Gates of the Mountains
From Glacier Country, the Rockies continue into Southwest Montana, where they form a picturesque frame for the Missouri River near Helena. Many groups that visit the capital city take a cruise to explore the area called the Gates of the Mountains.
“This was the official name that Lewis and Clark picked when they traveled up the Missouri River to find their way to the West,” said Carol Eichler, a Helena hotelier and a board member of the Southwest Montana Tourism Region. “As they approached coming up the river, it looked like they were coming to a dead end where a cliff would prevent them from getting through. But as they got closer, they saw an opening in the mountains that looked like gates opening up for them.”
Today, groups can take a two-hour boat ride up the Missouri River to Holter Lake, following the same route that Lewis and Clark sailed. Passengers experience the same gate-opening phenomenon, which is caused by bends in the river that are hidden at a distance, and see mountain wildlife such as goats, bald eagles, big-horned sheep and black bears along the way.
Back in Helena, the Montana Historical Society Museum gives visitors an overview of the area’s past, showcasing Native American artifacts and displays about Montana’s military history. Groups can also tour the state Capitol, where artwork and architecture depict distinctive attributes of Montana and its people.
If your travelers enjoy history, you can also take them to a number of small historic towns in the area around Helena. The most prominent, Virginia City, was the first territorial capital of the area and grew into a silver- and gold-mining town in the 1800s. Visitors can peek inside historic buildings, visit a saloon and see a vaudeville-style show.