Montana’s “Magic City”, Billings, is a regional commerce center, Montana’s largest city, and a really fun place to visit.
Named the “Magic City” due to its rapid increase in population from the early 1900s to today, Billings is really a magical place to visit. Though not as large as metropolitan areas in other states, Billings has all of the attractions and history that make visiting a larger city fun and interesting for the whole family.
Named after Frederick H Billings, a president of the Northern Pacific Railroad, Billings, Montana was incorporated in March of 1882, and was a rail hub for the Northern Pacific Railroad. The rail hub allowed Billings to become one of the largest communities in the north-central part of the United States, and today it serves as a commerce center for Montana east of the continental divide, northern Wyoming, and parts of North and South Dakota.
Besides being a business center for the region, Billings is home to some interesting natural and man-made attractions. Visitors to the area will find plenty of opportunities for sightseeing, recreational activities, and festivals.
In this article, we will take a look at everything you need to know about Billings, Montana before your next visit.
Your Guide to Billings, Montana
Main Attractions in Billings, MT
Being a larger city Billings has plenty of things to see and do. With so many opportunities, there may be some debate about what the main attractions in Billings are. However, we think that the list below is our favorite attractions that everyone must check out.
Also known as “The Rims” by locals, the Rimrocks are one of the defining features of the Billings area. This wall of sandstone cliffs stretches along the north end of town and is a favorite spot for locals to hike, bike, and just enjoy the views.
The Rims were once an ancient seafloor that over millions of years were eroded by the Yellowstone River. From the top of the rim, visitors will be greeted with spectacular views of the Yellowstone River valley, the town of Billings and the Rocky Mountains.
Pictograph Cave State Park
A spot for history buffs and outdoor recreation enthusiasts, Pictograph Cave State Park is one of the most interesting spots around Billings. The caves in this area were once home to prehistoric people who left stories of their lives painted on the walls of the caves.
Hiking trails will take you to the cave entrances where you can view life from another time. Bring a pair of binoculars so you can get a better view of the pictographs since visitors are not allowed inside the caves.
The Park also has plenty of other hiking trails, and visitors can enjoy scenic walks and wildlife viewing in the park.
If you’re coming to Billings with kids, ZooMontana is a must for your visit. One of three zoos in Montana, ZooMontana is the largest and is home to the most diverse collection of animals. Unique to this zoo is the wide-open spaces that are home to African wildlife such as zebras and giraffes. These animals roam together in these spaces much like they would on the plains of Africa.
Mass Mansion Historical House
Completed in 1903 the Moss Mansion was built by Billings entrepreneur Preston Boyd Moss for his family. The design of the mansion was done by the same architect that designed the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York and is a symbol of the wealth and business growth in early Billings.
Inside the home you’ll find that much of the home’s interior has been superbly preserved, containing original furnishings and decorations, including an early intercom system that runs through the house.
Tours are available throughout the year, and visitors can enjoy many fun events hosted by the mansion.
Pompey’s Pillar is the only place that still has proof of the Lewis and Clark Expedition’s passage through the area. This geological feature outside of Billings was first described by William Clark, who climbed to the top for a better view of the area.
Today, his name and the date he was on top of the pillar remain carved in the rock, just as he left it. Visitors to Pompey’s Pillar can enjoy walking trails and interpretive information about the area’s natural history and the Lewis and Clark Expedition.
Little Bighorn National Battlefield
Little Bighorn National Battlefield is located about an hour outside of Billings. The area memorializes the battle that occurred June 25th and 26th of 1876 between the US Army and members of the Lakota and Cheyenne tribes. During this battle, hundreds of Native Americans and US Army soldiers died, including Lt. Col. George A. Custer.
Today, the area is home to numerous monuments that memorialize the battle and loss of life. You can also find plenty of walking trails that highlight the area’s geography and views.
Yellowstone National Park
Of course, no trip to Billings is complete without a jaunt to Yellowstone National Park. Located 100 miles south of Billings, Yellowstone is a must-see for anyone visiting the area.
Home to some of the most unique geologic features in North America including geysers, hot springs, and mud pots. Yellowstone National Park is also home to unique North American wildlife such as the American bison, wolves, elk, bear, and moose.
