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Why We Love Travel

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From meeting new people to experiencing new sights, sounds, and smells – is there anything more exciting or rejuvenating than a break from the day-to-day mundanity? Traveling is an excellent way to immerse yourself in a new culture, setting, or way-of-life, but the best part is this: you don’t have to venture far from home to enjoy what this world has to offer.

Whether your journey takes you across your own city, to an unexplored part of your state, or even to the other side of the world, there’s no doubt you will still learn a lot about your surroundings – and yourself – along the way.

Benefits of Traveling Locally

While the culture an hour away from your home might not be drastically different from what you’re used to, you can still gain a deepened sense of appreciation for where you’ve laid your roots. Plus, traveling locally has a lot of benefits:

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More cost-effective. Local travel is certainly a budget-friendly way to explore! Many activities and parks are free or have a low cost of entry. For day trips, you can also pack your own meals to save.

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Eco-friendly way to travel. Travel is hard on the environment, but putzing around your area is more sustainable than air travel.

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Quick trips. Getting out locally means you can do it more often! Long weekend trips are a lot easier to take when the destination is a short drive away.

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Easy to plan. Preparing your itinerary for a local getaway will likely save you some time and stress.

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More convenient. Especially if you have little ones, sticking close to home may be much more convenient than far-off destinations. If you forget something, have an emergency, or need to cut the trip short, being closeby definitely has its benefits.

Explore Local: Helena, Montana

Montana’s capital has so much adventure right in its backyard. Here are our favorite things to do and places to explore in Helena!

*Note: Some of the suggestions may not be doable due to coronavirus closures, but keep this list handy for when things start opening back up more! Be sure to check individual pages for specific operation details.

Parks in Helena, Montana

Lewis & Clark Caverns State Park

For many who come to Montana, one of the main draws is the incredible diversity of outdoor spaces and recreation opportunities. Here are some of the coolest state and national parks in the Helena, MT area.

Black Sandy State Park

Located along the western shore of the Hauser Lake reservoir, Black Sandy State Park encompasses more than 40 acres of beautiful Montana countryside and is located only 13 miles northeast of Helena. Among its many attractions, visitors are especially drawn to the lake itself for boating, fishing, and swimming, as well as staying the weekend in the well-developed park campground, which also offers ADA-accessible facilities.

Lewis & Clark Caverns State Park

There’s more to Montana than meets the eye — and at Lewis & Clark Caverns State Park, visitors get the opportunity to see what this landscape is like below. Consisting of more than 3,000 acres of preserved lands and surreal subterranean caves, this park also features above-ground hiking trails as well as an informative visitor’s center, a gift shop, food and beverage concessions, and more.

Lost Creek State Park

Among other things, Lost Creek State Park is famous for the stunning Lost Creek Falls, which cascade more than 50 feet into the waters lying below. Of course, this isn’t the only dramatic sight available to those who visit this unique preserve: it’s also characterized by towering limestone and granite cliffs who rise in multicolored spires up to 1,200 feet above the canyon floor. It’s a great spot for hiking, biking, wildlife viewing, and more.

Missouri Headwaters State Park

The Missouri River meanders more than 2,000 miles from its source here in Montana to its terminus in Illinois, where it meets the Mississippi. It all starts at Brower’s Spring, which is nestled into Missouri Headwaters State Park — and which offers a truly unique outdoor opportunity for you and your family. Along with the magic of simply observing such a phenomenal natural resource, this park also has massive historical significance as home to the Three Forks of the Missouri National Historic Landmark, a famous site where Lewis and Clark themselves camped in 1805. It’s also filled with lush foliage and wildlife and makes for a great outdoor getaway from Helena’s busy downtown atmosphere.

Spring Meadow Lake State Park

Located immediately adjacent to helena, Spring Meadow Lake State Park offers a great way for locals to get away from it all without having to go very far at all. Covering more than 60 acres, the park is home to a man-made, springfed lake (its namesake) as well as the beautiful forested shoreline perfect for an afternoon stroll. This park is day-use only.

Tower Rock State Park

A landmark for Native Americans and later a waypoint for fur trappers, Tower Rock has been an important local site for centuries — and today, it’s preserved in Tower Rock State Park, and is open to the general public for visitation. Towering more than 420 feet above the land below, Tower Rock itself is just the start of the fun to see and experience in this park, which stretches more than 140 acres and includes a hiking trail with interpretive signage.

Hiking in Helena, Montana

Hiking may as well be considered the state pastime in Montana — and those lucky enough to call Helena home don’t have to go very far at all to get their boots on the ground. Here are the best hiking trails in the Helena, MT area.

Missouri River Beaver Creek Trail

In the mood for something leisurely and simple? The Missouri River Beaver Creek Trail wanders about three and a half miles along the waterside all told and sees less than 400 feet in elevation change along the way, so it’s the perfect place for a lengthy afternoon stroll — or a quick trail run, if you’re that type. The trail is also open to dogs, and there are also lots of places along the way to cast your line if you’re in for a bit of fishing!

