Meet Montana's Urban Trailhead From the banks of the Yellowstone River and the heights of the sandstone Rimrocks to a serious art and craft-brewery scene downtown, Billings, Montana, is where the Old West meets contemporary style. Budget Travel Friday, Apr 15, 2016, 10:00 AM A visit to Billings, Montana, is a uniquely western way to combine all the comforts of a city with a natural environment like no other. Billings’ position on the banks of the Yellowstone River and flanked by the Rimrocks has made it "Montana's City," the largest in the state, with a population of more than 100,000, a cool combination of art, western history, local culture, plus a comfortable airport, plenty of affordable hotels, and major music and cultural events throughout the year.                            (Courtesy Visit Billings) Budget Travel LLC, 2016
 

VACATION IDEAS

Meet Montana's Urban Trailhead

From the banks of the Yellowstone River and the heights of the sandstone Rimrocks to a serious art and craft-brewery scene downtown, Billings, Montana, is where the Old West meets contemporary style.

  • Montanas City, Billings, Montana
  • Yellowstone River, Billings, Montana
  • Bighorn Canyon Recreational Area, Billings, Montana
  • Pompeys Pillar, billings, montana
  • Beartooth Hwy, Gateway, Yellowstone, Billings, Montana
  • Trail system, Billings, Montana
  • Rimrocks, Billings, Montana
  • West end Billings, Montana, Beartooth Mountains.
  • Native American Culture, Billings, Montana
  • Events, Billings, Montana
  • Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, Billings, Montana
  • Moss Mansion, Billings, Montana
  • Yellowstone Art Museum, Billings, Montana
  • Western Heritage Center, Museum of Old West, Billings, Montana
  • Yellowstone Kelly Interpretative Site, Billings, Montana
  • Western Culture, Billings, Montana
  • ZooMontana, Red Panda, Billings, Montana
  • Historic District, buildings, Billings, Montana
  • Historic Downtown, Billings, Montana
  • Walking Brewery District, Billings, Montana

A visit to Billings, Montana, is a uniquely western way to combine all the comforts of a city with a natural environment like no other. Billings’ position on the banks of the Yellowstone River and flanked by the Rimrocks has made it "Montana's City," the largest in the state, with a population of more than 100,000, a cool combination of art, western history, local culture, plus a comfortable airport, plenty of affordable hotels, and major music and cultural events throughout the year.                           

(Courtesy Visit Billings)

How many cities do you know that boast a river like this? The Yellowstone River is the longest free-flowing river in the lower 48, and will be one of the focal points of your Billings adventure. Hike along the river, do some fishing, or take the super-scenic drive along Rimrock Bluffs for the view 500 feet above the city.                           

(Courtesy Visit Billings)

Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area is just one example of how a stay in Billings combines big-city style with an amazing natural environment in the surrounding region. Bighorn Canyon offers forest, mountains, upland prairie, canyons, high desert, and more. And the Bighorn River below the Afterbay Dam is a world-class location for trout fishing.

(Andy Austin/Courtesy Southeast Montana)

When Lewis and Clark explored this area in 1806, they didn’t leave much evidence of their having passed through, except here at Pompey’s Pillar. The rock outcropping 200 feet above the Yellowstone River about 30 miles east of Billings bears the signature of Captain William Clark (along with animal drawings in the sandstone left by earlier inhabitants). Be sure to experience the excellent interpretive center as well, and make time to savor the 360 views.

(Courtesy Southeast Montana)

Experienced travelers agree that the Beartooth Highway, less than an hour from Billings, is the most beautiful entrance to America’s first national park, Yellowstone. Set aside a few hours for the gorgeous scenery and the road’s curves. And make sure your cameras and smartphones have plenty of room for the pics you’ll surely snap along the way.

(Courtesy Visit Billings)

Budget Travelers know that walking or cycling is often the best way to get to know a destination. Billings obliges with miles of trails throughout the city and beyond. You can ride or walk along the Yellowstone River, explore Swords Rimrock Park Trail, Zimmerman Park, or hop on a bike and hit some (or all!) of the city’s paved, gravel, and bike lanes. Not sure which trail to start on? The friendly staff, detailed maps, and loaner bikes at the Billings Visitor Information Center will help you get up to speed.

(Courtesy Visit Billings)

Locals will tell you that one of Billings’ must-sees is the Rimrocks, also known as the Rims. You can’t miss these sandstone formations, a reminder that millions of years ago what’s now Billings was actually an inland sea. These days, the Yellowstone River passes through the city and past the Rims, a legacy of the eons of erosion that shaped this gorgeous landscape.

