The “Birthplace of Montana” Needs to be on Your Bucket List
Content Produced in Partnership Central Montana
Fort Benton is a charming little town nestled along the Missouri River, about 45 minutes from Great Falls, Montana. Rich in American West history, Fort Benton was first established in 1846 as a fur trade depot.
At first glance, Fort Benton could be seen as a drive-through town on your way to Great Falls or Northeast Montana. While the town is small in geographical size, it makes up for it in history, beauty and culture. If a town was to ever name drop, Fort Benton would have the chops. For example, Fort Benton is a National Historic Landmark, located on the Lewis and Clark Trail, on the National Register of Historic Places, along the Nez Perce National Historic Trail, and is the gateway to the upper Missouri River. Its accolades are a mouthful, too, getting prestigious write-ups by Forbes and National Geographic. Plus, and maybe the best part about Fort Benton, is that it is one of the friendliest towns you’ll ever visit. The Birthplace of Montana is welcoming you to stay a while. Here’s how we would spend a good 48 hours exploring Fort Benton:
10am: Arrive and explore the waterfront
Park your car at the Grand Union Hotel, where you’ll be spending the next two nights, and start your walk along the riverfront. As you head towards the fort, on the riverfront path, you’ll see several signs that tell different moments in history of the area. This is your first opportunity to learn more about this historic town on the river.
12pm: Walk around the fort, get a tour
Towards the end of your riverfront walk you’ll see the Old Fort across the street. Walk over there for a tour. Your admission ticket grants you entrance into several other museums in Fort Benton, so keep your ticket stub. Inside the fort you’ll learn about early fur trading and how steamboats would float up the Missouri River to this most inland trading post. A highlight is the trading post, a complete representation of what life would have looked like back in Lewis and Clark’s time. A newly constructed area now houses Karl Bodmer’s travels into the interior of North America and Robert Scriver’s “No More Buffalo” collection. Give yourself plenty of time to really admire each piece of art.
3pm: Have an afternoon slice of pie at Wake Cup Coffee House
Offering different house-made pies each day, you’ll probably want to make room for more than one slice.
5pm: Take a walk before dinner
Now that you’ve explored the waterfront to the fort, consider walking the other way along the river. Stop on the walking bridge for a picture of your hotel from the best angle at sunset.
8pm: Dinner at the Grand Union Hotel
With a full bar and a delicious five-star menu, treat yourself to a decadent four-course meal. Take your time enjoying each sip of wine and every spoonful of soup. This spot is best enjoyed slowly and with friends.
The Grand Union Hotel, built in 1882 at the height of the steamboat era, is a completely restored hotel that has every modern convenience with the luxury and detail of a historic property. Ask for a room that faces the river for a great view.
10am: Full morning at the museums
Step back in time and dive into life of the American West. Take your pick of two or three to fully explore: the Museum of the Upper Missouri, the Museum of the Northern Great Plains, Homestead Village (the kids will love this one), Hornaday/ Smithsonian Buffalo and Strand Western Art Gallery (a very unique display of the last buffalo in Montana and their trip to Washington and back can’t be missed), the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument Interpretive Center and the Montana Agricultural Center.
1pm: Remember Shep
No visit to Fort Benton is complete without a visit to The Shep Memorial; the story of the most faithful dog, which waited on the train platform day after day for his beloved owner to return. He waited for over five and a half years. Grab the tissues, the story is one that will bring you to tears and make you long for your own pup.
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