The original outdoor adventurers Lewis and Clark opened the way west in the early 1800s. As they traveled up the Missouri River near Helena, Meriwether Lewis noted the steep canyon walls and splendor of the area, calling the spot "Gates of the Mountains" because the canyons seemed to open up like gates. Now, as the Lewis and Clark expedition commemorates its bicentennial, the Gates of the Mountains will once again awe visitors on boat tours http://www.gatesofthemountains.com (406)458-5241

On the Lewis & Clark Trail and near the Gates of the Mountains, the town of Helena was established in 1864 following the discovery of gold along Last Chance Creek. Helena’s gold mining operations once made it the richest city in the world (about 3.6 million was made over 20 years) evidence of which can still be seen in its abundant turn of the century mansions and the elegant architecture along Last Chance Gulch. The Gulch has changed a lot from the days of its founding. Where the creek's stream used to flow is now Main Street and a pedestrian mall. On either side of the street, imposing granite buildings stand which often have unusual shapes due to the fact that they are built in the exact footprints of old mining claims. Today, from the capitol to the cathedral Helena is filled with great cafes, museums, and pubs.

The Montana Historical Society Museum is a great place to learn about local history and also features a fabulous C.M. Russell painting collection as well as temporary exhibits of western art. Offices open Tuesday through Saturday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. with extended hours on Thursday until 8 p.m. Oct. 1 to April 30th. Monday through Saturday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. with extended hours on Thursdays until 8 p.m. May 1st to Sept. 30st. Closed holidays. Appointments for group tours call 444-4789. Costs $5, adults; $1 children ages five to 18; $12, family (two adults and immediate children under age 19). www.montanahistoricalsociety.org

Another good place to experience the past is at the Original Governor’s Mansion, Sixth and Ewing near downtown, 444-4789.  This late 19th century house-museum and carriage house is furnished with period items reflecting the elegant lifestyle of early Helena. Guided tours on Saturday only Oct. 1 to April 30, noon until 4 p.m., with the last tour beginning at 3 p.m. May 1 until Sept. 30 Tuesday through Saturday noon until 4 p.m. with the last tour beginning at 3 p.m.

The Montana State Capitol Building, 444-4789, offers guided tours available on Saturdays only Oct. 1 to April 30 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., with the last tour beginning at 1 p.m. Group tours are available. Information for free self-guided tours available on first floor. May 1 to Sept. 30 tours available Monday through Saturday 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., with the last tour beginning at 2 p.m. and Sundays noon until 4 p.m. with the last tour beginning at 3 p.m.