Image courtesy of HomeSnacks.
Billings, Montana is the state’s largest city. Named after Northern Pacific Railroad President Frederick Billings, it lies in the seat of Yellowstone County-- yes, that Yellowstone--and presides over the majority of the state’s trading economy. So what’s there to do in such a large metropolitan area? We’re glad you asked!
Rent a car for the day and head to where history shaped the tragic fate of the West’s great Native American tribes
Interstate 90 Frontage Rd, Crow Agency, MT | nps.gov/libi
Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument is located about an hour’s drive from Billings, MT, but it’s totally worth it. The historical value of the place--combined with the haunting beauty of the landscape-- it something special. The park memorializes the place where the Lakotas and Cheyenne made their last stand against Custer’s 7th Calvary (United States Army) to preserve their way of life. The memorial is situated where Custar’s famously ill-fated last stand took place. The full extent of what actually happened is still unclear-- and probably always will be--but the ending is unmistakable.
Custer and his men did not survive, but it was only a temporary victory for the Native American forces. Unfortunately, Custer’s defeat and death ultimately became the dynamite that ignited the United States Government to complete their efforts to force the Native Americans living in the Black Hills onto reservations without the original compensation offered. Guided tours are offered, and a hike down Deep Ravine Trail will take you through the burial grounds where white marble headstones mark the US Army graves and red granite markers and stone cairns proclaim the Lakota and Cheyenne graves. Pro Tip: purchase a National Park Pass for $20 and get into Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument at no additional charge!
“This is an absolutely fantastic place to visit. The ranger who introduced the top knotch film gave a very moving and personal description and context of the time and the place of this historic battlefield. The interpretive presentations at the site give an even handed explanation from the point of view of the US Soldiers and the Native Americans. This has to be one of the very best National Monuments! Job well done.” --TripAdvisor
Only a 14-minute drive outside of Billings lies one of nature’s and man’s ancient wonders.
3401 Coburn Road | stateparks.mt.gov/pictograph-cave
Make sure you pack your hiking boots and sunscreen-- you do NOT want to miss this amazing prehistoric wonder where man’s history and geography marry. Pictograph State Park contains three amazing caves: Pictograph, Middle, and Ghost. Each cave hosts artifacts and paintings from the first people in Montana. Some of the paintings are around 2,000 years old!
The trail to the caves is full of educational markers about the geology and vegetation of the area. Bring binoculars though-- Pictograph cave is really big and really deep, so binoculars will help you see the cave paintings much better. As a bonus, the 23-acre park is also a great place for bird-watching! The park’s website recommends a minimum of an hour for the visit-- we say it’s worth staying longer to appreciate this natural wonder! TripAdvisor gives this site a Certificate of Excellence.
“We were amazed at the pictographs here and how there was no vandalism. So unlike other state parks. The visitor center is excellent and staff knowledgeable…” TripAdvisor
Spend a relaxing evening after a hike with a local microbrew before returning to the hotel.
The Brewery District | thirstystreet.com
The Brewery District is the latest hotspot in downtown Billings, and the name isn’t actually official. Several micro-brewries have sprouted up in the same downtown area over the last few years, and they all support each other. One such brewery is Thirsty Street. Thirsty Street Brewing was recently voted as one of Billings, MT best small businesses. Owned by transplants Jill and Shea Dawson, the brewery features loads of live music and seasonal brews alongside flagship regulars.
Some of the brews are named after local areas-- such as their ale Rimrock’d Amber-- and their seasonals are something special. The names are creative-- we especially like Staycation IPA and Kreik du Flathead Cherry Sour-- and the ingredients reflective of the local ingredients. They also serve some wine and small bites to eat, so stop in and--as their tagline says-- “Get Cultured.”
“What a treat to happen upon this gem! Great beers, good wines. Our six-year-old kiddo was welcome. We ordered a delicious pizza from Guido's across the street. And our dog was able to sleep under our table the whole evening! Such a relaxing night on the town. Will definitely be back the next time we're in town!” TripAdvisor
If you’re going to be in Billings for a while, rent a car and drive to Yellowstone National Park and see warmer, wilder side of Montana
Yellowstone National Park | yellowstonepark.com/swim-yellowstones-boiling-river
Yellowstone’s Boiling River is a warmer side of Montana-- stepping into these waters is like easing into Mother Nature’s very own hot tub. It’s not hot, just very pleasantly warm. That’s because it’s located where the Gardner River and a hot spring combine-- hence the appearance of the river “boiling”-- a geological miracle with highly relaxing properties.
Boiling River is located two miles north of Mammoth and 2.9 miles south of the park’s north entrance. It’s pretty easy to find, and a popular spot to stop and relax while taking in the beauty of Yellowstone. The only time we don’t recommend swimming in the Boiling River is during the spring, when it’s closed to swimmers due to rise waters from snow run-off. And please note that skinny-dipping is not allowed, and neither is alcohol.