Recreation Activities in Billing
If you’re heading to Billings for the outdoor recreation opportunities, you won’t be disappointed. In and around Billings there are some amazing recreational activities that the whole family can enjoy.
Hiking is probably the most accessible outdoor recreation activity in the Billings area. With plenty of city parks, state parks, and recreation areas, there are hiking opportunities for everyone.
Places to get some of the best hikes in and around Billings include Four Dances Recreation Area, where you can climb to the top of sandstone cliffs for some of the most spectacular views of the Yellowstone River.
Locals spend their time at Swords Park, located just a few minutes from Downtown Billings. This area has miles and miles of walking trails that give you access to the top of the Rims, and views of Billings and the Yellowstone River valley.
In and around Billings you’ll find plenty of trails for both road biking and mountain biking. Billings is well connected with a trail system that allows you to bike easily around town.
Many people prefer this mode of transportation around Billings, and is a great way to enjoy some of the historic areas of Billings. For mountain biking fans, check out Zimmerman Park. This area has some great biking trails that will challenge experienced riders, but also are perfect for those who are new to mountain biking.
Many people come to the Billings area to enjoy the water sports opportunities. Some of the most popular are kayaking and whitewater rafting. One of the most popular places for locals to put in their kayak is Coulson Park. Not a high-velocity spot, Coulson Park is a relaxed place to paddle the Yellowstone River and enjoy amazing views of the canyon and sandstone cliffs.
If you want more adventure, head outside of town to the Madison River. This tributary of the Missouri River is known for its rapids and is a haven for whitewater rafting in the spring.
There are plenty of fishing opportunities around Billings, and even in some of the local parks. For those that just want to cast a line from a lake’s edge or the end of a pier, check out Lake Elmo State Park. For those that enjoy fly-fishing, the area has plenty of great fishable waters.
Coulson Park, Riverfront Park, and the Madison River are some of the best fly-fishing spots in the area. For more information on fishing in Montana, visit the Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks website for rules, regulations and information on obtaining a fishing license.
What Is The Cost of Living in Billings?
The general cost of living in Billings is lower than the national average, but only just. The average cost of living in Billings is 5th out of 6 in Montana in some reports.
Billings does work out as the most liveable city in Montana in some rankings though, with housing costs equal to national averages.
Is Billings Safe?
Well—with a crime rate of 53 per one thousand residents, Billings has one of the highest crime rates in America compared to other communities of all sizes.
The population of 117,116 has a combined rate of both violent and property crime that is very high compared to other places of similar population size—in fact 97% higher than other communities in the state.
The violent crime rates are some of the highest in the nation with the odds of becoming a victim closer to about 10 per 1000—much higher than national averages. Property crimes are even more common, with your chance of becoming a victim at one in 22.
What is Billings known for?
Billings’ really great food and beverages might just be one of the most important reasons for making a trip here. Billings also has an amazingly broad mix of art, music, outdoor activities, and entertainment though it could be challenging for short-term visitors to take it all in.
The vibrant art scene is even on the streets in the graffiti art and in monthly events like ArtWalk in Downtown Billings where there is often a festival-like atmosphere.
Billings is of course also at the trailhead of some important Montana national parks. The historic aspects of some of the national monuments in the surrounding area are another big thing, with Pompey’s Pillar National Monument and Little Bighorn National Monument being two examples.
Billings is renowned for all kinds of outdoor recreation and in particular the “Rim” or “Rimrocks.” These geological sandstone formations lie in something of the shape of a rim around Billings.
Being that Billings is the largest city in Montana, there are plenty of lodging options for you to choose from. However, if you want to stay in some of the nicest spots, or just hotels that will take good care of you and your family, here are a few of our favorites.
- Boothill Inn and Suites
- Northern Hotel
- Home2 Suites by Hilton
- Ledgestone Hotel
- TownPlace Suites by Marriott
- Residence Inn by Marriott
Best Time to Visit Billings
The seasons play a vital role in Billings’ appeal. We love both the summer and Spring for their lovely weather, outdoor activities, and vibrant social life.
