Billings is the biggest city in Montana located in the southeast part of the state. It is the gateway to the Beartooth Highway, Yellowstone, and lots of other great areas to explore. It is full of history, spectacular views, and a surprisingly fun downtown scene. Here are some things to do in Billings, MT.
Admittedly Billings was not on our list of cities to visit, but when TBEX announced they were having their North American conference here we decided to go. This was an exciting trip because it was our first time in Billings, first time in Montana, and first time attending TBEX.
Getting to Billings
We flew into Billings Logan International Airport. Montana is a great state for road tripping though and many people drive here. If you plan on doing anything outside of Billings (which you will), you must rent a car. The airport is a neat one to fly into because it’s small and on top of a rimrock. The view flying in was incredible! Now that you’re here, you might be wondering what to do in Billings, MT.
Things to do in Billings, MT
The downtown area of Billings has a lot of great bars, restaurants and shops to check out. We were also pretty surprised by the incredible music scene. All of the bands that were performing at the bars we went to were great. Here are some things to do in downtown Billings and the surrounding area.
Visit the burial site of Yellowstone Kelly located near the airport. Learn about who Yellowstone Kelly was and the restoration project completed by the city to restore his once neglected grave site.
Many of the restaurants in Montana are meat and fish heavy, and there is an emphasis on using local ingredients. We were pleasantly surprised that there were some healthy restaurants here in Billings. One that we recommend trying is Lilac. They had delicious mushroom tacos.
Stella’s Kitchen is a great diner for breakfast. There is also a gluten free bakery called Rae’s Rae’s. If you’re looking for a quick health meal, Well Pared has delicious salads and wraps with vegan and vegetarian options. One place that everyone recommended to check out is The Burger Dive, which is a very popular spot in Billings.
Another great thing about downtown Billings is the bar scene. There were breweries and lots of live music. We recommend checking out Pub Station and Last Chance Pub & Cider Mill. You can also do the Billings Brew Trail.
Another drink we enjoy is coffee. Luckily there are local coffee shops you can check out. We really liked Rock Creek Coffee Roasters.
There are plenty of great shops to check out downtown. We really liked Joy of Living, Aspinwall, and Liberty & Vine Country Store. Liberty & Vine has a lot of local products and vendors. Many of the shops we saw proudly sell Made in Montana merchandise.
The first Friday of every other month is the Downtown Billings Art Walk. For TBEX they did a special Art Walk event to show off the local art scene. It is definitely worth checking out if you happen to be here. Many of the galleries had drinks and snacks and were happy to talk or you can just browse and enjoy. Get more info on the Art Walk here.
We love Farmers Markets and were glad we were able to check out the Billings one before we left for the airport. It is actually called the Yellowstone Valley Farmers Market, and it takes places every Saturday from 8am-12pm July through October. Visit their website for the most up to date info.
Day Trips from Billings
Billings is a great city to use as a home base for a few days. There are so many sites to check out both in Billings and the surrounding area. The drives themselves are so scenic.
Pompeys Pillar National Monument is an interesting sandstone formation located on the Yellowstone River that was a natural landmark for Native Americans. It is most known for having the signature of William Clark carved into it during his trip down the Yellowstone River. The Interpretive Center has lots of information and exhibits on Pompeys Pillar and the Corps of Discovery. The park rangers here were very friendly and loved talking about the Pillar and the history surrounding it. The Pillar is located about a 40 minute drive from downtown Billings.
Big Horn County Historical Museum
The Big Horn County Historical Museum is located in Hardin, Montana. This great museum takes you back in time through exhibits and historical buildings. Currently the museum is 35 acres and has 24 authentic historic structures that have been moved onto the museum grounds. It’s about an hour drive from Billings to Hardin. Visit their website for more hours and pricing.
Little Bighorn Battlefield
Perhaps one of the most well known areas near Billings is the site of Custer’s Last Stand at the Little Bighorn Battlefield. If you’re a history buff, this is definitely a must see place. If you’re not a history buff, you should still go to learn about the Battle of Little Bighorn. You can take a guided tour with a member of the Crow Tribe, which really brings an interesting perspective. The battlefield is about an hour drive from Billings to the Crow Agency.
Custer Battlefield Trading Post
Next to the battlefield is a great store called Custer Battlefield Trading Post. They have artwork, souvenirs, a book store, and a cafe. It’s a great place to grab a bite to eat and shop a little during your busy day exploring. Their Indian Taco dish was featured in Oprah’s Favorite Things in 2017.
ZooMontana is a zoological and botanical park located on the west side of Billings. Over 80 animals live here, and it is a great spot for kids and adults to learn about the Yellowstone ecosystem. Visit their website for more info.
Four Dances Natural Area
Four Dances is 765 acres of undeveloped land that is open to the public. There are different trails you can explore. There is a BLM volunteer stationed here to give you a map and information about the area. This was a really beautiful trail to walk around, especially up to the viewing area that overlooks downtown and the river. It is also located a mile and a half from Pictograph State Park.
Pictograph State Park
After we hiked a little at Four Dances, we drove over to Pictograph State Park. It is a unique site because you can actually see some of the pictographs from the viewing area. It is also beautiful to walk around. The visitors center has lots of great information to check out before starting the trail. The oldest rock art in the cave is believed to be over 2,000 years old.
Red Lodge, MT
Located about an hour from Billings, this is a very charming town to walk around. This is also where you can pick up the Beartooth Highway. Stop at Bogart’s Restaurant for a nice but affordable lunch. The original owner of this restaurant was a huge Humphrey Bogart fan.
Billings is also the gateway for these other great places in Montana, like the Beartooth Highway and Yellowstone. Be sure to check weather conditions before making the drive. While we were in Billings, the Beartooth Highway closed because it got 18 inches of snow.
Billings, MT Travel Tips
- We stayed at the Howard Johnson because it was next to the conference center. If we go to Billings again, we definitely will stay downtown. There is also a KOA campsite and Airbnbs available.
- Dress and pack layers. The weather can vary throughout the day.
- The summer months are considered the best time to visit Billings.
- Don’t ignore the local state parks and hiking trails. While obviously everyone wants to go to Yellowstone, there are some really worthwhile places to check out in Billings.
- Shop local! (Which you’re doing every time you travel right?)
“I’m in love with Montana. For other states I have admiration, respect, recognition, even some affection. But with Montana it is love. And it’s difficult to analyze love when you’re in it.”
― John Steinbeck
Is Billings a place we would want to live? No. We appreciate visiting places like this, but we like more of a city feel. Is Billings a place we would go back to? Yes. We would really like to do an actual road trip through Montana because that seems to be the best way to experience this state. We would absolutely stop in Billings again for a night or two. There was way more to see and experience here than we thought. All the people we met were friendly.
Being originally from Chicago and now living in Sarasota, Billings was a totally different change of pace for us. We are not used to all those wide open spaces! Another thing we really enjoyed was the quiet. When we visited Pictograph State Park there weren’t many people there and while we were walking around it was silent. No airplanes, no cars, no music blasting. It’s not very often that we get to experience that, and it’s so peaceful staring out into the incredible landscape and hearing nothing.
Have you been to Billings? What are your must-see places in Montana? Comment below!
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