Savor the City in Billings, Montana
Big city amenities meet outdoor recreation and Western history in Billings.
As the biggest city in Montana, Billings touts the culture and amenities you’d expect from a big population center. There’s an airport, James Beard nominated restaurants, craft breweries and museums. But this is still Montana, which means the city’s nestled amongst incredible outdoor recreation and the vast history of the American West.
Get some fresh air as you explore three sites that tell the story of different parts of Montana’s history. Start at Pictograph Cave State Park where you can walk a 0.75-mile loop to see three caves with documentation of prehistoric hunters dating back 2,000 years. In Pictograph Cave, 100 rock paintings are visible.
At Pompeys Pillar, you can see the only physical evidence of Lewis and Clark’s famed journey. A cartographer, Captain William Clark climbed the stone pillar to get sweeping views of the surrounding area. He carved his name and the date, July 25, 1806. In his journal, he named the rock after Sacagawea’s son, Jean Baptiste “Pomp” Charbonneau. Climb the 200 steps to the top to see the same sweeping views that inspired Clark.
Seventy years later and an hour south, the Lakota Sioux, Northern Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes took on Colonel Custer and the 7th Cavalry at the Battle of Little Bighorn in one of the last armed efforts to preserve the American Indian way of life. Today, you can visit the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument to learn more about this sobering piece of history.
For more sunshine, head to the 50 miles of trails accessible from Billings. For sweeping views of the city and the surrounding area, go to Swords Rimrock Park where a 4.5-mile paved trail will bring you to the top of the Rimrocks, a mesa ringed by sandstone cliffs. If it’s a nice summer day and you’d rather get out on the water, nearby Lake Elmo State Park is a great place to stand-up paddleboard. Rent from The Basecamp or Sunshine Sports in Billings.
After you’ve stretched your legs, it’s time to hit a different type of trail: the Billings Brew Trail. With many stops downtown that are easy to get to from each other, you can use a mobile passport to check-in at nine breweries, three distilleries and a cidery to earn cool swag like stickers and pint glasses. Sign up for your passport at www.visitbillings.com/billings-brew-trail.
Another great way to spend the afternoon is at ZooMontana. This huge facility houses rescues from across the world with one unique caveat. Each of the animals who live in the outdoor portion of the zoo have a natural habitat above the 45th parallel.
In addition to Montana wildlife like grizzly bears and gray wolves, there’s also species from across the world like the Canada lynx, Amur tigers and Pabu, the red panda who is known as “the prince of pounce.” He’s an important part of a breeding program to help boost the wild population of red pandas. Because the animals are used to the climate and temperatures of northern landscapes, they’re right at home in Billings.
Or, visit the Yellowstone Art Museum. You’ll find a great collection of works by Montana artists and others from across the West, as well as rotating exhibits.
Billings is lucky to have two James Beard nominated restaurants and both are worth a visit if you’re looking for an upscale dinner. The Marble Table has a diverse and delicious menu with birria tacos, pork schnitzel and hoisin-marinated pork belly rice bowls sharing real estate. Walkers focuses on regionally-sourced ingredients, turning them into dishes like rainbow trout with amaranth and acorn squash. For a more casual evening, head to The Burger Dive, a fun diner where you can order the dish that won the World Food Championships’ burger category in 2016. The “I’m Your Huckleberry” is a burger covered in goat cheese, arugula, roasted red pepper mayo, bacon and huckleberry hatch chile barbeque sauce. Veronika’s Pastry Shop was also nominated for best bakery.
Learn more at VisitBillings.com.