Region's accommodations include historic properties

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GREAT FALLS, Mont. -- Great Falls, the hub of the largest Lewis and Clark signature event, counts approximately 2,000 hotel rooms.

The small city has seen several properties open in the last few years: Holiday Inn Express, Extended Stay America and Crystal Inn & Suites, as well as the Hampton Inn earlier this summer.

Nearby Fort Benton contains about 50 rooms, and the star hotel here is the 1882 Grand Union Hotel, a 27-room property built to the luxury standards of its era, just before travel by rail undercut the town's importance as the westernmost terminus on the Missouri River.

The state's oldest operating hotel, it was fully restored between 1995 and 1999 and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

Rates range from $79 to $145 per room, depending on season. Commission is 10%, and agents can book through the hotel or on a request basis via the Historic Hotels of the Rockies at www.historic-hotels.com.

Other options include bed-and-breakfasts, many of which also are in the National Register of Historic Places. I toured two such properties:

• The 1891 Collins Mansion in Great Falls was overhauled in nine months and opened in June 1998.

The ground floor accommodates a broad entry with staircase, breakfast rooms, professional kitchen and event rooms; the five guest rooms (with baths) are on the middle floor. Room rates, including breakfast for two, are $75 and $85 in winter, $85 and $95 in summer; commission is 10%.

• The Stone School Inn is a converted 1911 grade school that stood empty for about half a century until it was overhauled and reopened in November 2001.

Located in tiny Valier, it is a 90-minute drive north of Great Falls and about 40 minutes southeast of Camp Disappointment, the northernmost point on the Lewis and Clark trail.

Commissions are negotiable on rates that vary from $85 to $105 per room.

To contact Nadine Godwin, send e-mail to [email protected].

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