Seeking a terrific day trip from Missoula, Montana? Use this Helena Montana travel guide to find 30 delightful things to do in Helena, Montana. Montana’s capitol has a number of intriguing historic elements to explore, buildings and views to appreciate and tasty bites to relish.
Helena, Montana is also a wonderful place to stop if you are visiting Glacier National Park or Yellowstone National Park. Rest assured, I’ve outlined all the fascinating places to visit in Helena, MT.
What is the distance from Missoula to Helena?
Only ~120 miles (1.75 hours) from Missoula, Montana, and 90 miles (1.25 hours) from Great Falls, Montana, you could opt for a weekend trip and overnight in Helena or Great Falls.
How far is Helena from Glacier National Park and Yellowstone National Park?
Helena, MT is 200 miles (3.5 hours) southeast of Glacier National Park and 175 miles (3 hours) northwest from Yellowstone National Park.
Wondering what to do in Helena, Montana? I’ve got you covered with a full day of fun activities and sights.
#1 MacDonald Pass Vista Point
Stopping at the MacDonald Pass vista point as you head towards Helena gives credence to the “Big Sky” moniker that Montana is known for as you can gaze upon the intoxicating mountains, expansive sky and voluminous clouds beckoning you. After driving 15 miles east, you’ll arrive in Helena, Montana.
Delightful Things to Do in Helena, Montana
#2: Montana State Capitol Building
Delving into history in a capitol city is always a fascinating way to learn more about a state’s past and integral players. The Montana State Capitol building, constructed between 1896 and 1902, is one of Helena, Montana’s, famous attractions.
FUN FACT: Jeannette Rankin served as the first woman elected to the US House of Representatives in 1916. She voted against the United States entering into World War I. After losing her re-election bid, she moved to Georgia and remained dedicated to world peace and women’s rights. You can learn more and pay tribute to her at the Montana State Capitol building.
The Capitol Building, which boasts Greek Renaissance architecture, is the perfect place to start your day as it has multiple levels from which you can photograph the stained glass, murals, and parquet floors surrounding the impressive rotunda.
TOP TIP: Be sure to peek into the House Chamber so that you can see Charlie Russell’s enormous masterpiece mural measuring 12 ft x 25 ft and named “Lewis and Clark Meeting the Flathead Indians at Ross’ Hole.” It’s estimated to be worth $5-$10 million.
You can see more of Charlie Russell’s artwork at the Montana Historical Society Museum located next door. Additionally, you can visit his home, studio and the C.M Russell Museum in Great Falls, Montana.
#3 Montana Historical Society Museum
Inside the Montana Historical Society Museum, known as Montana’s Museum, you can appreciate how Charlie Russell layered his paintings by viewing one of his incomplete paintings in the Mackay Gallery of Russell Art.
TOP TIP: Examine the painting closely and you’ll spy the brush strokes where he had begun lightly sketching where a canoe and horses would appear.
FUN FACT: This painting was sitting on Charlie Russell’s easel when he passed away on October 24, 1926 at age 61.
You can also gain a better understanding of “buffalo jumps” with a picture that illustrates how Native Americans used the jumps to “herd” and kill buffalo. Notably, every part of buffalos that perished (meat and hides) were used to feed, clothe and house Native American families.
You can also see “Big Medicine,” a rare white bison that lived from 1933-1959 on the National Bison Range. Since he’s been taxidermied, you can appreciate his blue eyes and tan hooves.
This is undoubtedly one of the coolest Helena tourist attractions.
FUN FACT: White bison are incredibly rare, only occurring 1 in 5 million births.
#4 Last Chance Tour Train
Just outside the Montana Historical Society Museum, you can hop aboard the Last Chance Tour Train, a covered, open-air train that’s perfect for families to explore Helena for an hour.
TOP TIP: Preview cool places to visit in Helena, Montana, and choose where to spend more time later.
- Operates: June 1- September 15
- Cost: $11 adults, $10 seniors, $9 kids ages 4-12, FREE for kids under 3
#5 Pioneer Park
If you’ve brought a picnic or are with kids, Pioneer Park has tables and benches where you can enjoy your lunch and a small children’s playground.
#6 Pioneer Cabin on Last Chance Gulch
The Pioneer Cabin, a two-room log cabin dating from 1864, is Helena’s oldest home. It’s also listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Wilson Butts built the home when gold was discovered in Last Chance Gulch.
FUN FACT: Last Chance Gulch provided prospectors with $19 million dollars worth of gold in four years!
