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Billings, Montana — the Trailhead City

Billings, the biggest city in the Big Sky Country, Mont., has plenty to offer visitors of all ages and backgrounds. Billings is known as a Trailhead city, with access to Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks only a couple hours away. Visitors can experience the last free flowing river in the lower 48 states, follow the trail of Lewis and Clark, or enjoy fine dining and tap rooms in Billings’ Downtown.

Billings experiences all four seasons, providing spring, summer, fall and winter activities. So no matter what time of year you visit, you will always find something to do. From skiing, snowshoeing, hiking, swimming and historical landmarks, Billings leaves visitors wanting for nothing.

Black Otter Trail on the Rimrocks

For panoramic views of the entire city, take a walk on Billing’s Rimrocks on the Black Otter Trail. Winding along the edge of the Rimrocks, Black Otter Trail provides two miles of paved trail, with an additional five miles of unpaved trail leading to the Yellowstone River.

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Walkers, joggers, bikers and rollerbladers brave the incline to reach the breathtaking views from the top; those less enthusiastic about uphill physical activity can always drive to the top and park. Parking at Swords Rimrock Park is available and provides an opportunity for relatively flat walking.

A caution for those with young children, there are no safety railings along the Rimrocks, so keep an eye on kids and make sure they stay away from the edge.

Yellowstone River

At the end of the Black Otter Trail you will find yourself at the Yellowstone River. The last free flowing river in the lower 48 states, the Yellowstone has no dams to stop its mighty waters all the way for 670 miles to the Missouri River in North Dakota.

The Yellowstone River offers fishermen and river runners some of the best water around, with an abundance of large trout. Drive on I-90 until the junction with I-94 just east of Billings, following I-94 east to see many communities and access points along the winding river.

Zoo Montana

The 2014 award winner of the “Best Place to Go with Kids” by the Billings Gazette, Zoo Montana creates a recreational and educational experience for visitors by providing and displaying quality care for the animals and plant species it preserves.

See animals like the gray wolf, grizzly bear, river otter, bald eagle and the Canada lynx, as well as the Amur tiger and red panda. The Discovery Center houses such animals as the chinchilla, ball pythons, goliath bird-eating tarantula and laughing kookaburra.

Pictograph Caves

The Pictograph Caves in Billings offer a glimpse into the past with more than 100 pictographs, or rock paintings, the oldest of which is more than 2,000 years old. A new visitor center provides information about the site, which features three main caves: Pictograph, Middle and Ghost Cave, home to prehistoric hunters.

Nearly 30,000 artifacts were excavated from the site, including weapons, paintings and instruments used for hunting. A quarter-mile loop trail leads to the caves, with displays along the route to point out natural features and the prehistoric paintings and vegetation found in the area.

Visitors are advised to bring binoculars for Pictograph Cave, which is the deepest of the three main caves, to get a better view of the rock art. It is recommended visitors have at least an hour to enjoy the park, visitor center and trail. Picnic facilities are available for day use, but camping is not allowed.

Beartooth Highway

If you find yourself in Billings between April and October, make sure to make the drive to Beartooth Highway. Called “the most beautiful drive in America,” by some, the Beartooth Highway stretches 68 miles between Red Lodge, Mont., (an hour out from Billings) and the Northeast entrance to Yellowstone National Park.

Beartooth Highway reaches 10,977 feet at the Beartooth Pass and is surrounded by 20 mountain peaks over 12,000 feet, crossing some of the most extreme country in the world. Severe weather conditions can exist throughout the entire year, and visitors should take caution and be prepared for sudden snowstorms by packing appropriate clothing. Although it is normally plowed by Memorial Day, closures are common into June because of late spring snowstorms.

Red Lodge

While you’re making the drive to see the Beartooth Highway, visit Red Lodge, Mont. A quant, historic mountain town, Red Lodge features a beautiful and well maintained downtown with restaurants and shopping for all price ranges.

