13 Awesome Things to Do in Columbia Falls, Montana (+ Tours & Free Activities)

Rebecca Hanlon
Last Updated: March 4th, 2023

Located a short distance from Glacier National Park, Columbia Falls, Montana, offers plenty of outdoor activity as well as a vibrant cultural experience boosted by its appeal to tourists looking to explore Big Sky Country.

There is no shortage of options for things to do in Columbia Falls, and here you will find a list to help you make the most out of your visit.

The 10 Best Things to Do in Columbia Falls, MT

  1. Montana Vortex and House of Mystery
  2. Big Sky Waterpark
  3. Bad Rock Canyon
  4. Depot Park
  5. Shepard Memorial Fountain
  6. Heritage Days Festival & Rodeo
  7. Cabin Fever Days & World-Famous Barstool Ski Races
  8. Columbia Falls Community Market
  9. Gateway to Glacier
  10. Hungry Horse Dam & Reservoir

1. Montana Vortex and House of Mystery

montana vortex and house of mystery
Image: montanavortex

Come for the optical illusions, stay for the mystery. A perfect activity for kids, the House of Mystery is a crooked shack in the center of a big Montana vortex where the rules of gravity appear to be suspended. Skeptical? You’ll have to visit it for yourself to see!

For $12, you can marvel at the physics behind some pretty squirrely trees, learn about the Golden Ratio, and take a few pics for the ‘gram. Hey, we think it’s a pretty fun and interactive experience!

2. Big Sky Waterpark

big sky waterpark

Ten exhilarating water slides, a whirlpool, mini-golf, an arcade, a rock climbing wall, bumper cars… What doesn’t Big Sky have!?

It’s officially Montana’s largest waterpark, and it shows! There are faster rides for the braver kids (and adults!), but also smaller spaces for younger kids – as well as free life jackets for toddlers and non-swimmers.

Our favorite part? Gas barbecues are available at the ready for the public, turning Big Sky Waterpark into a full-on party. Day passes, Value Passes, and Season Passes are all available for some good, clean fun.

3. Bad Rock Canyon

A little over 2.5 miles east of Columbia Falls is a beautiful canyon area, and it acts as an entrance to the Bob Marshall Wilderness Area.

With Flathead River running through it, Bad Rock Canyon has cool spring water, scenic views, and huge mountain lions.

We love the interpretive signs about past indigenous uses of the natural canyon waters, as well as the colorful ice falls in the wintertime.

Legend says that this area was once home to the Blackfeet War between Blackfeet Indians and newer settlers. We can understand why they’d want to defend this breathtaking space, and we’re glad it’s still available for public viewing.

4. Depot Park

There may only be one featured exhibit here, but it’s a beautiful example of a steam locomotive – and let’s be honest, we don’t get to see a lot of those these days.

Providing some early history of logging in the area, this spot is perfect for families looking to stretch their legs. (You can even climb onto the train and ring the bell – who doesn’t want to do that?!).

We’d recommend spending an hour or two in the area before hitting up the local favorite Three Forks Grille.

5. Shepard Memorial Fountain

Shepard Memorial Fountain

Looking for a place to refill your water bottle after a trek through the gorgeous Glacier National Park?

This Columbia Falls fountain honors pastor Lion Don Shepard and features water that’s always flowing – hallelujah!

A lot of people say this is the best water that can be found nearby, but people also enjoy this Flathead River area off of Highway 2 E for its prolific rock climbing opportunities. Drink up!

6. Heritage Days Festival & Rodeo

heritage days festival and rodeo

Held annually during the last weekend of July, Heritage Days honors the unique logging and agricultural history of Columbia Falls, and features a suspenseful rodeo, auction, barn dance, parade, carnival, and more.

While Heritage Days began in 1956 as a way to bring prosperity to the area, it continues to this day as a celebration that can’t be missed for locals.

If you’re in town for the festivities, don’t forget to check out the car show and delicious huckleberry flavors.

7. Cabin Fever Days & World Famous Barstool Ski Races

We like to think that the 43+ year success of the Cabin Fever Days & Barstool Ski Races comes from the enthusiasm of locals and adventurous travelers alike. A whole weekend of fun, this annual mid-February celebration facilitates races for the entire family to watch or participate in.

We love the entertaining barstool races, arm wrestling, leg wrestling, dart tournaments – this event is just plain fun! It truly is the perfect cure for later wintertime cabin fever.

8. Columbia Falls Community Market

columbia falls community market

Open from May to September, the Columbia Falls Community Market is a local staple! What started as a farmers market has catapulted into Thursday night live music, artisan gifts, locally brewed beer, and – of course – fresh fruits and vegetables.

Starting at 5pm and lasting until twilight, we love the local honey, farms,fresh flowers,  and the fact that we’re doing our part to lower our carbon footprint. We can drink to that!

9. Gateway to Glacier

gateway to glacier
Image: gatewaytoglaciertrail

This 12 mile paved hike and bike trail offers plenty of photo opportunities – or just moments to immerse yourself in Montana beauty. What we like about this trail is that it’s easily accessible, so it’s perfect for families who want to enjoy the beautiful scenery. The folks at Gateway to Glacier are committed to creating a network of Glacier trails – and we really like the initiative of introducing nature to a wider audience.

But our other local favorite is Johns Lake Loop, a 1.9 mile trail that sees you through mossy forests, two waterfalls, and just a genuinely beautiful hike. Get your camera out for this one – you might get to commune with some ducks along the way.

10. Hungry Horse Dam & Reservoir

hungry horse dam and reservoir

Travel just a bit east of Columbia Falls and you’ll get to Hungry Horse Dam, a summer favorite off of the Flathead River. One of the country’s largest concrete arch dams, Hungry Horse Reservoir sits at about 34 miles long – and it’s a popular spot for boating, fishing, and swimming.

