You want a weekend getaway filled with art museums, theater performances, and gallery hopping. Your partner dreams about hiking, biking, and fishing in the great outdoors. How do you find a destination to make both of you happy? Plan a romantic getaway to Helena, Montana.
My husband and I weren’t sure what to expect on the drive up Interstate 15 to Helena. All we knew about the “Queen City of the Rockies” was that the former gold rush town — and home to 50 millionaires by 1888 — morphed into Montana’s state capital once the gold was depleted in Last Chance Gulch. What we found was a treasure trove of art experiences for me and a wealth of outdoor activities for him. Win-win!
Did I go my way and he goes his on this romantic getaway to Helena? Uh, where’s the romance in that? Instead, we found a mix of artsy, outdoorsy activities to do together.
Arts Fix: Garden Walks and Galleries
What does a garden walk have to do with art? Plenty, if you’re walking through Tizer Botanical Gardens & Arboretum on a summer evening with owners Richard Krott and Belva Lotzer. Wine glasses in hand, my husband and I strolled the six flower-filled acres listening to the gardening couple share the romantic story of how Richard created the gardens for Belva after their later-in-life marriage.
Whimsical, artistic touches, especially in the children’s garden, made me smile. And the wooded, creek-side setting satisfied my outdoor loving husband. It was worth the 19-mile drive from Helena.
The Details:A ticket to Walk in the Garden with Richard and Belva costs $10 for Tizer Botanical Gardens and Arboretum members and $15 for non-members. The 7:00 p.m. monthly event includes snacks and beverages.
Does creating an heirloom piece of furniture with secret compartments— where notes are left for future generations to read — satisfy your inner artist? The A. L. Swanson Gallery & Craftsman Studio features glass, paintings, photography, cloth, and ceramics from leading regional artists. But it’s A.L. Swanson’s woodworking classes that provide the bonding experience.
On this visit, we settled for a browse around the gallery and a tour of the woodworking shop. Just listening to A. L.’s enthusiasm for his craft is contagious. Soon, my husband and I were talking about a return visit to create that heirloom table with the secret compartments.
The Details: The Weekend Table Class fee is $595. Couples may share the workshop for an additional $50. Check the event calendar on the A. L. Swanson Gallery website for class schedule.
A weekend is not enough time to visit all of Helena’s art venues, especially when there’s outdoor fun to be had. Next time we’ll:
Take an art class at Holter Museum of Art
Throw a pot in a ceramics class at Archie Bray Foundation for the Ceramic Arts
See a performance at the The Myrna Loy Center
Admire the stained glass windows and paintings in the Montana State Capitol building. Free.
Outdoor Fix: Fly Fishing and Geocaching
How do you mix art and the outdoors? When Chris from CrossCurrents Fly Shop took us out in a boat for a fly fishing lesson on the Missouri River, I learned that there’s definitely an art to casting for trout. The half-day float down the Missouri was a fun ride, even if we didn’t catch any fish. And when my arm tired from practicing casts, I put the rod down and picked up the camera to capture the scenic view.
The Details: CrossCurrents Fly Shop in Craig, a 43-mile drive from Helena, sells supplies, lessons, guiding services, and fishing licenses.
Did you know that Helena is a premier geocaching destination? What is geocaching? It’s an outdoor treasure hunt where participants use GPS coordinates to search for hidden caches.
On Helena’s official GeoTour, follow your GPS on a scavenger hunt through Last Chance Gulch Walking Mall while stopping to browse a gallery or two. Then search out the caches on Mount Helena and Elkhorn Ghost Town. Getting there will definitely satisfy the hiker in your duo.
You could spend days exploring Helena’s outdoor activities. For next time:
Go for a bike ride. Over 75 miles of trails originate from downtown Helena.
Hike to Refrigerator Canyon or Crow Creek Falls.
Explore Helena on a Segway Tour.
Romance Fix: Staying at the Sanders
If only the walls could talk at The Sanders. Built in 1875, the 19th century mansion has been restored for use as a bed and breakfast by Bobbi Uecker and Rock Ringling.
After a day mixing art with the outdoors, I appreciated the old-fashioned soaking tub in Teddy’s Buckaroo, an upstairs bedroom with a small sitting area and king-sized brass bed meant for snuggling. And the gourmet breakfast of Grand Marnier French Toast served on a lace-covered tablecloth in the dining room gave a delicious start to the morning.
The Sanders is within walking distance of Last Chance Gulch, where gold rush history has been turned into a pedestrian mall with shops and restaurants. I recommend taking an evening stroll there for dinner at The Mediterranean Grill. And be sure to save room for ice cream at The Big Dipper. With unique flavors like Mexican Chocolate, Orange Sesame, and Molasses, you’ve discovered the artistic side of ice cream making.
Other restaurants within walking distance of The Sanders:Benny’s Bistro is a short stroll down Sixth Avenue. Consider the tapas if you’re looking for a lighter meal. Thinking Italian? Lucca’s at Last Chance Gulch will satisfy your pasta craving.
Getting to Helena
A romantic getaway to Helena doesn’t have to mean days and days of driving; instead, fly in for the weekend. Delta, Alaska, and United provide air service to the Helena Regional Airport.
Planning a trip to Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks? Helena makes a convenient stop for the night. Why not build in several days to experience the arts and outdoors on a romantic break from all that national park fun?
Disclosure: Helena Tourism Alliance provided this travel experience to the author.
All Photos by Alan Hull Photography