As you peer inside the cabin, look for a red rocking chair, sewing machine and decorative stove.
For history aficionados, this is certainly one of the top things to do in Helena, Montana. After, walk along Reeder’s Alley to see historic brick buildings from the late 1800s.
If you relish gold rush history, you should consider visiting 10 fascinating California gold rush towns on a future road trip.
#7 Reeder’s Alley
Just next to the Pioneer Cabin is Reeder’s Alley. Louis Reeder, a Pennsylvania brick mason, constructed all the brick buildings in this alley from 1873 to 1884. Miners were the first occupants of the small apartments lining Reeder’s Alley.
FUN FACT: This brick street, flanked by small brick buildings and homes, is one of Montana’s oldest streets. Charlie Russell’s (the famous painter) father supplied the bricks from his St. Louis brickyard. The street and buildings have survived numerous earthquakes, the largest of which rocked the area in 1935.
#8 The Original Governor’s Mansion
If you are visiting Helena in the summer, stop by the Original Governor’s Mansion for a tour to admire the wraparound porch and Queen Anne style architecture. Built in 1888, this historic building is open Tuesday to Saturday May 15-September 15 from 12-3PM.
FUN FACT: Montana governors resided in this brick home from 1913 to 1959.
#9 The Base Camp
Given my love for hiking and adventure, I take every opportunity to check out and support local outdoor retailers. The Base Camp carries Rab gear, a British brand I’ve rarely seen in US stores. I picked up a lightweight Rab fleece, which is one of my new favorite pieces of clothing!
They also carry the Alpine Provisions brand, which offers deodorant in a variety of scents in paper packaging and shampoo and conditioner in recyclable aluminum containers with artistic wildlife images. If you are seeking other eco-friendly travel solutions, check out my favorite sustainable travel essentials.
#10 Holter Museum of Art
If contemporary art strikes your fancy, stop by the Holter Museum of Art to admire the rotating exhibits. This free museum is open 10-5:30 Tuesday to Saturday and 12-4 on Sundays. This is a fun indoor thing to do in Helena, Montana.
#11 Spring Meadow Lake State Park
If you are seeking a larger park where you can swim, kayak or standup paddle board, head over to Spring Meadow Lake State Park. You can also circumnavigate the lake on a .8-mile (1.29 km) walking trail.
- Non-residents pay $8 for day use
- Montana residents can enter for free as long as they’ve paid the $9 state park fee with their annual vehicle registration
Helena Attractions along Last Chance Gulch Road
Walking along Last Chance Gulch Road is one of the most enjoyable Helena, Montana, activities since you can intersperse sightseeing with shopping and eating!
TOP TIP: Download the Helena, Montana Walking Tour App before strolling along the downtown Helena pedestrian mall.
Not only can you delve into the history and architecture along Last Chance Gulch Road, you can also identify the best photo spots!
#12 Helena Mural
As you are wandering along Last Chance Gulch Road, keep an eye out for a Helena mural painted on one of the brick building’s sides.
#13 Ghost Writing on Buildings
Be sure to gaze upward as you meander along the street to spy some of the ghost writing on the sides of the buildings. Missoula is another place well known for ghost writing.
#14 Bella Roma Market
If you are staying somewhere that you can cook, pick up some fresh homemade pasta sauce from Bella Roma Market.
#15 Historic Architecture
You can’t miss the beautiful stone archways on a historic brick and stone building dating from 1886 as it stands like a sentry watching over the street.
#16 The Parrot Confectionery
The historic Parrot Confectionery candy shop, dating from 1922, is one of the coolest (and tastiest) things to do in Helena, MT. Well known for their mints, bonbons and chocolates, you can create an assorted box from their myriad offerings. Mint flavors include huckleberry, clove, spearmint, wintergreen, sassafras, cinnamon, orange and lemon.
Chocolate lovers will be rewarded with milk chocolate sea salt caramels, dark chocolate almonds, dark chocolate huckleberry creams, milk chocolate peanut butter fudge and more!
TOP TIP: You can also sip on a root beer float while sitting at their bar and admiring a vintage jukebox and all the pictures and accolades decorating the walls.
This downtown Helena candy shop reminds me of Reimer’s in Oakhurst, California one of my favorite gold rush towns near Yosemite.
#17 Montana Book Company
I make a habit of stopping in every bookstore I find as I’m always seeking new book recommendations. Given my passion for sustainability and conservation, I appreciate that they also sell socks where proceeds benefit oceans, giraffes and more. For more eco-friendly ideas, check out my Sustainable Travel Essentials article.
