On Easter Sunday we crossed the Continental Divide at MacDonald Pass and caught our first glimpse of Helena, Montana. Throughout the winter months we had been trying to decide as a family where we would head after our stay on Vancouver Island was over. It took many months of pouring over maps and searching the Internet before we settled on Helena, Montana. With a population of just over 29,000, but offering a great variety of arts, entertainment, and outdoor recreational opportunities we were hoping that Helena would be a great fit for our family.
We were all very nervous as we spent our first few days in Helena looking for a rental house. However, after driving to almost every neighborhood to view rentals nothing stood out that we didn’t like. Instead we couldn’t stop marveling at the mountain views, gorgeous historic buildings, and the multitude of parks and playgrounds that we passed.
Once we were settled in our rental house we finally had the time to get out and explore our new home. The first stop was the famed Great Northern Carousel that the kids had seen advertised and couldn’t wait to visit. This gorgeous carousel was constructed by local artists in 2002, and features 37 unique Montana animals including a Grizzly Bean, Otter, and Trout. With the enchanting music, the beautiful stain glass adornments, and the fun ambiance we will definitely be returning to the Great Northern Carousel frequently.
Right next door to the Great Northern Carousel is Helena’s science museum, Exploration Works! Five String had discovered their web page this past fall and had been eagerly waiting to bring the family for a visit. We were immediately impressed by the number and variety of exhibits. As a family we spent several hours playing at the water display, making paper cups fly through the air, and building structures. We were especially impressed by their summer camp offerings and the Younger Fives jumped at the chance to register for super fun sounding science adventures taking place in June, July, and August.
After getting set-up with our library card (the local library is amazing!), joining the science and art museum, and registering the kids for summer camps (there were so many to choose from) we finally unpacked our hiking boots and explored the wonderful South Hills Trail Network that lies just south of our rental house. The 65 miles of trails are within walking distance of the city and encompass the 700 acre Mt. Helena City Park, which we were impressed to find out is one of the largest city parks in the United States. Guided by the wonderful South Hills trail map that the Prickly Pear Land Trust put together we had an amazing first hike and are already planning future hiking routes.
Once we had crossed checking out the local trails off our to-do list we headed just east of the city to explore the Missouri River. We returned from the library the other day with a slew of books about the Lewis and Clark Expedition and the kids were exited to see the famed Missouri River. Unfortunately the river no longer runs as free as it did in Lewis and Clark’s time and is now dammed in three places where it flows to the east of Helena. On our first outing we headed to the middle dam at Hauser Lake. After crossing over the hydro-electric dam and having an impromptu school lesson on turbines, magnets, and electrons we headed to a trail north along the river that a local birding guide suggested. While we were excited to spot Loons, Mergansers, Mallards, and several Magpies we were startled to see so many people fishing the river. At one point we counted 14 men and women fly fishing along one bank. Then from a high point on the trail we saw the huge rainbow trout lining the gravel river bed. We later learned from one helpful fisherman that the trout were spawning and that this section of the river is know as the “Land of the Giants” for the huge fish that thrive in the 3 miles of river below the Hauser Dam.
It is hard to believe that we have only been out exploring our new home base for just over 2 weeks. It feels like everyday is packed with a new adventure, or new discovery. Between local offerings in Helena and the large number of parks, campgrounds, and trails in Montana we know that we will have a very busy summer and that Helena, Montana was the right choice for our family!