We like to gather here with family and friends to celebrate big life events, surrounded by mountains and good vibes. See you there!

Free Things to Do in Columbia Falls

11. The Night of Lights

Ongoing for over 30 years, the Night of Lights is a fun-filled community gathering to get into the holiday spirit. Want to go to a craft fair? They’ve got one. How about a parade? On it. And of course, live music and some quality time with Santa. This is one of the Columbia Falls annual highlights!

12. Visit Bad Rock Books

Do you love the smell of old books, or is that just us? How about unofficial bookstore cats? It sounds like a dream we could get lost in, and we’re glad we get to wake up and visit Bad Rock Books. Just take a seat in a cozy chair and read a book – or if you do want to spend money, they have a great little cafe selection. Bookworms unite!

13. Trails, trails, trails!

We recommend the Belton Bridge Trail, the more difficult Columbia Mountain Trail, and – for the bikers out there – the Apgar Bike Trail. Hiking and biking may be free, but you’ll be rich in experiences and stunning views!

7 Best Tours in Columbia Falls, Montana

  • Glacier Adventure Guides Based out of Columbia Falls, this tour guide company offers a once-in-a-lifetime chance to trek through the front and backcountry of Glacier National Park and the surrounding areas. Looking to update your selfie game? Glacier Adventure Guides provide year-round opportunities for snowshoeing, skiing, rock climbing, hiking, winter and summer camping, and more.
    And, their local experts proudly share the ins and outs of the area – complete with custom itineraries, shuttle services, and gear rental. One thing’s for sure: this is your one-stop shop for all things adventure! Our suggestion: take a big group and book through their user-friendly website.
  • Relax with the Glacier Park Boat Company Operating since 1938, the folks at Glacier Park Boat Company know a thing or two about facilitating a good time on the water. As an environmentally conscious family-owned business, they love being stewards of the great waters and land of Big Sky Country.
    Five options abound for water lovers: Two Medicine Lake, Lake McDonald, St. Mary Lake, Many Lake, and Lake Apgar at Lake McDonald – and there are multiple hiking opportunities, too. A word of wisdom for those with small bladders: since the boats don’t have bathrooms, you’ll want to visit a bathroom beforehand. (You’re welcome!) Then, head over to Backslope Brewing for an IPA and their famous Jamm Burger.
  • Zip Line Tour with Glacier Ziplines Even a fear of heights can’t stop you from witnessing the beauty surrounding Glacier Ziplines! Open June through September, this adventure outfit will have you whizzing through tree canopies – with spectacular views of Badrock Canyon, Flathead River, and more.
    What’s our favorite thing about Glacier Ziplines? Conquering our fear of heights through an interactive experience with trustworthy guides, surrounded by close friends. These tours take about 1-2 hours to complete, depending on group size, so grab your close-toed shoes and get ready for an awesome adventure. (We won’t judge if you yell like Tarzan! We may have done the same…)
  • Swerve through the Slopes with Swan Mountain Snowmobiling Deep in the heart of Glacier Country, you can brave the backcountry or have a fun jaunt with your adrenaline junkie friends. Top-of-the-line rental equipment ensures safety at Swan Mountain Snowmobiling, but let’s get to the good stuff: speeding through Desert Mountain, Canyon Creek, or Crane Mountain. Our favorite spot is Canyon Creek, which begins 5 miles north of Columbia Falls and takes you deep into forests out of a storybook.
    And okay, maybe we also just really like the warm, cozy drinks at our favorite pot of gold destination after a long snow sesh, Whitefish Mountain Resort.
  • Channel Your Inner Bird Nerd with Glacier Birding Adventures Also based out of Columbia Falls, local bird nerd Joshua Covill has been leading local birding field trips since he was 14 – so he’s got an encyclopedic knowledge about Montana wildlife. We love that he offers personalized half-day and full-day tours – perfect for an individual or a full group. And similar to the boat tours, food won’t be provided so you’ll want to pack your own lunch – or hit up North Folk Pizza afterward for hot huckleberry wings and perfectly greasy specialty pizzas. (Those wings!)
  • Cast a Line with Montana Fishing Guides There’s a reason Montana is called “The Last Best Place,” if its fish-abundant rivers and lakes are any indications. The folks at Montana Fishing Guides know that sometimes an expert is truly the best way to take in a new environment.
    Whether you’re into trout or just looking to spend a few hours on the water, these guided trips include fishing equipment, snacks and beverages for half-day trips, and an included lunch for full-day trips. And you should probably look into some polarized sunglasses if you’re going to spend time on the water – fishing is a patient person’s sport. See you on the water!
  • Hydrate with Big Sky Brews Cruise Last but not least, Big Sky Brews Cruise is a great alternative for those of you looking to pour a few beers from the area. Some adventures don’t need a trail! Hop around to participating breweries and taprooms in Columbia Falls, Kalispell, Whitefish, and more. With tours lasting around 4 hours depending on group size, you’re sure to have a wild ride.

Final Thoughts

A trip to Columbia Falls is ideal for those wanting to explore the vast wilderness of Montana, with its proximity to the Glacier National Park offering year-round opportunities for exploration.

Alternatively, you can plan your visit around events such as the popular Heritage Days Festival and Rodeo. As the town can get quite busy during this time, we recommend checking out available accommodations well in advance.

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About The Author

Rebecca Hanlon

Rebecca has been a travel blogger and editor for over 5 years, working with some of the biggest brands in industry. She’s taught English as a foreign language in 5 different countries, and her most fulfilling role was as a tour guide around some of Europe’s finest vineyards. She the one behind the social channels here at Discovering Montana, whilst also finding the time to perform an assistant editor role.

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