The Ultimate Travel Guide To Helena
Helena, the Montana state capital with so much to offer its visitors from its historic downtown district to its surrounding Rocky Mountain beauty. It’s a great destination for those looking for a base to explore some of Montana’s incredible state parks and with 75 trails on its doorstep, Helena is the perfect starting point for hikers, mountain bikers, and other outdoor enthusiasts. It’s a three-and-a-half-hour drive from Glacier National Park and a three-hour drive from Yellowstone National Park so it’s an ideal pit-stop between the two with its own beauty to explore.
As it was the major center of the Montana gold rush in the late 1800s, tourists have plenty of interesting sites and historical buildings to visit too. Here are details on the best time of year to visit Helena, where to stay, where to eat, how to get around the city, and the best things to do.
Best Time To Go To Helena
Cloudy skys over Helena, Montana
The best time to visit Helena is generally considered to be June through to October as the weather is warm but comfortable enough to explore the great outdoors.
There are a number of festivals and events in Helena during the summer months making it a great time for visitors to experience the best of the city’s culture like the Last Chance Stampede and Fair in July.
The Saturday morning Farmer’s market is in full swing with local crafts and produce on display. Temperatures range from the mid-50s to the mid-80s from June to August.
In the fall, visitors can experience mother nature at its best with the foliage changing color in the surrounding mountains. It’s also a popular time of the year for hunting and fishing in Montana. Temperatures range from the mid-30s to the mid-60s from September to November.
Winter is popular with lovers of snow sports, The nearby ski resort, Great Divide offers great skiing, snowboarding, and snowshoeing. Temperatures range from the low teens to the mid-30s this time of year.
Spring also has its perks, however, it’s a popular time for fly-fishing in the city’s nearby rivers like the Missouri River and the weather becomes warmer. Temperatures can range from the mid-30s to the mid-50s, so planning outings on warmer days is a must.
What To Know When Visiting Helena
Cathedral of Saint Helena, Montana
Helena is the state capital of Montana, it became very prosperous during the late 1800s as a gold rush town and a lot of the city’s famous buildings and landmarks were constructed during that time. The Last Chance train tour and the exhibits at the Montana Historical Society museum are great ways to learn about this city’s interesting backstory.
The city makes a great base for travelers looking to explore the beauty of the Montana wilderness due to its proximity to some incredible parks like Black Sandy State Park and Spring Meadow Lake State Park, among others.
The Helena National Forest is another stunning national park that surrounds the city, it’s full of trails with plenty of wildlife and viewpoints to experience.
In terms of getting to the city, it’s served by the Helena Regional Airport where Delta, United, and Alaska Airlines operate flights to Salk Lake City, Seattle, and Denver. It’s situated two miles northeast of the city center.
Helena is easily accessible by car and is served by Interstate 15 and the Greyhound bus service provides interstate travel options.
Best Ways To Get Around Helena
Aerial View of the Montana State Capital of Helena on a Hazy Day
There are a number of ways to get around the Montana state capital, car rental being the most popular choice for tourists looking to explore nature outside the city.
Here are a number of car rental companies based near the Helena Regional Airport:
Car Rental Helena, Montana
- Contact: 406-313-0848
- Address: 2715 Skyway Dr, Helena, MT 59602
Hertz Car Rental
- Contact: (406) 449-4167
- Address: 2850 Skyway Drive Helena, MT 59601
- Contact: 406-449-3400
- Address: 3015 Prospect Ave, Helena, MT 59601
Cycling is very popular in Helena and there’s a 16km route that starts in the downtown area up into the Helena Valley for incredible views.
The public bus system in Helena is operated by Capital Transit which has a number of routes throughout the city.
- An all-day pass costs $2.60
- There is a Capital Transit app that visitors can download to pay for fares and schedules.
Visitors can explore the downtown district on foot, a lot of the main attractions here are within walking distance of each other.
Where To Stay In Helena
Hauser Lake in Helena MT in winter
Staying close to the historic downtown area of Helena tends to be a popular choice for tourists, so they can be close to the town’s main attractions.
