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Looking for a leisurely day trip from Missoula? My Great Falls, MT travel guide showcases fourteen enjoyable things to do in Great Falls, Montana. After learning about Charlie Russell while in Helena, I relished seeing the home he and his wife, Nancy, shared. Wandering through his house and studio and marveling at how his wide-ranging talents for cowboy and western-themed paintings and figurines evolved over the years is a fantastic way to spend a few hours stepping back in time.
FUN FACT: Great Falls is Montana’s third largest city, with 60,000 residents. Only Billings and Missoula are larger.
What is the distance from Missoula to Great Falls?
Only 165 miles (2.75 hours) from Missoula and 90 miles (1.25 hours) from Helena, you could opt for a weekend trip and overnight in Helena or Great Falls.
How far is Great Falls from Glacier National Park and Yellowstone National Park?
If you are visiting Glacier National Park and Yellowstone, Great Falls, Montana, is a brilliant place to stop to break up the trip. It’s 160 miles (2.75 hours) southeast of Glacier and 270 miles (4.5 hours) north of Yellowstone.
Free Outdoor Things to Do in Great Falls, Montana
#1 Gawk at Mother’s Nature’s Powerful Waterfalls
Great Falls derives its name from the five waterfalls that reside along a 7-mile (11km) stretch of the Missouri River. While these falls proved challenging for Lewis & Clark in 1805, they now provide a significant hydroelectric benefit.
FUN FACT: Referred to as the Great Falls Portage, this seemingly short section took Lewis & Clark a month to navigate as they creatively problem solved to move their expedition upstream.
The five waterfalls are: Great Falls, Crooked Falls, Rainbow Falls, Colter Falls and Black Eagle Falls.
The Black Eagle Dam is one of five hydroelectric power plants near Great Falls, Montana. It spans 753 ft (230 m) long and 26 ft (8 m) high. It generates 14.5 million kw each year.
FUN FACT: The original Black Eagle Dam, built in 1890, holds the distinction as Montana’s first ever hydroelectric dam. This led to Great Falls being nicknamed “The Electric City.”
#2 Bike Along the River’s Edge Trail
The River’s Edge Trail is one of the most popular Great Falls, Montana, attractions. Along this trail, you’ll discover Gibson Park, the Lewis and Clark Interpretative Center, and Giant Springs State Park. I share more about each of these below.
Given that the trail runs parallel to the Missouri River for 60 miles (97km), pedaling along on a bike or taking advantage of an e-bike’s assistance is the way to go! This is one of the many fun activities to do in Great Falls, Montana.
TOP TIP: Keep your eyes peeled for wildlife along the trail as people have spied great horned owls, pelicans, weasels and more.
#3 Stroll in Gibson Park’s Flower Garden
Address: 400 Park Drive North Great Falls, MT
Gibson Park is one of the popular things to see in Great Falls, Montana, for good reason.
Meander through the gardens to see what’s blooming. In the summer months, picnic next to the Gibson Park duck pond and admire the colorful (and sometimes noisy) ducks, geese and swans.
After your garden explorations, seek out the Vinegar Jones Cabin in the park. Constructed in 1884, this is the oldest building in Great Falls, Montana.
FUN FACT: Vinegar Jones was a cousin of Great Falls founder, Paris Gibson.
TOP TIP: If you are visiting between late-June to mid-August, the Great Falls Municipal Band plays at 7pm every Wednesday at the Gibson Park Bandshell.
Fun Family Things to Do in Great Falls, MT
#4 Cool Off at Electric City Water Park
Address: 100 River Drive South, Great Falls, Montana
Seeking a place to relax during a hot summer’s day? The Electric City Water Park is perfect for cooling off. Offering slides, lazy rivers, pools, and surfing at “Flow Rider,” this is fantastic family activity in Great Falls, Montana.
#5 Watch Mermaids at Sip N’ Dip Lounge
Address: 17 7th Street S, Great Falls, MT
If you are keen to continue the water theme, head to Sip n’ Dip Lounge for a creative cocktail and tapas. If you are lucky, the mermaids might be performing at this Tiki bar located at the O’Haire Motor Inn.
Anyone under 21 can visit the lounge until 8pm. After that, it’s adults only.
TOP TIP: Be sure to check social media to see when the mermaids are performing and swimming as they aren’t always there.
Enticing Great Falls, Montana Attractions
#6 Delve into History at the Lewis and Clark Interpretative Center
Address: 4201 Giant Springs Road, Great Falls, Montana
Wondering what else to do in in Great Falls Montana? Immersing in Lewis & Clark’s expedition and challenging Great Falls portage is a fascinating way to spend a few hours.
Growing up near the Missouri River, I learned a lot about Lewis and Clark. I appreciated revisiting the history and delving further into their journey at the Lewis and Clark Interpretative Center in Great Falls, Montana, through various exhibits and presentations. The Lewis and Clark Expedition and the Corps of Discovery made myriad findings with the help of Native Americans from 1804 to 1806, passing through Great Falls, Montana, in 1805.
