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Things To Do in Billings Montana

by Valerie Vanr

From the towering Rimrocks to the site of Custer’s Last Stand, our 3-day guide reveals the top things to do in and around Billings, Montana. Enjoy scenic overlooks on urban hikes along the sandstone cliffs or take a drive into history at Little Bighorn Battlefield on one of several scenic drives in the Billings area.

3-Day Itinerary of the Billings Area

This itinerary covers the best things to do in the Billings, Montana area.

Billings Area Map

Billings Montana Attractions Map
Click the map for an interactive version.

Things to do in Billings

With the sandstone cliffs of the Rimrocks and the Yellowstone River on its doorstep, there are lots of fun, outdoor activities in Billings. 

Four Dances Recreation Area

Hiking trails crisscross Four Dances Recreation Area at the top of the beautiful sandstone cliffs of the East Rimrocks. This area has some of the best views in Montana and best hiking in Billings. Explore the 765 acres of sagebrush and Ponderosa pines on the plateau. Paths lead to Sacrifice Cliff on the western edge with an incredible view down to the Yellowstone River, 500 feet below. Bicycles, motorized vehicles and horses are not allowed in Four Dances.  Snowshoeing and cross-country skiing are great winter activities.

Looking down to Yellowstone River from Four Dances Natural Area
Looking into the Yellowstone River Valley from Sacrifice Cliff in Four Dances Recreation Area

North Rimrocks

Enjoy the views of Billings and the Yellowstone River Valley from the top of the North Rimrocks. In the distance, see five mountain ranges (Pryor, Big Horn, Bull, Crazy and Absaroka-Beartooth). They offer infinite amounts of outdoor adventure: camping, fishing, hunting and mountain biking.

The Rimrocks are popular with rock climbers. Watch for ropes tied off along the edge as people climb up or rappel down the face of the cliff.

Cycling or walking the Black Otter Trail is a great way to explore the top of the North Rimrocks. The multi-use, paved trail connects with a large network of urban trails running throughout the city. There are lots of parking areas nearby so it is easy to leave the car behind.

Left Biking Black Otter Trail Right Rappelling down North Rimrocks Billings
Cyclists enjoy the Black Otter Trail. Many rappel from the cliffs of the North Rimrocks.

At the Yellowstone Kelly Interpretive Site, learn about Luther “Yellowstone” Kelly’s contribution to the taming of the west. Interpretive signs near his gravesite introduce this trapper, hunter, guide, army scout, triple war veteran and businessman who traveled extensively in the late 1800s for the US Government.

Gravemarker Yellowstone Kelly Billings background
Yellowstone Kelly’s gravestone on the North Rimrocks. Though Kelly died in California, he wanted to be buried in Montana and was, with full military honours.

Downtown Billings Walking Tour

A walking tour is the prefect way to experience this friendly, social city. The downtown museums and historic sites are all within walking distance of one another. Many are on the National Register of Historic Places. There are excellent bars and restaurants along the way.

Map attractions downtown Billings Montanan
Enjoy exploring downtown walking to these interesting sites.

There is lots of parking around the Billings Depot, a popular events facility, so it makes a great starting point. It was a passenger rail station from 1909 until the last train departed in 1979.  Check out the information boards behind the building which provide lots of information on the history of Billings.

The Western Heritage Center, 5 blocks west on Montana Avenue, highlights the regional history of the Yellowstone River Valley. The building was built in 1901 and was originally the Billings Library.

Continue west to Division Street and north 3 blocks to the Moss Mansion Museum. It highlights the influence that Preston Moss and his family had on Billings’ growth. Built for Preston Moss in 1903, this 28-room mansion was the Moss home until opening as the museum in 1986.

Walk east on 2nd Avenue North to North Broadway and find Skypoint, a tent-like structure over the intersection. It is 3 “sails” (one moves!) offering protection against sun and rain.

One block north is the 1931 art-deco Alberta Bair Theater, a modern, performing arts center. They offer performances by both professional and amateur artists.

Walk another block north and two to the east to the Yellowstone Art Museum. It is the largest contemporary art museum in Montana. YAM has opened its art storage facility to the public at the Visible Vault. It is a unique opportunity to see how art is handled and stored.

Left Billing Depot Main Entrance Doors Right Beer Flight Menu UberBrew
The historic Billings Depot is in the center of downtown Billings. We enjoyed a beer sampling along the way.

