Billings is a city in southern Montana on the Yellowstone River. It’s best known for its being near Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, where Lieutenant Colonel Custer died, but there is so much more to this city that makes it a great destination to spend a few days exploring.
To the north, trails wind along the sandstone rimrocks, the coast of a sea that existed 80 million years ago. Artifacts have been found testifying to ancient people living on this land, and you can see their cave paintings at the Pictograph Cave State Park, and tools and other items belonging to them on display at the Western Heritage Center, which also runs fascinating and informative Billings History Walks.
If you’re looking to relax, choose Pioneer Park or DanWalt Gardens, both beautifully landscaped and a delight to spend time in.
Billings also has a zoo, and something for lovers of the arts, with theaters doing the occasional Broadway hit, and an art museum showcasing contemporary local works.
There’s truly something for everyone in Billings, and you are sure to enjoy your time discovering it!
Let’s have a closer look at things to do in Billings, Montana on your next vacation.
For The Wildlife Watchers
ZooMontana is a zoo with a smaller selection of animals than most (some 100 animals of 51 different species, including wolves, wolverines, grizzly bears, takins, otters, eagles, and lynx). In its defense, most of the animals are rescues, so they don’t actively seek to expand their collection – their priority is the animals, not the profits. What we liked best was the signs in front of their enclosures describing their personalities, origins and other details that made it more personal somehow.
ZooMontana isn’t just a zoo – there is an extensive multi-part botanical garden and accredited arboretum too, as well as an educational facility dedicated to the conservation of wildlife throughout Montana.
At ZooMontana, you’ll have the chance to learn about Yellowstone ecosystem fauna through seeing it up-close and personal, through interpretive displays, and with experiential educational programs. Don’t miss the exhibits in the main building either before or after your visit to the gardens.
Try to head there on a cool morning as the animals, just like us, naturally avoid time outside when the sun is blazing. Also note that when the temperature drops below zero, the zoo will be closed for the safety of its staff.
If you get hungry, there is usually a food truck outside the zoo, and there’s a brewery across the street if you’re there around lunchtime.
Where: 2100 Shiloh Rd, Billings, MT.
Open: Daily 10am – 2pm.
Ticket: Adults: $12, Children (Age 3-15): $9, Under 2s: FREE
For The Park Appreciators
The 32-acre Pioneer Park is a great place to keep kids busy in warm, dry weather – aside from plenty of trails to explore, there’s a ballfield, disc golf course, horseshoe courts, a large playground and, in summer, a shallow, fenced-in pool.
Even for those without little ones, the park has plenty to offer. It’s a beautiful, clean and well maintained park, with picnic tables, benches, tennis courts, a barbeque grill, paved jogging trails, and lots of beautiful trees for shade.
Take a stroll along the soothing, bubbling creek, find the waterfalls, enjoy the rolling hills in the distance, then sit under a tree and doze!
Billings Symphony Orchestra runs a free annual concert in Pioneer Park (usually in June), at the base of the large grassy hill. Take your lawn chairs or a blanket to sit on and enjoy food from the nearby vendors while listening to some wonderful music in the open air.
Where: 301 Parkhill Dr, Billings, MT.
Open: Daily, 5am – 10pm.
This public garden offers expansive floral gardens, fountains, a koi pond with a bridge, and plenty of places to sit and absorb the quiet and calm. Take a tour to make the most out of all that colorful nature!
It is very well cared for, with the flowers changed every few weeks to keep it blooming. Head there in the spring to see tulips, daffodils and hyacinths, in the summer months for hydrangeas, shasta daisies, echinaceas, rudbeckia, black-eyed susans, roses, lilies, day lilies and clematis, or in fall, which promises amaranths, dahlias, chrysanthemums, asters, hardy hibiscus, angel’s trumpets, and more roses!
As an added bonus, there are free-roaming chickens in the gardens too! If you have any questions, you’ll find the staff welcoming and knowledgeable about their many plants, bushes, trees and chickens. It’s the perfect place to recharge.
Fun Facts About DanWalt Gardens
- The gardens are set on land that has been in the Jellison/Jost family since the 1880s. Located on the fertile Yellowstone River floodplain, the plot was once part of a 10-acre vegetable farmland.
- The private home now on the north part of the property was built on top of the farm’s original carriage house.
- The McIntosh apple tree by the Pavilion was planted in 1896.
- The rhubarb plants in the garden are the progenies of the plant that was planted in the early 1900s.
- The ancestors of the black-tailed Japanese chickens were hatched by Dan Jellison in the 1950s.
Where: 720 Washington St, Billings, MT.
Open: May – October, 9am – 5.30pm. Closed Tuesdays. NOTE: November – April, by appointment only!
Ticket: Cash only. Adults (13+): $7.50, Under 12s: Free. Group Garden Tour: $10 per person (ages 13+), minimum 8 people in a party.
