Helena has grown from a small mining town to one of the largest cities in Montana as well as the state’s capital. Located just adjacent to its namesake mountain, it’s a great city to visit if you’re looking for a mix of city life and natural beauty.
Called the Queen City of the Rockies, Helena is just on the west side of the continental divide. Its unique position just near the Rockies and in the middle of the state can make the weather somewhat of an anomaly in Montana, with considerably less rain than some of its western counterparts.
While this attracts scores of tourists, you may still be wondering when is the best time for a visit.
If you’re unsure what’s the best time of year to visit Helena, here’s a brief rundown of the various tourist seasons, monthly weather, and calendar of major events.
Best Time To Visit Helena For…
Best Time to Book Hotels in Helena
The best time to book hotels in Helena – strictly price-wise – is in the winter. This is when you’ll find the lowest prices of the year and the most likelihood of finding a room or cabin last minute.
Best Time for Sightseeing in Helena
A lot of folks visit Helena as a gateway to a myriad of outdoor activities. For the largest selection of tours and most road accessibility, summer is the best time to come.
Even in town, all types of businesses often keep longer hours to take advantage of the long days, giving you more time to hit every restaurant, shop, and attraction you’d like to see.
Best Time for Shopping in Helena
In December, businesses in Downtown Helena all get decked out in their Christmas finery, often accompanied by some lucrative holiday sales. If you want to do some shopping while you’re in town, come during the holiday season when shopping is truly an event.
Best Time for Festivals & Events in Helena
Summer is by far the best season for festivals in Helena, with several different types of music, art, and sports events spread throughout June, July, and August. Just remember: some require you to buy tickets in advance, so keep an eye out early, just in case.
Helena Travel Seasons
Summer is the high season for tourism to Helena, with July being the busiest month and June and August slightly less crowded. While prices for flights and accommodations can be escalated this time of year, most activities will be the same unless they’re specifically pegged to tourists.
You’ll find some of the best deals on hotels from November through March during Helena’s low season. While it may be hard to find absolutely rock-bottom prices in December during the holiday season, bargain hunters will probably find a deal or two available.
The low season is a great time to rent a room in an isolated lodge or a private cabin, which can be as little as half the price that they would be in the summer, and present a cozy respite from the winter chill outside.
Shoulder season presents a good combination of well-priced flights and reasonable weather, particularly in September when it’s not unlikely for the weather to still be somewhat balmy.
Helena can have a long summer compared to other parts of Montana, so it might still be possible to schedule outdoors-pegged tours in May or September as well, depending on the activity.
Helena Weather by Month
Average High: 30º | Average Low: 11º
January is usually the coldest month of the year, with both days and nights usually falling below freezing. Helena has pretty good access to the rest of Montana via a major interstate, but smaller highways in the area could suffer from infrequent plowing or poor conditions so take care while driving.
You’ll definitely need plenty of weather-appropriate gear this time of year, as well as plenty of layers in case the weather dips even further.
Average High: 36º | Average Low: 15º
While you’ll likely encounter snow in February, you could also get caught in the rain. Because it occasionally gets just warm enough to melt the snowpack during the day, take care when driving at night and first thing in the morning, as there’s a strong possibility you could encounter black ice.
Average High: 46º | Average Low: 23º
While it still gets below freezing at night, March has more reasonable temperatures, especially toward the end of the month. While it can still snow in Helena in March, serious snowstorms are less likely than earlier in the winter. Driving can still be tricky, and snow tires can help, especially if you’re headed to one of the nearby ski areas.
Average High: 56º | Average Low: 31º
While April is still quite cold, if you’re lucky you may arrive to find temperatures during the day hit as much as 60º. Though other areas in Montana, particularly on the other side of the continental divide, can be quite rainy in April, Helena is usually crisp and bright. Though in-town roads are usually fine this time of year, take care when driving across the Rockies.
Average High: 65º | Average Low: 39º
May is the first month of the year when you may want to pack some rain gear if you’re visiting. While you won’t typically find freezing temperatures in Helena in May, getting caught unprepared in the rain may send you running back to your hotel. If you’d like to be the most comfortable, come prepared.
Average High: 74º | Average Low: 47º
June is the rainiest month of the year, so you’ll want to pack an umbrella at the very least. Aside from the frequent showers, Helena has its first few legitimately warm days in June, and the festival season begins. It can be tricky packing for a trip to Helena this time of year because you’ll have to plan for both hot and cold weather, but ensuring you bring plenty of layers will ensure you have the most options.
Average High: 84º | Average Low: 53º
Though July is the hottest month of the year, Helena rarely exceeds 90º. If you’re heat-averse, it might be your perfect summer holiday spot, though note that it can get somewhat humid. Montanans love to be outside as much as possible during the summer, and you should definitely join them. Just be sure to bring a swimsuit in case you’d like to go wild swimming, and don’t leave your jacket at home as nights can still get chilly.
