Genuine charm echoes in solid majesty of mountains and glaciers, ephemeral beauty of waterfalls and wildlife surrounding Great Falls

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Mark Twain once remarked that Great Falls, Montana, was “one of the prettiest cities in the West.” No disrespect to Mr. Twain/Clemens, but “pretty” is an understatement. Bounded by mountains and hills, anchored by the Missouri River and underscored by the cascading waterfalls that give it its name, Great Falls is a genuine natural beauty with equally genuine hospitality and charm.

It was here that the expedition of explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark was stymied by the namesake falls – if only for a month. Not to worry though, Great Falls is much more accessible today thanks to direct flights from Seattle to Great Falls International Airport.

Here are a few natural wonders you’ll want to add to your itinerary:

Glacier National Park

2016 marks the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, so what better way to celebrate than with a trip to one of the country’s jewels: Glacier National Park? Known as the “Crown of the Continent,” it has the largest concentration of glaciers in the Lower 48 and boasts hidden lakes and more than 700 miles of trails – to put that in perspective, that’s a little short of the width of Texas. Picture-perfect year-round, Glacier National Park showcases the changing seasonal hues of spring’s wild bouquets, summer’s variegated greens, fall’s foliage and winter’s whites.

The park is located approximately two hours from Great Falls and is home to mountain goats, elk, grizzly and black bears, foxes, mountain lions and more. Activities include hiking, biking, boating, snowshoeing, fishing and birding. Most campgrounds open in late May or early June, but backcountry camping is available at other times of the year as well. When you visit, be sure to travel along the Going-to-the-Sun Road. It offers plenty of opportunities for scenic selfies and wildlife viewing.

Mountain goats, Glacier National Park
Mountain goats, Glacier National Park

Bob Marshall Wilderness

Named for the co-founder of The Wilderness Society, the 1 million acre Bob Marshall Wilderness – or “The Bob,” as it’s known locally – includes some of the most preserved natural ecosystems in the world. Visible from Great Falls, it runs along a portion of the Continental Divide and includes the north and south forks of the Sun River and the middle and south forks of the Flathead River. A huge escarpment called the Chinese Wall, a part of the Divide, highlights the area’s vast beauty and rises more than 1,000 feet and extends 22 miles. Home to wolves, bears, elk, bald eagles and bighorn sheep, The Bob boasts landscapes and vistas that vary from mountains and crystal blue lakes to rushing waterfalls and sweeping prairies.

Rocky Mountain Front

One of the most biologically rich regions in the U.S., the Rocky Mountain Front is where the mountains meet the plains. Sculpted by fault lines, glaciers, water and wind, the stark, largely untouched scenery is home to plains and summits, rivers and alpine lakes. In 2014, the natural wonder of The Front was protected with the passage of the Heritage Act.

Giant Springs State Park

Within minutes of downtown Great Falls, Giant Springs is one of the largest fresh springs in the U.S. and flows at a rate of 156 million (that’s six zeros) gallons of water each day. The water stays at a constant temperature of 54 degrees, and the springs have been carbon dated back 3,000 years. Giant Springs feeds into Roe River – once named the shortest river in the world by The Guinness Book of World Records. The park is the most-visited state park in Montana, with 420,000 visitors in 2015 (the second most-visited state park welcomed 170,000 visitors). Giant Springs Park is a popular destination for fishing, hiking, biking, and bird and other wildlife watching. Visitors can also stop by its fish hatchery’s indoor tank or outdoor pool to feed the fish.

Find out why Great Falls is the gateway to Genuine Montana. Plan your trip at genuinemontana.com.