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Did You Know … ?
- The 1980 eruption of Washington State’s Mount St. Helens left an inch of ash on the ground in Billings.
- During a Billings residency (1922), Charles Lindbergh demonstrated parachute jumps and worked as a mechanic.
- Some $150 million in livestock is sold annually at the Billings Public Auction Yards.
- The Billings trade area of 125,000 square miles is almost twice the size of the six New England states combined.
- Sharpshooter Calamity Jane, an area resident in the 1890s, was born Martha Canary.
The Northern Pacific Railroad founded Billings in 1882 and named it for one of its presidents, Frederick Billings. He was a conservationist who promoted area scenery as a tourist attraction, believing that Americans who saw the country’s natural wonders would be inspired to protect them. Many tourists choose Billings because they relish the kinds of places the railroad baron had in mind.
His namesake settlement grew so fast, like magic, that it is called the Magic City. By now, it has other monikers: It is called Montana’s Trailhead because it serves as the gateway — for business interests as well as tourism — to Montana. Also dubbed Montana’s City, Billings is the only metropolis in America’s fourth-largest state that has more than 100,000 residents.
Billings is an unpretentious-looking town on the Yellowstone River and wrapped by a natural formation aptly called the Rimrocks, which provides recreational areas plus sweeping views of the city. In town, below the Rims, diversions range from fine restaurants to small breweries, from art galleries and museums to entertainment that includes theater and the rodeo
As a gateway, the city’s range of touristic choices broadens:
- Native culture. The nearest Indian reservations, the Crow and Northern Cheyenne, offer a number of cultural attractions. Annual powwows are the most obvious. Chief Plenty Coups State Park, on the Crow Reservation, was the homestead of a Crow leader who pursued peace with the white man. The Pictograph Cave State Park, six miles south of Billings, boasts images proving human occupation 4,500 years ago.
- American history. The Little Bighorn National Monument, site of Custer’s Last Stand 60 miles southeast of Billings, is also on the Crow Reservation. The only remaining physical evidence of the Lewis and Clark Expedition is Clark’s signature in a rock at Pompey’s Pillar, 28 miles northeast of Billings. The area’s small towns tell less dramatic stories but, with their historic districts, are suitably evocative of their pasts.
- Wildlife and natural attractions. Area attractions include the Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range, the Greycliff Prairie Dog Town State Park, the Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area — and Yellowstone National Park, less than three hours away, in Wyoming.
Things to do for Venturers
- Hiking and mountain biking are options less than 10 miles from city center. Consider Phipps Park, Swords Rimrock Park or Zimmerman Park for challenging hiking or biking among sandstone formations on and around the Rimrocks. You will find cliffs and steep drop-offs throughout.
- Attend the Crow Fair in Crow Agency on the Crow Reservation southeast of Billings. Go for a parade, dance demonstrations and competitions, the rodeo and the vision of a (temporary) tent city at the site.
- Hike and camp in the Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area. Or, book a multiday canoe-catamaran sailing expedition on the Missouri River.
- Roar into town for the summertime Great American Championship Motorcycle Hill Climb, a three-day extravaganza showcasing an extreme motor sport. Experts try to conquer a 420-foot shale hill that is nearly vertical in several spots.
- Make time for the Magic City Blues Festival in August.
- Take the Billings Brewery Walking Tour, focused on a number of craft and microbrew options in downtown, on or near First Avenue North and Montana Avenue.
Things to do for Centrics
- See Native American cultural presentations, take nature walks and participate in other aspects of a summer weekend event called Clark Days, held at Pompey’s Pillar Monument. William Clark of the Lewis and Clark Expedition carved his name on a sandstone butte, now called Pompey’s Pillar.
- See the Custer’s Last Stand reenactment event that is part of Little Bighorn Days in June in Hardin.
- Shop in the galleries, relax in a pleasant restaurant, find a local brewery, look for nightspots, all on Montana Avenue, a historic district in downtown Billings.
- Time your visit to coincide with the late-summer Great Montana Reed Point Sheep Drive, started some years ago in the little near-ghost town of Reed Point as a joke in imitation of cattle drives. It’s a big event nowadays.
- Time your visit for Artwalk Downtown Billings (held five times a year), which offers chances to talk to the artists as well as see the art. Take the walk, literally, or participate on a bicycle.
- Get the license and fish in the Yellowstone River — or at a variety of other spots near Billings: Rock Creek and the Big Horn, Boulder, Musselshell and Stillwater rivers, as well as the Cooney Dam and Deadman Basin reservoirs.
Things to do for Authentics
- Choose an interpretive program for a better understanding of the history when visiting the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument.
- Be impressed by ancient rock paintings and the prehistoric habitation site at Pictograph Cave State Park a few miles south of downtown.
- Buy your tickets for a musical (or ballet or symphony performance) at the largest performing arts theater between Minneapolis and Spokane, Wash., the Alberta Bair Theater for the Performing Arts
- Take the scenic drive along the Rimrock Bluffs, for views of Billings from 500 feet overhead.
- If the story of the West fascinates you, spend time at the Western Heritage Center and the Yellowstone County Museum. Also, attend a rodeo at the MetroPark, or book a staged cowboy cookout or other Western experience.
- See contemporary and Western art at the former Yellowstone County Prison, now the Yellowstone Art Museum. Also, walk into the museum’s Visible Vault, which lets you see where artworks are restored and cared for. Watch professionals at work, all this through great expanses of glass.
For more information, consult Visit Billings at www.visitbillings.com