Fur traders, gold seekers, cattle rustlers—many took paddle wheelers to Fort Benton after its founding in 1846. Today, the town northeast of Great Falls wears its history well. Stroll a walkway along the Missouri River from the statue of Shep, a famously loyal sheepdog, to Historic Old Fort Benton—a block once declared the bloodiest in the West.
1. Step into the Victorian era in the 1882 Grand Union Hotel, replete with a glass-fronted concierge desk and a carved black walnut staircase. Relax in an elegant guest room, sip a local IPA on the patio, or enjoy peppercorncrusted beef filet in the dining room.
2. The Wake Cup Coffee House & Bakery, with its multihued walls, wooden floors, and chalkboard menu, is the perfect stop for a latte and a breakfast with historic flair. Try the Brother Vans porridge: oatmeal with berry sauce, yogurt, and honey. Or, if you're famished, tackle the Steamboat skillet, a dish of two eggs any style over a hash of sausage, ham, bacon, and mushrooms.
3. At the Museum of the Upper Missouri, the signs make clear that SCAMPS AND SCOUNDRELS, from rough river traders to vigilante stockmen, get their due. Treasures from the late 1800s include military outfits, muskets, and handmade saddles.
4. At the Museum of the Northern Great Plains complex, visitors pay their respects to a group of six bison killed in 1886 and mounted for display, initially at the Smithsonian. Nearby exhibits show farm gear's evolution from steam tractors to giant harvesters. Outside, guests roam the main street of a re-created rural town circa 1920.
5. Book a canoe trip through part of the 149-mile-long Upper Missouri Breaks National Monument. Outings led by Upper Missouri River Guides pass beneath towering white cliffs and eerie pedestal rocks that look much as they did when Lewis and Clark paddled by in 1805.