24 Hours in Great Falls, Montana

If you only had 24 hours to enjoy Great Falls what would you do?

Hotel Arvon in downtown Great Falls

First of all you need to realize that you can’t see it all and you will get only a taste of the community. And that’s just what we did a week ago for visitors to the area.

After checking in to the Hotel Arvon in downtown Great Falls, a dinner plan was decided. Our visitors wanted something casual and fun. Someone suggested Roadhouse Diner, a cozy building located in one of Great Falls’ residential areas. A year ago the diner owner had participated in a TV show on the Food Network called Guy’s Grocery Games. Contestants had to open a surprise combination of groceries and then create something with them in a short time. And, the owner of Roadhouse Diner won the contest! Roadhouse Diner is also known for what I call their themed burgers – a few of their names are the Lowrider, Widowmaker, Sin City and Winchester. Roadhouse Diner doesn’t serve alcohol but we had plans after dinner to visit a local lounge.

There was variety in our dinner orders. I ended up with a salad with one of those awesome, fresh cut and ground burger patties on sitting on top of my mixed greens. I did have a few fries just because Roadhouse uses Montana potatoes and peels and hand cuts them. That’s a good enough excuse for me! Roadhouse was also recently noted for becoming part of Montana’s Taste Our Place program where restaurants are touted for using Montana products.

A mermaid at the Sip ‘N Dip Lounge

With our tummies beyond full, we still had plans to head to the Sip ‘N Dip Lounge at the O’Haire Motor Inn. Our visitors’ wishes – see the Montana mermaids swim and listen to “Piano Pat” croon some oldies.

It was a little before 8pm when we got to the Sip ‘N Dip and we were lucky enough to get a table in the lounge. What to drink? A large beverage called The Fishbowl was ordered, complete with a half dozen straws. The bartender told us it had a variety of liquors in it, 10 different kinds total. I opted out of the tasting since I would be behind the wheel but the others enjoyed sips and the fun tiki atmosphere of the lounge. A Montana tiki lounge? You bet!

Two mermaids were swimming in the pool and I was impressed by their swimming skills. The mermaid tails are handmade by the hotel owner and I can only imagine how heavy they become as they soak up water. I’ve been lucky to see them up close and they are works of art.

We heard the organ music start and there was Piano Pat starting her evening’s performance. The seating at the piano bar filled quickly and by time she started singing “I Love This Bar” she had a full chorus of voices joining in. Good times at the Sip N Dip Lounge.

Art along the Rivers Edge Trail

The next morning started fairly early so we could accomplish as much exploring as possible. Breakfast at the Celtic Cowboy is included in having a room at the Hotel Arvon and I heard rave reviews about it.

Our next adventure for a crisp fall morning – bike riding on the Rivers Edge Trail. I checked my drawer-full of gloves at home and brought a tote-full so everyone’s hands could stay warm. The ride went past unique artwork on the trail, deciduous trees that were at their peak with fall colors, and Black Eagle Falls. A fog-like mist was hovering over the Missouri River and it was stunning. After 3 or 4 miles of riding with multiple photo stops, the group arrived at the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center.

Two members of the Lewis & Clark Honor Guard were at the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center and they called themselves “older and more refined” versions of Captain Meriwether Lewis and Sergeant Patrick Gass. Members of the Honor Guard are called on frequently to dress in period clothing (early 1800s) and do a flag

Bikes parked at the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center

presentation or demonstrate skills the Lewis & Clark expedition used to survive their trek.

There are documentary-style films at the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center but with limited time, the group opted to just tour the exhibit halls. As you tour the center, you follow along as the expedition interacted with the Plains Indian tribes and made their way to the Pacific coast. The Portage Cache gift shop at the center caught the eye of several of us, including myself. There’s something there that just may find its way under my Christmas tree for one of my grandkids.

Our next stop was the Charles M. Russell Museum, a one-block complex located in the residential area where Charlie and Nancy Russell lived. I’m sure when they lived there it was almost the edge of Great Falls. Today it’s a neighborhood close to downtown.

The Russell’s home and Charlie’s log studio sit adjacent to this world-class museum. We opted, yes we were short on time, to just tour the museum. You could spend hours in the museum galleries and I’d like to mention it has a wonderful gift shop too.

Inside the C. M. Russell Museum

I had talked about my favorites of Russell’s works and also an exhibit titled Bison: The American Icon. Although, I hadn’t seen the newly installed traveling exhibition by David Bradley. It was the most colorful and quirky exhibit I had ever seen there!

I was glad to hear our visitors comments, especially about the Bison exhibit. It’s an amazing history of bison on the plains and also displays of lots of Native American artifacts.

Lunchtime was approaching and our restaurant of choice was Electric City Coffee & Bistro. Located on Central Avenue in downtown Great Falls, they are open for breakfast and lunch and also do catering. I am definitely a fan of their breakfast pastries which are true works of art and beyond yummy. My lunch was a turkey sandwich with fruit and a cookie. That might sound a bit boring but my sandwich had in-house roasted thick pieces of turkey breast with fresh greens on homemade bread. And that cookie? It was called a Missouri River sand bar and had layers of nuts, chocolate, caramel…well, you get the picture! It was definitely enough to fuel me for our next adventure to First People’s Buffalo Jump State Park.

View from the top of First Peoples Buffalo Jump State Park

First Peoples is about 15 minutes from Great Falls. You take I-15 south, exit at Ulm and follow a paved road for about 3 miles. The countryside is open here and the ever present view is of square butte, featured in many of Charlie Russell’s paintings. When asked what a square butte was I explained it by saying it looks like a lone mountain peak with it’s top cut off. Quizzical looks – yes – but when we got there our visitors understood that it was an apt description.

We heard the story of how Plains Indian tribes used the cliff (buffalo jump) to drive herds of buffalo over the edge to harvest them for their needs. From food to hides, from using hooves and other parts, we sat and listened to this story of an annual harvest before Native Americans had horses or firearms.

Our group also toured the interpretive hall with exhibits that portray the hunt. The lobby of First Peoples Buffalo Jump State Park has the best opportunity for a “selfie” that I’ve seen. A large buffalo, who had an extended visit to a taxidermist, is mounted in the lobby and everyone is encouraged to touch, hug and take a selfie with it. And we did!

Inside the interpretive hall at First Peoples Buffalo Jump State Park

Next we drove up to the top of the cliff which is thought to be the largest buffalo jump in North America. Views from the top are vastly different. When you are at the visitor center below, the cliff looks rounded. From the top you can easily tell how difficult it is to see the sharp drop-off.

Mid-afternoon rolled around and I knew my visitors departure time was near.

Hugs, thank-yous and compliments were given and all I wanted to say was “there is so much more to see”.

Time to plan a second visit!

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