The fourth largest state, with the fourth smallest population, Montana is a nature lover’s dream. Montana is known for its national parks and wide open spaces, but the cities are hidden gems in this big state. Helena, Montana is the capital of Montana and is also perfectly situated between Yellowstone National Park and Glacier National Park. No matter the reason you find yourself in Helena, there is a plethora of things to do in Helena, MT.
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When thinking about what to do in Helena, Montana, there is a wide variety of things to do from beautiful nature and hiking to city life and history tours. One thing I have grown to love about Helena is that it’s slow to change. This town feels like a glimpse into a simpler time in the past.
Through the years, I have visited Helena countless amounts of times. I have family here, so I go back to visit most years at least once. Throughout the years, I have had the opportunity to do everything in Helena and I have curated this list of the best things to do in Helena MT.
This list of the best things to do in Helena MT will show you the best of Helena and have you falling in love with this cute city, just like I have.
20 Best Things to Do in Helena Montana
Visit the Capital – Things to do in Helena, MT
When thinking of what to do in Helena, Montana the Capital is probably at the top of your list.
Helena, Montana is famous for being the capital of Montana! This tiny capital is one worth visiting and is a lovely way to spend your time here. The capital building is free to enter and open to the public on working days. Once you are inside, you can roam about the halls to see the chambers, and learn about the history of Montana. Also, there are guided tours available pre-covid but have not yet returned as of summer 2023.
The capital’s operating hours and Weekdays 7 am-6 pm and Weekends 9 am-3 pm. It is closed on major public holidays.
This is an especially great rainy, snowy, or cold day activity. Feel free to spend an hour or two here, but not much more is needed.
Additionally, I recommend walking around the outside of the capital. The grounds are well maintained and offer some picturesque views of the building with the mountains in the background.
Cathedral of St. Helena – Things to do in Helena, MT
The Cathedral of St. Helena tops of list of things to do in Helena MT because of its beauty! This beautiful cathedral towers over the town and is a landmark of the city. This catholic church offers mass every day and is open to the public. You can visit the cathedral any time during the day.
Self-guided tours are available every day when mass is not taking place, but there are also guided tours available.
The guided tours are available in the summer from Memorial Day to Labor Day on Tuesday/Wednesday/Thursday from 1-3 pm. The tours are informative and teach you a bit more about the church and catholicism in Helena.
Helena is a very Catholic town, in fact, the only college in town is a private catholic college.
Nonetheless, this cathedral is very beautiful and centrally located making it a great way to spend your time in Helena.
Last Chance Gulch – Things to do in Helena MT
It’s hard to miss Last Chance Gulch during your time in Helena. When thinking of things to do in Helena mt, most of them will probably revolve around this area. Last Chance Gulch is the center of the downtown area. Here you will find a pedestrian street lined with souvenir shops, coffee shops, pubs and bars, and more.
Parking here is easy, there is lots of street parking as well as a few parking garages. Once you begin walking, you’ll see many signs pointing you in the direction of all the attractions. On a nice summer day, this park will be filled with locals looking to enjoy time outdoors.
This place is a lot of fun during all hours of the day. But, it is the center of the downtown, so in the evenings the bars can get extra crowded, especially on weekends.
Many of the things to do in Helena MT, you will find on this street, or within walking distance!
Last Chance Tour Train – Things to do in Helena MT
Situated in the middle of Last Chance Gulch you’ll find the Last Chance Tour Train! This train is an awesome way to spend a summer afternoon in Helena. This open-air trolly takes you around the heart of Helena to learn more about its interesting history.
The tour train is like the catch-22 of Helena. You’ll get to see a bit of everything and find your way around town. On the tour, you’ll see stops like the Cathedral of St. Helena, Reeder’s Alley, and the State Capital.
The Last Chance Tour Train is my most recommended thing to do if you are spending a weekend in Helena, Montana!
It’s best to book tickets in advance here, but you can also buy them in person if needed.
Gates of the Mountains – Things to do in Helena MT
A quick 30-minute drive north of Helena you will find the beloved Gates of the Mountains. I LOVE the Gates of the Mountains. It’s very popular with tourists when looking for things to do in Helena, Montana.
The Gates of the Mountains is in the Helena National Forest. This striking canyon area is known for its impressive limestone formations that form unique caves and crevices in the mountains.
This area is also famous for being traversed by Lewis and Clark back in 1805.
The Gates of the Mountains in Montana offers so much to do! From a fun and exciting boat tour to hiking and fishing, there is something for everyone here. Although, the gates of the mountains boat tour is the most popular thing to do here as a tourist.
