Great Falls: Montana’s Basecamp for Beer and Adventure

When you think of a Montana adventure, you may not immediately think of Great Falls. After all, it’s not the largest city in Montana. It’s not the state capital or home of either of the states great national parks. Great Falls isn’t home to the most breweries either. Still, we think Great Falls it the perfect place for your next beercation.

Hear us out…

We visited Great Falls this summer for the Beer Now Conference and discovered that Great Falls is quite the hidden gem. With a diverse landscape, beautiful scenery, a fun downtown, and countless outdoor activities, Great Falls was pretty terrific. Best of all, their location in the heart of Montana puts them right in the middle of all the other cool places you may want to explore. Great Falls is the perfect basecamp for a larger Montana adventure, whether you’re seeking out great beer, fun adventures, or both.

Visiting Great Falls, Montana

Our Great Falls trip was far too short. However, during just a few days in Great Falls, we managed to pack in quite a lot of fun, and sample quite a lot of beer! Great Falls offers so much more than beer, but if it’s a beer you’re looking for, they’ve got plenty of that, too. Whether you’re looking for a beercation or a more traditional Montana adventure, we’ve got lots of ideas for you.

The Mighty Mo Brewing Co in downtown Great Falls, Montana

Exploring Montana Craft Beer in Great Falls

There are four breweries in and around Great Falls, each offering a variety of tasty beers. However, that’s not all. Great Falls is also home to some top-notch beer bars, where you can enjoy craft beers from throughout the state. It’s also home to some exciting and entertaining bars and restaurants, each with their own selection of locally-made beers. Below are the places you should include in your Great Falls beercation.

Mighty Mo Brewing Company

In the heart of downtown Great Falls, the Mighty Mo Brewing Company offer well-crafted beers, delicious pizza, and nightly live music. Our favorites from Mighty Mo was their Cloudblast Hazy IPA. Try it with some house-made Beer Pretzel Bites or a delicious Mighty Mo Pizza and thank us later.

Black Eagle Brewery

Black Eagle Brewery sits just outside of town, offering patrons incredible views of Great Falls and the Missouri River. This brewery is a favorite of locals, taking home the People’s Choice award at the Montana Brew Fest for two years running. Everything we had from Black Eagle Brewery was good, but we especially enjoyed the flavorful Tangerine Cream Ale and Electric City Mocha Porter.

Jeremiah Johnson Brewing Co

Although Jeremiah Johnson Brewing Co is the newest kid on the block, they’re already making quite a name for themselves in the Montana beer scene. Jeremiah and Katie Johnson purchased this Great Falls brewery in 2018. Despite being newcomers, the brewery is off to a strong start. They’ve released a full lineup of bold, delicious beers. They also have an awesome logo, featuring an image of Jeremiah himself front and center on each can. Sadly, Jeremiah Johnson Brewing Co is a production brewery so they don’t have a taproom you can visit. But look for their beer on tap and in cans around town, it’s worth seeking out. Try the Mountain Main Scotch Ale or the Honey Weizen.

Harvest Moon Brewery

Located about 10 miles southeast of Great Falls in Belt, Harvest Moon Brewery is proof that the best water makes the best beer. Open since 1997, Harvest Moon Brewery gets their water from the Madison aquifer, a water supply so pure it doesn’t need to be chlorinated, treated, or filtered. Harvest Moon is known for making well-balanced, full-bodied beer. Try their newest release, Get Lost Ale. It’s a crisp, crushable pale ale that’s a perfect compliment to Montana adventures.

SteinHaus in Great Falls, MT
Image: Stein Haus + Howard’s Pizza via Flickr.com (David)

SteinHaus

For the best variety of Made in Montana craft beer in Great Falls, you don’t need to go any further than SteinHaus. With 21 taps that feature an ever-changing lineup of Montana beer, you can explore the states beer scene from the comfort of your barstool. SteinHaus also has excellent pizza, a killer jukebox, an indoor fire pit, and a relaxed “toss your peanut shells on the floor” attitude. This legendary bar has been a favorite in Great Falls since 1962. We found ourselves here every night of our trip.

