There is a trail along the Missouri River from which you can see and photograph the middle three Great Falls. It's a long haul so most people either bike it or drive from location to location and stroll on the trail to viewpoints. The middle three are Rainbow Falls, Crooked Falls and Coulter's Falls. Coulter's is now a lake behind one of the Missouri dams.
If you visit Great Falls, be sure to see the Great Falls and Ryan Dam. Important proviso: the best views are from an island at the foot of the falls, but the power company, which owns the island, closes the island, the park and the viewpoint between Labor Day and Mother's Day. Lewis first viewed the falls on 13 June 1805 and called them the grandest sight he had ever beheld.
When I was a child we used to be able to drive to Giant Springs along an old road that runs down by the river. They have closed that road to cars now, but you can bicycle there. The steep cliff wall houses many birds. If you choose to drive, there is a nice park for picnics and a fish hatchery. Giant springs is one of the the largest fresh water springs in the world and well worth the trip to see it. Where does all that water come from?
In the "Golden Age' of railroads, the train station was often considered the gateway to a city, and most towns and rail lines tried to outdo each other in creating the most impressive building in town. This depot in Great Falls is a perfect example of that. Rising high above the prairie, the 135 foot tower still dominates the skyline. While no longer in use as a train station, this depot is still an interesting piece of architecture. Plus, it's at a good location right along the Missouri River. The riverfront trail and park runs right along the former station.
Black Eagle Falls is probably the least impressive of the 3 major waterfalls in the Great Falls area. But it's still worth a look, and it is the most accessible. It's located right in town along the riverside trail, plus it can be accessed from the north end of the Missouri River as well. There is an island park on the north side that gives a closer look of the falls than the more popular south shore overlook.
While not quite as dramatic as the Great Falls of the Missouri, Rainbow Falls might actually be a prettier, more scenic waterfall. The red rocks add to the beauty,and sheer dropoff makes Rainbow Falls resemble a smaller version of Niagra Falls. Plus it's a little easier to get to from town. It's located just east of the Lewis and Clark Interprative Center.
One of the few things that Merriweather Lewis knew for sure about the uncharted lands he was set to explore with his Corps of Discovery was that there existed a "great falls" on the Missouri River. What he didn't anticipate was that just beyond the Great Falls, there were a series of 4 other waterfalls. His predicted half day bypass of the falls, turned into a 3 week ordeal. The Corps had to Portage around the series of falls. This meant leaving the river, dragging their boats and supplies up a steep hillside and across 18 miles of prairie. It was the most time consuming setback of their entire expedition.
Today, the Missouri River has been dammed up in numerous locations, including one right at the Great Falls of the Missouri. Still, the sight is impressive even today. The lower section of the falls looks much the same way it did to Lewis and Clark back in 1805. The rocky cascades of the falls, and sheer cliff walls on either side of the Missouri are still impressive. I'll let Lewis himself describe the scene:
" I had proceed on this course about two miles with Goodrich at some distance behind me whin my ears were saluted with the agreeable sound of a fall of water and advancing a little further I saw the spray arrise above the plain like a collumn of smoke which soon began to make a roaring too tremendious to be mistaken for any cause short of the great falls of the Missouri. Here I arrived about 12 Oclock. From the reflection of the sum on the sprey or mist which arrises from these falls is a beautifull rainbow produced which adds not a little to the beauty of this majestically grand senery."
For hundreds of years, before the arrival of Europeans and the introduction of the horse, the most effective way for the Plains Indians to kill buffalo was through a Buffalo Jump. Simply put, the wild buffalo were herded up a plateau where they were induced to stampede off a cliff. The tribe then had easy pickings of the buffalo meat and hides to sustain them through the harsh Northern Plains winter.
Ulm Pichkun State Park contains one of the largest Buffalo jump sites in the United States. It extends for one mile, and was used consistantly for over 500 years. The State of Montana and local Native American tribes have done an excellent job at Ulm Pishkun explaining Buffalo jumps...how difficult they were to achieve, and how important they were to the survival of the tribe.