Old West History Driving Loop: The Crow People, General Custer and more

The area southeast of Billings is rich with Native American and western frontier history. See ancient cave paintings at Pictograph Cave State Park. Chief Plenty Coups State Park provides a great introduction to the Crow People. Pompey’s Pillar National Monument was visited by the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument is the site of General Custer’s famous “Last Stand”. The Big Horn County Museum’s 35 acres showcase early 19th century county history.

These world-class attractions are all within an hour’s drive of Billings! Visiting two or three of these will fill your day.

Pictograph Cave State Park

The three caves preserved in Pictograph Cave State Park have ancient cave paintings. The most easily seen are in Pictograph Cave. A short loop trail connects the caves which were visited by generations of Crow and other Plains Tribes’ hunters. The exhibits in the Visitor Center showcase some of the many artifacts collected locally. Discover what archaeologists believe these artifacts teach us about the lives of the early Plains People.

Chief Plenty Coups State Park

Chief Plenty Coups was instrumental in building trust between the Crow People and the US government as the reservation system was being implemented. Learn about the Crow Tribe’s culture at the Visitor Center. The state park is Chief Plenty Coups’ 195-acre homestead on the Crow Reservation. Visit his two-story log home, medicine spring and gravesite.

Left 2 storey log house right medicine spring Chief Plenty Coups State Park
Chief Plenty Coups’ Log Home and Medicine Spring

Pompey’s Pillar National Monument

Pompey’s Pillar is a 150-foot high sandstone monolith in the Yellowstone River Valley. It has been an observation point for more than 11,000 years. See “graffiti” documenting some of its visitors: from descendants of the Crow to Captain William Clark of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Take the interpretive trail to the top of the pillar as people have for thousands of years.

2 dug-out canoes lashed together with Pompey's Pillar background
2 dug-out canoes from Cottonwood trees lashed together made a sturdy boat

Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument

This battlefield is the site of Custer’s Last Stand. In June 1876, several thousand Lakota and Cheyenne warriors won a decisive victory over the 7th Calvary of the US Army, killing Custer and most of his command. Learn about the events leading to this decisive battle and its consequences. Walk the battlefield, see monuments to the fallen, and the cemeteries for both sides.

2 Cemetaries from hilltop Little Bighorn Battlefield
Cemeteries at Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, the site of Custer’s Last Stand

Big Horn County Museum

This collection of over 20 historic structures, on 35 acres, highlights the early history of Big Horn County.  The museum includes a church, school, train depot, blacksmith shop, log cabins and barns full of historic vehicles and equipment including artifacts of frontier life in the 1800s.

Antique Truck at old gas pumps with 3 relocated building as background
Big Horn County Museum has many old buildings

Scenic Drives near Billings

Two 2 excellent scenic drives wind through the foothills of the Beartooth Mountains:

Both can be done in the same day with an early start.

Map scenic drives Billings Montana area
Scenic Drives near Billings Montana

Beartooth Front Scenic Drive

This drive connects the quaint towns of Columbus and Red Lodge. On the 46-mile paved Highway 78, travel through wide river valleys and see rolling grass-covered foothills with stunning views of the Beartooth Mountains in the distance. Lots of fishing opportunities exist along the Yellowstone River, Stillwater River and East Rosebud Creek.

Aerian view of East Rosebud Creek and country roads Beartooth Front Scenic Drive
East Rosebud Creek runs parallel to a portion of the Beartooth Front Scenic Drive

The route is beautiful no matter the direction driven. We drove north to south through several interesting small towns.

The town of Columbus, just off I90, is a gateway to the Absaroka-Beartooth Mountains. Make sure to stop at the New Atlas Bar, dubbed the “horniest bar in Montana”. Even a quick look at its collection of mounted animal heads will explain its fame.

Check out Itch-Kep-Pe Park, a popular fishing spot, on the bank of the Yellowstone River at the edge of Columbus. Camping is available also.

2 boats launching at Itch-Kep-Pe Park Columbus
Boat launch from Itch-Kep-Pe Park on Yellowstone River at Columbus

Absarokee is a great place to grab a quick bite to eat. It is the start of the Absarokee Loop Scenic Drive.

