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Helena, Montana

Helena, also known as the “Queen City of the Rockies” is the Capital of Montana and is situated in the west-central part of the state. Though not the largest city in Montana, Helena has a lot of history, and plenty of activities for visitors to enjoy.

Before the city was the capital of Montana, it was a gold mining community. Established around 1864, when gold was discovered in the area, it quickly became a booming community growing along Last Chance Gulch.

As gold mining boomed around the city, the community quickly became a very wealthy community. Today that gold mining wealth is evident in the historical architecture of the city. For a small, old west mining town, Helena is home to some of the most extravagant Victorian-era buildings in the west.

Today, Helena is home to around 40,000 people. The community continues to be supported by gold and lead mining. However, as the State’s capital, the area is home to many essential state agencies, and its proximity to both Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks makes the city a hub for tourists all year long.

In this article, we will take a deeper look at Helena, Montana from activities to its history, so you can plan your next trip accordingly.

Your Guide to Helena, Montana

airports near helena

The Best Hotels For Helena

Main Attractions in Helena

helena-montana
Image: Roger W

When visiting, many tourists don’t realize that there are plenty of great things to see and do in town. Helena is surrounded by great outdoor recreational opportunities, but there are some amazing attractions to experience in the area.

Historic Downtown

The historic downtown of Helena was constructed along a small creek running through Last Chance Gulch. The old Main Street is now known as Last Chance Road and is a bustling pedestrian mall that is filled with historic brick buildings, restaurants, art galleries, and a number of microbreweries. One of the most interesting parts of the historic downtown area is Reeder’s Alley.

Located near some of the downtown’s most impressive sites, Reeder’s Alley is the oldest standing section of Helena. All of the buildings in this area were built by master mason Louis Reeder who decided that brick buildings would withstand fire better than wood. While in Reeder’s Alley, stop in at the Visitor Center to get the scoop on all of the great attractions in and around town.

State Capital Building

Home of the Montana State government since 1902, this impressive building sits right in the middle of town. Constructed in the Greek neoclassical style, the building has a central rotunda with annexes extending from each side.

The rotunda is topped with a copper dome featuring a statue of Lady Liberty. While the building itself is a sight to see, it also houses many artifacts of Montana’s early history.

Cathedral of St. Helena

Towering over downtown Helena is the Cathedral of St. Helena. This neo-Gothic style cathedral was constructed in 1908 and was subsequently reconstructed after suffering substantial damage caused by the 1935 earthquake that hit Helena.

The church features beautiful gothic architectural features like sprawling arches and buttresses, handmade stained-glass windows, and a pipe organ.

Gates of the Mountains Wilderness

A half an hour away from the downtown area of Helena is the Gates of the Mountains Wilderness. This area was given this name by the Lewis and Clark Expedition when they passed through the area in 1805.

The craggy cliffs that reach above the Missouri River are a spectacular site to behold. Visitors can enjoy boat tours down the peaceful Missouri River, or enjoy camping, picnics, and hiking in the area.

Recreation Activities in Helena, MT

recreation activities

There are plenty of recreational activities in and around the area. Whether you enjoy easygoing walks, fly-fishing, or just lounging in a natural hot spring, Helena has plenty of opportunities for every member of your family.

Hiking

One of the great things about Helena is that it has an amazing area to hike through right on the outskirts of town. Mount Helena City Park is a great place to hike without having to drive too far from town.

The park reaches 5,468 feet above sea level and approximately 1,300 feet above the historic downtown. The park has six designated trails for hiking, that range from easy hikes to more challenging routes.

If you don’t want to stay in town to hike, there are numerous state parks and the Helena National Forest that also have plenty of hiking opportunities.

Biking

If you want to experience some of the best, but not overused mountain bike trails in the country, Helena is the place to be.

Rated as a silver-level destination by the International Mountain Biking Association, the area has some amazing single-track trails just minutes from downtown. Free shuttles will take bikers from numerous spots downtown to some of the best routes in the area.

Trails weave around and through town and provide plenty of adventure for single-track enthusiasts.

Fly-Fishing

If you love to fish, especially fly-fish, Helena is sure to be on your list of top fishing destinations.

Gaining popularity during the 1990s anglers have been coming to the area to try their hands at catching the legendary rainbow and brown trout that inhabit the area’s rivers. The year-round fisheries along the Missouri, Blackfoot, and Bitterroot Rivers will not disappoint.

Though a bit of a drive from Helena, many anglers like to try their hand at fishing the Clark Fork River which is home to some of the most notoriously difficult fish to catch. But patient anglers won’t be disappointed because the fish here are big!

Before you fish, make sure you visit the Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks website for rules, regulations, and information on obtaining a fishing license.

What Is The Cost of Living in Helena?

Compared to the rest of the country, Helena’s general cost of living is usually around 2-5% lower than the U.S. average.

In contrast, housing prices can be as much as 4% over the national average, and a few other items like groceries are similarly-priced.

Is Helena Safe to Live in?

As far as Helena crime rates go, the city has an index of 5 out of 100 (with 100 being the highest rate of crime). This makes Helena safer than just 5% of other cities across the nation, with close to 6 crimes per 1000 residents annually.

Thankfully violent incidents account for just over 200 out of 1,443 total reported annual crimes. Property crime is seemingly the greater issue with more than 1,200 reported cases in a year.

Rimini and Lakeside are classed among the safest Helena neighborhoods, while Helena West Side and Euclid Avenue North are considered on the other end of the spectrum.

What is Helena Known for?

Helena has some great outdoor recreation by way of the surrounding hiking trails of Mount Helena City Park. There are some really good mountain biking trails on the south side of the town, with plenty more in the nearby Elkhorn Mountains and on the Continental Divide. The Gates of the Mountains Wilderness Area is also nearby.

In cultural and historic terms, the century-old State Capital is one of the city’s main attractions, as is Reeder’s Alley. The Montana Historical Society is another major draw for those interested in exhibitions and galleries related to the town’s historic and cultural angles.

Accommodations

There are plenty of lodging options available in Helena. Because it is a larger community and one with some historic charm you will find lodging options that range from chain hotels to vacation rentals, to bed and breakfasts. Our suggestions for quality lodging accommodations are listed below.

Special Events

Though a bustling community, Helena leaves the bulk of their community events for the summer. The winters are a bit light on special events.

Activities Near Helena

Recreation Activities

National Parks and Forests

State Parks

Day Trips and Scenic Drives

Museums

Points of Interest

Gold and Gem Mining

Tours

Ghost Towns

Swimming

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