Billings is a great destination for outdoor adventure. On the banks of the Yellowstone River, just north of the Beartooth Mountains and Yellowstone National Park, Billings is near natural, historical and cultural sites.
Hike the Rimrocks, wander the battlefield at Custer’s Last Stand, see ancient cave paintings and explore the stunning Beartooth Mountains. After a long day, enjoy the restaurants in downtown Billings.
Let’s explore the best things to do on a 3-day visit to Billings.
3-Day Itinerary of the Billings Area
- Day 1. Explore the Rimrocks and Downtown Billings.
- Day 2. Take the Old West History Driving Loop to Pictograph Cave State Park, Custer’s Last Stand and more.
- Day 3. Enjoy a scenic drive through the foothills of the Beartooth Mountains.
- Extra Day. Drive the famous Beartooth Highway from Billings to Yellowstone National Park.
Billings Area Map
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.
- Hike Four Dances Recreation Area on the East Rimrocks.
- Discover the trails and attractions on the North Rimrocks.
- Explore historic Downtown 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Make sure your hiking pack includes these items:
- First aid kit with blister treatments,
- Water and snacks,
- Bear spray
Looking for accommodation in Billings?
Make Billings your home base while exploring the Billings area. Check out these great options.
- Northern Hotel – Exceptional
- Boothill Inn and Suites – Highly rated
- Here are other great hotels in Billings.
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.
Interested in more Itineraries? Sign up here.