In my “real” job, I own a consulting and training company, Val Grubb & Associates, and I had a job in Helena, Montana last week. It was exciting as it was a new state for me! Before I die, my goal is to visit all seven continents (I’ve hit 5 so far – Antarctica and Africa to go) and visit all 50 states (not just touch down in the airport, but actually do a bit of visiting). It’s awesome when I get paid to help reach one of my personal goals (especially when it comes to travel)! Ha, ha, ha.
I had a free day before flying back to NYC and I made the most of it! Several activities on my list were closed for the season, reopening in July. Bit of a bummer, but, definitely a reason to go back! Top 3 activities on my list for my return visit are the Last Chance Train tour (tour Helena in a historic train, via trolley or Segway!), Gates of the Mountains boat tour (with limestone cliffs rising to an impressive 1200 feet on each side) and Last Chance Ranch Wagon dinner. That said, there was still plenty of things to see!
Helena was originally founded by a party calling themselves the “Four Georgians” as a mining camp along a small creek called Last Chance Gulch (hence the names of several of the tours and a street running through downtown). Gold was discovered in 1864 and by 1888, about 50 millionaires lived in Helena, more per capita than in any city in the world! Last Chance Gulch coughed up a lot of gold over a 20 year period – about $3.6 billion in today’s dollars. Not surprisingly, one highlight of Helena is viewing the many mansions in the surrounding area and I’m actually going to tackle that in a future post this week. Stand-by for more shortly!
What to do in Helena Montana in the winter season:
1. St. Helena Cathedral (530 N. Ewing Street) – construction began in October 1908, with the first eucharist service being held in November 1914. Its spires tower over Helena although the 59 stained glass windows, made and installed by the F.X. Zettler Firm of Munich, Bavaria, are the true centerpiece. They are seriously spectacular (hint: only the north door is open during the day so keep trying if you encounter one that is locked). The Zettler Firm claimed that thirty seven of the windows tell the story from the fall of Adam and Eve to the Church in the early years of the 20th Century. Take a peek at the interior:
The exterior of the Cathedral was mighty impressive as well:
2. General Mercantile (413 N. Last Chance Gulch) – I did a quick stop here as I was told they have huckleberry tea (a specialty of the area). WOW, was I bummed I had not come here earlier! It’s a coffee shop/general store and there are all these cozy tables scattered throughout the small, narrow shop. It was seriously awesome and after my brief stop, I was bummed I didn’t go there when I had more time.
3. Mt. Helena City Park – OK, I have to admit it, I’m not really the outdoorsy sort. However, I went to this park just above Helena so I could get a view over the city (and particularly the cathedral). I did a small hike comparatively but if I had more time (and the proper shoes), I think I would’ve tried heading up the mountain!
They don’t call Montana “Big Sky Country” for nothing:
4. Reeder’s Alley (212 South Park Avenue) – There really isn’t much to see here, it’s basically just two short blocks, but it was worth a quick stop just to get a feel for what old-time Helena (and the west) was like. The buildings along Reeder’s Alley were built in 1884 and housed miners prospecting the area.
I drove around the Montana State Capital building (Helena is the capital of Montana) although I didn’t go in as the legislature was in session and there were all sorts of protests outside. Too much hassle to try to park. Building was nice on the outside.
I also peeked in at the Great Northern Carousel although I didn’t ride it. Definitely worth checking out, especially if you have kids.
Overall a very fun time in Helena even in the winter months when most activities are shutdown. For more to do, check out my blog on the stunning mansions in Helena!