When You’re Wondering about Things to do in Billings
I grew up in Billings. And while I was growing up I heard, and said it myself, on more than one occasion, “There’s nothing to do in this town!”
Of course I made no effort to change that, nor did I really explore the options; because despite the sentiment, there is certainly a whole lot that you can do in Billings.
Whether you have lived here your entire life, or if you’re traveling to Billings to get the Montana experience, we have narrowed it down to the top things you should check out here and in the area. This is why we are called Montana’s Trailhead.
Cultural and Historical Sites
Pompeys Pillar – A little east of Billings is a unique geologic formation; a sandstone outcropping juts into the sky near the Yellowstone River. This formation, however, is better known for what humans have done, rather than erosion. On the side of the rock, now known as Pompeys Pillar, William Clark chiseled his name into the rock creating the only known visible evidence of the famous explorer’s journey to the west coast.
Pictograph Caves – Closer to Billings, however, is an area that shows humans have been using this land for thousands of years. To call these caves is a bit misleading; it’s more of an indentation in the overhanging cliff. Here at Pictograph Cave State Park, paintings and artifacts represent habitation from more than 2,000 years ago.
Little Bighorn Battlefield – 150 years ago, give or take a handful of years, George A. Custer was moving his troops into position to attack a Native American village. This battle became known as Custer’s Last Stand as Lakota-Northern Cheyenne forces wiped him and his cavalry out. It’s a somber reminder that our history isn’t pure and honorable at the Little Bighorn Battlefield.
Billings Museums – You won’t find anything like the American Museum of Natural History here, but you will find a handful of smaller establishments that are dedicated to providing outstanding information about our area. These museums include the Yellowstone Art Museum, Wise Wonders Children’s Museum, the Western Heritage Center, and more.
Yellowstone Kelly – About the same time that Custer was battling the Native Americans, another adventurer was exploring the west. Honored at the Yellowstone Kelly Interpretive site, this frontiersman explored and built relationships with the native locals. From the interpretive site you can get a wonderful view of the valley that holds Billings.
Eateries and Drinkeries
Breweries – Billings has an incredible craft brew scene. What makes it even better is that the majority of the local breweries are within walking distance of Aspinwall! The Billings Brew Trail takes you on a 1.5 mile loop through historic downtown Billings.
Local Fare – There are too many amazing restaurants to highlight just one. From locally sourced foods found at Last Chance Pub and Cider Mill, to dining with a view at the Billings Petroleum Club, there are plenty of places to grab a bite to satisfy cravings of a whole host of different cuisines. Get some ideas of where from Downtown Billings.
Spirits – When you’re craving something a bit less filling than beer, locally made spirits hit the spot. The distilling scene is small, but growing. Asylum Distillery and Undammed Distilling Co. are both downtown; head to the west end of town to find Trailhead Spirits and the soon-to-be Meadowlark Distilling.
Coffee – Get going in the morning with a fresh cup of joe. If you’re a coffee connoisseur, you know that not all coffee is created equal. So, you’ll have to try them all. Swing into The Annex and pick up a scone with your java, or check out the quirky Ebon Coffee Collective. Mazevo has become one of Billings’ most popular coffee shops, or there is always the tried and true City Brew with multiple locations around town.
Hamburgers and Steaks – We’re in the heart of beef country, so we had to separate this from the other eateries. If you’re a burger fan, you have to check out The Burger Dive; they’ve had a few of their recipes get ranked as some of the best in the nation. But you’re craving a steak, it’s hard to go wrong with a cut from Jake’s Downtown, or if you want some of the best dry aged steak around, hit up Buffalo Block.
Hikes and Trails
Zimmerman Park – There’s a great way to experience Billings and scratch that outdoorsy itch (no, it’s not from poison ivy). At the top of Zimmerman Trail, that you just drove up in the last section, is a mostly unmodified park. From here you can take one of a dozen or so trails that loop and wind your way around the top of the Rimrocks while catching some great views of Billings.
Four Dances – East of Downtown Billings, on your way to the Pictograph Caves, is a several hundred acre recreation area. The Four Dances Recreation Area is left largely undeveloped in order to provide you with natural and cultural resources. Nesting peregrine falcons use the cliffs during part of the year, and the area provides great views of the Yellowstone River Valley.
Two Moon Park – The previous two areas will get you up on top of the Rimrocks for a great view of Billings and the Yellowstone River, this one will get you down on the river itself. Two Moon has several miles of trails that wind their way through the cottonwood trees along the banks of the river. It’s a spot here in town that makes you feel like you’re out of town.
