When to visit
- Very Favourable
What to do
- Worth the detour
- Must see
Perched at the foot of the Rockies, Helena is much more than just a stopover town along the way to Glacier National Park or Canada. It is the capital of the state of Montana and a vibrant modern city with a 150-year history. Helena is no longer the "Last Chance Gulch" of the prospectors of yore.
According to popular history, Helena was the last chance for miners to find gold before resigning themselves to returning home, empty handed. You may not find gold here, but you are sure to appreciate a few pleasant hours spent strolling through the charming downtown area.
CATHEDRAL OF ST. HELENA
Built in the early 20th century, this elegant neo-Gothic cathedral is worth a visit just to admire the fifty-nine gorgeous Bavarian stained-glass windows. Guided tours are available Tuesdays-Thursdays from Memorial Day (last Monday in May) to Labour Day (first Monday in September), at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m.
Several masses are held during the week (Monday-Friday at 7 a.m., Tuesday-Thursday at noon, Saturday at 5 p.m. and Sunday at 7:30 a.m., 9 a.m. and 11 a.m.), but the Cathedral is always open for people of all faiths and backgrounds to visit.
530 North Ewing street, Helena / 406-442-5825
GATES OF THE MOUNTAINS
Halfway between Yellowstone and Glacier National Park sits the "Gates of the Mountains", so named because of the remarkable sheer limestone cliffs bordering the river. In summer, you can take a 2-hour narrated river cruise and learn all about one of the legendary places discovered by Lewis and Clark during the first American expedition to cross the western United States to the Pacific coast in 1804.
Discover the Heart of Montana with this tour on the Missouri River. There are several cruises every day from late May to early September, and most days in September (see website for schedules).
3131 Gates of the Mountains, Helena / 406-458-5241
MONTANA STATE CAPITOL
The most notable feature of the Capitol building is the massive rotunda, with four circular paintings surrounding it. These paintings depict four important archetypes of people of Montana's early Far West history: a Native American, an explorer and fur trapper, a gold miner, and a cowboy. The most significant piece of art in the Capitol is that of the famous explorers, Lewis and Clark, by Montana artist Charles M. Russell.
Open Monday-Friday from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturdays, Sundays and holidays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. (closed on Thanksgiving (4th Thursday in November), December 25 and January 1). Hour-long guided tours are also possible through the Montana Historical Society (225 North Roberts Street / 406-444- 2694).
1301 East 6th Avenue, Helena / 406-444-4789
Where to eat
- $ Inexpensive
- $$ Moderate
- $$$ Upscale
- $$$$ Fine dining
BREWHOUSE PUB & GRILL ($-$$)
The Brewhouse Pub & Grill is a favourite among Helena locals, especially in summer. The outside deck is a great place to sample a variety of local microbrewery beers. Don't hesitate to try the Halibut Sandwich, made with a fresh hand-battered halibut filet. You will get good value for your money at the Brewhouse, although it probably won't be the best meal of your trip. Open daily from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
939 Getchell Street, Helena / 406-457-9390
ON BROADWAY ($$)
On Broadway is a casual restaurant in the heart of Helena’s historic downtown offering a world cuisine with an emphasis on fresh made pasta and West Coast fusion. Thursday nights are particularly popular, with live jazz to accompany your meal. Open Monday-Saturday from 5 p.m.
106 East Broadway Street, Helena / 406-443-1929
This fine-dining Italian restaurant, one of Montana's finest, has only 15 tables. Reservations are therefore essential if you want to experience the culinary creations of chef Mike Hyyppa, served in an elegant, intimate atmosphere. Open Wednesday-Sunday from 5 p.m.
56 North Last Chance Gulch, Helena / 406-457-8311
- Very Favourable