Great Falls Today
Great Falls today reflects the careful planning that went into the creation of the town back in the 1880’s. Virtually all streets are on a straight grid-pattern. The main streets in the downtown are wide and easy to navigate. Numerous parks are located in town, especially along the Missouri River. Most streets are also tree lined – something that so many western prairie towns have only recently discovered the value of having.
Unfortunately, what served Great Falls so well during its early years is sort of hampering it today. This is the location of Great Falls. I personally like the location of Great Falls, as it is within an easy one-hour drive of the scenic Rocky Mountain Front and has a scenic setting along the Missouri River.
However, the changing nature of Montana’s economy, from a manufacturing and agricultural economy to one more based on tourism and services, has in a way passed Great Falls by. Great Falls isn’t really located anywhere near the prime tourist areas in Montana. Even worse, most people on their way to the prime tourist spots of Glacier National Park (just 3 hours away), often don’t even pass through the city – as two of the three major roads toward Glacier (Highway 2 from the East and Highway 287 from the South) do not go anywhere near Great Falls. As such, Great Falls has “missed out” on much of the tourist boom and trophy home construction that you see in most other cities in Montana.
And for me, that is maybe what I like about Great Falls. Above all, Great Falls is a “real” town, not inflated up by out-state tourist dollars. Yet, despite not being a tourist town, Great Falls has done a very nice job of restoring older buildings downtown (particularly the old train stations and warehouses along the old Milwaukee Road railroad tracks).
The extensive park system in Great Falls also is without a doubt the best city park system in Montana, by far. Indeed, Great Falls probably has more parks for a city of its size than I’ve seen anywhere in my travel inside and outside of Montana. These parks, besides providing handy places to play baseball and unleash the kids, also have duck ponds, lengthy bike trails and secluded walking trails.
Due to the excellent planning put into Great Falls back in the 1880’s, getting around Great Falls is generally quick and not painful. While traffic can be heavy at times (especially in the summer) along the main thoroughfares (particularly near the mall), traffic still moves well enough. More importantly, though, is that the city has done a decent job of making stoplights synchronized and thus keeping traffic moving. Really, once you figure out the town (which is pretty simple, as it is basically a grid with a few curved thoroughfares thrown in to confuse people), Great Falls is an awfully easy town to get around in.
Great Falls Attractions
For those of you who enjoy art, you undoubtedly have heard of Charles Russell then. Charles Russell is without question the state’s most well known and beloved artists. The Charles Russell Museum in Great Falls is a wonderful place to visit should anyone like to learn more about this artist and his unique paintings and sketches. (read biography of Charles Russell).
Great Falls, Montana, also has a very other interesting historical and art centers in town. The Lewis and Clark National Historical Trail Interpretative Center is located there – which can provide you with as much information as you ever hope to want about the legendary expedition of Lewis & Clark. The Paris Gibson Square Museum of Art is also located in Great Falls.
Great Falls Weather
Even by Montana standards, Great Falls can experience some wild weather swings. The cities location in the prairie and proximity to the Rocky Mountain Front produce some wacky weather. During the winter, it’s not uncommon to go from 30 below with an even worse wind-chill up to 60 degrees in a matter of days. This is due to two variables. First, cold, Canadian air slips down into this part of Montana effortlessly, with only a handful of barbed wire fences blocking the way. The cold air usually isn’t able to rise over the mountains to the west, thus sparing western Montana from extreme cold weather. The second factor that contributes to extreme weather in Great Falls is the Chinook winds. Chinook winds form when sinking air along the Rocky Mountain front compresses as it lowers towards the plains below – and warms the air as it sinks. Once this warm, compressed air hits the plains, extremely high winds can form, melting even deep snow almost overnight and threatening to blow away anything not fully latched down.
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