Hike Mt. Helena Ridge Trail to Mt. Helena City Park, or stick to loops closer to Park City to avoid the often crowded trailheads near downtown Helena (photo by Dan Oldenburg)
Author: Keely Damara, Communications Coordinator at Montana Wilderness Association
Accessing and enjoying public lands have become more essential than ever before for the wellbeing of our communities, families, and ourselves.
As Montana enters phase two of Governor Steve Bullock’s reopening plan and tourists begin to flock to the state, physical distancing will continue to be of the utmost importance to keep our communities healthy. Gov. Bullock’s phase-two guidelines include asking individuals to avoid gatherings of more than 50 people where physical distancing isn’t feasible and encouraging vulnerable Montanans to stay home as much as possible.
For those planning to hit their favorite trails this fall, these physical distancing guidelines may be hard to adhere to while traversing heavily trafficked trails. Montana Wilderness Association (MWA) wants to help.
Hike Wild Montana, our online hiking guide, features more than 350 trails across the state, which provides options that can help Montanans stay safe, avoid crowded trails and trailheads, and discover trails less traveled.
Hikewildmontana.org is now easier to use than ever before, with new features that make finding the perfect trail a breeze and accessible. The guide includes a virtual map that highlights Wilderness areas and wilderness study area boundaries, provides quick trail details (such as hike length and elevation gain), and direct links to agency websites about each trail with details on Covid-19 facility closures and restrictions.
MWA Executive Director Ben Gabriel says that the new and improved hikewildmontana.org will help Montanans connect with public lands, from Chalk Buttes in the far southeast corner of the state to the Purcell Mountains in the far northwest.
“We’re grateful for our access to wild public lands here in Montana, especially now,” says Gabriel. “Hike Wild Montana’s new features will make it easier for Montanans to safely explore the lands we love.”
Photo: Hike to a beautiful waterfall in the Elkhorn Mountains on this easy half-day hike (photo by R Kent).
Launched in 2016, Hike Wild Montana is the state’s first statewide online hiking guide with trail information crowdsourced from hikers across the state. In addition to allowing users to search trails, read recent trail reports, and discover local businesses nearby, MWA encourages hikers to submit their favorite trails and share trip reports with the community as well.
MWA is committed to connecting people to the landscapes we’re working to protect through our hiking guide, our Wilderness Walks program, and our trail stewardship program. Since 2012, more than a thousand MWA volunteers have maintained and improved some 350 miles of trails.
“Getting boots on the ground to help keep public trails across the state accessible is an important part of MWA’s conservation work,” says Gabriel. “Connecting people to Montana’s storied landscapes, as Hike Wild Montana does, is also integral to cultivating long-lasting support and reverence for Montana’s wild public lands.”
Hikewildmontana.org is free to use and is the perfect tool for planning your day on the trail and getting outside. Sign up for the new Hike Wild Montana Newsletter to receive hike recommendations, how-to videos, trip tips, volunteer trail stewardship opportunities, and much more delivered right to your inbox.
Are you looking for a place to enjoy the hot, summer sun and eat a yummy picnic lunch? We’ve spent some time exploring and think that we’ve found a few of the most enjoyable places to picnic around Helena. We hope you’ll adventure out, stay socially distanced, and get outside by heeding our advice and visiting one or all of the following places:
Hill Park will soon have an outdoor stage that will be perfect for attending live events and music, and for the time being, it’s worth making a picnic and visiting. The new outdoor stage will have a natural amphitheater, and will be a central place for the community to gather. With a beautiful view of the Cathedral of Saint Helena and only seconds away from the heart of downtown, Hill Park is a great location for an afternoon with friends and family. You’ll find many tall trees offering great shade and a very nicely kept lawn prime for sitting and relaxing.
Spring Meadow Lake State Park
Located on the west edge of Helena, Spring Meadow is a popular spot for afternoons filled with birdwatching, swimming and enjoying a nice picnic full of your favorite treats. Anywhere you sit in the park, you can take in a perfect view of Mount Helena. The park includes many picnic shelters and a pavilion that you can use for larger groups and gatherings. If you’re wanting to take in the sights of the whole lake, there is a .8 mile trail that surrounds the lake, and is unpaved and mostly in the sun, so make sure to pack some sunscreen!
