Go Big in Southeast Montana
Big skies and history meet in these authentic Montana cowboy towns on the way to Yellowstone.
When you drive through the towns of Southeast Montana, like Billings, Glendive and Miles City you’ll notice that the skies are big. Like, really, really big. Big Sky Country isn’t just a moniker for endless possibilities. It also means that when the sun goes down, the stars are big, too.
If you look at a light pollution map of the United States, eastern Montana has some of the darkest skies in the country. Head to Medicine Rocks State Park near Ekalaka, one of two International Dark Sky Sanctuaries in the state, to marvel at the stars. Another place to take in the expansive night sky is Makoshika State Park, which makes for an incredible photography opportunity with the Milky Way arching over the park’s fascinating rock formations. Download a map with more than 45 other great stargazing locations at trailtothestars.com. Make sure to grab a bite to eat in Glendive beforehand.
Southeast Montana is also home to a sobering, yet important piece of Western history: the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, on Interstate 90 southeast of Billings. You’ll learn about the battle between the Lakota and Cheyenne tribes and Lt. Col. Custer’s 7th Cavalry – one of the last armed American Indian efforts to protect their way of life. In the summer, rangers lead educational tours. Afterward, fuel up at the Custer Battlefield Trading Post with can’t-miss fry bread and Indian tacos. (southeastmontana.com/listing/little-bighorn-battlefield-national-monument)
To experience Big Sky Country’s daytime skies, bring your boat or kayak to Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area in Fort Smith to explore this impressive canyon. Grab picnic supplies in Hardin or bring your own picnic since the Ok-A-Beh Marina has limited services. If you’re feeling adventurous, stay in one of the boat-in campsites to really get away from it all. The sites are first-come, first served. (southeastmontana.com/listing/bighorn-canyon-national-recreation-area)
“The canyon, with multi-hued walls reaching 1,000 feet in height, is one of our hidden gems that puts the wow in Montana,” says Visit Southeast Montana’s marketing director Brenda Maas.
At the end of the day, what to have for dinner is an easy decision. This part of the state is full of great spots to grab a burger, many of which are made with beef from locally raised cattle. The only hard part will be deciding where to go. 3 Brothers Bistro in Hardin is a favorite for their house-smoked meats while you’ll find burgers that won the prestigious World Food Championship’s burger category at The Burger Dive in Billings. Or, branch out and try a burger with a distinctly Mexican flair at Vaqueros Restaurant in Wibaux where bacon, roasted peppers, onion rings and guacamole top a patty finished with a cattle-branded bun. Find tons of options at southeastmontana.com/burgertrail.
And when you’re ready to head out for another day of exploring, coffee is a must. In Glendive, Bloom Coffeehouse & Eatery is known for their excellent breakfast sandwiches and in Ekalaka, Stompin’ Grounds is the place to fuel up before hitting Medicine Rocks State Park.
For more information, visit southeastmontana.com.