This half-day activity can be booked online in advance or in person, but I recommend booking in advance as it can sell out on busy summer days.
Keep Reading: GATES OF THE MOUNTAIN INTERNAL LINK
Hike Mt. Helena – Things to do in Helena MT
Helena, Montana is in the heart of the Rocky Mountains, so when thinking about what to do in Helena, Montana, a hike probably comes to your mind.
Mt. Helena is the closest mountain to the city and is located in Mount Helena City Park. Climbing Mt. Helena is a popular activity for locals in the area. This mountain stands 5,468 feet tall at the top, and there are many ways to make your way to the top. The 1906 trail is the most popular route.
This well-maintained trail is just under 3 miles walking and takes around 2 hours to complete. It’s a popular trail so you’ll likely pass others on your way up, but it is still important to remain bear aware and leave no trace.
Pack bear spray and make noise while you are walking around. You don’t want to sneak up on an animal and scare them. If you plan to go alone, play your music out loud!
Anyways, once you reach the top you’ll be rewarded with a panoramic view of Helena and the Rocky Mountains all around you. It really is wonderful and one of my favorite things to do in Helena!
Broadwater Hot Springs – Things to do in Helena MT
Just 10 minutes outside of town, you’ll find the Broadwater Hot Springs. These hot springs are open year-round and do draw a crowd! Although my favorite time to visit is in the cold winter, the summer is also a refreshing time to visit.
These hot spring pools are all outside and have a variety of water temperatures. The pools available are sectioned off into categories, hot tubs, cold plunges, and recreational pools. There are multiple of each, and you can check the temperature before you get in.
Additionally, here you can find a beautiful fitness room and a nice taproom and grill to get some food.
If you’ve never been to a hot spring before, this is a good place to start because it’s not too big. It also offers beautiful views because it’s nestled between mountains.
At night, it offers beautiful stargazing as well because it’s out of the city lights.
Interested in the history of Helena? Reeder’s Alley transports you back in time to the gold rush. Helena was a booming city during this time, and at one point had the most millionaires per capita in the USA because of the gold mining!
Reeder’s Alley was at the center of the gold rush and many of the buildings still remain. Feel free to park your car here and get out to explore. The best time to go is in the morning or early afternoon because many of the shops close in the evening.
Here you will find many services locals may need such as health services and law, but there are a few tourist shops. These include some food and history museums. Additionally, there are many signs outside the buildings to give context as to where you are.
This activity is perfect for kids of all ages, and is a great spot to take pictures!
ExplorationWorks – Things to do in Helena MT
Okay, this one is more for the kids or kids at heart. ExplorationWorks is an interactive science museum in the city. Here you can let your imagination run wild with the ever-changing exhibits.
This is the perfect spot for kids, but also adults. Especially on a rainy or cold day, this is a fun way to stay indoors.
Great Northern Carousel
Just across the street from ExplorationWorks, you will find the Great Northern Carousel. This indoor carousel features many Montana animals. It’s relatively cheap and may be worth a stop just to grab some hand-scooped ice cream.
If you’re planning on grabbing ice cream, this is a fun spot with plenty of seating. While you’re at it, I recommend trying Huckleberry Ice Cream. This is a local flavor to the region and is delicious! If you like berry flavors, this is the stop for you.
Since 1922, this family-owned business has been treating Helena with its famous chili and old-fashioned sweets. This is an absolute must-do for lunch when visiting Helena. This place transports you back in time and hasn’t changed the interior since it opened! Its collection of trinkets, including parrots and elephants, is so much fun.
Located in the center of Last Chance Gulch, stop by for some delicious house-made chocolate or sit down and enjoy the famous tamales. The menu is small, but I recommend getting the tamales and an old-fashioned soda, as they can be so hard to find!
This place really is special, and always worth stopping by.
Carroll College – Things to do in Helena, Montana
Some consider Helena a college town because of Carroll College. Carroll College is right in the heart of Helena and is a small private school with about 2,000 undergrad students. 2,000 students is a decent size for a town this small!
Nonetheless, Caroll College has a beautiful campus and makes fun a nice stroll while in Helena. This liberal arts college is a Catholic college, so you will see lots of signs of this while walking. It’s a D3 school and sports are a huge part of life here in Montana!
The campus is especially beautiful in the fall while the leaves change colors.
Big Dipper Ice Cream
Another stop at the Last Chance Gulch, Big Dipper Ice Cream is a popular thing to do in Helena Montana. This ice cream shopper offers unique flavors of ice cream, including licorice and bubble gum!
Its cute interior also has seats inside for colder days. I have always really enjoyed stopping by here. It’s really popular with the local high school students as well.
