Helena owes its existence to the discovery of placer gold, quartz gold, silver, and lead. Helena became the "Queen City of the Rockies" with the boom brought on by the 1864 gold strike. In 1864 a group known as the "Four Georgians" (John Cowan, Daniel Jackson Miller, John Crab, and Reginald, or Robert Stanley) stumbled upon gold in what is now Helena's main street. The claim was staked and named "Last Chance Gulch." In 1875, the territorial capital was moved from Virginia City to Helena. When Montana became a state, the fight for the location of the state capital pitted 'Copper King' Marcus Daly of
Anaconda against rival William A. Clark, who supported Helena. Helena won, and in October 1898, ground was broken for the State Capitol Building. Helena's glorious past can also be seen in the spectacular 19th-century mansions, historic Last Chance Gulch businesses, and restored pioneer dwellings. The
Last Chance Tour Train features informative, entertaining tours of the city. The tour begins at the
Montana Historical Society. A one-hour train ride provides a spectacular tour of the Capital City, complete with a lesson in Helena's colorful history. Other impressive historical landmarks include the
St. Helena Cathedral, an imposing edifice, overlooking the downtown area, it is modeled after the cathedral in Cologne, Germany, and a replica of the Votive Church in Vienna and the
Original Governor's Mansion constructed in 1888, it contains 20 rooms all restored to turn-of-the-century elegance and furnished with antiques. For a unique western experience
Last Chance Ranch Wagonride offers horse drawn wagon dinner rides to authentic teepee above town. The
Montana Historical Society, founded in 1865, houses one of the country's most important collections of Charles M. Russell art in the Mackay Gallery; the Haynes Gallery features the life and work of noted frontier photographer F. Jay Haynes. The Helena area is known for sapphires as well as gold. By 1888, an estimated 50 millionaires made Helena their home. Last Chance Gulch produced an estimated $3.6 billion (in today's dollars) in gold over a 20-year period. The
Spokane Bar Mine is one of half a dozen digging sites, and numerous old mines and settlements exist nearby. The
Archie Bray Foundation was established in 1951 on the site of a brick factory and attracts artists from around the world. Tour the studios and grounds of this unique endeavor in the ceramic arts. Nearby the
Missouri River flows with several lakes within a short driving distance.
Holter Lake and
Hauser Reservoir perfect for outdoor recreation including fishing, swimming, camping, water-skiing and boating.
Canyon Ferry Reservoir, just 20 minutes east of Helena, is a large reservoir on the Missouri River offering outdoor recreation. In the winter ice sailing can be viewed on the lake. As Lewis and Clark traveled up the Missouri River in this area, Meriwether Lewis was struck by the steep canyon walls and noted 'The Gates of the Mountains' in his journal. Boat tours are available at the
Gates of the Mountains, 16 miles north of Helena off I-15. Elevation: 4,090 feet.