Mystic Lake – Speaking of getting out of town, why not experience some of the best views in the Beartooth Mountains? The trailhead to Mystic Lake is less than a 2 hour drive from the Aspinwall Mountain Wear store. It’s not an easy 3 mile hike, but it’s not a hard 3 mile hike either. It’s a popular place in the summer, but with such vast expanses of wilderness, you’ll still feel like you’re away.
The Beaten Path – Want something a bit more intense? Ready to spend a couple nights in a tent? The Beaten Path is a 27 mile hike that takes you from near Cooke City, down to East Rosebud (or the other way around if you prefer to do more uphill). It sounds intense, but broken into 3 or 4 days it’s a nice stroll through the mountains that lets you experience Montana the way you want to experience Montana.
Drives and Views
Beartooth Highway – The Beartooth Highway has been described as the most beautiful drive in the United States. Taking you up to nearly 11,000 feet above sea level, you’ll likely find snow near the top all summer long. Switchbacks that guide you up the mountain, vistas to pull off and admire the majestic views, and possibly a mountain goat sighting or two. It’s a must-do for anyone visiting Billings.
Zimmerman Trail – No time to head to the pass? Not keen on driving at great heights? Zimmerman Trail is right here in town, and doesn’t take more than a few minutes to complete. At the top you can visit Zimmerman Park, with a great interpretive sign that explains the history of the road you just drove up.
Phipps Park – While you can’t drive to the views at Phipps, you can hike to them. It wasn’t long ago that this was the far west end of town; now there are subdivisions built up beneath the park. An easy (but steep at times) hike gets you up on top of the Rimrocks where you can survey the valley below from a whole new angle than you’ll find at Zimmerman Park.
Pryor Mountains – South of Billings you have the Beartooth Mountains: big majestic peaks. To their east you have the Pryor Mountains: smaller and mysterious. If you have a high clearance vehicle, there are a number of great Jeep trails through these mountains. Even with lower clearance, you can get off the pavement, and discover their odd beauty.
Highway 14a – There’s no fun nickname for Highway 14a, but it will take you 85 miles from Lovell, WY (about an hour and a half away from Billings), up over the Bighorn Mountains and let you out onto I-90 at Ranchester, WY. Along the way you pass some incredible cliffs, the Medicine Wheel, and have the opportunity to pull off at some great scenic overlooks.
Bighorn River – If you look for the best trout fishing in the US, most lists will include the Bighorn River. Due to the regulated flow, the river stays a fairly constant temperature all year round. This lets the trout grow bigger and populate more abundantly. It’s hard to not catch fish when you’re on the Bighorn.
Wild Bill Lake – For the more casual fisherman, and especially for those with children, Wild Bill Lake is the perfect option. From the parking lot to the lake, it’s a mere 20 yards (or so, I didn’t really measure). Stocked with small trout, the lake is always teeming. Even if you’re not catching anything, you’re in a great place to relax in the mountains.
Yellowstone River – The Yellowstone River flows right through Billings’ backyard. It’s a great place to float (kayak, raft, or paddleboard), and a great place to find some fish. Near Billings you can catch trout, bass, or channel catfish. Even if you’re not catching anything, stroll along the banks and look for Montana agates.
Lake Elmo – In the Billings Heights, Lake Elmo is a 64-acre reservoir that was recently drained, dredged, and improved. With a beach to swim from you can relax on a hot summer afternoon, or paddle around in a floatation device of your choice. After draining and refilling, the lake was re-stocked with perch and trout.
Mountain Lakes and Streams – Want to explore those Montana Mountains? The Beartooth Mountains are home to over 300 lakes, and countless streams. Nearly all of them have been stocked with trout, or contain native cutthroat trout. Find one that looks enticing, and see if you can pull out a record breaking fish.
Choose Your Own Adventure with Aspinwall Mountain Wear
Billings is Montana’s Trailhead. It’s where people come to gather and coordinate their Montana adventure. From here, you can head in just about any direction and discover the Last Best Place. Then, tired yet satisfied from your journey, come on back and have a pint at one of our amazing breweries, grab a bite at one of the fantastic restaurants, and check out the delightful shops downtown.
Aspinwall is proud to call Billings home. And we welcome anyone that is here to explore Montana, discover what we’re all about, and we are happy to provide direction on what there is to do in Billings.