TOP TIP: You can use your America the Beautiful National Park pass for the entry fee. Be sure to check the movie theater showings as we valued the knowledge imparted by a short film and docent after.
You’ll have a greater understanding of Sacagawea’s pivotal role, the gifts the Corps of Discovery exchanged, the canoes and supplies they used to ensure safe passage as well as the perils they faced during their journey.
Fancy some fresh air? After your visit, you can walk .6 miles (13 minutes) along the Missouri River and River’s Edge Trail that runs behind the center to Giant Springs State Park.
#7 Relax and Meditate at Giant Springs State Park
Address: 4803 Giant Springs Rd, Great Falls, MT
Giant Springs State Park is a relaxing place to mosey and reflect. I personally savored watching the cascades and listening to the cathartic rushing water sound. There are a few benches and steps where you can sit to soak up the sights and water symphony.
FUN FACT: First discovered in 1805 by the Lewis & Clark Expedition, this is one of the largest freshwater springs in the country. It generates 156 million gallons of water per day!
If you are a fishing enthusiast, you can cast your rod from Giant Springs State Park. This is one of many relaxing Great Falls, Montana, activities. When I visited, a retirement community had brought their residents to fish. I applaud the State Park for having small concrete barriers that prevent wheelchairs from rolling forward into the water.
TOP TIP: Be sure to stop at the Fish Hatchery to appreciate the important work being done to repopulate certain species.
#8 Grab Takeout Lunch from Roadhouse Diner
Address: 613 15th St N, Great Falls, Montana
Their homemade black bean burger topped with avocado, pepper jack cheese and chipotle mayo is one of the tastiest I’ve had. Given that I’ve been perfecting my own veggie burger recipe the past couple of years, I have a high bar and Roadhouse Diner’s exceeded my expectations.
According to my husband and family, the beef burgers are mouthwatering as well. They will also give you a generous serving of french fries (made with Montana potatoes) to accompany your burger. French fries often give me heart burn and theirs don’t, which is a bonus!
Choose from their myriad house made sauces. I highly recommend the spicy Spiked Ranch. To quench your thirst, get a huckleberry lemonade soda. I love all things huckleberry flavored and have been delighted to find Huckleberry goods in Whitefish, Missoula, Death Valley and Jackson Hole.
All of Roadhouse Diner’s beef is sourced from grass fed cattle from the nearby McCafferty Ranch in Belt, Montana.
TOP TIP: Get takeout and enjoy it at the picnic tables at your next stop – the Charlie Russell house and studio.
Given my affinity for veggie burgers and my families’ love for juicy beef burgers, I’d say this is one of the yummiest restaurants in Great Falls, Montana.
#9 Appreciate the “Cowboy Artist” at C.M Russell Museum
Address: 400 13th Street North, Great Falls, MT
You can easily spend a few hours wandering Charlie Russell’s house from 1900, log cabin studio from 1903, and the C.M Russell museum. This is certainly one of the most interesting things to see in Great Falls, Montana.
Start with Charlie’s studio to give you a flavor for his creative process and how he set the scene for his paintings with props and created miniature sculptures.
FUN FACT: Charlie Russell was known as America’s “Cowboy Artist.”
After his studio, amble over to the home Charlie shared with his wife, Nancy, and peruse antique furnishings including a typewriter, gramophone, bassinet and rocking horse.
Finish your Charlie Russell immersion with the museum that includes the largest collection of Charlie Russell paintings, watercolors and sculptures in the world. Josephine Trigg, the Russell’s former neighbor, donated many of the paintings.
This Piegans oil on canvas from 1908 demonstrates Charlie Russell’s masterful grasp and use of light and layers for storytelling within his images.
TOP TIP: When admiring his paintings look for his signature buffalo skull emblem.
His wildlife figurines are incredibly detailed and life like. I thoroughly enjoyed examining the textures and colors he used.
This “buffalo jump” sculpture sets the stage for another attraction you can explore near Great Falls, Montana. Learn more about one of the largest buffalo jump sites you can visit during one day in Great Falls, Montana below.
#10 Marvel at Modern Art Paris Gibson Square Museum of Art
Address: 1400 1st Ave N, Great Falls, Montana
Peruse the rotating contemporary exhibits at the Paris Gibson Square Museum of Art in the heart of Great Falls, Montana. I love that they also offer workshops for residents throughout the year.
FUN FACT: The Museum resides in a building dating from 1896, which served as Great Falls’ first high school. It is named after Paris Gibson, Great Falls’ founder.
TOP TIP: If you are visiting in December, see if your timing will coincide with the annual Art of Christmas Open House and Artist Market. Seek out unique handmade gifts.