For Arts Lovers
Yellowstone Art Museum
The permanent collection of contemporary and historic art of America’s Rocky Mountain West at Yellowstone Art Museum is made up of over 3,000 paintings, photographs and drawings, including the works of cowboy illustrator Will James (1892-1942) – from traditional western to some innovative modern art and installations.
It is a very local but very personable museum, with an interesting collection of local Montana artists and space to showcase the young and up-and-coming too. You’ll find the staff both friendly and helpful.
Be sure to check out the gift shop, which has some reasonably priced crafts by locals, and stop for a refreshing drink in their cute cafe.
What we love is the fact they offer numerous educational programs for families, schools and summer campers. Find details on their website.
Where: 401 N 27th Street, Billings, MT.
Open: Tuesday – Sunday, 10am – 5pm, closed Mondays. First Fridays of the month they are open until 8pm.
Billings Studio Theater
Billings Studio Theater is a small theater with over 60 years to its name that offers renowned musicals and various plays throughout the year.
Performances are held in the evenings, and there are matinees on Sundays. The performers are local, but do not for a second think that in any way lowers the quality or professionalism – the acting, singing, and music are first rate!
The ticket prices are reasonable and there are no bad seats in the house- all are comfortable and with a good view of the stage.
Billings Studio Theater is a volunteer-based community theater whose team has “toiled, laughed and cried together, becoming friends, as [they] build a theater that has continued to grow, stretch and serve the needs of the community.”
Where: 1500 Rimrock Road, Billings, MT.
Alberta Bair Theater
Alberta Bair Theater is something of a Billings landmark, offering a great variety of shows to suit all tastes and ages – from symphony, opera, and dance, to concerts, musicals, magicians, circus acts and touring Broadway plays.
What’s more, the Billings Symphony calls this their home, accompanying the stage shows and also playing their own shows throughout the year.
The tickets are much less than they would cost you in a big city, although the best performances tend to be mid-week.
The seats are comfortable and with plenty of legroom.
Concessions are available if you fancy a wine, coffee or candy.
Where: 2801 3rd Ave N, Billings, MT.
For Nature Nurturers
Just south of Billings are some spectacular mountains, canyons and high mountain meadows to escape to – whether it’s hiking, horseback riding or camping you need. Take your quads along for an unforgettable ride!
The roads may be a little rough getting there (read: 4×4 advised!), but it is worth the bumps and mud/dust for the June wildflowers, beautiful golden fields of wheat, and year-round wildlife- black bears, wild horses, dusky grouse and coyotes have all been spotted by past visitors. Don’t forget to take binoculars!
Where: Make a brief stop at the Chief Plenty Coups Visitors Center to get a map of the way, as some areas lack cell service. From Chief Plenty Coups, turn right and drive along the gravel road, with wheat fields on both sides, to Edgar. In Edgar, you will reach a T. Join Hwy 310, which is paved by turning left, heading south to Bridger. In Bridger, cross a bridge and watch for Pryor Mountain Road or Sage Creek Road on the left. This stretch is gravel and dirt road all the way to Custer National Forest. There are no signs that indicate where you are. The gravel road is private property, so please don’t leave it.
If you didn’t take a picnic along, stop for lunch at the friendly Bridger Deli on the right side of Hwy 310.
Eighty million years ago, the Billings area was the shore of the Western Interior Seaway, a sea that went from the present-day Gulf of Mexico to the Arctic North. The rimrocks were, literally, the rim of that sea.
Today, people come here to hike, exercise and enjoy views of Billings and the surrounding countryside, although it is exposed and can get very hot in summer.
Don’t start from the entrance near the airport- drive a little further east and start at the center of the park for the most beautiful scenery, reached via an easy hike.
As you walk, you can choose from the paved walkway or the dirt trail closer to the cliff edge. The only sound you’re likely to hear are birds and the river flowing not too far below you.
We recommend hitting the Rimrocks near sunset for the golden colors you’ll get in your photos – the perfect memory to round off a trip to Billings!
Where: Rimrock Road, Billings, MT.
For The Hungry And Thirsty
Canyon Creek Brewing
Canyon Creek Brewing offers a good selection of professionally made beers served by friendly, knowledgeable staff- be your taste dark beers, porters, stouts or red ales. And as they regularly rotate different beers in, they are worth more than one visit. They are often buzzing with happy guests, especially after work hours, but if it’s quiet you seek, you can take your beverage of choice out onto the large patio.
One negative is that they didn’t serve flights when we were there, which they usually do at breweries.
NOTE: Beers are priced from $5 and they only accept cash. Order at the bar (there are no waiters).
They don’t serve food, but food trucks park up outside to help you soak up that beer with burgers, etc.
Where: 3060 Gabel Rd, Billings, MT.