Elevation 3300

Enjoy an uplifting experience at Elevation 3300 Pubic House. They have a well-curated beer list with plenty of craft options from Montana and beyond. Elevation 3300 also offers well-crafted cocktails, premium wine, and unique appetizers, all in a beautiful atmosphere.

The Celtic Cowboy

Stop by the Celtic Cowboy, named Montana’s Best Irish Pub, for a proper pint and an authentic Irish meal. For something a wee bit stronger, the Celtic Cowboy also offers over 100 different whiskeys, bourbons, and ryes. The pub is inside a historic Great Falls building that initially opened in 1890, just a few months after Montana became a state. The Celtic Cowboy was recently named the Best Sports Experience winner at the 2018 Irish Pubs Global Awards.

Sip’ n’ Dip Tiki Lounge

We expected a lot out of Great Falls, but the Sip ‘n’ Dip offered something we never expected – mermaids! The Sip ‘n’ Dip Lounge is tucked away inside the vintage O’Haire Motor Inn. Both the hotel and lounge looks like it’s frozen in time, in a good way. The bar specializes in tiki cocktails and fishbowls, but it’s what’s behind the bar that takes the Sip ‘n’ Dip to the next level. Behind the bar is a glass window with an underwater view into the pool. That’s where the mermaids, or rather, ladies in handmade mermaid costumes, perform most nights. If you’re lucky, Piano Pat will be there too, providing the music. The Sip ‘n’ Dip Lounge has a decent beer selection, but who are we kidding; you need a proper tiki drink to make the most of this adventure. The Sip ‘n’ Dip Lounge is a little bit kooky, but a whole lot of fun. It’s a must-see when visiting Great Falls.

Explore More Montana Beer

If you’re serious about having a true Montana Beercation, you’re going to want to explore more than four breweries. That’s cool, because one of the nice things about Great Falls is that it’s centrally located, so day trips and overnight excursions to most of Montana’s other big beer cities is easily accomplished. With more than 90 craft breweries to choose from, you’ll have no problem finding some inspired, creative, and delicious beers from the breweries throughout the state. Below are some tips to further expand your beercation.

Hit the Montana Brewers Trail

To truly explore Montana’s beer scene, you can easily plan a few day trips or overnight excursions to cities beyond Great Falls. Thanks to its central location, you can drive from Great Falls to several big Montana towns in under four hours. This includes Helena, Butte, Missoula, Billings, Bozeman, Big Sky, and Kalispell, just to name a few. The Montana Brewers Association has a handy Montana Brewers Trail Map to help you plan beer excursions anywhere in the state. Need more recommendations? Let us know, and we’ll fill you in on all our favorite Montana breweries!

Montana Brew Fest, held the 2nd Saturday in June annually in Great Falls, MT.

Visit During the Montana Brew Fest

Want to try the best beer Montana has to offer under one roof? Plan your trip around the Montana Brew Fest, which takes place the second weekend in June. The Montana Brew Fest is a BJCP sanctioned event, giving awards to the best beers and ciders in a variety of styles. Since awards are given during the fest, you can easily sample beers made by the breweries determined to be the best in class during your visit. It’s a fun event, filled with live music, food, and craft beer camaraderie. As a bonus, the festival takes place as part of Great Falls Craft Beer Week, so you can bet there will be lots of tasty beer served all around town during your visit.

Beyond Beer: Adventure Awaits You in Great Falls

What makes a great beercation? It’s more than beer. After all, even if you could drink beer all day every day, you probably shouldn’t. A great beercation destination offers plenty to do before, during, and after beer o’clock rolls around. Below are just a few of the adventures you can have in Great Falls.

The River's Edge Trail in Great Falls, MT
Credit: River’s Edge Trail via Facebook

Explore the River’s Edge Trail

With 58 miles of trail on both sides of the Missouri River, the River’s Edge Trail offers spectacular views of Great Falls, five nearby waterfalls, and several hydroelectric dams. About one-third of the trail is paved, including a 3.5-mile loop that circles the city and gives you access to museums, dining, and other downtown attractions. The rest of the trail is unpaved, perfect for single track bikers to explore. Didn’t pack a bike? No worries. You can rent one at Knicker Biker, located just two blocks from the trail.

