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Great Falls, Montana: Your great fall getawayGreat Falls, Montana: Your great fall getaway

This autumn, fly to Great Falls, Montana, your “basecamp” for art and adventure with seasonal treats, fall foliage, craft beers, and a cornucopia of outdoor activities. Play in the Applestem Corn Maze and Pumpkin Patch, choose from four golf courses, or mountain bike on any of the numerous trails that cater to all skill levels. You also can go hunting, fishing, rock climbing; kayak on the Missouri or Sun rivers; or play tennis, basketball, or pickleball at the city parks. When winter hits you can try snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, or downhill skiing.

  • First-class fishing can be enjoyed spring through autumn in the waters around Great Falls. Photo courtesy VisitGreatFalls.com.
  • The Lewis & Clark statue stands on Flag Hill, overlooking Great Falls. Photo courtesy VisitGreatFalls.com.
  • The Black Eagle Dam and falls on the Missouri River, viewed from the River’s Edge Trail. Photo courtesy VisitGreatFalls.com.
  • The River’s Edge Trail provides easy access to all five waterfalls and is popular with bikers and runners. Photo by Brian James Manson via Flickr.
  • Hike along the river and see what they mean when they call Montana “Big Sky Country.” Photo courtesy VisitGreatFalls.com.
  • Paddle boarders ride on the Missouri River as the old Milwaukee Train Station rises in the background. Photo courtesy VisitGreatFalls.com.
  • Giant Springs produces an incredible 156 million gallons of sweet-tasting spring water each day. Photo by Chris Van Dyke via Flickr.
  • A bald eagle flies over Benton Lake National Wildlife Refuge, looking for fish. Photo courtesy USFWS Mountain-Prairie.
  • White pelicans often rest on the waters around Great Falls. Maybe these birds are looking for a free handout. Photo by Jim Thies via Flickr.
  • The CM Russell Museum showcases the work of the great cowboy-and-Indian artist, Charles M. Russell. Photo courtesy VisitGreatFalls.com.
  • Visit the First Peoples Buffalo Jump Site to see how Native Americans drove buffalo over the cliffs, especially in the days before they had horses. Photo courtesy AllAroundTheWest.com.
  • The Lewis and Clark Festival is held in Gibson Park each year on the third weekend of June. Observe reenactors in historic dress as they re-create the adventures of the Corps of Discovery. There’s also a Bluegrass concert, Native American dancers and drummers, and children’s activities. Fine arts and food vendors are on site as well, with handcrafted items and beautiful art for sale. Photo courtesy VisitGreatFalls.com.
  • Great Falls has plenty of excellent microbrews on tap; you could spend a weekend just sipping your way around town. Photo courtesy VisitGreatFalls.com.
  • Visit the famous Sip ‘n Dip Lounge and wave hello to the mermaids! Photo by Angelo Bufalino via Flickr.
  • Montana’s best Irish pub, the Celtic Cowboy, sure knows how to do fish & chips. The pub and boutique Hotel Arvon occupy Great Falls’ oldest commercial building, which dates to 1890. Photo courtesy The Celtic Cowboy.

Named by Meriweather Lewis, who described them as “...the grandest sight I ever beheld...,” the Great Falls are more than 80 feet high. Between 1890 and 1958, dams were built on all five of Great Falls’ waterfalls. The scenery is still dramatic, though, and there are several spots along River Drive to stop, take pictures, and enjoy the river, city, and fall colors. The River’s Edge Trail enables you to walk, jog, fish, or bike for over 50 miles along both sides of the Missouri River, the longest river in North America. Along the way you’ll see 24 pieces of one-of-a-kind art and the urban center of Great Falls. Montana's most-visited state park, Giant Springs, is also accessible from the River’s Edge Trail. Giant Springs is one of America’s largest freshwater springs, flowing at a rate of 156 million gallons of water per day and 54 degrees year-round. A magnet for birders, the park also has a fish hatchery, fishing ponds, and nice views of Black Eagle Falls.

The 12,383-acre Benton Lake National Wildlife Refuge contains a 6,000-acre shallow wetland created by a glacier during the last Ice Age. The rest of the refuge is prairie grass on gently rolling terrain, surrounded by mountain ranges on three sides. The wetland provides habitat for thousands of ducks, shorebirds, and other wildlife. Sharp-tailed grouse inhabit the prairie and can be seen from a special blind as they display during the spring breeding season. Love road trips? Six scenic drives from Great Falls each provide a perfect one-day road trip

Snowy owls often migrate south from Canada during the winter. This one is visiting the Benton Lake National Wildlife Refuge, looking for rodents in the grass. Photo courtesy USFWS Mountain-Prairie.

Great Falls boasts more museums per capita than any other city in the state of Montana. Visit the Malmstrom Air Force Base Museum and Air Park, or the Montana Museum of Railroad History. The C.M. Russell Museum is dedicated to the famed cowboy artist’s work. Voted Montana’s best museum, it houses 2,000 Russell works of art and artifacts. Don’t miss the new permanent exhibit “The Bison: American Icon, Heart of Plains Indian Culture” featuring unforgettable Russell works. Speaking of bison, First Peoples Buffalo Jump State Park tells the story of perhaps the largest prehistoric bison kill-sites in the United States and captures daily life for Montana’s first peoples. The Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center is artfully positioned on a scenic bluff overlooking the Missouri River and designed to blend into the landscape. The interpretive center has North America’s most extensive display of exhibits detailing the Lewis and Clark expedition. The centerpiece of the museum is a dramatic two-story diorama of the vessel that carried the explorers. 

Visit the Sip ‘n Dip Lounge and a mermaid may just kiss you on the cheek too! Photo courtesy Sip ‘n Dip Lounge.

Aside from outdoor recreation, wildlife, and museums, brewers in Great Falls produce an amazing selection of craft brews. The city lies at the southern corner of the Golden Triangle, an area of Montana known for ideal wheat-growing conditions. Grab a 48-page Montana Brewery Passport with its tasting guide and complete list of breweries so you can take full advantage of the Great Falls microbrewery scene. Try the Celtic Cowboy, voted Montana’s best Irish pub. It’s in the same historic building as the Hotel Arvon and Dark Horse Hall and Wine Snug. For something completely different, visit the Sip ‘n Dip Lounge, hailed by GQ Magazine as the No. 1 bar in the world worth flying for. The lounge is home to Montana's only live mermaid show and Montana's best Tiki drink! Plus, you can sing along with Piano Pat to all your favorite classic and modern tunes. 

Don’t forget the plush historic Mansfield Theater, known for its elegant architecture and excellent acoustics. It is home to the Great Falls Philharmonic Orchestra. Upcoming plays include the Broadway hits Jersey Boys” and Rent. Make Great Falls your great fall getaway this year!

The Showdown Montana ski resort is just a 60-minute drive from Great Falls. Photo courtesy Showdown Montana.

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Crista Worthy

Crista Videriksen Worthy

Crista Videriksen Worthy has been flying around the United States with her pilot-husband Fred and their children since 1995, and writing about fun places to fly since 2006. She has single-engine land and sea ratings. Her favorite places to explore are the backcountry strips of Idaho and Utah's red rock country. She currently lives in Idaho and serves as editor of The Flyline, the monthly publication of the Idaho Aviation Association. To suggest future destination articles, send an email to [email protected]
Topics: US Travel

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