Open: Weekdays 2pm – 8pm, Weekends 12pm – 8pm.
Yellowstone Cellars & Winery
Interestingly placed in an industrial area, Yellowstone Cellars and Winery, just a five minute drive from downtown, offers great service from friendly and knowledgeable staff, tasty local wines, and enjoyable (and reasonably priced) snacks to absorb some of that alcohol – we recommend the brie with berries or smoked salmon on flatbread.
There’s a nice patio area and large garage doors that open for a seat in the open air and sunshine as you sip and socialize.
We can pretty much guarantee you’ll find something you’ll like and that you’ll be taking several bottles home with you!
Where: 1335 Holiday Cir, Billings, MT.
Open: Monday – Thursday 1pm – 9pm, Friday & Saturday 1pm – 11pm, Sunday 1pm – 7pm.
And For Those History Buffs Among You…
Yellowstone County Museum
A must see in Billings, this museum shares the history of Yellowstone and its creation as the US’s first national park, from establishment to infrastructure – a way to appreciate the hard work of all those that made it the great park we have today. This county museum is right by the airport, so it is great to explore if you have some time to kill before your flight.
Don’t be fooled by the size – alongside the first floor and patio (with an overlook binocular for viewing the city) exhibits, there is a basement level full of Native American artifacts, including beautifully decorated moccasins.
The staff is welcoming and know their stuff – ask them anything you like about the exhibits. There’s a fun scavenger hunt for kids and adults too.
The gift shop has a lot to inspire, including books about local history.
Where: 1950 Terminal Circle, Billings, MT.
Open: Tuesday – Saturday, 10:30am – 5:30pm. Closed on holidays.
Western Heritage Center
Telling the stories of the peoples of the Yellowstone River Valley and the Northern Plains, the Western Heritage Center, housed in a former library listed on the National Register of Historic Places, has both permanent and regularly changing galleries (8 – 10 exhibitions each year), for hours of educational fun for all ages.
The Center has numerous interactive exhibits, displaying its over 16,000 artifacts in spacious galleries.
One of the highlightlights for us was an exhibit on staying safe from the bears at Yellowstone, with a history of the park’s approach to bear safety and feeding.
Parking was easy and the staff was helpful and informative.
Their excellent educational programs include in-depth historical lectures from experts in the field each third Thursday at noon, and 1.5-hour walking tours of historic locations in Billings each Friday morning at 10am, June through September. To reserve your spot, buy your tickets online or call 406-256-6809.
Where: 2822 Montana Ave, Billings, MT.
Open: Tuesday-Saturday, 10am – 5pm.
Ticket: Adults $5, Students and Seniors $3, Under 12s – $1. Historic walks cost extra.
Pictograph Cave State Park
The Pictograph, Middle and Ghost caves were home to generations of prehistoric hunters. A loop trail allows you to see the rock paintings, known as pictographs, that are still visible in Pictograph Cave, as well as take in some great views on the way. Start your visit at the new Visitor Center.
This is a nice place to come if you are in the area and enjoy easy nature walks, with the bonus of some 100+, 2000-year old pictographs in rocky cave-outcroppings. While they are a bit faded, they are visible, and in any case, the sense of wonder you get if you stand a moment and realize how long ago they were created makes the trip worthwhile.
Get there early in the day to make the most of the cool and daylight, in which case you’ll get to learn something of the history and conservation efforts in the Visitor Center, or go there towards sunset to enjoy the bright oranges over the cliffs and city.
A paved path will lead you to the main cave, and this is accessible but a bit steep in parts. From there, a gravel path will take you to the other caves, which also boast faded pictographs.
The Visitor Center has some interactive displays to educate. Approximately 30,000 artifacts, ranging from stone tools, weapons, paintings and the instruments used, were excavated from the cave site, some of which are on display there. The Center also has clean bathrooms, and a shaded, grassy picnic area edged by grand, old trees. If the Center is shut, leave the exact amount to pay in the envelope provided.
Where: 3401 Coburn Road, Billings, MT.
Open: May – September 9am – 7pm (Visitor Center until 5pm), October – April 9am – 5pm (Visitor Center until 4pm).
Ticket: $8/vehicle. $4 for walk-ins/cyclists.
Billings is a great city to vacation in, with enough activities to engage you for two or three days – museums, local art and history to discover, wildlife to meet, and wine and Montana-brewed beer to try. Where better to escape the world than by diving into this Montana gem?
What Else Can I Do In Montana?
Hot springs! We’ve made a list of the 10 best Montana hot springs to soak in before or after your Billings tour for complete relaxation and rejuvenation. Montana has both commercial hot springs to escape to and all-natural pools to discover.
While we at Traxplorio do our very best to give you the most up-to-date information, we always recommend you do your own research before you travel, and check conditions and prices with official sites. Thanks for understanding, and enjoy your adventure!