A Day in Great Falls, Suggested One-Day Activities and Itineraries
Daytriping Glacier National Park:
If your itinerary doesn’t allow for an extended stay at Glacier National Park, you can still pack the highlights of the park into one awe-inspiring day adventures from Great Falls.
Alternative One “The Action Hero”: If you are up for a fast-paced adventure, this is your itinerary. Get an early start and grab a good breakfast in Great Falls. There will be few eateries on your route. Head to the Many Glacier entrance to Glacier located in Babb, MT. Few would argue that Many Glacier is one of the most beautiful areas of the park and has the most epic hikes. Travel the I-15 to Montana Highway 44 to Montana Highway 89 route. This is the fastest route an you should reach the park entrance in under 3 hours. Choose between two iconic hikes Grinnell Glacier or Iceberg Lake; there is no wrong choice, both are strenuous but among the greatest hikes in the US. Both trails also offer prime wildlife viewing, but be certain to take bear spray.
Following your hike, take the short drive to the village at St Mary’s. Choose any of the quant café’s but don’t miss the huckleberry pie. After a quick refueling stop, reenter the park at the St Mary’s entrance and travel the incomparable Going-to-the-Sun Road. Planning three hours for this 50 mile drive should give you time to stop and enjoy one of the most scenic roads in the world. Bring the camera for the dozens of spectacular waterfalls, glaciers and alpine wildlife that you will see along the way.
You will arrive in Apgar Village on the west side of the Going-to-the-Sun Road. This is a great place to grab dinner. It will be much faster to travel back to Great Falls via Montana Highway 2 than traveling back on the Going-to-the-Sun road. Several miles after going through the town of Essex, look for the Goat Lick pull-out. Bright white mountain goats can frequently be seen hear along the roadside.
Alternative Two “Less Footwork”: If you are looking for a short-walk or if you are hiking with little ones, consider this option. Grab breakfast before departing Great Falls on your way to the St Mary’s entrance of Glacier National Park. If someone in your party likes dinosaurs, considering taking I-15 to Montana Highway 89 through the towns of Chouteau and Bynum. Both towns are on the Montana Dinosaur Trail because of the prolific fossil beds in this area. Chouteau exhibits several life size dinosaur models in a road side park, while Bynum has the Two Medicines Dinosaur Center which features a full T-Rex skeleton.
After entering Glacier National Park, travel 10.6 miles to the Virginia Falls Trailhead. This is a flat trail that is perfect for kids and features several four of the parks most picturesque waterfalls. The whole trail is 3.7 miles roundtrip but you will reach the first impressive falls with an easy hike of just over a mile. The falls do get more impressive as you go culminating in the massive Virginia Falls.
From Virginia Falls continue west on the Going-to-the Sun-Road to Apgar Village. Planning three hours for this 50 mile drive should give you time to stop and enjoy one of the most scenic roads in the world. Bring the camera for the dozens of spectacular waterfalls, glaciers and alpine wildlife that you will see along the way.
The Village of Apgar or the adjacent village of West Glacier offer a dozen or more restaurants, café’s. This is the best place to grab dinner. It will be much faster to travel back to Great Falls via Montana Highway 2 than traveling back on the Going-to-the-Sun road. Several miles after going through the town of Essex, look for the Goat Lick pull-out. Bright white mountain goats can frequently be seen hear along the roadside.
Alternative Three “Glacial Lakes”: Glacier National Park has some of the most pristine glacier blue lakes in the lower 48 states. A great way to experience the park is by water. Both tour tours and unguided boat rentals are offered at Two Medicine Lake near the campground and on Saint Mary’s Lake near Rising Sun. Motorized boats and kayaks are both available at both locations. Both lakes are incredibly scenic with plentiful short hikes located nearby.
Visitors to Two Medicine Lake can take the tour boat or kayak across the lake and take the easy .8 mile roundtrip trail to Twin Falls, the 3.5 mile roundtrip trail to Upper Two Medicine Lake or the strenuous 9 mile roundtrip to Dawson Pass.
Scenic River Fish or Float:
Just 30 miles south of the Great Falls Airport, the Missouri River offers the nation’s premier trout fishery. This scenic stretch of the “Mighty Mo” flows through canyons and past cliffs lined with eagles, deer and occasionally big horn sheep. Despite the wild scenery, the river flows flat and calm in this stretch of the river making it perfect for the whole family to enjoy. A great recreational kayak trip will take about three hours. You may also be interested in a half-day or full-day fishing or floating trip on the river. Regardless of whether you want to hire an outfitted fishing expedition, or just rent kayaks for a fun day on the water, the Mighty Missouri River has you covered.
