Spanning nearly 60 miles on either side of the river, the River’s Edge Trail in Great Falls, Montana, will take you on paved and dirt single-track trails that weave past a state park, five waterfalls, the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail Interpretive Center and large public art pieces.
Throughout Great Falls, you can find environmental installations like a big metal Tyrannosaurus Rex and a goose made of old wrenches, nuts and bolts. If you don’t have a bike with you, rent a road or hard-tail mountain bike in town. Along the way, stop at Giant Springs State Park, home to one of the world’s largest natural springs and shortest river.
Take 15th Street north and turn east onto River Drive to get to the Caboose trailhead marked by a historic caboose in the park. Hop on the trail to walk, bike or rollerblade to Giant Springs State Park, home to one of the world’s largest natural springs. Walk across the open bridge to watch water flow at a stunning rate of 156 million gallons per day. Also in the park, you’ll find Roe River, one of the world’s shortest rivers. In one location, you can stand near North America’s longest river, the world’s shortest river and one of the world’s largest springs.
Just 34 miles from Great Falls, Montana, hike past former mines, historic cabins and limestone cliffs in Sluice Boxes State Park, a rugged, understated gem that’s dog friendly. Follow the trails past limestone cliffs and dip your toes into the clear, cool waters of Belt River that runs through the park. While bear encounters are rare, bring bear spray as a safety precaution.
Forty minutes northeast of Great Falls lies Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument, which spans 149 miles of the Upper Missouri River. A highlight is its striking White Cliffs area. Made of sandstone, this badlands area offers hiking, river floating, fishing and more.
Head 15 miles southwest of Great Falls, and you’ll see a mile-long sandstone cliff, which Native Americans used to hunt bison for more than 2,000 years. Stop at First Peoples Buffalo Jump State Park to explore what is believed to be North America’s largest bison cliff jumping site.
When Lewis and Clark traveled through Great Falls on their journey to the Pacific Northwest Coast, it took them 31 days to portage around five waterfalls along the Missouri River.Today, you can enjoy splashing around the area without any of the hard work Lewis and Clark endured. Go on a guided scenic float or rent and do it yourself down a number of rivers, including the Missouri River, seeing the landscape as the two intrepid explorers did 200 years ago.
In town, head to Big Bend Fishing Access on Wilson Butte Road, put in at the Missouri River and float 12 miles to Broadwater Bay boat ramp. Forty-five minutes from town, you can head to the extremely popular Holter Dam area where you can float 7 miles to Craig or go beyond Craig an an additional eight miles to Mid Canon. Be sure to rent your gear in Great Falls before driving to Holter Dam.
Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail Interpretive Center
Along the River’s Edge Trail is the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail Interpretive Center where once inside, you can pull a canoe (made from the wood of a hollowed tree) against the Missouri River’s strong current to see what Lewis and Clark were up against when they passed through the area. But the center is unique in that it covers the entire 1804-06 journey the two men and their team took. It also tells the stories of their experiences with Plains and Northwest Native Americans. Discover more when you go on the center’s outdoor ranger tour.
Great Falls, Montana, Home to the C.M. Russell Museum
You’ll find a gorgeous museum dedicated to western artist extraordinaire C.M. Russell in Great Falls.
While artist Charles Marion Russell died in 1926, you’ll discover evocative scenes from the 1800s and early 1900s depicted across his broad canvases with splashes of bright-colored paint at the C.M. Russell Museum. You’ll find herds of boisterous elk and the haunting sunlit faces of three Native Americans witnessing a steamboat on the Missouri River for the first time.
While artists of Russell’s era like Thomas Moran and Frederic Remington traveled to the West periodically, Russell stayed, carving out a rich life in a corner of the West where the Great Plains roll up to the Rocky Mountain front. The museum, his home and log-hewn studio sit on the city block where Russell, his wife Nancy and son Jack lived.
Then head indoors and sip a drink in a tiki bar while watching live mermaids swimming underwater. The mermaids are on the other side of the glass windows at the legendary Sip n’ Dip Lounge in downtown Great Falls. It’s been ranked by GQ as the number one bar on Earth worth flying for.
“You have not experienced the Sip n’ Dip until you have sung Sweet Caroline in Piano Pat’s [bar piano player Pat Spoonheim] style,” says local Rebecca Engum.
For more information:
Great Falls Visitor Center
C.M. Russell Museum
400 13th St. N., Great Falls, MT
Lewis and Clark Interpretative Center