One of Great Falls’ greatest assets is its sense of history. Here, along the banks of the Missouri where the plains meet the Rockies, explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark encountered one of the more daunting obstacles of their expedition: the thundering waterfalls that gave the city its name. The waterfalls have since been tamed by hydropower dams, but an interpretive center, guided boat trips, and paved trails that recall the passage of the two explorers in 1805 are impressive, and a slew of other museums and attractions celebrate other chapters in the city’s history. From prehistoric buffalo jumps and famous Western artists to pioneering cowboys and the Missouri River fur trade, Great Falls has a storied past rich enough to make its people proud. And they are.
With 56,690 residents, Great Falls is no longer Montana’s second-largest city, demoted in the 2000 census to third place, below the burgeoning mountain town of Missoula and its 363 extra residents. But Great Falls is still the commercial and social hub for northern Montana and southern Alberta, with a bi-level mall, thriving downtown district, bustling civic center, and near-boundless opportunities for outdoor recreation.