There is an excellent little museum to check out for an understanding of the site. The museum is located below and some ways away from the cliff. So, after visiting the museum, be sure and drive the dirt road that leads to the top of the Buffalo Jump. You can plainly see how this was a perfect location for a Buffalo Jump. The gently rising plateau suddenly gives way to jagged cliffs and a steep drop off. Stand at the edge of the cliff, try to imagine a heard of buffalo stampeding towards you. It makes you appreciate the convenience of the corner supermarket.
Charles Russell was a cowboy artist. This is a dramatic oversimplification of his work. More than a simple cowboy artist, Charles Russell brought to life on canvas the end of an era in the American West. With a supurb mix of humor, pathos and excitement, Russell brought to life the cattle ranchers and Native Americans who occupied the Great Plains in the latter half of the 19th Century. His paintings all told stories, with color and depth that drew the viewer into the scene.
The Charles Russell Museum, on a tree lined street in downtown Great Falls, tells his story and showcases much of his work in both paintings and sculptures. Directly outside the museum are the house Charlie and his wife lived in, as well as the log cabin studio where he did most of his work.
Be aware, though, that while this is an excellent museum, well worth your time, only about 25 percent of the museum space is devoted to Charles Russell's work. This is because most of his paintings have found their way to various museums and collectors down through the years. As a consequence, while the Charles Russell Museum has the largest collection of his paintings under one roof, many of his more famous works are not at the museum. The rest of the museum is devoted of other western artists, notably O.C. Seltzer and E.E. Heikka. The lower level houses temporary exhibits. When we were there, they showcased the art commissioned by the Great Northern Railroad.
So, as long as you are aware that the Charles Russell Museum is only part Charlie, I highly recommend you swing on by and immerse yourself in a western lifestyle that's long since gone.
Located a few miles east of the city of Great Falls, on a bluff overlooking the Missouri River, this museum gives an excellent overview of the Lewis and Clark expedition. You begin by watching a short film by documentary director Ken Burns, which tells the story of the Corps of Discovery in typical Ken Burns fashion. (This film alternates with another that concentrates on the Great Falls portion of the expedition.) From there you begin a walk through journey, following Lewis and Clark from St. Louis, to their winter camp with the Mandan Indians in North Dakota, across the Great Plains, over the Mountains and onto the Pacific Ocean at Fort Clatsop, Oregon.
The museum does a very good job of explaining each step of the expedition with panels, diary entries and artifacts from the region. The most dynamic portion of the museum is a life size, 2 story diarama showing the Corps struggling up the bluff while portaging their boats and supplies around the 5 waterfalls that plagued them in the Great Falls area.
Outside the museum, there are good views up and down the Missouri River. You can also take a trail down to the river, where park interpretors sometimes have a river camp set up. Overall, this museum, operated by the National Forest Service, is a very good place to learn about Lewis and Clark, their expedition, and what it meant for the future of the Untied States.
Hiking, driving, anyway you want, depending on the time you have. The landscape in and around Great Falls is varied and interesting. There are many photo opportunities and places just to relax and get away from it all.
Each of these places are of interest and you should put them on your list of things to do while in Great Falls. Don't forget the Charles Russell Museum. It was too dark for a good photo by the time we arrived there. He is a western artist similar to Remington.
Biking the River's Edge Trail, photography, Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center, and Charles Russel Museum.
Easily a visit to Great Falls should include these activities. One can practically walk between the locations.
The best thing I was able to do is alot of walking and biking, there is nothing around for miles, and the solitude was wonderful. Most of the area I was in was flat, with a few hills which made it a good place to explore.
If you decide to do some exploring, be sure to take warm clothing and a bottle of water, it got very cold and windy.
A popular trail goes past the Black Eagle Falls and Dam. They are named after an eagle that Lewis sighted in a cottonwood tree on a nearby island. It can be windy on the trail.