Year-round, the Square Gift Shop stocks local artists’ wares, including handmade jewelry, artwork and ceramics.
Roaming through the sculpture garden will whet your appetite for Blackfoot Pathways on your way back to Missoula, Montana. Read on to find out more!
Things to Do Around Great Falls, Montana
#11 Be Awestruck by Migrating Birds at Benton Lake Wildlife Refuge
Address: 922 Bootlegger Trail, Great Falls, MT
Located only 12 miles (15 minutes) north of downtown Great Falls is the Benton Lake Wildlife Refuge. If you are a bird lover, visiting during spring and fall can present a dazzling spectacle of 150,000 ducks, 40,000 snow geese and 5,000 tundra swans migrating.
Bald eagles can also be spotted during this time!
TOP TIP: Drive along the Prairie Marsh Wildlife Drive to immerse within this sprawling refuge that spans 12,000 acres (19 miles).
Things to do Near Great Falls, MT
#12 Learn about Native American Hunting Practices at First Peoples Buffalo Jump (Pishkun) State Park
Address: 342 Ulm Vaughn, Ulm, Montana
Located only 15 miles (20 minutes) from Great Falls, Montana, First Peoples Buffalo Jump State Park is a fascinating archaeological site. Here you can gain a greater appreciation for the buffalo jumps Native Americans used for a thousand years after seeing the Pishkun sculpture at the C.M. Russell Museum.
So what exactly is a buffalo jump? Native Americans would herd buffalo toward a steep cliff. The “Buffalo Runner” would lead the buffaloes with other Native Americans following behind to keep the buffalo running. The lead runner jumped over the cliff and sheltered on a ledge below as the stampeding buffalo careened past, falling to their deaths.
INTERESTING FACT: Do you know it required 12 buffalo hides to construct a tipi 14 feet around.
Explore the buffalo jump site by hiking 3 miles out and back to the cliff or you can drive and park near the top of the cliff. I personally loved the expansive views of the mountains and buttes in the distance. Be aware that rattlesnakes frequent the area.
TOP TIP: Stop at the education center upon entering the First People Buffalo Jump State Park before heading up to the cliffs to learn more about one of North America’s largest buffalo jump sites.
#13 Gape at a HUGE Grizzly Bear Mount at Lincoln Ranger Station
Address: 1569 Highway 200, Lincoln, MT
As you are driving from Great Falls back to Missoula, Montana, make a quick stop in Lincoln to see a behemoth 800 pound grizzly bear mount. It’s 86 miles (1.25 hours) from Great Falls, Montana and 79 miles (1.25 hours) from Missoula.
This ginormous bear had been well known in the area as he had unfortunately been visiting homes looking for food. Sadly, after surviving a collision on a nearby highway, the bear died years later from injuries as a result of being hit by a big rig.
Given that there are so few grizzlies remaining in the lower 48, it saddens me to hear how many are lost as a result of being hit by cars or to thoughtless hunters killing them.
TOP TIP: Always be mindful of your speed on Montana roads, especially in the National Parks.
We’ve been fortunate to see one grizzly in Glacier National Park and hope to see more during future visits to Glacier, Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks.
If you would like to learn more about grizzlies and behavior, I highly recommend the following books:
- Night of the Grizzlies takes place in Glacier National Park
- Down from the Mountain takes place in the Mission Mountains near Missoula
- Grizzly in the Driveway takes place throughout Montana
FUN FACT: Do you know how you can tell the difference between grizzly bears and black bears?
- Black bears don’t have a prominent shoulder hump, have tall pointed ears and a straight face profile
- Grizzly bears have a shoulder hump, have short rounded ears and a dished face profile
#14 Saunter Amongst Towering Art at Blackfoot Pathways: Sculpture in the Wild
Address: 1500 MT-200, Lincoln, Montana
To end your Great Falls, Montana, day trip on a happier note, drive .8 miles (1km) down the road to Blackfoot Pathways Sculpture Park. You can easily spend an hour appreciating all the mixed materials the artists used to create these thought provoking outdoor installations.
FUN FACT: You can see an old tipi burner, which was used to burn sawdust and other milling by-products. There is another interesting tipi burner at Fort Missoula too.
One of my favorite installations is wood that looks like saw blades. I personally loved how the shapes and edges refracted the late afternoon light.
Another is made from old newspapers that are decomposing at different rates and it’s fascinating how the paper layers mimic wood’s appearance as it reverts back to its original state.
One installation is reminiscent of witch hats.
I hope my Great Falls, Montana, travel blog has helped you discover splendid things to do in Great Falls, Montana on a day trip from Missoula or as a stop while visiting Yellowstone, Glacier or Helena on a longer Montana road trip.
Marvin Smith says
I really enjoyed your take on Great Falls and the surrounding area!
Marielena Smith says
Thanks Marvin! All the historical elements, museums and parks are so fun to immerse in for a day visit to Great Falls.