Walking Tours: In Step with Montana and Idaho History

Woman leading an historical walking tour inBillings, Mont.

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By CARRIE SCOZARRO

What do brothels, Billings, and bok choy have in common? Find out for yourself when you sign up for the most popular historic walking tour offered by Billings-based Western Heritage Center. You’re more interested in architecture, you say? Missoula has a self-guided tour just for you. And if you’re in Idaho, Boise is the place to be for an arts and architecture walking tour that will have you rethinking what you know about Idaho’s capital city. 

Walking tours, whether self-guided or with a tour guide, are a healthy and typically affordable way to explore our region’s larger towns and cities. 

MONTANA

Located in Billings, the Western Heritage Center is part museum, part community center, with a 50-year history of engagement with the public on local and regional western history.

They offer numerous walking tours of the Billings area, which they call “Hoof It With a Historian” walking tours, according to Lauren Hunley, senior historian.

The guided experiences are offered (weather dependent) from middle-May to the end of September on a variety of topics: railroading, architecture, celebrities, scandals, and even cemeteries. 

They limit attendance to facilitate better small-group dynamics, use a speaker system, and although there is no seating available during the tour, their tours are typically less than a mile on paved ground for those with accessibility issues.

They have a dedicated group of people who tour, said Hunley, noting that tours are individually informative, yet they build on each other. The WHC also offers custom tours. 

Visit WHC Historic Walking Tours or call 406-256-6809 for ticketing and other information.

In Red Lodge, take advantage of another informative program created by the Montana History Project with the Red Lodge Commercial District self-guided tour. 

Coal was king in this southern central town, and the influence of mining and railroading is written all over the architecture of this area, which is listed on the National Historic Register. Visit historicmt.org/tours for more information, including both walking and driving tours.

Kalispell remains central to Flathead Valley trade and tourism, building on its early years as a railroad town and as the “Gateway to Glacier Park” from 1910 onward. Find out more in a self-guided walking tour that has you checking out historical places ranging from the Hockaday Museum of Art to the town’s first five and dime store. Visit Downtown Kalispell’s Historical Walking Tour page for more information. 

Download one of several maps courtesy of the Gallatin History Museum to learn about Bozeman’s historic neighborhoods, its thriving downtown area with roots in such architectural foundations as Art Déco and Mission Revival, as well as its historic cemeteries. 

For a guided tour of Bozeman, the Extreme History Project offers several options, including their popular foray into the town’s “red light district.” Their approach, according to the website of this non-profit, is “dedicated to eradicating political and social agendas from traditional historical narratives and pursuing a more balanced and honest expression of the past,” which includes exploring a topic from multiple viewpoints, such as gender or culture.

Missoula has nine historic districts, from the fort to the railroad region to downtown. There’s plenty to see and discover (even for longtime residents). Download the map provided by the Downtown Missoula Partnership to create your own experience in this historic city on the river. Spend a pleasant morning checking out the public art, or follow the suggested walking tour of historic buildings, including those listed on the National Historic Register in this city the Salish called Nemissoolatakoo.  

IDAHO

If you’re in Idaho, Boise is a must-do for art and architecture fans. Preservation Idaho offers several tours, including an hour-and-a-half general tour of the city’s iconic Basque region, its eclectic Egyptian Theater, and a whole host of architectural gems from Boise’s 150-year history. 

Architecture fans will appreciate a five-part series of walks with local experts, such as the September 30 tour of South Boise Village with Michelle Thompson, Certified Local Government Coordinator and Main Street Design Specialist for the Washington State Historic Preservation Office. Visit preservationidaho.org/walking-tours for ticketing and other information.

Boise’s City Department of Arts & History also does regular walking tours on select Saturdays, which are free (no reservation required). Although the two-hour tour focuses on Boise’s extensive public arts program, it takes you through historically significant parts of the city. Mark Baltes’s mixed media piece about the 1889 home site of a prominent early Boise family, for example, connects art and history and is just one of several hundred works in the public art collection. You may also access (or download) an interactive map to conduct your own tour. 

Tour Idaho City with veteran tour guide Rhonda Jameson of Idaho City Simply Fun Historic Walking Tours. Learn about the other important metal in Idaho’s history—gold—and how the city’s proximity to waterways fed the northwest gold rush years. Visit the IdahoCityWalkingTours Facebook page for ticketing and other information.

Imagine a walking tour with a steamboat caption or commander of an 1800s-era fort. That’s what you get in Coeur d’Alene with the Museum of North Idaho’s Living History Walking Tours. Weather permitting, book an hour-and-a-half tour with staff historian, Robert Singletary to learn about the lake city’s significance to the mining, railroading, and, especially, timber industries of the time. Visit museumni.org/exhibits-tours-events/tours for ticketing information (tour includes admission to museum). MSN

For a more comprehensive list of walking tours available throughout Montana, visit the Montana.gov walking tours info page.

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