Montana Historical Society Museum
I’m usually not too big of a fan of museums, but this one is well done. This museum gives a deep history of the native americans who lived on this land many years ago. It’s home to many artifacts and displays showcasing life back in the day. I have been visiting this museum since I was a pre-teen, and I have always really enjoyed it.
As of summer 2023, the museum is closed for refurbishment, but the gift shop remains open. Check the website to see the most up-to-date information about when the exhibit will open again!
Drive to Three Forks – Things to do in Helena MT
Helena is a cute city, but honestly, the beauty of Montana truly lies in its nature. Helena has wo many wonder day trips nearby, but my favorite is Three Forks.
Three Forks is about a 1-hour drive southeast of Montana, towards Bozeman. It also makes a great stop if you are heading towards Bozeman anyway!
Three Forks is a unique stop because it’s where 3 rivers converge, the Jefferson River, the Madison River, and the Gallatin River. These three rivers join together to make the Missouri River, one of the longest rivers in the United States!
While here, you can enjoy a peaceful walk or picnic along the river. Additionally, there is great fishing and hiking nearby. My favorite place is to head to the picnic area. You can walk around the river and just enjoy a peaceful afternoon here.
If you have extra time, check out Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park! This state park is near Three Forks and is home to a series of limestone caves. You can take guided tours of these underground caves but do note there are a lot of steps down.
The Original Governor’s Mansion and Victorian-Era Homes
The Governor’s Mansion sits just outside of downtown Helena. In this historic district, there are many old Victorian-era homes that are worth seeing. At one point, Helena had the most millionaires per capita in the USA because of the gold rush. This has left many beautiful historic homes lining the streets.
But, the one you can go inside and tour is the governor’s mansion. This mansion offers free tours daily. These tours give you a glimpse of what life was like for Montana women and kids during this time of war.
The governor’s mansion was built in 1888 and has a grand entrance. After all, this is the house governors used to live in. Inside this three-story building, you’ll find 20 rooms and 7 fireplaces. It truly it a beautiful home and a free thing to do in Helena, Montana!
Spring Meadow Lake State Park – Things to do in Helena MT
On the edge of town, you’ll find the beautiful Spring Meadow Lake State Park. If you are craving a walk, this is a beautiful spot! This is the closest spot to town to go kayaking, fishing, swimming, and other outdoor activities. Although you can connect with nature almost anywhere in Helana, this is a great place to start.
Additionally, here you will find a tranquil little lake and lots of geese. You can come here to watch the world pass by and connect with nature. It’s a very relaxing park.
In the summer, this spot gets crowded with locals wanting to swim, but it’s a nice place to visit year-round.
Montana is known as the “Big Sky State” and here is no exception. The sky really does look larger here. Maybe it’s because of the wide open spaces, or sitting at almost 4,000 feet. Nonetheless, stargazing is one of my favorite Montana activities!
Most nights, if you have a dark enough sky, you can see the milky way here! In the winter months, keep your eyes peeled for the Norther Lights too, although they’re not as common.
Good stargazing can be found all around the city, but for the best views, you will want to drive 10-20 minutes outside the city to find a darker sky.
Fire Station Coffee
Looking for the best coffee in town? My recommendation in Fire Station Coffee. This little shop is near Last Chance Gulch and has some incredible chai tea! I am not a coffee drinker, but the coffee drinkers who I visited with seemed to really like it.
The interior of the shop is also really unique because the owner loves live music! He has collected many signed guitars over the years and has them displayed all along the walls.
There’s also tons of indoor seating and a few outdoor tables for a nice summer day.
Rounding off the list of things to do in Helena, MT is the famous Staggering Ox. The Staggering Ox is a locally owned and famous sandwich shop and bakery.
The Staggering Ox is famous for its homemade, round bread loaves. These are known as “clubfoot” bread, and a must try here! The loaves are hallowed out to create a bread bowl and then filled with all your favorite sandwich foods like meats, cheeses, vegetables, and more!
Inside, you will find it is connected with a music bar and more than enough seating. There’s also loads of artwork displayed around the building.
Conclusion for Things to do in Helena MT
In conclusion, there is no shortage of things to do in Helena MT! Helena has something for everyone. But, it’s charm lies in the mundane life of a Montana local. This city transports you back in time, where life moves slower and things are more simple. Helena holds a very special place in my heart, and I hope this list helps give you inspiration for your next trip!
Visiting Montana soon? Read these!
- Helena, MT Itinerary: 2 Perfect Days in Helena
- The Ultimate Guide to the Gates of the Mountains in Montana (2023)