Mount Helena via Prospect Shafts Trail and Hogback Trail

Not every city is lucky enough to have a mountain in its backyard, but Helena is! While there are many ways to climb the mountain, taking Mount Helena via Prospect Shafts Trail and Hogback Trail allows for a moderately challenging hike that offers a variety of ecosystems and views along the way. A three miles round-trip and more than 1,100 feet in elevation gain, you’ll certainly sweat a bit, so be sure to bring lots of water!

Trout Creek Canyon

A stunning and ancient geological formation tucked into Helena National Forest, Trout Creek Canyon offers a unique hiking opportunity for those willing to follow this almost-eight-mile out-and-back trail. Seeing about 800 feet in elevation change along the way, it’s not incredibly strenuous… but a trail that long and undulating will certainly give you a bit of a workout. Good thing the views are stunning enough to keep you occupied the whole time!

Mount Ascension

Another nearby mountain just calling out to be climbed, Mount Ascension is a fairly forgiving peak. The trail to the top measures just over three miles altogether and sees less than a thousand feet in elevation gain, so while you’ll certainly feel your calves and quads, it isn’t grueling labor. This trail is also popular amongst mountain bikers!

Vigilante Overlook Trail (Hanging Valley)

An option tucked into Helena National Forest perfect for those in the mood for a more serious, challenging endeavor, Vigilante Overlook Trail leads hikers to one-of-a-kind views of the so-called “hanging valley” that this part of the country is so lucky to call its own. However, you definitely want to be prepared before you set out on this hike: at almost 11 miles round-trip and with more than 3,300 feet in elevation change along the way, it’s not for the faint of heart!

Restaurants in Helena, Montana

If you want to keep up with all the incredible adventure there is to find in Helena, you’re going to need a meal or five. Good thing there are so many wonderful eateries in town! Here are the best restaurants in Helena, no matter what you’re in the mood for.

Lucca’s

Whether it’s date night or just a night when you physically need the indulgence of a heaping plate of carbs, sometimes, the only thing that’s gonna work is Italian cooking — and the best Italian restaurant in Helena is probably Lucca’s. A dinner-only, fine-dining establishment, this spot is known for its fresh takes on classics, offering house-made pastas as well as hand-trimmed steaks, delicious seafood and more.

El Vaquero Taqueria

Small but mighty, El Vaquero Taqueria is tucked into a plaza alongside a Safeway and would be all too easy to overlook. However, those who take the time to get acquainted with this eatery are rewarded with some of the best Mexican food in the whole state of Montana, let alone Helena: the chorizo burrito and chile relleno are especially popular, not to mention the namesake tacos themselves. 

Nagoya Steakhouse and Sushi

If you’re looking for the best Asian cuisine in Helena, look no further than Nagoya Steakhouse and Sushi, which serves up a variety of rolls and sashimi dishes as well as hot plates like teriyaki, hibachi grill delights, deep-fried tempura options and more. This spot also offers a full bar, so you can wash your meal down with a sake sangria or wasabi mary.

Cafe Zydeco

A small Montana chain with locations in Bozeman and Billings as well as Helena, Cafe Zydeco serves up something a little different: Cajun comfort food that will have you feeling like you’ve taken a trip to New Orleans without the lengthy flight (or even lengthier drive). From spicy crawfish to sumptuous steaks and classics like jambalaya, there’s no shortage of exciting flavors to choose from here!

Murry’s Cafe

Montana — and the mountain west in general — may not be known for its plethora of plant-based options. But those looking to enjoy vegetarian and vegan eats will find plenty of good choices at Murry’s Cafe, a local diner founded back in 2008 to meet the need for healthy and satisfying food served up fast and with friendly service. (Don’t worry, there are plenty of carnivorous options to choose from, too!)

Activities in Helena, Montana

Great dining and the great outdoors are truly just the beginning of the fun to be had in Helena this weekend (or whenever you decide to explore). Here are some more of our top picks for things to do in Montana!

For Kids and Families

Bringing the whole family along? The more, the merrier! Here are our favorite opportunities for explorers of all ages.

Great Northern Carousel 

Carousels aren’t just for summertime fairs anymore! The Great Northern Carousel is an indoor amusement ride that offers kids and adults of all ages the chance to ride one of 37 unique, hand-carved animals no matter what the weather outside is doing. From traditional horses to salmon and all sorts of other wild creatures, this carousel is also a perfect place to hold a child’s birthday party.

ExplorationWorks

The kind of hands-on science museum that will make your kids (and you!) realize just how incredible the world around us really is, ExplorationWorks is an incredible way to spend a rainy or snowy afternoon. Offering interactive exhibits as well as day camps and other organized events and activities, there really is something here for the kid inside all of us, no matter our physical age.

At Night

After the brightly burning Montana sun goes down, things really heat up. Here are our favorite things to do in Helena once the daytime hours are over.

