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Historic Hot Spot: Great Falls, Montana
Long considered a mere stopover between Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks, Great Falls is an uncrowded, affordable base for exploring the Wild West. The heart of Lewis and Clark Country, this waterfall-laced area is where the famed explorers and their corps hauled canoes for 18 grueling miles until they reached calmer waters on the Missouri River. Get the lay of the land with a historic two-hour trolley tour ($22 adults, $5 kids 2 to 12; www.greatfallshistorictrolley.com) followed by a visit to the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail Interpretive Center ($5 adults, free for kids 15 and under; www.fs.fed.us/r1/lewisclark/lcic/). The Great Falls History Museum is also full of frontier paraphernalia, while the C.M. Russell Museum houses a huge collection of cowboy-themed canvases. Great Falls is good for just kicking up your heels too. Rent bikes and cycle along the River's Edge Trail in town, hit the hiking paths, or check out Electric City Water Park (greatfallscvb.visitmt.com).
An hour away by car and virtually untouched by time, the frontier town of Fort Benton is a great excursion. Other worthy adventures include a trip to Buffalo Jump Park, where Native Americans reportedly slaughtered buffalo by running them off a cliff. Or venture to Lewis and Clark's aptly named Gates of the Mountains—1,200-foot crags hang over the Missouri River and tour boats roam the waters ($11 adults; $7 kids 4 to 17; gatesofthemountains.com).
Where to Stay
A short stroll from town, La Quinta Inns & Suites has rooms with breakfast from $109 (lq.com, 800-SLEEPLQ). For authentic hospitality and great horseback riding, stay at the family-owned Rocking Z Ranch, about an hour south of Great Falls (rockingz.com; weekly rates start at $1,330 for adults, $1,197 for kids 12 and under, including meals). Mention Family Circle and get a 5 percent discount through July 15, 2010.