Why Travel in the Summer Months?
Billings offers hiking, cycling, horseback riding, and an art experience like no other if you’re into that.
However, to make the most of the outdoor activities, it is best to time your visit somewhere between July and August. This is when you can breathe in the crisp, fresh air whilst enjoying all the outdoor activities Billings has to offer.
Though you can travel at any other time of year, July and August provide clear blue skies and beautiful weather as well as fewer crowds. Moreover, with the current pandemic not quite over yet, overcrowded cities are far from ideal.
If you intend to stay up to or past September, you will get a chance to witness the Billings snowy winter. But, if you choose to travel in June, you can still enjoy all the summer activities you want but during an unpredictable, rainy season.
However, as Billings has a milder temperature, you will find that snow thaws faster here than it does in other cities. The weather in Billings is rarely bad and snowstorms become a nuisance only during the winter months.
Additionally, the Logan Airport doesn’t close down and the authorities are trained to make sure the roads and pathways are secure within the city.
Activities for Summer in Billings
Though summer can get a bit hot as the temperature goes as high as 90F, the nights are pleasant and cool in Billings. You can set up camp under the stars or enjoy strolls along the streets of Montana to make the most of your nights.
Summer in Billings hosts a plethora of festivals, concerts, sports events, and incredibly appealing activities for both solitary travelers and families.
It has something for just about everyone. Following are some of the most noteworthy events in Billings that you should be able to catch with a perfectly timed visit to the city:
Billings Trail Opportunities
Billings is known to be a ‘trailhead’ city which means that is it a point where a trail begins. So, if you’re a cycling enthusiast, enjoy horseback riding, or just want to enjoy a scenic hike, you can pick one of the trails to spend a rejuvenating few hours.
The Beartooth Highway is an ideal route into Yellowstone National Park which is sixty minutes to the Southwest of Billings. The route itself is gorgeous and the Yellowstone National Park is just as breathtaking as people say.
If you prefer to stay closer to Billings we suggest taking a bike and enjoying the Swords Rimrock Park Trail or the Zimmerman and Phipps parks. These locations are great for biking
Arts and Culture
Billings has one of the most magnificent art scenes you will find in Montana. Traffic signals all look the same, not in billings though where you can find beautifully painted and brightly colored traffic signal boxes.
These are a great outlet for local artists, in addition to the vibrant and contemporary art that already covers the sides of many buildings in Billings. Though there are galleries aplenty, the murals are arguably the most expressive and vividly creative pieces of the artistic culture in Billings.
If you are more attracted to the historic side of Montana, then worry not. Every step you take within the city leads you to a different point in history, beginning at the airport. The Yellowstone County Museum is a great way to look at the exhibition of artifacts from the Northern Plains Native tribes, the history of the western expansion, various cattle herding, and textiles.
The Moss Mansion is the home of the founders of Billings and rests as a magnificent building of Redstone. It’s built upon the history of the Moss family and I happened to visit it multiple times during my stay.
You can also enjoy the Western Heritage Center which is devoted to the Northern Plains and the Yellowstone River Valley, respectively.
Outdoor Activities in Billings
Summer brings an incredible list of summer activities as Billings seems to be made for the outdoorsy adventurer.
The Bitter Creek Outfitters is a family-operated guided horseback riding activity that takes you through various Billings trails. One of which is a 7,000-acre cattle ranch, just a few minutes outside of Billings.
If you want to spend a more educational day, head on to the Little Big Horn National Monument and learn about the historic battle fought under the command of the notorious General Custer.
For sports fans, especially those who follow baseball, you can check out the Billings Mustangs at Dehler Park. You can see the Mustangs, which are a farm team for the Cincinnati Reds, at Dehler Park which was recently recognized by multiple websites as the Best of the Ballparks at a Rookie Level.
You can also enjoy various races, including the Soaked Fun Run, Beat the Heat 5k which you can take part in with the local authorities, or the Yellowstone Kelly Mountain Triathlon which is best for adrenaline-loving travelers.
Why Travel in the Spring?