Highly rated hotels in Helena
Delta Hotels by Marriott Helena Colonial
- Room rates at Delta Hotels by Marriott Helena Colonial start from $185 per night
- Amenities: Indoor pool, fitness center, hot tub
- Address: 2301 Colonial Dr, Helena, MT 59601
DoubleTree by Hilton Helena Downtown
- Room rates at DoubleTree by Hilton Helena Downtown start from $175 per night
- Amenities: On-site restaurant, Indoor pool, Fitness center
- Address; 22 N Last Chance Gulch, Helena, Montana, 59601, USA
Best Western Premier Helena Great Northern Hotel
- Room rates at Best Western Premier Helena Great Northern Hotel start from $166 per night
- Amenities: indoor pool, fitness center, hot tub, and Wi-Fi
- Address: 835 Great Northern Blvd, Helena, MT 59601
- Room rates at Hampton In Helena start from $108 per night
- Amenities: Indoor pool, hot tub, fitness center
- Address: 725 Carter Dr, Helena, MT 59601, United States
Budget hotels in Helena
- Room rates at Baymont by Wyndham Helena start from $69 per night
- Amenities: Free breakfast, indoor pool, hot tub
- Address: 750 N Fee St, Helena, MT 59601
Americas Best Value Inn & Suites Helena
- Room rates at Americas Best Value Inn & Suites Helena start from $75 per night
- Amenities: Outdoor pool, restaurant, free wifi
- Address: 800 N Oregon St, Helena, MT 59601
- Room rates at Quality Inn start from $77 per night
- Amenities: fitness center, restaurant, kitchen in rooms
- Address: 2300 N Oakes St, Helena, MT 59601
Super 8 by Wyndham Helena
- Room rates at Super 8 by Wyndham Helena start from $65 per night
- Amenities: Restaurant, free breakfast, free Wi-Fi
- Address: 2200 11th Ave, Helena, MT 59601, United States
Where To Eat And Drink In Helena
Helena has a great foodie scene with a mix of traditional American and international options too.
With its history of brewing and distilling in Helena, it’s not difficult to find a bar with a great atmosphere either. Here are some options:
Great Breakfast spots in Helena:
- Steve’s Cafe (#2 North), nosh cafe, Shellie’s country cafe
Delicious lunches in Helena:
- Benny’s bistro, Cafe Zydeco, Bullman’s Woodfired Pizza
Fabulous dinners in Helena:
- Windbag saloon & grill, Mediterranean Grill, Ristorante Belle Roma
Great coffee shops in Helena:
- 1889 coffee house, Firetower coffee, Hub coffee
Fun bars in Helena:
- The Gold Bar and Western Bar, Hap’s Beer Parlor, The Jesters Bar
Top Things To Do In Helena
An overlooking landscape of Gates of the Mountain in Helena National Forest, Montana
Helena has incredible surrounding nature trails and the city itself is full of interesting historical landmarks, galleries, and museums. Here are some great options to create a fantastic Helena, Montana itinerary (or a day trip to-do list).
Check out the Montana State Capitol building
Drone view of the Montana State Capitol, in Helena
Visitors can explore the Montana State Capitol building themselves and take a self-guided tour to experience the impressive architecture here. It was constructed between 1896 and 1902.
- Admission: Free
- Address: 1301 E 6th Ave, Helena, MT 59601
Wander through Helena’s historic downtown
The historic main street in Helena’s downtown district is also known as Last Chance Gulch as this was finally discovered in the area in 1864. The area is filled with shops, galleries, and architecture. On Saturdays, visitors can explore the Helena Farmer’s market too.
- Admission: Free
- Address: 318 Fuller Avenue, Helena, MT 59601
Take a Last Chance Tour aboard an open-air train
To get an insight into the history of Helena, Montana in a unique and fun way, tourists can take the Last Chance Tour where travelers can view some of the most famous, historical buildings and locations from an open-air train.
The tour includes the mansion district, the Cathedral of St. Helena, a restored miners’ village, unique architecture along Last Chance Gulch, and the Old Fire Tower.