(Courtesy Visit Billings)

Billings is a big city that could fool you into thinking you’re in a national park. Here, the city’s west end and the Beartooth Mountains in the distance provide a setting for hiking, cycling, and golf in summer, and world-class skiing in winter.

(Courtesy Visit Billings)

The history of the American west is alive in Billings and throughout the region, with numerous opportunities to learn about the history of native peoples such as the Apsaalooke/Crow, cowboy history and culture, and more. Stop by the free Yellowstone County Museum for Native American, cowboy, and pioneer artifacts, including a log cabin. In nearby Pryor, don’t miss the home of Chief Plenty Coups, the last traditional tribal chief of the Apsaalooke people.

(Courtesy Visit Billings)

The Billings region plays host to a multitude of cultural events all year long, including the Crow Fair on the Crow reservation in August, about 50 miles from the city, and MontanaFair, the largest event of its kind in the state, with a rodeo, concerts, and more. Music festivals, regular cultural offerings through the theaters, museums and symphony, along with major sporting events and much more make Billings a hotspot in the region.

(Courtesy Montana Office of Tourism)

A solemn destination for all visitors, Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument and its cemetery pay tribute to the thousands of Lakota Sioux, Arapaho, and Cheyenne warriors who battled Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer’s doomed 7th Cavalry on June 25, 1876, in one of the last major efforts to preserve the Plains Indians’ way of life.                           

(Courtesy Montana Office of Tourism)

Spend an hour on the guided tour of Billings’ Moss Mansion Historic House Museum for a taste of how the 1 percent lived a century ago, including the home’s original draperies, fixtures, and furniture. Nature lovers who are wary of spending their vacation indoors will be happy to learn that the house, designed by the noted New York architect Henry Janeway Hardenbergh, is built of red sandstone, just like the Rims and other outcrops that surround the city.

(Courtesy Visit Billings)

As much as we love traditional museums and Wild West nostalgia, we adore how the Yellowstone Art Museum is housed in a converted county jail and embraces contemporary artists. In addition to a permanent collection that includes notable works of abstract expressionism and major Montana artists such as Anne Appleby and Deborah Butterfield, the museum also hosts a contemporary art auction and a summer art fair. It is also a major arts education presence in Yellowstone County and beyond, with outreach programs at schools and the nearby Crow reservation. The museum is also home to the Visible Vault (above), one of only three like it in the U.S.

(Courtesy Visit Billings)

The history of the old west comes alive in historic downtown Billings at the Western Heritage Center, with more than 16,000 artifacts and documents that illustrate the history of the Yellowstone River Valley.

(Courtesy Visit Billings)

Yellowstone Kelly Interpretive Site is dedicated to the life and times of Luther Sage (“Yellowstone”) Kelly, who was born in upstate New York but acquired fame for his exploits in three wars and adventures in the Dakotas and Montana with friends that included Theodore Roosevelt and “Buffalo Bill” Cody. The site is undergoing a revitalization, with groudbreaking on enhancements to the site beginning in fall 2016. Visit Kelly’s grave and note his famous request to be buried in Montana, a plainspoken and moving tribute to this uniquely beautiful land: “I feel my body will rest better in Montana.”

 

(Courtesy Visit Billings)

Billings offers several opportunities to embrace western culture, at a local rodeo, MontanaFair, or via the Western Romance Company’s fun activities that include wagons, horses, equipment, chefs, entertainers, and livestock!

(Courtesy Visit Billings)

This red panda (no, they’re not really pandas but more closely related to raccoons) is one of ZooMontana’s adorable denizens. You can get up close (though not too close!) to local wildlife such as grizzlies, big horn sheep, grey wolves, bald eagles, and adorable river otters as well as more exotic animals such as tigers. You must explore the Sensory Garden (just one of several gardens on the grounds).

(ZooMontana)

Sure, there are tons of activities to suit nature lovers, art lovers, and foodies in town, but sometimes you’ll just want to appreciate a bird's-eye view of Billings and marvel at how the city's urban energy meets the beauty of the American west.

(Courtesy Visit Billings)

Historic Downtown offers a farmers market, boutique shopping, historic buildings, and the iconic, 70-feet-high Skypoint, the epicenter of the city’s Strawberry Festival, Christmas Stroll, and more.

(Courtesy Visit Billings)

If all that hiking, cycling, and exploring makes you thirsty, grab a map of the Walking Brewery District for a taste of the many fine craft beers available in Billings, including Uberbrew, Montana Brewing Company, and Yellowstone Valley Brewing Company.

(Courtesy Visit Billings)
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