Great Falls, Montana sits where the prairie meets the mountains and is Montana’s hub for western art. With the Missouri River passing through the city, Great Falls is a perfect stop for outdoor recreation enthusiasts and art or history buffs, alike.
There are many things to do in and around Great Falls, MT that you may find it hard to see and do everything in just one stay.
Great Falls is named for five waterfalls on the Missouri River just to the north of the city. The Lewis and Clark Expedition spent 31 days in the area of Great Falls making preparations to portage around the five waterfalls. Today, three of the five falls are used to generate hydroelectric power and give the city’s its nickname, “The Electric City”
Annually, around 1-million people visit Great Falls, making it one of the most popular tourist destinations in Montana. The draw for many visitors includes the 10 museums, the historical sites, and of course the outdoor activities.
In this article, we will take a closer look at Great Falls, Montana, and the many activities in and around the area.
Your Guide to Great Falls, Montana
The Top 3 Hotels in Great Falls
BEST BUDGET HOTEL
- Pets Allowed
- Business Center
- Tea/Coffee Maker in All Rooms
Great Falls Main Attractions
Great Falls, MT is steeped in history, and many of the sites you’ll want to make sure to visit revolve around that history. If you aren’t a history buff, don’t worry, there are great things for you to see and do as well.
River’s Edge Trail
The main pedestrian corridor of the city, the River’s Edge Trail is a great way to see all of Great Falls on foot or on bike. The trail connects many of the places you’ll want to visit while in Great Falls including the historic downtown, Gibson Park, the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center, Giant Springs State Park, and the city’s namesake The Great Falls of Missouri.
The trail has picnic tables, benches for resting or enjoying the views of the Missouri. For the more adventurous, there are a number of well-marked single-track mountain biking trails that can be accessed from the River’s Edge Trail.
Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center
Since the Great Falls area was home to the Discovery Corps for more than 30 days, it makes sense that this would be a great place to learn about the Expedition. The Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center is one of the largest museums in the west, dedicated to the Lewis and Clark Expedition.
The Center is run by the United States Forest Service and is located within Giant Springs State Park. Along with galleries and educational displays, the Interpretive center also has hands-on activities and interpretive trails that allow you to follow in Lewis and Clark’s footsteps.
Giant Springs State Park
Giant Springs State Park is one of the most visited State Parks in Montana. Besides being located so close to downtown Great Falls, and right along the River’s Edge Trail, this state park is home to one of the largest freshwater springs in the United States.
The Giant Springs was first described In 1805 by the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Today, at Giant Springs State Park you can enjoy the spring’s warm waters or take advantage of numerous opportunities within the 4,500-acre park for fishing, hiking, biking and hunting.
M. Russell Museum
For western art enthusiasts, the C.M. Russell Museum is a must-do when visiting Great Falls. This museum is named after and features the works of Charles Marion Russell, one of the most well-known western artists from Montana.
The museum is a really interesting combination of art, C.M. Russell artifacts, and Native American artifacts. The museum even includes Russell’s log cabin and studio.
First People’s Buffalo Jump State Park
A great place for a hike and to learn more about the history and culture of Native Americans is the First People’s Buffalo Jump State Park. This Park has some of the best archeological finds that show how Native Americans used the area’s cliffs as a way to hunt Bison.
There are two ways to experience the Buffalo Jump. The best way is to walk the three-mile interpretive trail from the bottom of the cliffs to the top. Pick up a trail guide at the trailhead before you start your hike.
If walking isn’t your thing or if you’re pressed for time. Follow the dirt road to the top of the cliffs. There’s a nice parking lot and interpretive signs.
Recreation Activities in Great Falls, MT
There are plenty of ways to recreate in Great Falls depending on what kind of activities you enjoy. The city has a busy Parks and Recreation department with plenty of indoor activity spaces and parks. Here are some of our favorite activities and where you can go for the best experiences.
