A Spring Weekend in Helena, Montana

Soak in the vibrant art, historic buildings, and hot springs.

Sunset over Helena, Montana.
Sunset over the city.
Jason Savage Photography

A small town with outsize charm in southwestern Montana, Helena offers visitors glimpses of its gold rush mining past with impressive stone and brick architecture, as well as a lively arts scene, outings in the foothills of the Rockies, and plenty of bakeries and watering holes within a walkable downtown. 

Things to See and Do

For the perfect selfie with Mount Helena as a backdrop, Reeder’s Alley is a charming row of tiny red brick houses built for workers in the 1870s, currently hosting shops and the city’s helpful visitor center. For considerably more stately homes, take a self-led drive or walking tour through the Mansion District, its homes designed in massive stone and brick before the turn of the 20th century for the city’s industrial elite. (From June through September don’t miss the Last Chance Tour Train, a trolley tour with historical interpretation of these areas and more.)

A great place to start exploring downtown is the pedestrian-only Walking Mall, a two-block district where you can meander, shop, and take in historic buildings that lend their names to blocks within the city streets. Look for the 1889 vintage structure that the Power Block is named for: It’s the great stone edifice on the corner, a five-story commercial building. You can also see one of Helena’s original horse-drawn streetcars on display on Last Chance Gulch, a street named for the miners who gave the area one more go before striking gold in 1864. 

Three mountain bikers ride downhill on the South Hills Trail System.
Ride the South Hills Trail System.
Jason O'Neil / Visit Helena Montana

Outdoor fun in the area satisfies most skill levels and interests. For a lower-elevation hike or cycling outing that isn’t too muddy in springtime, try the mostly flat Waterline Trail, which runs along an old water supply line. In late spring and early summer, try one of the more challenging hikes on Mt. Helena, including the Powerline Trail, for an array of wildflowers and panoramic views. If you’d rather soak and steam, relax in the geothermally heated pools at Broadwater Hot Springs, a 10-minute drive west of downtown Helena. One features a waterfall, and there’s dining on-site.  

Two imposing structures, the Cathedral of St. Helena and Montana’s State Capitol, dominate the skyline. The limestone Gothic revival cathedral—which took about 20 years to build, completed in 1924—is open daily, and visitors can stop by any time services are not being held to admire the stained glass imported from Munich. Although the Montana Historical Society is closed until 2025 for renovations, self-guided tours of the turn-of-the-century Capitol allow visitors to linger at numerous paintings of important moments in Montana history. The neoclassical sandstone-and-granite structure sits on 10 landscaped acres; look for Lady Liberty atop the copper dome.

Brick structure at the Archie Bray Foundation for the Ceramic Arts in Helena, Montana.
Explore the grounds and gallery at the Archie Bray Foundation for the Ceramic Arts.
Jason O'Neil / Visit Helena Montana

Helena’s robust art and theater scenes offer quite a few options for those who appreciate culture. Take in a performance at the Grandstreet Theater or the Myrna Loy, where you can go to daily film showings, myriad concerts, and events, or check out the rotating exhibits at the attached Jailhouse Gallery, where you can still see features such as barred windows and a massive metal door from the building’s previous life as a house of corrections.

Art lovers shouldn’t miss the local and regional art exhibits at the Holter Museum, just a few blocks from the Walking Mall. On the outskirts of Helena, the Archie Bray Foundation for the Ceramic Arts gives visitors an education in clay arts, with 26 acres of open studios, an inviting brick-walled gallery, historic brick kilns, and sculptures everywhere the eye can see. The grounds are open nearly every day; check the website for events and studio and gallery hours. 

Classic single cheeseburger combo on a tray at Old Salt Outpost.
Classic single cheeseburger combo at Old Salt Outpost.
Thom Bridge

Where to Eat

For excellent wedge salads and bison steaks in the Great Northern Town Center, the Silver Star Steak Co. is a Helena favorite, down the street from the vintage carousel. The bar section has cozy fireplace seating in the back. You don’t need to drink to enjoy the taproom at Lewis & Clark Brewing, with a solid menu of pub favorites, live music, and a new adults-only pinball room, but its craft brews and hard seltzers are certainly worth a visit. The Windbag Saloon and Grill, housed in a former brothel with a pressed-tin ceiling, chandeliers, and a nearly 150-year-old rough-hewn stone wall, is an excellent stop for weekend brunch with a Bloody Mary, or six kinds of mac and cheese served all day. Next door, the new Dorothy’s Lounge & Gaming Parlor is named for Dorothea Putnam, or Big Dorothy, who ran the brothel above both establishments. The cocktail bar features swank velvet wallpaper, house-made infusions and pickles, and seasonal mixed drinks. 


In a town that loves its bakeries, Dear Potato, a sparkly pink vegetarian option newly opened downtown in late 2023, adds a new twist. Co-owner Shea Conley trained at a Russian bakery in Seattle, so you’ll find a healthy selection of piroshki and hearty soups such as borscht, as well as cakes and pastries. Nearby, find locally raised grass-fed beef burgers and beef fat–fried potatoes at the Old Salt Outpost, which shares quarters with the Gold Bar and is a rancher-owned co-op. For a great breakfast or slice of pie, family-friendly Shellie’s Country Café, open 24/7 near the airport, can’t be beat.

Inside the Wild Child Collective store in Helena, Montana.
Inside Wild Child Collective.
Mat Willder / Visit Helena Montana

Where to Shop

Helena’s downtown offers a lively mix of boutiques, vintage shops, and home goods stores for Montana-made specialties. For classic candy, board games, funny greeting cards, colorful socks, and a range of custom teas, devote some time to browsing the shelves of the General Mercantile. Better yet, order a chai or latte and sit a spell while kids play in the treehouse overhead. You’ll find hiking and wildlife guides, elegant German-made journals, and friendly staff at the Montana Book Co. Looking for a gift or cute sweatshirt? Wild Child Collective is one of many options. For vintage shopping, explore 10,000 square feet of nooks and crannies at Golden Girls Antique Mall.