Four miners from Georgia who had unsuccessfully searched for gold throughout Western Montana discovered gold in 1864 in a creek near Helena. “Last Chance Gulch” became a booming mining camp as hundreds flocked to Helena to seek her riches. Fortunes were made and lost in the soon-to-be territorial capital; commerce thrived and Helena eventually became the state capital. Today Helena is home to a variety of businesses and employers and continues to expand and thrive. There is something for everyone! A few of my favorite Helena area highlights are (in no particular order):
On Broadway is a warm and inviting restaurant located at 106 E. Broadway and is just east of Last Chance Gulch. My favorite appetizer is the stewed mussels (in season), and my favorite entrée is Chicken Broadway which the menu describes as follows: “Breast of chicken lightly breaded, and layered in a boat with fresh mushroom and Monterey jack, baked in our famous mornay sauce, topped with shredded mozzarella, and served with a side of pesto linguine”. If I am really going to celebrate I order the King Crab Legs! They don’t take reservations so arrive at 5:00 p.m. or plan to enjoy a glass of wine and wait for a table!
Montana Historical Society Museum– located at 225 N. Roberts across from the State Capitol. “The Montana Historical Society Museum collects, preserves, and interprets fine art and artifacts that pertain to Montana and its adjoining geographic region. Montana’s Museum is where history and land come together in the story of people who have called Montana home”. I love to spend an afternoon at the museum… wondering through the exhibits and the gift shop. My favorite permanent exhibit is the collection of Charles M. Russell artwork – Montana’s famous cowboy artist. I have also enjoyed traveling exhibits throughout the years.
Last Chance Tour Train– Throughout the summer this open-air mini train chugs its way around Helena’s historic sites with an engineer guide announcing points of interest. I hadn’t been on the tour train for years and dreaded getting stuck behind it while hurrying to an appointment but in the past few years have taken the tour train with visiting relatives at least three times and I have completely enjoyed it! You will see Helena landmarks on the tour such as the Cathedral of St. Helena, Reeder’s Alley, The Old Firetower, the unique architecture of the downtown district, the mansion district, the State Capitol, and the Governor’s mansions both old and new.
Gates of the Mountains– Towering walls of limestone frame both sides of the Missouri River and for those traveling the river by boat the huge limestone walls seem to open up magically. In 1805 Meriwether Lewis wrote “In many places the rocks seem ready to tumble on us” and he further journaled “I shall call this place: “GATES OF THE MOUNTAINS“. The Gates of the Mountains boat tour starts just 20 miles north of Helena and runs throughout the summer. My family and I look forward to the annual outing on the Missouri River; pack coolers with drinks and snacks, and launch our own boat at the Gates of the Mountains docks. Last summer we spotted a black bear on the banks; other wildlife is often seen on the river. The Missouri is also known for excellent fishing.
Last Chance Stampede and Fair– I grew up looking forward to the Missoula County Fair and Rodeo and baking molasses sugar cookies to enter. After moving to Helena I easily adopted the Last Chance Stampede and Fair and looked forward to it every summer. It takes place at the end of July and includes a PRCA Rodeo with enough added money to draw the top rodeo contestants. The pre-rodeo entertainment of Mutton Bustin and Steer Riding is fun and a world class rodeo announcer, Wayne Brooks, is horseback in the arena. The “fair food” is delicious; the steak sandwich and mini-donuts are my favorites. The 4-H kids show their project animals and then say good-bye at the auction, and a carnival with all the rides and games rolls into town. A concert with a well-known country star usually kicks off the fair mid-week.