You’ll not have to go far to find great biking in Great Falls. There are plenty of miles of trails around the city for both road biking and mountain biking. Rent a bike in the historic downtown and cruise the River’s Edge Trail. From here you can pick up single-track trails within Giant Springs State Park.
The Missouri River that runs through the middle of Great Falls is a great place to try your hand at fly-fishing. Check out one of the many local outfitters who can set you up with rental gear or guide you to the best spots on the Missouri.
If you’d rather find a pier or a piece of shoreline to cast your line from, Giant Springs State Park has great fishing spots or just find a quiet spot along the River’s Edge Trail.
Remember to check out the Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks website for information on fishing rules and regulations, and to buy your Montana fishing license, before you start to fish.
There are miles and miles of hiking trails around Great Falls. Besides the trails accessible from the River’s Edge Trail and those in Giant Springs State Park, you’ll find great hiking in the Benton Lake National Wildlife Refuge and in Sluice Boxes State Park.
If you want a more robust hiking opportunity, check out the trail to the top of Crown Butte. From here you’ll get to see the same view that Lewis and Clark had on their first visit to the Great Falls area.
Much of the Missouri River through Great Falls has been dammed for hydroelectric power, so the section of the river through town isn’t a great place for water sports.
However, head out of town a bit and enjoy rafting, canoeing, and kayaking on the Missouri. For a quieter spot, head to Sluice Boxes State Park. Belt Creek is a great place to raft or kayak. However, this area is best for experienced rafters and kayakers who can self-rescue.
Less than an hour from Great Falls is Blackleaf Canyon and Memorial Falls. Both of these areas have great walls and well-established climbing routes.
What Is The Cost of Living in Great Falls?
Compared to the rest of Montana, the overall cost of living in Great Falls is much cheaper. It compares even more favorably to the national average and is close to 10% lower.
Housing prices are by far one of the main benefits of living in the area. Great Falls Southwest appears to be the most expensive area to live in and Great Falls Northwest is one of the cheapest by comparison as far as house prices and living costs go.
Is Great Falls Safe to Live in?
As far as crime goes, Great Falls has somewhat high crime rates with a score of just 3 out of 100 (100 being the best and safest).
That’s a crime incident involving something close to 5 in every 1000 residents, and an annual crime number of over 3,000.
It’s definitely not one of the best there is, and it leaves Great Falls ranked as safer than just 3% of other cities in the U.S. The good news if any is that violent crimes account for just 266 of that number.
What is Great Falls Known for?
Great Falls is in the region of the wilderness belonging to the Lewis and Clark National Forest, which is slight to the west.
The area is thus peaceful and scenic, and although recreation is popular in the area it is quite isolated geographically. This restricts the level of tourism that filters through to some degree but there is plenty of opportunity.
Downtown Great Falls is attractive and stretches along the Missouri River and a partially-redeveloped waterfront. The town is located in a valley surrounded by plateaus and hills aside from the northeastern region which is encircled by mountain ranges.
Though a bit smaller than some other communities in Montana, Great Falls has plenty of options for places to stay. You’ll find a range of accommodations including chain hotels, bed and breakfasts, and vacation homes.
- Crystal Inn Hotel and Suites
- StayBridge Suites Great Falls
- Best Western Plus Riverfront Hotel and Suites
- SpringHill Suites by Marriott
- Hampton Inn Great Falls
- Days Inn by Wyndham Great Falls
Best Time to Visit Great Falls
Like many cities in Montana, the wild swing of the seasons renders many activities in Great Falls seasonal. Visitors should take note of what they can participate in during different times of the year when planning a trip there.
If you’re unsure what’s the best time of year to visit Great Falls, here’s a brief rundown of the various tourist seasons.
Best Time to Book Hotels in Great Falls
The month with the highest vacancies and lowest prices in October. Thankfully, the weather in October is still fairly mild, making this an ideal time to plan a trip to Great Falls for bargain hunters and last-minute vacationers looking for hotels.
