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Tour an underground city, soak in hot springs and eat incredible local pie in central Montana towns like Fort Benton, Havre and White Sulphur Springs. We’ve rounded up the best stops for history, food, relaxation and natural beauty in central Montana.
1. Stroll Historic Fort Benton
(Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Sabreena Stone)
Fort Benton is one of the oldest towns in Montana and its historic downtown still holds onto its charm. Check out its shops and eateries, or visit Old Fort Benton which was once a hub for fur trading, on the shores of the Missouri River.
Make a reservation to dine at the gorgeous Grand Union Hotel. The Union Grille specializes in farm-to-table cuisine with mouthwatering and inventive local dishes like a dry rubbed fried chicken with chipotle blackberry sauce, or a Plains Paella with bison sausage. Be sure to reserve a table on the patio overlooking the river.
2. Go on an Underground Tour in Havre
Havre, Mont., might look like a classic western town, but there’s a fascinating twist to its history. In 1904 a viscous fire swept through downtown, destroying almost every building in the bustling frontier town. Business owners moved underground while reconstruction took place. Ten blocks of passageways were home to a subterranean saloon, laundry, brothel and more. Later, bootleggers used the passageways used during Prohibition.
Today, the passageways have been refurbished as a tourist attraction, “Havre Beneath the Streets.”Stop by 120 3rd Ave. to get tickets for daily tours between 9:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. in the summer and between 10:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. every day but Sundays in the winter.
3. Explore the Old Trail Museum in Choteau
Learn everything you ever wanted to know about Montana’s natural and human history at the Old Trail Museum in Choteau. Check out the dinosaur exhibit in the main museum, including a life-size Maiasaura, a dinosaur which is Montana’s state fossil. Then, head outside to other buildings including a pioneer cabin and schoolhouse, a Blackfeet teepee, an art studio, a gift shop with locally-made souvenirs and an ice cream parlor.
4. Hike to Stunning Waterfalls
(Photo: Getty Images)
Hike to the gorgeous Memorial Falls, a short, 1-mile, round-trip trek to two beautiful waterfalls. The trailhead is right off Hwy. 89, 1.6 miles southeast of Neihart. Park on the east side of the road. The hike is forested and winds along a scenic creek. Be sure to carry bear spray and know how to use it when hiking in bear country.
5. Soak at White Sulphur Springs
Head to the town of White Sulphur Springs and spend the afternoon soaking at the Spa Hot Spring Motel. With a 103-degree and a 98-degree outdoor pool and a 105-degree indoor pool, this hot springs is the perfect place to relax after a day spent exploring or on the road.
Don’t miss dinner at The Jawbone, a women-owned, speakeasy-themed restaurant. The signature cocktails like the Huckleberry Lemon Drop Martini are the way to go.
6. Get a Slice of Huckleberry Pie
It would be a crime to visit Montana without eating some huckleberries. These wild, blueberry-like fruits are a staple in the state. You’ll find them in everything from ice cream to vodka, but a local favorite is huckleberry pie. Check out Central Montana’s pie trail for local favorites: centralmontana.com/pie_trail/. Overwhelmed with choices? Montana native Kattie Meyer suggests The Cozy Corner in Fairfield.
7. Deep Dive into the Old West in Great Falls and Lewistown
(: David Krause)
Explore the town of Great Falls, home to five waterfalls along the Missouri River and get to know three important characters in western history. First, head to the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center to learn about the famous duo who helped chart the west for white settlers. Then, head to the C.M. Russell Museum where you’ll learn about the iconic cowboy artist.
In Lewistown, don’t miss the Montana Cowboy Poetry Gathering and Western Music Rendezvous every August, the second oldest cowboy gathering in the country. If you’re not visiting in August, you can still get a dose of pioneer entertainment on the Charlie Russell Chew Choo, a dinner trail complete with local entertainment and staged hold-ups.
Learn more at CentralMontana.com.