The town of Red Lodge has an interesting mix of locally-owned shops and restaurants offering a wide range of food. Red Lodge is the beginning of the Beartooth Highway, a beautiful route to the northeast entrance of Yellowstone National Park.

At the Carbon County Historical Society and Museum, learn about local history, legendary local rodeo families (the Lindermans and the Greenoughs), see an interactive coal and hard rock mine exhibit and more. There is a lot packed into this 1909 building listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Left main floor museum display right Basement rail car from coal mine
Main floor Museum Displays and basement Coal Mining Exhibit

Discover the area’s vibrant arts culture at the Carbon County Depot Gallery, in the historic 1889 railroad depot. The Depot displays original art in a variety of styles and media.

Former Railway station houses Carbon County Depot Gallery
Carbon County Depot Gallery

Absarokee Loop Scenic Drive

Drive through the scenic foothills and river valleys of the Beartooth Mountains. Starting in Absarokee, travel the beautiful Stillwater River valley on Highway 420 to Nye.  There are many fishing access points to the Stillwater, which is known for excellent trout fishing. To complete the 44-mile long loop, take highways 419 and 78 back to Absarokee.

Interested in a hike? There are 2 hiking options with trailheads less than 10 miles south of Nye on Highway 419.

The Sioux Charley Lake Trail is an easy, 6-mile, round-trip hike. It is relatively flat with only a couple of short uphill pieces. The first part of the trip is along the Stillwater River rapids. A beautiful forest path leads to sparkling Sioux Charley Lake. The large trailhead parking lot is at the end of Highway 419. Families will find this a great hike. It is best to wear proper hiking shoes.  

Looking for a shorter hike? Try the nearby Woodbine Falls Trail.  This 1.4 mile, round-trip trail, ending at Woodbine Falls, is great for all skill levels. The trailhead is located in the Woodbine Campground.

Left Stillwater River through woods Right wooded path
Stillwater River and forest path on Sioux Charley Lake Trail

Side Trip – Beartooth Highway

The Beartooth Highway has some of the best scenery in Montana. This highway winds for 70 miles from Red Lodge through the Beartooth Pass to the northeast entrance of Yellowstone National Park.

See some of the most rugged and wild areas of the lower 48 states, passing from lodge pole pine forest to alpine tundra. Grizzly and black bears along with elk, deer, moose, mountain goats, mountain lions, bighorn sheep and bobcats can all be found in the Beartooth Mountains. There are many alpine lakes and hiking trails to explore. The scenery is incredible regardless of the weather.

Foreground Alpine meadow with small ponds background Beartooth Mountains
Alpine meadow in Beartooth Mountains

The highway has 7 miles of exhilarating switchbacks between Red Lodge and the Beartooth Pass.  The elevation change is almost a mile! Take your time and enjoy the scenery. From Rock Creek Vista Point, look down on the switchbacks to the stunning river valley. Signs provide information about the natural history of the area and the story of the highway’s construction and opening in 1936.

Allow at least 2 or 3 hours for the trip, but plan on more for regular stops to the view. Trip length can also be affected by weather changes along the route. Weather can change dramatically along the drive so be prepared for cold weather, even in the summer.

The Beartooth Highway is usually open by Memorial Day and closes by mid-October, but snow and ice conditions vary greatly year-to-year. Check the Montana Department of Transportation Beartooth Highway webpage for current conditions.

Looking into Rock Creek Valley at switchbacks on Beartooth Highway
Switchbacks on the Beartooth Highway in the Rock Creek Valley.

Know Before You Go

Best Time to Visit Billings Montana

Visiting between June and September avoids the snow.  Outside of these months, snow is always possible.

Directions to Billings Montana

Billings-Logan International Airport has a modern terminal accepting domestic flights. All the major car rental agencies have cars on-site. Uber and Lyft offer service in Billings.

Hiking Tips

Make sure your hiking pack includes these items:

  • First aid kit with blister treatments,
  • Water and snacks,
  • Map
  • Bear spray
Standing with bike edge Yellowstone River Billings
Andy’s on a break while biking along Yellowstone River in Billings

Billings Accommodations

Looking for accommodation in Billings?

Billings Hotels

Make Billings your home base while exploring the Billings area. Check out these great options.

More Montana Road Trips

Billings is just one great place to visit in Montana. For more great Montana destinations, check out our article, 5 Best Montana Road Trips – The Ultimate Guide.

Grassland river valley mountains behind

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