Best Time for Sightseeing in Great Falls
Toward the end of summer, the beginning of September is the best time to enjoy the many spoils of the region around Great Falls. With warm weather and very little rain, September is the best time to experience the great outdoors with fewer crowds.
Best Time for Shopping in Great Falls
The holiday season is the best time to shop in Great Falls. In addition to the many national retailers that maintain an outpost there, one of the state’s longest-running holiday markets takes place annually in November.
Best Time for Festivals & Events in Great Falls
August typically has the most festivals and events. With live music, beer gardens, and even auto shows, Great Falls puts on a myriad of outdoor events in the summer to take advantage of the prime weather.
Great Falls Travel Seasons
Like most of Montana, Great Falls enjoys a summer high season. Generally, this is June through August, but note that of them, July is the busiest month of the year for tourism.
This is going to be the most expensive time to book rental cars, hotels, and resort stays, though most attractions in town don’t suffer from much of a “tourist tax”: meaning attractions and dining will largely remain at their standard prices.
The shoulder seasons, meaning spring and fall, aren’t exactly equal. While spring temperatures are certainly higher than in the winter, it is the rainiest time of year.
In May, it can rain as much as a third of the month. Fall is considerably drier and balmier. If you’re looking for the best combination of comfortable weather and low accommodation prices, October is the most ideal.
The low season is during Montana’s long winter. Generally, winter in Montana lasts from November until April. Though it snows less in Great Falls than in some other Montanan cities, it can still be bitterly cold, especially at night.
The snowiest month is December, so if you prefer your cold days with clear skies, it’s best to aim for February.
Great Falls Weather by Month
Average High: 38º | Average Low: 19º
With cold, windy days and rarely a night above freezing, January in Great Falls can be a shock to the uninitiated.
While major thoroughfares and interstates are plowed regularly in the winter, you may still need snow tires to feel more comfortable driving, and do take a set of chains if you plan on going skiing in the Rockies.
You’ll have to bundle up completely both at night and during the day, so be sure to pack enough winter gear.
Average High: 36º | Average Low: 16º
Despite the cold, February in Great Falls is often one of the sunniest months of the year. Be prepared for some beautiful – but frozen – bluebird days, showcasing those famous big skies.
You’ll still need the winter gear, a rain slicker might be overkill this time of year. Nights dip below freezing, so watch for black ice on the roads, especially first thing in the morning.
Average High: 49º | Average Low: 26º
March is when the temperature rises considerably, especially toward the end of the month. Though it’s still cold, you may be able to get away with a couple of layers and a rain jacket during the day.
The roads can still freeze at night, so continue to take care when driving.
Average High: 58º | Average Low: 33º
The winter chill subsides in Great Falls in April, though this is the beginning of the rainy season. Any rain gear you care to bring would likely be helpful, an umbrella or a hood might be necessary at the least.
In town, roads should be clear this time of year, though any forays into the mountains may still be fraught with road closures and icy conditions.
Average High: 67º | Average Low: 42º
Warm, humid, and rainy, May in Great Falls comes with a welcome increase in temperature though not without the occasional downpour. Generally the rainiest month of the year, May has some miserable stretches of rain punctuated by balmy, sunny days.
Nights can still be cold enough to warrant a proper coat, so be sure to pack one just in case.
Average High: 76º | Average Low: 50º
The first month of the summer high season, June brings warmer temperatures to Great Falls. Though the rains begin to subside somewhat, rain showers still occur and the humidity remains much higher.
The temperature can fluctuate wildly from day to night, so pack plenty of layers. Driving conditions are ideal this time of year, though you may encounter road maintenance or construction along stretches that were damaged over the winter.
Average High: 87º | Average Low: 56º
July is the hottest month of the year in Great Falls, with clear blue skies and hot days. While you still may need a jacket at night, you’ll want to have some legitimately summery clothes on hand for exploring during the day.
Driving conditions are ideal in July, so no extraordinary precautions need to be taken.
