- Approximate Mileage: 85
- Approximate Drive Time: 2.5 hours
The centerpiece for this tour is Canyon Ferry Lake, an impounded section of the Missouri River along the Lewis & Clark route.
From Helena, head southeast on Highway 12/287. As you get nearer to Townsend, watch for antelope and deer. You'll see the Big Belt Mountains to the east, and the Elkhorn Mountains to the west. The area just north of Townsend is a Wildlife Management Area with great opportunities for wildlife viewing. Stop in Townsend for a visit to the Broadwater Historical Museum.
Follow Highway 12 as it goes east until you reach Highway 284. This road will take you along the eastern shore of the lake where there are campgrounds and opportunities for water recreation. Be sure to watch for St. Joseph's Canton Church and cemetery. It's listed on the National Historic Register and was the third church built in Montana. There is also a visitor center just before you reach the dam.
You can cut across the dam and head back to Helena. But if you'd like to explore some more of Montana, take the road north from Canyon Ferry to York, where you can view one of the largest gatherings of bald eagles November through December. There are sapphire mines around York and also on the eastern side of Hauser Lake. (Contact the Helena Chamber if you wish to make arrangements to dig for gems. The Spokane Bar Sapphire Mine is open 7 days a week.)
As you drive across the bridge on Highway 280 coming from York, watch the dramatic landscape change. For more of the Missouri, take I-15 north from Helena for a 15 mile trek to the Gates of the Mountains. Tour boats give you a close-up view of the canyon named by Meriwether Lewis. There are interpretive displays at the information center.