- Admission: Adults and Teenagers: $11.00, Seniors 60+: $10.00, Children ages 4-12: $9.00. Children 3 & under: No charge
- Address: PO Box 6338,225 N. Roberts St., Helena, Montana 59604-6338
Plan a ski trip to Great Divide
Two people skiing on a mountain in Montana
For visits during winter, a trip to the Great Divide for skiing or snowboarding is a popular visitor activity. The mountain resort is about 22 miles north of Helena.
- Admission: Full-day lift tickets cost $64 for adults, $54 for college students, $48 for high school students, and $28 for high school students and children, pre-schoolers are free with a ticketed parent
- Address: 7385 Belmont Drive, Marysville, Montana 59640
Explore the Montana Historical Society Museum
This museum houses archeological and ethnological artifacts including a collection of Native American artifacts and mining artifacts.
- Admission: $5 per adult, $1 per child, or $12 per family
- Address: 225 North Roberts, P.O. Box 201201, Helena, MT 59620-1201
Visit the Holter Museum of Art
This art museum has contemporary art exhibits on display created by artists in central Montana throughout the year
- Admission: Free
- Address: 12 E. Lawrence St. Helena, MT 59601
Enjoy nature with a Helena hike
Lake McDonald in Glacier National Park, Montana
A hike near Helena is a popular choice for tourists in the spring and summer but the true beauty unfurls in fall when the foliage starts to change color.
- Mount Helena City Park trails: There are a number of trails in Mount Helena City Park including the 1906 trail, the Prairie trail, the Waterline trail loop, and the backside loop. At the trailhead, there is an information kiosk where hikers can learn more about the various trails available.
- Ten Mile Interpretive Trail: This is a popular hike that is less than 20 minutes outside Helena. It’s a 2-mile loop that will suit all skill levels.
- Mount Ascension hike: This is a challenging 5km loop hike that will take around two hours to complete and would suit moderately experienced hikers.
- Hauser Lake Trail: This trail outside of Helena is a 6km out-and-back trail that can take around 2 hours and 20 minutes to complete. Camping is also available at the lake. It’s a popular place for recreation like fishing and boating too.
- Beartrap Gulch Trail: This is a moderate, out-and-back hiking trail also popular with mountain bikers near Helena. The trail is 14km long and can take over 5 hours to complete but has plenty of rewarding views.
How To Spend The Perfect Day In Helena
A general store in the city of Helena, Montana
A perfect day in Helena will start with a hike, there are many to choose from close to the city that will suit a range of skill levels in Mount Helena City Park.
After the hike, head to downtown Helena for a delicious brunch at one of the city’s locally-owned cafés like Nosh Café.
Next, visit the Montana Historical Society Museum to learn about the state’s rich history and culture. After the museum, take a stroll through the historic main street or Last Chance Gulch, which is lined with restored buildings from the 1800s and unique shops.
As the day winds down, visit the Lewis Clark Brewing Company tap rooms to sample some local beers and then finish the evening with a great meal at the Windbag saloon and grill.
Q: Is Helena Montana worth a visit?
Helena, Montana is worth a visit, especially for those interested in outdoor recreation like hiking, mountain biking, and fishing. There are a number of great scenic trails that surround the city including Helena National Forest and Mount Helena City Park.
The downtown area is filled with unique shops and buildings that highlight its interesting history as a gold rush town in the 1800s.
Q: Is there an airport in Helena Montana?
Helena Montana is served by the Helena Regional Airport. Delta, United and Alaska airlines operate flights to Salk Lake City, Seattle and Denver. It’s situated two miles northeast of the city.
Q: What is Helena Montana known for?
Helena is known as the state capital of Montana and the seat of government for Lewis and Clark County — and it’s one of the best cities in MT for travelers.
Helena became prosperous as the center for the Montana gold rush in the late 1800s and many of its historical buildings date back to this time including the Original Governor’s Mansion.
The Montana Historical Society Museum is situated here and features artifacts from across the state. The city is surrounded by scenic trails making it a very popular destination for adventure seekers.