Quick – what’s the first thing you think of when I say Montana? Did you think “cold” or “snow” or maybe “buffalo?” I’m going to let you in on a little secret…Helena is the country’s best kept secret…except maybe Area 51.
The truth is that Helena, Montana’s capital, is one of the best places to have an affordable and fun-filled vacation or staycation. Before I list some of the things you can do in Helena, let me quickly list off a few things that make Helena awesome.
- No traffic. Like, ever.
- There’s a reason it’s called Big Sky Country. Big, beautiful skies that are free of pollution and smog.
- An airport without lines. (OK, worst case, you might have 10 minute wait…barely.)
- Did I mention no traffic?
Contrary to popular belief, Montana is not like Alaska. We are not covered in snow all year. There is sun. And there is green. (There are even buffalo.) The weather is warm in the summer and cold in the winter, which make it perfect for both summer and winter outdoor activities.
Things to Do in Helena, MT
From boating on Hauser Lake to hiking in Helena National Forest, Helena, MT is a prime location for outdoor enthusiasts.
There are three lakes surround Helena – Canyon Ferry Lake, Hauser Lake, and Holter Lake, each offering spectacular boating opportunities. There are several boat landings that you can put into absolutely free. The great thing about boating in Helena is that if you have a boat, you can motor around to your heart’s content absolutely free. If you don’t have a boat, Kim’s Marina offers boat and canoe rentals on Canyon Ferry Lake for as little as $30/day or $10/hour.
When we first visited Helena, we were amazed to see people hanging out by the road fishing. It was almost as if you could just throw in a line and start catching fish. And actually, you can! You do need a fishing license to fish in state waters which can be purchased online or at one of the many license providers around town.
Helena is surrounded by forest. Literally. Wherever you turn, there are mountains that can be climbed and summits to be reached. Visit
If you have a hankering for more, Yellowstone National Park is just a few hours south of Helena. At Yellowstone, you can visit Old Faithful and see tons of wildlife – including bears, bison, and wolves.
During the winter months, Helena is a prime location for both downhill and cross country skiing, snowboarding, and other snow sports. There are several ski areas all within a 30 minute drive of down, offering winter recreation for both beginners and advanced skiers, with incredible views and scenery.
One of the things I enjoy is walking around Downtown Helena. There is a wide variety of shops in the walking mall, and I found myself popping into this bookstore or that shop just to see what was inside. There is fine dining and quick bites all within a few minutes walk. When the weather is warm, make sure you stop by the Great Northern Carousel & Ice Cream Co. where you can ride a beautiful carousel and enjoy homemade ice cream. If you have a sweet tooth, Parrot Confectionery has been making excellent chocolates in Helena since 1922 and is worthy of a taste.
If you’re from the city, you’ll notice that the pace of Helena is a bit slower. Just being in Helena brings on a feeling of relaxation. If you’re looking for quiet, you don’t have far to look to get it. I’m often amazed that the rumble I hear when I step outside is from the wind blowing through the trees instead of cars rolling down a busy street. Head up into the hills and you’ll be amazed at the number of stars you can actually
During the summer, Helena, MT features the Alive @ 5 Concert Series. Every Wednesday, from 5-9PM, you can head over to Downtown Helena and enjoy free music, good food, and great fun.
For more holistic relaxation, pop down to the Boulder Hot Springs Inn and Spa, where you can find hot and cool pools and steam rooms that use geothermal mineral water, as well as the more traditional spa treatments.
With so much to do and so much to see and experience in Helena, it seems like you could spend years here and still not have seen it all. Even better – most Helena adventures are free, making Helena a great city for your next staycation or vacation!