With more than 100,000 residents, Billings ranks as Montana’s most populous city, but don’t expect some booming metropolis: Nature is always close by in “Montana’s Trailhead,” where ancient sandstone rocks cut through the city and monuments to Native American and explorer-era history sit right in its backyard. Here, five adventures in and near Billings.
Climb the Rimrocks
The remnants of an 80-million-year-old seaway, these sandstone bluffs cut right through the city, and their distinctive hue is said to have inspired the name of two other area icons: the Yellowstone River and its namesake national park. In Billings, you’re rarely more than 10 minutes away from this defining geological structure, which is a great spot for hiking, mountain biking and picnicking. One of the most exciting ways to tackle the Rimrocks is by climbing to the top and then rappelling back down.
See prehistoric art in Pictograph Cave State Park
Designated a National Historic Landmark in 1964, this trio of caves, five miles outside of Billings, was home to prehistoric hunters, who left behind 30,000 artifacts, including stone and bone tools, seashell beads and the remains of thousands of bison and elk. In Pictograph Cave, archaeologists uncovered 106 rock paintings, painted between 2,145 and 200 years ago, depicting everything from turtles and horses to warriors and rifles. Be sure to bring binoculars to best experience this ancient art.
Go paddling in Lake Elmo State Park
Take to the water with a standup paddleboard, sailboard, kayak or canoe on this 64-acre reservoir, set conveniently within the city limits of Billings. On shore, you can hike along the 1.2-mile nature trail or fish from Roger’s Pier. Be sure to keep your eyes peeled for hundreds of species of birds, including an abundance of waterfowl and shorebirds.
Visit Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument
Military history buffs should not miss this national monument, which marks the site of Custer’s Last Stand—the June 1876 battle during which combined Lakota, Northern Cheyenne and Arapaho forces (led by Sitting Bull) defeated the 7th Cavalry Regiment of the U.S. Army. With its rows upon rows of approximately 5,000 white tombstones, the park’s cemetery calls to mind Arlington National Cemetery. A small museum features exhibits on Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer, weapons, archaeology and Indigenous life in the region.
Explore Pompey’s Pillar National Monument
At only 51 acres, this landmark is among the smallest national monuments in the United States, and it’s the only place in the country where you can still see physical evidence of the Lewis and Clark Expedition: The centerpiece of the park is a 150-foot-tall sandstone pillar, where William Clark inscribed his name and the date, July 25, 1806. He named the geological formation after Sacagawea’s son, Jean Baptiste Charbonneau, whom he had nicknamed Pompy. Climb to the top for great views of the surrounding wilderness.