Pioneer Park, located toward the end of the downtown walking mall on famous Last Chance Gulch, offers a wonderful community playground for kids, with shaded areas and picnic benches ripe for a lovely picnic. There are chess tables to sit and play at with friends, and a water fountain to utilize if you run out of water on a warm Helena afternoon. Surrounding the park, you can explore many other local attractions such as the Montana State Capitol, and the Lewis and Clark library. If you are looking for a sweet treat after your fun-filled afternoon at Pioneer Park, Big Dipper is two blocks down along the Walking Mall.
Centennial Park is a popular destination in town with baseball fields, a skate park, community playground, bike park, dog park, sand volleyball courts and great views of the beautiful Carroll College campus. In addition, there is a one mile loop trail with many fitness stations along the way including pull-up bars for a great outdoor workout. This trail is also a center hub for connections to other trails around Helena, including one that connects to Spring Meadow Lake State Park. It is the perfect location to enjoy a picnic and then go play on the many attractions that Centennial has to offer. This park has everything for the whole family - even the dog! Centennial Park includes one of the only dog parks in Helena, which consists of a fenced park and some agility items for your pooch to run and stretch its legs.
The Old Fire Tower, called Guardian of the Gulch, is a city landmark. This used to be manned around the clock to watch over the city. Today, you can find a nice hillside to enjoy a picnic and take in the views. A hiking trail up to the tower is found off Cruse Avenue just across Broadway. The view from the hill depicts Helena the best with the surrounding Sleeping Giant mountain range.
What used to be an anchor for a United States Navy cruiser during combat is now located permanently in one of Helena’s favorite gathering spots. Anchor Park, near Lewis and Clark Library, has a ton of rich history to indulge in while enjoying your pleasant afternoon picnic. Anchor Park is located along Last Chance Gulch and is another exceptional stop for a picnic while enjoying the other great amenities around you in Downtown Helena, such as Reeder's Alley and local shops like Lasso the Moon toys and The Pan Handler.
WRITING by PAIGE WOLLAN
PHOTOS courtesy of CAPITOL SQUARE FARMERS MARKET
The Capitol Square Farmers Market is a Tuesday afternoon market located at the South Oval of Montana's State Capitol. The market runs every Tuesday from June 25th to September 24th and is open from 2:30 pm - 6:30 pm.
All are welcome to attend the Capitol Square Farmers Market and enjoy the capitol grounds. Staff will be working to keep the market a safe, clean, and friendly space for everyone. They ask that everyone keeps the recommended distances to prevent contamination, and show respiratory etiquette and good hand hygiene. Vendors will be selling reusable fabric masks and hand sanitizer.
Need a gift for someone special? Check out the unique wood art, beaded jewelry, and wildlife notecards available. There are many gift options that your loved ones are sure to enjoy.
If you are looking for farm fresh produce or Made in Montana products, this market is where you need to be shopping! Take your late afternoon break and pick up some produce or stop by after work for some fresh food for the dinner table. On any given week you can find strawberries, potatoes, peas, micro greens, garlic, and both chicken and duck eggs. Click the button below to find a list of weekly vendors:
The Capitol Square Farmers Market also offers free yoga. Relax and unwind with Robyn of Gentle Healing Yoga for a free class every Tuesday at 5pm in the lawn next to the Capitol Square Farmers Market. All abilities are welcome. Attendees must bring their own mat, as loaner mats are not available this year.
Come on down and enjoy summer at your neighborhood farmers market every Tuesday! Masks or face coverings are required for ages 5 or older. If needed, masks can be provided at the market info tent. Thank you for keeping your local market healthy! Follow them on Facebook for more information: https://www.facebook.com/CapitolSquareFarmersMarket/
Writing by Paige Wollan
Looking for the perfect summer patio to continue social distancing? Here are some of the best local patios around Helena:
Wassweiler Dinner House & Pub
Located in a historic inn built in 1883, Wassweiler Dinner House & Pub is currently serving up their full menu on the patio open Tuesday-Saturday starting at 5 pm. You can enjoy high quality steaks, surf and turf options and even a slice of pie, that is if you are able to save room for dessert! But the Wassweiler doesn't stop at preparing amazing food, they also grow fresh herbs and vegetables in their greenhouse just for their guests. The patio is open to first come first serve and is an excellent choice for this summer of social distancing.
Wassweiler is operating at 50% capacity with their tables being six feet apart and a limit to six guests a table. Even though there are some changes in order to comply with regulations, you can still enjoy some fine dining in true Montana style.