Follow in Lewis and Clark’s Footsteps

In April 1805, Lewis and Clark and their Corps of Discovery first entered what is now Montana. Learn about their epic adventures as they explored the west at the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail Interpretive Center. Explore the exhibits, then retrace their steps, visiting related sites on the Lewis and Clark Trail to see for yourself what’s changed, and what hasn’t, after more than 200 years.

Paddle the Mighty Mo

The Missouri River, aka the Mighty Mo, is the longest river in North America. Where the river winds through Great Falls it’s relatively calm, making it perfect for paddling a kayak or a stand-up paddleboard. If you want to add some history into your river adventure, check out the Lewis and Clark Paddle Trail guide. Here you’ll find route suggestions paired with stories about the sites you’ll be paddling past based on Lewis and Clark journal entries. If you don’t have the equipment to navigate the Mighty Mo, rentals are available.

Go Fish

Montana is known worldwide for its incredible fishing, and Great Falls is near some of the best rivers, streams, and lakes for a fishing excursion. With a variety of fish, a diversity of waters, and the incredible Montana scenery as your backdrop, you’re sure to have a memorable fishing outing. We suggest you contact a local outfitter before your trip to plan your excursion so all you need to do is show up and catch some fish.

Explore Giant Springs State Park

Giant Springs State Park is home to one of the largest freshwater springs in the world, where 156 million gallons of crisp, clear water flow each day. It’s also where you can find the Roe River, known as the worlds shortest river. Giant Springs State Park is where you’ll find the town’s namesake waterfall, Great Falls, as well as Rainbow Falls and Ryan Dam. You can also take a self-guided tour of the Giant Springs State Fish Hatchery.

Uncover the City’s History

We’re history nerds, and love to learn the story behind the places we visit. Sound like you? Take a historical walking tour of Great Falls and find out more about the town. Download a map or pick one up in person at Great Falls Montana Tourism’s basecamp at 100 1st Avenue North. You can learn the story behind four different Great Falls neighborhoods, or do them all, you overachiever you. If you prefer a more formal tour, consider a Historical Trolley Tour around Great Falls to see local landmarks, attractions, & other must-see sights.

Take a Scenic Drive

Twelve miles north of Great Falls you’ll find the Benton Lake Wildlife Refuge. Despite the name, Benton Lake isn’t a lake. Rather, it’s a 6,000-acre shallow wetland created by the last continental glacier thousands of years ago. Today, this 12,000-acre wetland area is a protected refuge and breeding ground for a large number of waterfowl and shorebirds. Enjoy a leisurely 9-mile self-guided drive through the refuge and watch for birds and other wildlife who migrate through the area depending on the season.

Get Off the Grid

If traditional parks aren’t rustic enough for you, check out the Bob Marshall Wildnerness Complex. Known to locals as “The Bob” this area of wilderness is just 45 minutes outside of Great Falls and offers many trail options. Within the 1.5 million acres of rugged and natural terrain, you’ll find preserved mountain peaks, lakes, forest, meadows, waterfalls, and valleys. Free of motor vehicles, the Bob is a great place to enjoy the awe-inspiring, untouched beauty of Montana. The area is also home to lots of wildlife, including elk, deer, wolves, bobcats, lynx, cougars, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, wolverines, beavers, river otters, grizzly and black bears, and many varieties of birds. Be sure you arrive well-prepared and ready for whatever adventures nature may have in store for you. Pick up a map to plan a day trip, or find an outfitter for a more extreme wilderness experience.

Glacier National Park, Montana
Glacier National Park | Photo by Craig Tidball on Unsplash

Visit Montana’s National Parks

Great Falls is located halfway between two iconic national parks: Glacier National Park and Yellowstone National Park. Consider planning excursions to one or both while you’re in Montana. Both parks offer views and experiences you can’t find anywhere else, whether you’re looking for spectacular scenery, local wildlife, or outdoor activities. They also both offer lodging and camping options, should you want to stay awhile. Reservations are recommended for overnight lodging and for some campsites in both parks; other campsites are first-come-first-served. The parks can fill up fast during peak seasons, so plan well in advance of your trip if you want to stay within the parks.