Average High: 84º | Average Low: 53º
Fully in the swing of Summer, August in Great Falls has hot, clear days perfect for lounging outdoors and swimming in the lake.
This is the busiest month of the festival season, so be sure to pack summer clothes, layers for after nightfall, and plenty of sunscreen.
Average High: 73º | Average Low: 45º
While September temperatures begin to dip, September in Great Falls is still a great time for outdoor activities. Hikers, backpackers, and mountain climbers will find the slightly lower temperatures appealing for strenuous activities.
Average High: 59º | Average Low: 37º
The beginning of the shoulder season in Montana, October in Great Falls can be a bit chilly, though most days are still clear and bright.
With plenty of sunshine and cool, crisp air, this is a great month to spend time in the city exploring. You could find some snow flurries if you’re driving through the mountains, so be prepared for delays.
Average High: 46º | Average Low: 27º
The first snows reach Great Falls in November as the temperature drops. This is when the city begins to feel 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: 34º | Average Low: 17º
Generally the coldest month of the year, December in Great Falls comes with frigid temperatures and the occasional snowfall. 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 Events and Festivals
- City Band Summer Concerts: Every Wednesday evening from June until August, the Great Falls Municipal Band performs a concert at the Gibson Park bandshell. Though there is some bleacher seating available, you’re encouraged to bring a picnic blanket or a lawn chair in case it fills up.
- Downtown Summer Jam: For three weekend nights in the middle of summer, part of Downtown Great Falls is closed to traffic to erect the grounds and stage for the Downtown Summer Jam. Both National and local acts play, and rounding out the event are many different food trucks, beer gardens, and other vendors.
- Big River Ruckus: This new sports and music festival combines some of Montana’s favorite pastimes with both local and touring bands on two stages. Featuring pickleball, disc golf, and a fun run combined with live music, this annual concert series is held at the beginning of September as a send-off to summer.
- BMW Motorcycle Rally: This giant annual motorcycle exhibition also features live music, a railroad museum, hundreds of vendors, and a Brewfest. If you’d like to register to participate, you can do so as early as the beginning of the year.
- Western Art Week: An exhibition of the best western-style art from in and around Great Falls, Western Art Week gives local gallerists, independent artists, and art students a chance to showcase their work to a wider audience. You’ll find work ranging from classic to ultra-contemporary, with both 2 and 3D art represented.
- Artsfest Montana: This mural festival brings several street artists from around the nation to help redecorate Downtown Great Falls. With three separate locations, the Kellergeist, the Brighten Up Shop, and the Pennington/Russell Building, there’s enough room to host several new murals every year.
- Oktoberfest: Every year in mid-October, the Heidelberg Lounge hosts its own Oktoberfest. Offerings include games, soft pretzels, and of course, plenty of beer.
- Holiday Happenings Craft Show: One of the longest-running Holiday Markets in Montana, the Holiday Happenings Market and Vintage Show has tons of vendors selling gifts, wares, and holiday decorations. This is held annually at the end of November in the Montana ExpoPark.
- Annual Christmas Stroll: Like many cities in Montana, Great Falls hosts an annual Christmas Stroll to inaugurate the holiday season. Businesses decorate their storefronts in lights and find other ways to participate, while the Downtown Association lights the annual Great Falls Christmas tree.
- Ski Areas Open for the Season: While opening dates are always tentative, ski areas in Montana rarely fluctuate more than a day or two from the anticipated day, if at all. Snow accumulation in Montana’s mountains is fairly predictable and resorts usually open right on schedule.
- Great Divide: Montana’s sunniest ski area is also usually its first to open. While they do pick a different opening date annually, it’s usually in mid-November.
- Teton Pass Resort: Formerly known as Rocky Mountain Hi, this ski area in the Rockies usually opens in early December.
- Showdown Montana: This small ski area with a local vibe usually opens in mid-December.
- Easter Egg Hunt: Every year on Saturday before Easter, the Department of Parks and Recreation hosts an Easter Egg hunt for kids in Gibson Park. “Hunting” areas are divided by age, and families are encouraged to arrive by 11 am.