#18 Painted Pot
Painted Pot is a marvelous place to spend a couple hours with friends and family choosing and painting pottery animals (owls, penguins, rhinos). This is one of many fun activities in Helena, MT.
#19 I Lava Pottery
I Lava Pottery offers lovely mugs, cups and bowls. I wish I’d had room in my bags to transport fragile items as I would have bought these striking blue cups that evoke ocean waves.
#20 General Mercantile
Perusing General Mercantile, known as “The Merc,” is one of the best things to do in Helena, Montana. I adore wandering stores that offer candies, teas, chocolates, and gifts.
TOP TIP: Pick up a dark chocolate huckleberry bar if you haven’t had a chance to try one during your time in Montana.
They also carry some of my favorite Montana Tea & Spice Trading Company teas that I’ve talked about in my Missoula and Whitefish articles. Evening in Missoula is my favorite tea to drink before bed.
#21 Cathedral of St. Helena
The ornate Cathedral of St. Helena’s double spires and neo-Gothic architecture commands the Helena, Montana skyline. Its 59 stained glass windows are breathtaking.
FUN FACT: The Cathedral, built in 1908, offers weekday guided tours from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Vienna’s Votivkirche church inspired the design.
#22 Mount Helena City Park
If you have time and energy after admiring the architecture and want to burn off some calories after indulging at the Parrot Confectionary or coffee shops, you can head up to Mount Helena City Park.
TOP TIP: Since the trailheads start 1,300 feet above the Last Chance Gulch Mall, you’ll probably want to drive up and park so that you can maximize your energy to explore the myriad hiking trails. The Prairie Trail provides beautiful sunset views and is punctuated with vibrant colors during wildflower season.
Best Places to Eat in Helena, MT
#23 Cotton Top Pastries (near Reeder’s Alley)
Want some delectable baked goods to snack on while exploring Reeder’s Alley? Grab treats from Cotton Top Pastries created by the talented French-trained baker extraordinaire, Holly. Menu offerings vary weekly. Lavender dark chocolate scones, raspberry hibiscus glazed cruffins, or maple cinnamon caramel buns – yes please!
TOP TIP: Cotton Top is only open Friday and Saturday morning so plan your visit accordingly if you want to indulge.
#24 Park Avenue Bakery (near Reeder’s Alley)
If you are looking for sweet treats, I highly recommend Park Avenue Bakery.
TOP TIP: You can’t go wrong with the huckleberry lemon cupcake or the salted caramel bar.
#25 Saigon Alley (in Reeder’s Alley)
If you are craving Vietnamese food, stop at Saigon Alley in Reeder’s Alley and nosh on a lettuce cup or banh mi sandwich.
#26 Mediterranean Grill (near Reeder’s Alley)
If you are hankering for hummus or a Greek salad, stop by Mediterranean Grill.
#27 The Windbag Saloon (on Main Street)
This is a popular place for lunch with an outdoor patio.
FUN FACT: It’s named the Windbag Saloon as the Montana legislature often gathers here to enjoy meals.
#28 Lucca’s (on Main Street)
If Italian food is more your speed, grab a bite at Lucca’s.
#29 Big Dipper Ice Cream
If you haven’t had a chance to try Big Dipper ice cream in Missoula, Montana, make sure to get a scoop or a shake here in Helena.
TOP TIP: Huckleberry, vanilla Reese’s, mint Oreo and salted caramel are my favorite flavors.
Things to Do Near Helena, MT
#30 Gates of the Mountains Wilderness Area
Located only 20 miles (35 minutes) north of Helena, Montana, is the Gates of the Mountains Wilderness Area, which Meriwether Lewis aptly named when the Corps of Discovery expedition surveyed this region. Treat yourself to a hike, boat tour or picnic in this grandiose landscape.
TOP TIP: Opt for a two hour boat tour aboard the “Canyon Voyager” or “Sacajawea,” gaping at the towering walls and keeping your eyes peeled for bighorn sheep and mountain goats.
Gates of the Mountains Wilderness Area Boat Tour Cost:
- $16 Adults
- $14 Seniors
- $10 Kids
If you are heading to Great Falls, Montana, this is an ideal stop along the way.
Do you thirst for more knowledge about the Lewis & Clark expedition? Delve further into their journey and the challenges they faced at The Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center in Great Falls, Montana.
I hope you enjoy all the ideas I’ve provided for immersing in all the interesting things to see in Helena, Montana while road tripping around Montana. I’d love to hear about your favorites below!
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