Perhaps the best part of Red Lodge however, is Red Lodge Mountain. Offering some of the best skiing around, Red Lodge Mountain has not sold out for the resort-lodge feel. Lift tickets remain affordable and the best part of all, no waiting in lift lines. Plenty of runs mean it never feels crowded and with a lodge halfway down the mountain, skiers can stop in for a beer or warm hot chocolate. If you find yourself in Red Lodge in the summer months, it’s still worth a visit to the Red Lodge Mountain golf course.

Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument

The Little Bighorn Battlefield is about an hour drive south of Billings, and memorializes the battle that took place on June 25 and 26 of 1876. The battle between the U.S. Army’s 7th Calvary and the Sioux and Cheyenne tribes was one of the Indian’s last armed efforts to preserve their way of life.

Two hundred and thirty-six soldiers, including Lt. Col. George A. Custer and attached personnel of the U.S. Army died fighting several thousand Lakota and Cheyenne warriors. The Monument is open year round except for being closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day.

For more information and to plan your visit, click here.

Moss Mansion

Tour the historic Moss Mansion in one hour as you revisit turn-of-the-century life as the Moss Family lived it. The tour features original draperies, furniture, fixtures, Persian carpets and artifacts from the original 1903 red sandstone home.

 

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The tours cost $10 for adults 18 and over, $7 for seniors and military, $6 for ages six to 17 and children five and under are free.

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Moss Mansion takes a step back in time to life during the boom time of Billings. Grandeur and particular attention to architectural features make the Moss Mansion a can’t miss stop in Billings.

Western Heritage Center

Located in Billings, the Western Heritage Center collects, preserves and tells the stories of the people and places of the Yellowstone River Valley and northern High Plains region.

Over the years, it has grown to include nationally recognized education and outreach programs, long term exhibits with interactive components, traveling exhibits, a vast collection of historic artifacts, fine art, textiles, photographs and memorabilia and climate controlled archival storage.

Activities for kids include a coloring book, flags activity and architecture Scavenger Hunt. The Museum is open from Tuesday-Saturday, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. and costs $5 for adults, $3 for students and seniors and $1 for children under 12.

Pompeys Pillar

Pompeys Pillar is the last remaining physical evidence of Lewis and Clark’s passing, as William Clark carved his signature and date in the sandstone. In his journals, Clark named the pillar “Pomp’s Tower,” his nickname for the infant son of Sacagawea.

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When the monument is open a $7 standard fee is charged each vehicle, with no separate fee for the interpretive center, which is open from 9 a.m. – 6 p.m. daily.

This historical site attracts visitors from all over and is one of Billings’ largest tourist attractions.

For more information about the season and hours, click here.

Downtown Billings

After traveling around Billings to view historic monuments and hiking for views, cool off and relax in downtown Billings at one of its many breweries, tap rooms, restaurants or boutique shops.

Stop in to Trailhead Spirits, a vodka, gin and whiskey distillery featuring some of the best drinks available in the city. Located in an old train depot, the ambience and atmosphere create an unparalleled experience for drinks. The Montana Brew Pub offers exceptional fare and local brews in the heart of the downtown.

Depending on the time of year, there are always festivals, farmer markets and events being held Downtown. To check event listings during the time of your stay, visit the Downtown Billings Association website by clicking here.

Places to Stay

Looking for a place to camp while visiting Billings. Why not stay at the first-ever Kampgrounds of America (KOA) site in the world? Home to the International KOA Headquarters, Billings KOA is nestled along the Yellowstone River and features some of the finest camping around with beautiful patio sites and deluxe cabins. The KOA features full hookups. To book your stay in a tent, RV or cabin, click here.

KOA

Looking for a more rustic stay? The Greenough Lake Campground is 12 miles south of Red Lodge and sits right at the start of the Beartooth Highway. A popular location for fishing, hiking and scenic driving, the campground does not provide full hookups. To book your site, click here.

About Greg Gerber

Greg Gerber is the editor of Let's RV and the editor of RV Daily Report. A Wisconsin native and father of three grown daughters, he is now based out of Arizona and travels the country in his Winnebago Adventurer motorhome interviewing industry professionals and interesting RVers alike. He can be reached at editor@letsrv.com

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