Helena. It is an urban day-use park for swimming, sunbathing, fishing and birdwatching. The park offers an .8 mile, self-guided nature trail that circles the lake.

Lewis and Clark: The Montana Experience

40 W. 14th Street

Helena, Montana 59601

Telephone: (407) 457-5542


This permanent out door exhibit located at the Great Northern Town Center is a cooperative project with the Lewis and Clark Trail Commission. Visitors to this exhibit will learn about the 19 historical sites from Montana’s Lewis and Clark trail such as the Gates of the Mountains, Pompey’s Pillar, Great Falls/Portage and the Three Forks of the Missouri River. The interpretive signage will guide you on your journey of Lewis and Clark’s Montana Experience.

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