The Hawthorne Bottle Shop & Tasting Room
The Hawthorne Bottle Shop and Tasting Room boasts a great patio in the heart of downtown Helena. This is a great place to gather with friends or coworkers and taste some wine from all around the world. Along with a broad selection of wine, you can also find small batch beer and specialty meats and cheeses. All wines are available to sample and can be enjoyed at the bar or various tables on the patio while listening to the various sounds of downtown. We recommended while tasting flights choose to pair with their selection of cheeses and charcuterie including house made crackers, dips, and spiced nuts.
The Hawthorn Bottle Shop & Tasting Room is a comfortable, and inviting venue for guests to relax, sip on some specialty wine, and celebrate what downtown has to offer! The Hawthorne's hours are Tuesday-Saturday from noon to 9 pm.
The Rialto, also located along the walking mall in downtown Helena, has TWO patios! The front patio, that was recently added, is open until 10 pm with great views and great drinks. What a beautiful space to enjoy your drinks on the walking mall! Additionally, the back patio is equipped with a tiki bar to create your craft cocktails. The Rialto is in full swing for happy hour Monday-Friday from 5 pm- 8pm while still following proper social distancing guidelines.
Blackfoot River Brewing
Blackfoot River Brewing has a patio that stands above downtown Helena where you can enjoy a lineup of craft beer made with only the finest ingredients. Imagine, you are enjoying your tasty beer while being on an rooftop patio looking over beautiful, sunny Helena. Blackfoot's taproom is the place to go to enjoy good friends a good atmosphere and even better beer. Things will definitely look and feel different as they follow special protocol to keep their patrons and staff safe. Tables are spaced 6 ft apart and a staff member will seat you at a table once your entire party has arrived. Not wanting to go in quite yet? Blackfoot is now filling any personal growlers, bring em in! You can also order online for a quick pick-up or call before 6:00pm for delivery!
AUTHOR: Morgan Marks
The Local is passionate about supporting local businesses and organizations. During the COVID-19 outbreak, we feel that community support is more important now than ever before. Here are a few ways to make a big impact on our local community.
Be understanding of changes in hours and services
Local businesses and organizations are doing their very best to keep their doors open, provide valuable services and experiences, and keep their community thriving. Their hours of operation and the services they offer are likely to shift and flex with the ongoing stream of new information. Please remember to be kind and recognize that we are all adapting to changes at a fast pace. To stay in the loop about hours and services please check out this Google doc created by a group of local volunteers that outlines the status of businesses and what they’re offering at this time. http://helenasmallbiz.com/
Purchase gift cards to use at a later time
One of the best ways to support local businesses is to purchase gift cards to use later when the dust settles. Gift cards will create cash flow for local businesses right now in order to stay operating. Many of us have favorite locales that we frequent and even if we can’t visit them in person, we’ll definitely use a gift card in the near future.
Shop local online
Countless local businesses have adapted their business models to support customers with online shopping. Some have even gone so far as to offer free local delivery. In a matter of days, yoga studios have begun offering virtual classes and many businesses have created online stores to make virtual shopping easier.
Stock up at local stores and businesses
As much as you can and are able, it’s time to shop local and put your dollars into our local economy. Stock up on your favorite things, like tea and coffee from local coffee shops and cafes, a few growlers from a local brewery, snacks and staples from local grocery stores such as Van’s Thriftway or a few bottles of wine or liquor from the local bottle shop and distilleries.
Pay with plastic when possible
Let’s face it, cash is not the cleanest way to pay. This may seem counterintuitive due to credit card fees. However, by using plastic cards, you’ll ensure that fewer germs are spread between people. Remember to be aware of what you’re touching and make sure you are mindful of washing your hands.
Donate to charities with items from local stores
It’s a simple equation: when you support one local business and donate to another local organization, it’s a win-win! Informing yourself about the needs of local organizations and charities is the first step to supporting them and making sure that whatever your donation is, that it is needed and will support community members. For example, perhaps an organization such as the Friendship Center or YWCA Helena could use books. What better place to purchase books to donate than our local bookstores?
Check-in with business owners & employees
Kindness goes a long way in times like this. Sending a message to check-in and see how business owners and their employees are doing is another way to show your support. Whether it’s an email or leaving a message on their social media, your words matter and will surely bring a smile to a business owner's face by reminding them that they’re valued and that we’re all in this together.