- Ice Breaker Road Race: To celebrate the arrival of spring, the Department of Parks and Recreation holds an annual family fun run called the Ice Breaker. Participants who register in advance will be assigned a number, receive some race swag, and be entered into several drawings to win prizes. You can register by age group for one of three races: a five, three, or one-mile race.
- Kids Fishing Day: To maintain this important part of Montanan culture, the annual Kid’s Fishing Day aims to teach youngsters the basics of fishing. The event covers core elements of the sport like types of tackle and the responsibilities and ethics of fishing. The Great Falls Chapter of Walleyes Unlimited donates 1,000 rod and reel combinations and tackle boxes for the event, so kids don’t have to feel left out if they’ve come without gear.
- Craft Beer Week: With the combination of several intriguing events spread over a week, Great Fall’s Craft Beer Fest is widely attended and greatly anticipated every year. It includes a judged brewery competition, a party hosted by a local distributor, and several “tap takeovers,” where local breweries temporarily occupy taps at several local pubs and bars, often with seasonal offerings.
Activities Near Great Falls
- River’s Edge Trail
- Beyond the Dam Ride
- South Shore Trailhead
- Ryan Trailhead
- Black Eagle Falls Trail and Art Along the Trail
- Memorial Falls
- Our Lake
- Highwood Mountains
- Warden Park Disc Golf
- West Bank Park Disc Golf
- Anaconda Hills Golf Course
- Eagle Falls Golf Club
- Broadwater Bay
- Highland BMX
- Jaycee Pool
- Water Tower Swimming Pool
National Parks and Forests
- Giant Springs State Park
- Sluice Boxes State Park
- First People’s Buffalo State Park
- Tower Rock State Park
City and County Parks
- Belview Park
- Bloomingdale Park
- Carter Park
- Charles Russell Park
- Chowen Springs
- Clara Park
- Elk’s Riverside Park
- Gibson Park
- Lions Park
- Memorial Park
- Oddfellows Park
- Tourist Park
- Westbank Park
- C.M. Russell Museum
- Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center
- Paris Gibson Square Museum of Art
- The History Museum
- Children’s Museum of Montana
- National Native American Hall of Fame
- Malmstrom Museum and Air Park
- Montana Towns, Cities & Communities
- Montana Counties & Populations
- The Best Restaurants In Great Falls
Latest in Great Falls
Do you enjoy gambling? Well, if you are heading in the direction of Montana your chances… Montana is a proudly historic state with much to exhibit by way of national heritage. You’ll… When you consider the landscape and terrain it’s no wonder that Montana is a popular destination… Trains are heavily entwined in Montana’s legacy. Throughout the rich mining history of the state, a… Great Falls is a community like many others in Montana in that it oozes history and… The Great Falls Farmers Market has become more and more well-known and popular since it first… The Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center is a large museum facility built somewhat dramatically into a… Modern cross-country skiing as we know it has distant origins in Scandinavia, like many things related… The stretch of Montana’s Highway 87 running between Great Falls and Lewistown was designated as the… Straddling the mighty Missouri River, Great Falls offers visitors a taste of the true Montana experience….
Do you enjoy gambling? Well, if you are heading in the direction of Montana your chances…
Montana is a proudly historic state with much to exhibit by way of national heritage. You’ll…
When you consider the landscape and terrain it’s no wonder that Montana is a popular destination…
Trains are heavily entwined in Montana’s legacy. Throughout the rich mining history of the state, a…
Great Falls is a community like many others in Montana in that it oozes history and…
The Great Falls Farmers Market has become more and more well-known and popular since it first…
The Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center is a large museum facility built somewhat dramatically into a…
Modern cross-country skiing as we know it has distant origins in Scandinavia, like many things related…
The stretch of Montana’s Highway 87 running between Great Falls and Lewistown was designated as the…
Straddling the mighty Missouri River, Great Falls offers visitors a taste of the true Montana experience….