Average High: 83º | Average Low: 51º
Nearly as warm as July, August in Helena is hot enough during the day, but still chilly enough at night to pack a jacket and some long pants. This is a great time of year to explore the mountains, as all the roads are open and have the best conditions of the entire year.
Average High: 71º | Average Low: 41º
At the beginning of September, you’ll still likely get some warm days, but temperatures begin to drop dramatically by the end of the month. But if you’re interested in any kind of strenuous outdoor activity, this might be the perfect time to visit, as the brunt of the summer heat will be gone. September in Helena means clear skies and crisp air, perfect for hiking, backpacking, and mountain climbing.
Average High: 57º | Average Low: 31º
At the beginning of the shoulder season in Montana, October in Helena can get cold, though most days are still clear and bright. Despite the newfound chill, there’s plenty of sunshine for exploring the city and surrounding natural areas. You could find some snow flurries if you’re driving across the pass, so there can be occasional delays.
Average High: 42º | Average Low: 20º
While it’s rare for snow to accumulate very much in November, this is when Helena gets its first snow flurries, especially overnight. The city begins to feel decidedly wintery and demands that the coats, gloves, and scarves come out of storage. Driving can become difficult as the roads begin to freeze at night again, and mountain passes could see considerable snowfall.
Average High: 31º | Average Low: 11º
December in Helena is when winter begins in earnest. Freezing temperatures return, and snow can accumulate on the ground. Be sure to pack proper winter gear and plenty of layers to keep warm if you’re planning a visit during this time, especially because holiday season activities may draw you outdoors frequently. Driving on main roads and the interstate is generally fine, but smaller roads and highways may be easier to navigate with snow tires and four-wheel drive.
Annual Helena Events and Festivals
This annual rodeo and fair is over 60 years old, but it still draws huge crowds every year. In addition to all the classic rodeo events, you’ll find a 4H fair that features entries in a myriad of categories, including livestock and handcrafts. The long weekend culminates in a parade!
For a week in mid-July, Helena gets decked out in rainbows for its annual pride week, Big Sky Pride. Lots of local businesses and organizations collaborate to create a fun-filled week full of events, including their Pride Parade.
Every Monday during the summer, the Myrna Loy Center hosts thematic performances of dance, music, and film. A different theme is chosen every year and seeks to highlight the unique connection to the arts that exists in Montanan culture.
In mid-July on the lawn of Carroll College, the Helena Symphony performs a one-night, outdoor concert at night. Dubbed Symphony Under the Stars, it can attract as many as 15,000 spectators and is thought to be the largest single event in the entire state of Montana.
Every Halloween season, Spring Meadow Resources creates an immersive, spooky experience with their Haunted Barn & Sleepy Hollow. Much more than just a haunted house, they’ve created an interactive stroll down the nearby creek that transforms it into a real-life version of Irving’s classic novel.
Every fall, Downtown Helena businesses invite local artists to display their work, turning normal shops into galleries. Visitors are invited to stroll from shop to shop, and enjoy free food, drink and live music. This event occurs annually on a Friday evening in mid-November. There is also a spring edition.
One of two Art and Craft Shows are held every year at the Helena Civic Center (the other is in the spring,) the fall edition happens at the end of October. You’ll find hundreds of vendors selling fine art, and other handmade goods and wares.
This holiday decorating contest invites Downtown Helena businesses to participate in a competition for the best Christmas display. Most shops participate, completing their displays by the end of November, then voting lasts through mid-December. Shops generally keep their displays up until the beginning of January, so you’ll have over a month to browse them.
Helena kicks off the holiday season at the end of November with their Parade of Lights. This illuminated parade cruises down Last Chance Gulch to Anchor Park, where Santa will make his first appearance of the season.
Like many cities around the world, going to see the Nutcracker is a Helena holiday tradition. This version, performed by the Queen City Ballet, is performed twice annually. There’s one Saturday and one Sunday show at the end of November at the Helena Civic Center.
Ski Areas Open for the Season
The most visited ski areas for locals in Helena are Great Divide and Mac Donald Pass, which is maintained by the USDA Forest Service. Opening dates can vary, but usually no more than a day or two from their projected opening day at most.
An Alpine ski area on the continental divide, Great Divide is just northeast of Helena and is usually the first ski area in Montana to open for the season. This locally-owned ski area usually opens in early November, though in 2020 they broke records by opening October 31st.
This cross-country skiing trailhead is on public land, but trails are well marked and groomed frequently. You’ll find it just off of highway 12, though try to arrive early as there is limited parking. You’ll find the best conditions from mid-December until mid-March.
Every spring, Downtown Helena businesses invite local artists to display their work, turning normal shops into galleries. Visitors are invited to stroll from shop to shop, and enjoy free food, drink and live music. This event occurs annually on a Friday evening in early May. There is also a fall edition.
One of two Art and Craft Shows held every year at the Helena Civic Center (the other is in the fall,) the Spring edition happens at the end of March. You’ll find hundreds of vendors selling fine art, and other handmade goods and wares.