Order food for takeout or delivery
After being cooped up, working from home, or coming back from a long day at work, there is sometimes nothing better than ordering takeout. Many local businesses are offering delivery as well. Be sure to check out the Google doc because whatever you’re in the mood for, we’re pretty confident you’ll be able to order takeout with curbside pick-up or delivery and eat well when you do! http://helenasmallbiz.com/
Share their posts on social media
Another very simple way of showing support is to share social media posts from local businesses and organizations. Information is changing rapidly and one way to stay informed is to follow the accounts of places you love and to make sure that you’re helping those places outreach about their hours and the services they’re offering. All it takes is a few clicks and you’ve helped share information to better inform others! The more people that are “in the know,” the better.
It’s in times like this where we must lean on our community, support one another and not only verbalize that we are “all in this together,” but take action to make that phrase come alive and truly matter in our everyday choices and actions. Every action has an impact - every single one.
Please make sure that while you’re supporting local businesses and organizations, you’re also following local public health office guidelines to stay safe and care for yourself. Your health and the health of your family comes first. A few good websites to check out are:
Montana Department of Health and Human Services: https://dphhs.mt.gov/publichealth/cdepi/diseases/coronavirusmt
Lewis & Clark Public Health Department:
1930 9th Ave, Helena, MT 59601
Office: (406) 447-8361
Fax: (406) 457-8990
It’s important that with our current context and social isolation we recognize that we all are going to have both financial, social and health concerns so if you are experiencing anxiety and stress, please reach out and receive support!
Suicide Prevention Hotline 1-800-273-8255 (TALK) and Text Line 741-741.
PHOTOS by JASON O'NEIL
WRITING by CLAIRE BACHOFNER
INCLUDED IN THE LOCAL VOL. 1
When Jill Roberts and Colleen Casey opened the doors of The Hawthorn in 2015, they sought to create a gathering place in downtown Helena that honored their core values: robust community, authentic connection, wonderful flavors, and ultimate hospitality. If you ask me (or anyone in town) they nailed it.
PHOTOS by JASON O'NEIL
WRITING by CLAIRE BACHOFNER
INCLUDED IN THE LOCAL VOL. 1
I dare you to find a place more “local” than Gulch Distillers. Owned by two heartful Helena Natives, Tyrrell Hibbard and Steffen Rasile, every batch of grain-based spirits are made using only Montana-grown grains in a facility that was once the Montana Distillery and Bottling Warehouse. The names of the spirits are locally-inspired. Every cocktail incorporates locally-grown produce whenever possible as well as house-made syrups and shrubs. The artwork is local, the website is local, the locals are local. Okay, you get it. LOCAL. What’s more? It’s all really, really good.
The location of Gulch Distillers is perfect. It’s tucked on a little side street, just a bit off the beaten path of downtown Helena. Once you set foot in the tasting room, there’s no turning back. Your curiosity will pique as you smell the various spirits in process. You’ll hear cocktail shakers shaking, people having quiet conversation, light-hearted laughter, good music at a great volume. Watching the staff work their magic- measuring, stirring, mixing, pouring, it’s a bit like walking into the coolest chemistry class ever, and you get to drink the potion.
WRITTEN by CLAIRE BACHOFNER
INCLUDED IN THE LOCAL VOL. 1
Helena is home to a wide range of yoga studios and offerings, but they all have one thing in common. Walk into any yoga studio in town, you’ll be met with warm smiles and welcoming conversation. People are glad to be there, so, they’re glad you’re there too. Whether you step into the melty heat of Helena Hot Yoga or the chique minimalist space of The Loft, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the genuine hospitality of everyone in the room.
This Place We Call Home
PHOTOS by JASON O’NEIL
WRITING by CLAIRE BACHOFNER
INCLUDED IN THE LOCAL VOL. 1
Ever meet someone who is truly living their dream and notice how they seem sort of invincible? Or, step into a place that is so alive with passion and creativity it feels contagious? Take one step off of Last Chance Gulch, through the doors of fourOsix, shake hands with Alex “Papu” Rincon and you’ll see just what I mean.
FourOsix is a lifestyle shop that promotes art, music, style, forward thinking and Montana living. It is a retail store that operates with a strong focus on community and social responsibility. (Source: fourOsix.com)