“The ice cold Gardner River meets the Mammoth Hot Springs resulting in a wondrous soak. This place is very busy on a warm afternoon in the Summer so come early or later and you can have the place almost to yourself.... Wear water shoes as the river bed is rocky and uneven. Find your sweet spot where the cold and hot waters mix and enjoy. The hike is is easy and flat. This is not to be missed.” -- TripAdvisor
Beautiful Grounds in Billings, MT
720 Washington St. | thedanwaltgardens.com
DanWalt Gardens calls themselves “Billings’ Best-Kept Secret.” There is alway something blooming in this stunning plant haven. While the property has been around for ages as the private land of the Jellison/Jost family, the garden only took shape beginning in the 1990’s with the former owners.
There are several gardens featuring a variety of themes, from Japan to roses. Bring your camera, but please respect that some places in the gardens may be closed-- DanWalt is the premier spot in Billings for weddings! In fact, if you recently said “yes”-- maybe you want to scout them out for a future destination wedding!
“The DanWalt Gardens are a gem! The grounds are extremely well cared for and offer a wide variety of gorgeous flowering plants, walkways, water features and sculptures. The owners were gracious and friendly. Visiting the gardens makes for a very enjoyable afternoon!” --TripAdvisor
Pop over to Moss Mansion and time travel to a more elegant era.
914 Division St. | mossmansion.com
If you want a peek into the lives of the rich and famous from back in the day, Moss Mansion is a must-see. Built in 1903 and designed by famous New York architect Henry Janeway Hardenburgh for Billings founding member Preston Boyd Moss, the mansion offers tours throughout the year-- including Christmas! The Christmas tours are really special-- local businesses and charities decorate trees in each room, and visitors can vote on the “People’s Choice” for best decorations!
If you’re on a family trip and can gather around 10 or more people, consider booking a “Trunks and Treasures” tour! You get unparallelled access to the trunks and closets of the Moss family, which isn’t available on the regular tours! Fun facts: Moss Mansion is featured in Reader’s Digest Great American Homes and the National Geographic Guide to America’s Great Houses, among other publications. Check out the gift shop and grab one of these books for yourself-- they make great holiday gifts, too!
“We had such a great time touring the Moss Mansion! Even though we missed the scheduled guided tour, the young gal working at the front desk walked through with us anyway and gave us our own custom tour. Such a wealth of fascinating information! It was so very interesting to hear about the Moss family and the many ways their influence was integral to the development of the area. I highly recommend it!” --TripAdvisor
The Old West comes back to life in the Historic District of downtown Billings, MT
2822 Montana Ave. | ywhc.org
Take your family back to the Old West with a trip to downtown Billings’ Historic District! House in the historic library building, the Western Heritage Center holds a collection of around 35,000 artifacts and photographs, traveling and permanent exhibits, and over 400 oral histories. You won’t find a more comprehensive museum dedicated to the West’s legacy-- for a long time, the Western Heritage Center was an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution!
The center is also one of only two organizations to receive the Montana Governor’s Humanities Award, which is usually only given to individuals. The center holds true to its name with its archives, which you can access for a fee and search for an individual-- maybe some genealogical research-- or a business. Exhibits include paintings, oral histories, Native American artifacts, and even a horse tack collection! They also have walking tours, a lecture series, and other special events. This is a history buff’s must-see!
“The historical building is beautiful. The staff is super friendly and knowledgeable, and can expand upon the exhibits. I learned so much from the Director about the ghost signs of Billings Downtown. Kevin's enthusiasm for history is captivating. Don't pass by Billings without checking out its old Downtown area, and this museum…” --TripAdvisor
End your day of exploring downtown by sipping a glass of wine before heading back to the hotel.
1335 Holiday Circle | yellowstonecellars.com
Voted “Best Winery in Montana” by MSN, Yellowstone Cellars & Winery offers free wine tastings for adults (they check IDs) and water and soft drinks to underage visitors. They offer wines made in Billings with Washington grapes, light deli snacks, and a lovely experience. Inside are granite tables and the outdoor patio is open to guests, too. They offer special events, a wine club, and are happy to host weddings!
“...There wasn't a single wine that we didn't like. I went in thinking I would probably only want a bottle or two but walked out with a case!! Actually, it's probably the best wine we've ever had at a winery. The winery is small but comfortable. They have live music on Friday and Saturday nights…” -- TripAdvisor
Montana is a huge place-- rent a car and making exploring the Billings area cheap, easy, and at your pace.
1901 Terminal Circle | www.thriftycars.com
Driving is the best way to experience the vastness and beauty of Montana, and Thrifty has you covered. Our smoke-free cars are reasonably-priced and comfortable, ready to bring you the wide open roads of Montana. When staying in Billings, Thrifty is conveniently located by Billings International Airport-- so no matter where you’re flying from, you can drive away in minutes.
With a Thrifty car, you can set off on your adventures at your own pace-- no waiting for the tour bus to load or the cab to arrive! Just climb in and go!
Quote from Yelp or TripAdvisor
When you check out these fun and thrifty things to do in Billings, you can enjoy everything the city has to offer without going over budget. Where are your favorite places to eat and things to do in Billings? Let us know in the comments!