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Great Falls Travel Guide, Montana

Great Falls is Montana's second largest city and its heartland, located near the Missouri River.

Paris Gibson was the one who saw the land’s potential for agriculture and laid the plans for the city in 1885. Besides a thriving wheat and barley industry, there were other industries that boomed like electricity and the military forming the cornerstone of Great Falls’ economy. The city is one of the biggest providers of power in the area, a sign of Great Falls' progress, as the falls have been tamed by a series of dams. From here derived the city’s nickname of "The Electric City”. The army has an important base here, the Malmstrom Air Force Base the launching point for the space shuttle of the future.

When Lewis and Clark first ventured into this part of the Missouri river in 1805, they discovered five great waterfalls. They called them "Great Falls of the Missouri" and so the city was named for the waterfalls on the Missouri River. The river they saw then was different from what we can see today, beautiful and untamed, they saw it as a “sublimely grand spectacle”. Today the river and the area still offer great opportunities to see many of the extraordinary sights and sounds the discoverers experienced. And if you want to follow the steps of Lewis and Clark, you should get ready for an expedition that takes at least one day. You will walk on the River's Edge Trail that stretches along the southern flank of the Missouri.

Another great way to experience the river is visiting Giant Springs / Heritage State Park. You will marvel at the world's largest spring with bubbles coming from the earth with eight million gallons per hour.

There are other sights like Ulm Pishkun State Park and Gibson Park that boast excellent views. The first boasts beautiful landscape, and cultural treasures and you can hear the stories of American Indians driving their herds of bison and view the rich exhibits featuring tools discovered at the site including arrowheads, knives, hide scrapers, hammers and other. The other park is a serene place and the local’s favorite offering a large pond, playgrounds, flower gardens, and picnic areas and during the summer there are free concerts at the band shell. Located north of the Civic Center, the park is the perfect place to pick up the trail system along the Missouri River.

The area around Great Falls has not changed much since Charlie Russell, the nation's most acclaimed frontier artist, found it and painted it at the end of the 19th century. Charmed by the place, Russell made Great Falls his home and spent here the last 24 years of his life painting in his studio. The history of the place comes alive as you visit the Charles M. Russell Museum Complex. Here you can see his home, the place where he worked and the most extensive collection of his original works.

Another art venue is Paris Gibson Square home to the Center for Contemporary Arts with first-class reputation contemporary exhibits, a fine-art shop and a café.

West of the Russell Museum and Paris Gibson Square is the Residential Historic District dating 1885. It boasts the most architecturally interesting buildings constructed between 1885 and 1945. Their original appearance has been maintained and can be visited in a one-hour guided or self guided walking tour. The typical architectural styles include Victorian, Queen Anne, Prairie, Bungalow, Colonial and Revival.

Another historic tour including more than 15 buildings, sites and monuments is at Fort Benton, a legendary river port founded in 1846.

Still in the area of Montana's history is Choteau's Old Trail Museum. It traces history back to the days of dinosaurs. And besides dinosaur fossils you can see over a million waterfowl and other watchable wildlife just 44 miles northwest of Great Falls, at Freeze out Lake.

With the history is set against a backdrop of fine restaurants, hotels, casinos and city parks and the opportunity to rediscover the sites and the scenery, Great Falls is the place to be, an ideal place for a vacation.

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