River’s Edge Trail History Trek:
Take a historical stroll or bike ride along on the River’s Edge Trail past several Lewis & Clark sites, a waterfall and one of the largest freshwater springs in the US.
Park at the trail access along River Road N near the 19th Street N intersection and take the trail east. Notable points of interest along the way:
• 0.5 miles: Black Eagle Falls. One of the falls described in Lewis and Clarks journal, the dam at this location once powered one of the nation’s largest copper wire plants. Remnants of the industrial development can be seen on the opposing shoreline.
• 2.0 miles: Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center. This National Forest Service operated museum tells the story of Corps of Discovery’s trek through the western United States. With great displays, interactive exhibits and informational programs, this make a great stop for the whole family.
• 2.5 miles: Giant Springs State Park. This destination features one of the largest freshwater springs in the US and the world’s shortest river. This site was visited by Lewis and Clark. Today it features a trout hatchery with free self-guided tours. Bicycle rental information is available here.
Western Art and History Tour:
The history of Great Falls includes an eclectic mix of interesting historic figures and events. Learn all about them through local museums.
1.Buffalo Jump: Start your day with the short drive to the First People’s Buffalo Jump State Park just outside the town of Ulm. This is the location of the largest buffalo jump in North America. For many generations, native peoples would stamped buffalo off the edge of a small cliff here. A processing village was established below the cliff to prepare the animals for use. Today a visitor center and nature trail tell the story of this active archeological site.
2. Lewis and Clark: Next head to the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center in Great Falls. Travel through the western US in 1805 alongside Lewis and Clark on their famous Corps of Discover voyage. See the regional wildlife they cataloged on their trip, try to pull a keelboat and read excerpts from their journal. Learn about local sites that the Corps visited and you can follow in their footsteps.
3. C.M. Russell Museum: Finish your afternoon with a trip to the nearby CM Russell Museum, which celebrates the most iconic of western art painters, Charlie M. Russell who lived in Great Falls for many years. This museum not only features Charlie’s iconic western art works but also one of his local homes and his log cabin studio. There are also traveling exhibits and a fantastic antique gun collection.
Local Shops and Water Park:
Downtown Great Falls features a number of unique local shops and eateries like Dragonfly Dry Goods. After spending a morning shopping, take the kids to the Electric City Water Park where they can ride waterslides, a lazy river and a flow rider while you catch a few rays.
Local Wildlife Viewing:
Have a few extra hours in Great Falls but you really want to see iconic Montana wildlife? You have a couple great options nearby:
• Tower State Park and Hardy Creek Bridge: Head just 36 miles south on I-15 and take the Hardy Creek exit. Watch the fields along your route for the sleek pronghorn antelope. Herds are frequently seen in this area. Follow the frontage road south to Craig Montana. Immediately after exiting I-15, keep your eyes peeled for Bighorn sheep along the roadside or on the cliffs above. Along your scenic route, watch for bald eagles, golden eagles, osprey, white pelicans, and other birds of pray. Beaver and mink also frequent the river’s edge.
• Freeze Out Lake: Just 43 miles outside of Great Falls near the town of Chouteau is Freezeout Lake. In early March each year, as many as 300,000 bright white snow geese arrive at this location and stay for several week before migrating north. During other times of year, visitors will enjoy countless variety of waterfowl including loons, shorebirds, raptors including eagles and osprey and Tundra Swans in winter.
• Gibson Reservoir: Just 45 minutes from Great Falls, outside Augusta, is the Sun River Game Range. Home to the largest migratory herd of Rocky Mountain Elk in the world, visitors can enjoy excellent wildlife viewing with the picturesque background of the Rocky Mountain Front Range. After searching out the elk, continue a few more miles to Gibson Dam and Gibson Reservoir. Particularly In winter the area around the dam offers exceptional bighorn sheep viewing opportunities. This area is very pretty and offers several hiking opportunities and a primitive campground. Grizzly bears can be active in this area.
Head to the Rainbow Falls viewing area to pick up the singletrack portion of the Rivers Edge Trail called the Southshore Trail. This scenic singletrack out-and-back route travels along the headlands above the Missouri River. There is a rolling intermediate trail parallels a more technical advanced trail for most of the route. Rewarding rides from an hour to a full day are possible by continuing onto the Lost Fork Trail which makes this a 10 mile roundtrip ride. Note that there is no support road or services on this route so treat this ride like a backcountry ride and be self-sufficient. Cell coverage becomes sporadic the further you ride.