Grandstreet Theatre

Movies are one thing — but there’s nothing quite like local community theater to help you feel connected to the arts and the heart of human emotion. Grandstreet Theatre is home to Helena’s best local actors, who bring a wide variety of shows to life on stage. A great option for those looking for things for couples to do in Helena!

Helena Astronomical Society

One of the best things about living in the wide-open west? The incredible dark skies speckled with scrawls of stars. Helena Astronomical Society is an amateur astronomy club open to those of all experience levels, and they hold multiple free, open-to-the-public stargazing events that make for an excellent after-hours activity option in Helena and the surrounding countryside. 

Cheap Things to Do in Helena

Don’t want to spend an arm and a leg to get familiar with town? You don’t have to! Here are our favorite low-cost things to do in Helena.

Helena Farmers’ Market

There’s nothing like wandering through a well-stocked farmers market, teeming with local produce as well as arts and crafts, prepared foods, and more. The Helena Farmers’ Market has been in business for almost 50 years, and offers a great diversity of choices as well as a fun and festive atmosphere — and you don’t have to spend anything at all if you don’t want to! (You’ll probably find something fun to buy, though.)

Original Governor’s Mansion

A beautiful Queen Anne-style construction dating back to 1888, Original Governor’s Mansion gives visitors a unique look into old Helena life… and it’s open to the public for incredibly reasonable prices. Guided tours start at just $4 per adult and $1 per child, or get the whole family in for $10; whichever is cheaper!

Free Things to Do in Helena

It’s true: there are plenty of things you can do in Helena for absolutely free. Here are some options.

Holter Museum of Art

It’s not often you get to meander a collection as broad as the ones you’ll find at the Holter Museum of Art free of cost… but here in Helena, that’s exactly how it is! Its permanent collection is regularly bolstered by temporary, rotating installations, and pieces span centuries of time as well as broad swaths of geographical space.

Montana State Capitol

You’re in the Montana state capital, so you might as well visit the Montana State Capitol — especially since it’s free! Take a self-guided tour of this unique and important building Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and weekend from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., no fee necessary. (The Capitol is closed on major holidays.)

Montana State Capitol

Wellness in Helena, Montana

Spas in Helena

Who doesn’t need some pampering every now and then? Whether it’s a massage, a facial, or a new haircut, here are some of the best day spas and salons in Helena for those days when you just need some “me” time.

Ocean Spirit Massage

You may be miles from the ocean, but Ocean Spirit Massage will leave you feeling refreshed and rejuvenated the same way a day of salty air and sun can, thanks to its wide range of massage modalities offered by knowledgeable and empathetic professionals. Packages are also available to help you get the most for your money!

Calleis Spa and Salon

If you consider the ingredients used in your beauty and wellness treatments just as important as the treatments themselves, get yourself to Calleis Spa and Salon — the local Aveda option, offering naturally derived, plant-based products for everything from haircare to skincare and more. Offering salon treatments like haircuts, coloring and nail services as well as spa treatments like massage, you’ll look and feel like a million bucks when you walk out of this place.

Best Gyms & Yoga Studios

Staying in shape is the only way you’re going to be strong enough to tackle those incredible mountains around Helena… and the mountains day-to-day life can tend to throw your way. Here are the best gyms and yoga studios in Helena for those in need of a sweat sesh.

Capital City Health Club

The kind of comprehensive gym where you’ll find whatever you’re looking for, be it cardio equipment, strength-training machines, free weights or the community vibe you need to get motivated to meet your goals, Capital City Health Club is the local go-to fitness center for a reason!

Loft Studio

Offering traditional yoga classes as well as heated yoga, Pilates, and barre-style fitness, Loft Studio is your one-stop shop for strengthening your body as well as your mind. 

Day Trips near Helena, Montana

While there’s certainly plenty of excitement to keep you occupied in Helena proper, there are also some incredible day tripping and weekend getaway opportunities in the nearby vicinity! Here are some of our favorite places to scope out near Helena.

Missoula

Known as the home of the University of Montana (as well as a range of other prestigious colleges and universities), Missoula marries the small-town, mountain west feel with a plethora of cultural and artistic attractions — and it’s also the setting of A River Runs Through It, and indeed, one does. While you meander downtown, be sure to hit the farmers market and pick up some morels if they’re in season, and check out the unique man-made wave installed in the river, which local surfers hang out on for minutes at a time. Impressive!

Virginia City & Nevada City

About two hours away from Helena, Virginia City and Nevada City, Montana offer a unique opportunity to get a taste of what life was like in the old west. Gold rush towns originally founded in the mid-1800s, these two towns are just minutes from each other — and are both frozen in time, “ghost towns” that have come alive with fun and informative tourist opportunities. You can even get from one town to the other on a locomotive that runs between the two on an hourly basis.

As a final reminder, some of these activities may need to wait until businesses fully reopen from coronavirus closures. However, there is still much to see and experience in Helena that you can enjoy today! What are your favorite spots in Helena? Send them our way to [email protected] or by tagging us on Instagram @rvshare and using the hashtag #rvsharelocal.

Missoula, Montana

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