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

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

Best Time To Visit Helena

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

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


helena january

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.


helena april

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.


helena july

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.


helena october

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


helena summer

  • Last Chance Stampede and Fair: This annual rodeo and fair are 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!
  • Big Sky Pride: 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.
  • Mondays at the Myrna: 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 exist in Montanan culture.
  • Symphony Under the Stars: 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.


helena fall

  • Haunted Barn & Sleepy Hollow: 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.
  • Fall Art Walk: 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.
  • Fall Art and Craft Show: 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.


helena winter

  • Deck the Halls: 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.
  • Parade of Lights: 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.
  • Queen City Ballet’s The Nutcracker: 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.
    • Great Divide: 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.
    • Mac Donald Pass: This cross-country skiing trailhead is on public land, but trails are well-marked and groomed frequently. You’ll find it just off highway 12, though try to arrive early as there is limited parking. You’ll find the best conditions from mid-December until mid-March.


helena spring

  • Spring Art Walk: 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.
  • Spring Art and Craft Show: 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.

Activities Near Helena

Recreation Activities

National Parks and Forests

State Parks

Day Trips and Scenic Drives


Points of Interest

Gold and Gem Mining


Ghost Towns


Related Articles

Latest in Helena