Finally… Stop & Smell the Barley (not really, though)

For great beer, you need great malt, and for that, you need great barley. Montana is one of the nations top barley producers, second in the United States to Idaho. From big global brewers to small craft operations, Montana provides a lot of the barley used to create our favorite beers. The hot summers, cold winters, dry climate, and low risk for disease make it one of the best barley growing regions in the world. Growers in the Golden Triangle of Montana (the area between Great Falls, Conrad, and Harve) are well known for their wheat and barley crops. That’s why the world’s largest maltsters, Malteurop, opened a state-of-the-art malting facility in Great Falls in 2005 that can process 45 tons of barley every 16 hours. So, while we don’t really want you to get near the barley, be on the lookout for the fields as you travel the state. If you happen to meet one of Montana’s many farmers or agricultural workers, thank them for all their hard work. It’s a tough job, and they don’t get the accolades they deserve.

Malteurop in Great Falls, Montana. Located in the Golden Circle of barley production, this malting facility processes barley for breweries of all sizes.

Logistics

Getting to Great Falls by Car

Great Falls is 770 miles from Denver, so if road tripping is your thing, you can be there in under 12 hours by driving straight through. But where’s the fun in that? Plan more time into your drive for all the great spots you’ll pass along the way, both in Montana and Wyoming. For example, maybe you’ll want to explore the Wyoming Beer Trail on the way to Montana. Plan accordingly, so you have time to make those unexpected stops. (But don’t drink and drive, k?)

Getting to Great Falls by Airplane

If 12 hours in a car is not your idea of a good time, United Airlines offers several non-stop flights to Great Falls International Airport each day. Once there, you can rent a car for excursions beyond Great Falls, or stay in town and use car services, like Uber or Lyft. We used the car services several times while in Great Falls and never had an issue finding a ride. As a bonus, your local driver will probably be happy to share information on events and happenings taking place during your visit.

Our Accommodations: Hilton Garden Inn Great Falls

There are no doubt plenty of lodging options in Great Falls, including some historic and truly unique places to stay. Since we visited Great Falls for the Beer Now Conference, we stayed at the conference hotel, the Hilton Garden Inn Great Falls. In all honesty, we’ll probably stay here again when we go back. The Hilton Garden Inn was a nice hotel, with clean rooms and friendly staff. The hotel has a restaurant and bar, fitness center, and pool – none of which we used. It also has and a 24-hour pantry market – which we hit up daily for late-night snacks. As a bonus, many of the amenities we usually get charged for were free, including wifi, morning coffee, an airport shuttle, and on-site parking. The hotel is about 10 minutes from downtown Great Falls, but as we said, Uber’s were plentiful, so we had no problems getting around. We’re pretty brand loyal to Hilton, and this was one of our favorite stays, and that’s not only because of all the beer.

More Resources

Clearly, there is no lack of things to do in Great Falls, or in the state of Montana. Even after writing this long articles we’ve barely scratched the surface. We truly loved visiting Great Falls and learning about the Montana craft beer scene. We can’t wait to go back and spend even more time exploring the city and beyond. If you’re ready to plan an adventure of your own in Great Falls, these resources should help:

Visit Great Falls Montana: https://visitgreatfallsmontana.org/
Visit Montana: https://www.visitmt.com/
Discover Genuine Montana: https://www.genuinemontana.com/

Finally, if you’re a beer writer or influencer who is interested in learning more about the Beer Now Conference, visit: https://beernow.org/


Disclosure:
We attended the 2019 Beer Now Conference in Great Falls as bloggers and received a discounted registration fee in consideration of writing a post about the conference. The subject matter and content of the story was ours to choose. In short, all opinions and recommendations above are ours alone and were in no way influenced by this discount.

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