Summertime is ideal for those wishing to spend days under the warm sun. But if you’re not in the mood and are wondering when is the best time to visit Billings, Montana, besides summer, we recommend traveling in March and June instead.
Even though you might experience rain in June, it’s nothing an umbrella and raincoat can’t fix. The rain could also shape your trip into a really nice one.
Whereas in spring, all the freshly grown flora and fauna, and the green fields would not only be perfect to take tons of pictures with a stunning backdrop of Montana landscape, but it also seems like the perfect opportunity to unwind.
Spring Activities In Billings
Though April is a wildcard in terms of weather conditions in Billings, March offers a variety of Spring activities for you and the family.
Whether you are traveling solo, with a group, or with family, you can get a chance to experience more than just the festivals and concerts.
ZooMontana For The Family
If you want to enjoy a family vacation, then knowing when is the best time to visit Billings, Montana, will help you plan your trip better.
Spring is the best time for you to take your little ones on a fun, outdoorsy trip to ZooMontana. The Zoo offers a chance to learn about the unique ecosystem of the Yellowstone flora and fauna. It is also a zoological and botanical facility that aims to conserve and protect wildlife.
It is led by a sixteen-member crew and offers guided educational tours to over twelve thousand students and a hundred thousand people each year.
The DanWalt Gardens
The constantly changing DanWalt Gardens are open to visitors from April to October, 9:00 am to 6:00 pm. Therefore, knowing when is the best time to visit Billings for this garden, will help you catch the right bloom.
These gardens are ever-changing because of the different flowers blooming at different times, so you can catch a different view every time you visit. As this area is open to the public, you can take your family to enjoy the koi ponds, the hyacinths, and the daffodils, which are the primary flowers for spring.
Western Heritage Center
In springtime, most of the locals and tourists are out and about enjoying the sun. While there are activities such as horseback riding, fishing, and hunting to choose from, those who wish to spend a day in a less crowded place will find the Western Heritage Center to be the perfect spot.
The history center has interactive exhibits where you can spend time enjoying or taking a chance to witness some of the temporary and permanent exhibits they host.
This museum houses over sixteen thousand pieces of historic artifacts and offers a host of exhibitions and programs that tell the stories of the Yellowstone River Valley.
Billings has a wide variety of special events during the year. Ranging from festivals and fairs to parades, you’re sure to find something to entertain you during your visit to Billings.
- March – St. Patrick’s Day Parade and Celtic Fair – Holiday Festival
- May – MSU Wine and Food Festival – Beer/Wine/Food event
- June – Moss Mansion Springfest – Arts/Antiques Festival
- June – Strawberry Festival – Food Festival
- August – Magic City Blues Festival – Music
- August – Montana Fair – State Fair/Agricultural
- August – Festival of Cultures – Art/Craft Festival
- September – Burn the Point – Classic Car Parade
- October – HarvestFest – Food/Craft Festival
- October – The NILE – Stock Show and Agriculture Fair
- October – Downtown Trick or Treat – Holiday Festival
- November – Holiday Parade – Holiday Festival
Activities Near Billings
- Eagle Rock Golf Course
- Exchange City Golf Course
- Hilands Golf Club
- Lake Hills Golf Club
- Bitter Creek Outfitters Horseback Riding
- Elk River Outfitters Horseback Riding
- Beartooth Basin Summer Ski Area
- Centennial Ice Arena
- Red Lodge Mountain
- Reef Indoor Water Park
National Parks and Forests
- Yellowstone National Park
- Little Bighorn National Battlefield
- Custer National Forest
- Grass Lake National Wildlife Refuge
- Bighorn Canyon Recreation Area
City and County Parks
- Phipps Park
- Zimmerman Park
- High Sierra Park
- John H. Dover Park
- Two Moon Park
- Coulson Park
- Swords Park
- Mystic Park
- Riverfront Park
- Dehler Park
- Pioneer Park
- Yellowstone Art Museum
- Yellowstone County Museum
- Western Heritage Center
- Wise Wonders Science Museum
- Moss Mansion Museum
- DanWalt Gardens
- Museum of Women’s History
- Judith River Dinosaur Institute
- Montana Towns & Cities
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