Located along the Upper Missouri River, Fort Benton is a historic town in Montana worth a visit, whether you are going to try their brewery, are just wanting to get a cup of great coffee at Wake Cup Coffee Co, or are hoping to soak in the sights as a diehard history lover. There are things to do for everyone in Fort Benton, Montana!
Fort Benton was a fur trading post that was founded in 1846. According to a historic plaque not far from the town, Fort Benton is the oldest settlement in Montana that was continuously inhabited. It was a vital transportation hub for the US and Canada.
In 1862, gold was discovered. The height of Fort Benton’s glory was in the 1880’s. For more history, visit this site. Fort Benton is an easy drive from Great Falls if you are in that area.
Read below to learn about 11 great things you can do in Fort Benton, Montana! Most of the recommendations are good for the entire family!
1. Visit the Old Fort Benton Bridge
One of my favorite sites was the Old Fort Benton Bridge, which was the first steel bridge that ever spanned the Missouri River in Montana. You can read all about its history on location, or here. I found it to be one of the most Instagrammable locations in Fort Benton.
2. Take the Kids to see the Old Shep Memorial
Old Shep is a memorial sculpture by Bob Scriver and is right along the historical walk. It was a project that cost $75,000. If you’ve seen the movie “Hachi” with Richard Gere, think of this story like that movie, but only sadder (grab some tissues in case you bawled at the end of that movie like I did!).
Old Shep was a sheep dog that was said to have been distressed when a dead sheepherder was loaded onto a train in 1936 and sent east to his family. The dog kept vigil every day at the train tracks for 5.5 years, until Shep tragically slipped on the train tracks in front of an oncoming train. Although I missed it, you can also go see Shep’s burial site as well. Click here to read one of the iterations of the story and how famous Shep became, as well as directions to the actual burial site of Old Shep.
3. Take Architecture or Instagram Shots at the Grand Union Hotel
The Grand Union Hotel opened in 1882. You can actually stay there today! It is definitely one of the many Instagrammable locations in Fort Benton!
4. Walk along the Historic Landmark District and Steamboat Levee in Fort Benton
You can walk along the river and read various plaques explaining the history and stories about the statues and more along the walk. From 1860 to 1890, over 600 mountain boats docked at Fort Benton over the years!
5. Check Out the Lewis & Clark Memorial
You can check out The State of Montana’s Lewis & Clark Memorial, which was also done by Bob Scriver and includes Sacagawea and her baby boy. The total cost of this memorial was a whopping $175,000. The artist tried to make the clothing, faces, and features of the entire memorial as historically accurate as possible–of particular note is all the details he included with Sacagawea’s dress and accessories. This is a renowned statue among art critics.
6. Check Out the Fort Benton Museums
Fort Benton has a few museums in the Fort Benton Museums & Heritage Complex–unfortunately I didn’t do enough research, and they are closed in the winter, when we visited. The Upper Missouri River Breaks Interpretive Center is also open seasonally but during the winter hours is by appointment only. So either plan ahead or wait until the summer if you have your heart set on seeing museums.
Last year, Historic Old Fort Benton, Museum of the Northern Great Plains, and Museum of the Upper Missouri were open from late May to late September. for more information, including how much time you should spend at the museums in Fort Benton, visit http://fortbentonmuseums.com/plan-your-visit/ .
7. Check Out Other Cool Buildings in Fort Benton
There are other cool historic buildings in Fort Benton, like the Chouteau County Courthouse, which is the second oldest Courthouse in Montana that is still in use today.
The I.G. Baker House is also in Fort Benton, the oldest residence that is still surviving and is on the National historic Register. It was built in 1867.
8. Get a Sweet Treat
We stopped to get coffee to go from Wake Cup Coffee Co. I tried both their iced and hot coffee, and both were delicious. The decor is so quaint inside and I would have loved to hang out in there if not for the pandemic. I also bought some whole bean coffee to enjoy at home–I bought “Forever Faithful” from Old Bridge Coffee Roasters and have been enjoying it. The restaurant food also sounds amazing, so I look forward to the day I can return.
9. Grab a Beer at Fort Benton’s Brewery!
I also stopped to buy a beer from Golden Triangle Brew Co, which we enjoyed. They also have a super cool instagrammable mural on the side of the building, and their can art was stunning.
10. Drive Around
I highly recommend just driving outside of town a few miles as well–I was able to get this cool view pictured below. This is a tiny fragment of the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument, public land that spans 375,000 acres. To plan a trip around getting more than just a tiny taste of this location, visit here: https://missouribreaks.org/the-breaks/visiting-the-breaks/
11. See the Amazing Scenic Overlook Outside Fort Benton!
A few miles before Fort Benton, as you are coming from Great Falls and just off the highway, there is a stunning scenic overlook that also has benches and interpretive plaques. The exact location is 38870 US-87, Fort Benton, MT 59442. It is a stunning vista of abandoned train tracks and the Missouri River. Imagine how peoples’ hearts must have soared looking at this stunning vista, from the past to the present!
Worth a Visit
Overall, Fort Benton is a really cute town and one that I’d love to explore more. Make sure to check it out if you’ll be in central Montana or trekking across Montana! Make sure to also check out my micro-blog on noteworthy Montana destinations and subscribe to my newsletter so you don’t miss out on my adventures in the Last Best Place!