** Article originally published for Visit Great Falls **

With the Canadian/U.S. border FINALLY reopened, Canadians will be flocking south to Great Falls for shopping and getaways. Great Falls is a hot spot for shopping-filled girl’s weekends or child-free weekends but if you’re heading down with your kids, there are some great activities to get you out of the stores and making lasting memories.

I set out with my two very young boys, Ty aged 3 and Logan aged 1, to see what Great Falls had to offer.

C.M. Russell Museum

Cost: Adults: $14, Students: $4, Age 5 and under: Free

If the name doesn’t ring a bell, once you see a painting you will instantly recognize the work from this renowned Western artist. Going to museums with kids can be tricky. How do you tell a small creature who learns through touch and play not to touch anything? That’s why I loved this museum so much!

If you head downstairs, it is the perfect spot to take little kids. You can start or end your visit in the Discovery Centre, an open play spot that includes a teepee with cooking utensils, clothes for dressing up, and coloring stations. The room includes painted walls for a western vibe, setting the mood for imaginative play. It’s a great spot for parents to sit back and let their children run and play. If there are two of you, one can sneak off to the galleries while the other watches the littles.

The Bison Exhibit was a hit with both of my children! This extensive and interactive exhibit offers so much discovery for all ages. In the first part of the exhibit are rows and rows of drawers filled with Native American artifacts. Everything from tobacco pipes to children’s dolls. We opened and looked at every single drawer in the exhibit, about 56 in total. The biggest hit were the children’s drawers filled with children’s shoes, clothing, and toys. Ty was fascinated by the toy bow and arrow and couldn’t understand why I wouldn’t let him play with it.

The second biggest hit with the children was the bison run tunnel. This interactive tunnel features a large screen projected onto a mirror of bison running. The floor vibrates along with the animals making it feel like you’re there. I didn’t know a vibrating floor could hold both kids’ attention for so long.

The final exhibit we visited was the home of C.M. Russell and his wife Nancy located outside the museum. I love old homes and had to do a tour of what their home looked like when they lived in it during the early 1900s in Great Falls. It was surprising, but Ty also really enjoyed touring the home and looking at the artifacts laid out to make it feel as if the Russell’s still lived there.

I left that museum smiling. I had so much fun personally as well as watching my kids play, learn, and discover things for themselves.

Hi-Line Climbing Center

Cost: Admission: Adult – $11, Student – $9, Child (under 15) – $9

          Rentals: Shoes – $5, Chalk – $1

If you’re looking for an indoor activity (it was extremely hot when we were visiting) a climate-controlled spot like Hi-Line Climbing Center is a great way to get active and make memories. Center’s like this are growing in popularity because they don’t require belay certification or knowing how to tie climbing knots; you put on your climbing shoes and go.

Hi-Line is very child friendly wand they’ve marked easy routes with animal cut outs. When we arrived, there were several children there and Ty jumped right in. At three years old, he was just old enough to understand how he was supposed to climb and to take a few risks while doing so. Logan made this activity very difficult though because he just wanted to run back and forth, make a run for the front doors, or stand under the other children as they climbed- not very safe.

This is a great place to take the family, but I suggest keeping it to kids three and up for the best experience possible.

Giant Springs State Park

 Cost: $8 for parking (cash or check only)

A family’s delight, Giant Springs State Park is a fantastic place to spend a day outdoors. This park is located on both sides on the Missouri River and offers all your favourite park activities including hiking, biking, playgrounds, picnic areas, fishing, and water recreation. But on your first visit you have to head to the marvel the park is named after, Giant Springs.

Giant Springs is an incredible freshwater spring, one of the largest in the U.S., that pumps out so much water it creates beautiful little waterfalls. This springs off gives off such an incredible energy that you’ll find yourself drawn to it, content to sit and enjoy the sound of the water. The spring water gives the plants this incredible vibrant green colour and you can sit on a bench and watch as the water pumps out from the ground. It feeds into Roe River, one of the nation’s shortest rivers and empties into the Missouri.

Conveniently right next to the Springs is the Giant Springs Fish Hatchery which was a hit with the kids. There is a small interpretive centre where you can see how small the fish start and learn all about the process of raising them. The show pond provides a chance to check out the fish up close. The pond is full of fish of all sizes and for $0.25 you can get fish food from a machine and feed them.

This incredible spot is just one element of all this park has to offer. On the list for our next visit is the rope bridge, visiting all four waterfalls in the park, and doing some hiking on the trail system.

Most parents research and plan ahead before heading out on a family getaway, and I hope as you plan your next visit to Great Falls these three places will be on your list!

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