12 Fun Things to Do in Billings, Montana

View of Billings from Bluff

Like many places in Big Sky Country, Billings quickly grew around the expanding railroad in the 1880s. And today, there’s something for everyone when you visit Billings. From history to hiking and mansions to malbec, you won’t want to miss these fun things to do in Billings, Montana.

In Travels with Charley, John Steinbeck expressed how smitten he was by Montana as he drove through Big Sky Country on his epic road trip. In his GMC pickup truck, named Rocinante, with his 10-year-old French poodle Charley riding shotgun, the Pulitzer- and Nobel Prize-winning author pronounced:

“I’m in love with Montana. For other states I have admiration, respect, recognition, even some affection. But with Montana it is love.”

I’m lucky to have family in Montana. And I’m even luckier to get to visit them in this beautiful state at least once a year (although summer is always much preferred to winter). We typically alternate between the Glacier National Park area, like Kalispell and Whitefish, and the Yellowstone National Park area, like Bozeman and Billings.

Related Article:  5 Things to Do in Whitefish, Montana (After Glacier National Park)

Founded as a railroad town (as was often the case in the late 19th century in the Rocky Mountain states), it’s probably no surprise to learn that Billings was named after Frederick H. Billings, a former president of the Northern Pacific Railroad. Located in south central Montana, Billings is the largest city in Montana today with a population of about 110,000 people. 

Have You Visited Billings, Montana?

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Sidewalk leading to the Moss Mansion in Billings MT.
Photo Credit: Shutterstock.

1. Marvel at the Magnificent Moss Mansion

With a fortune built through a variety of businesses — like banking, farming, meatpacking, publishing, and utilities — entrepreneur Preston Boyd Moss built the Moss Mansion in 1903 for his wife, Mattie, and their six children. Built for $105,000 (about $3 million in today’s dollars), the square, three-story, red sandstone building has 28 rooms and an amazing solarium that would have surely made even the most brutal Montana winter bearable. 

The interior of the Moss Mansion is quite impressive. The walls are covered with dark wood paneling and delicate silk wallpaper. Elaborate columns support soaring ceilings that hold exquisite crystal chandeliers. Mr. Moss’s study includes several stained-glass windows, including one honoring William Shakespeare. The furnishings, fixtures, carpets, and curtains are original. And many other family treasures are featured throughout the house, like Mattie’s oil- and china paintings, daughter Kula’s needlepoint, and daughter Melville’s harp.

But when it was completed, the Moss Mansion wasn’t just beautiful, it was also technologically advanced. An electric bell system allowed the Moss family to summon one of their three servants from any room. There was even a small button embedded into the floor of the formal dining room at Ms. Moss’s seat that could be discreetly tapped by foot. And although there are several marble fireplaces inside the Moss Mansion, the home was equipped with heated indoor plumbing.

The family continually occupied the Moss Mansion from its completion in 1903 until the mid-1980s when Melville, the second-oldest Moss daughter, passed away. Never married, Melville had several passions:  playing the harp, traveling the world, and protecting and caring for the family home. After her death, the home was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. 

Step back in time to the early 1900s in Billings at the Moss Mansion at 914 Division Street. Both guided- and self-guided tours are offered. Self-guided tours are currently $12 per person for adults, with discounts offered to seniors, active-duty military, and students. Guided tours are offered on select days and are currently $15 per person. Hours of operation, admission fees, and special events vary with the seasons, so be sure to visit the Moss Mansion website before you go.

Western Heritage Center building in Billings, Montana
The Western Heritage Center building in Billings, Montana, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

2. Explore the Western Heritage Center

Located in the historic Parmly Billings Memorial Library building, the Western Heritage Center is committed to collecting, preserving, and sharing the stories of the people and places of the Yellowstone River Valley and the Northern High Plains. The museum is affiliated with the Smithsonian Museum, and I love how its early-20th-century Romanesque sandstone building resembles the Smithsonian Castle in Washington, DC. Both buildings have two amazing Old-World-looking towers flanking an entrance, the right one a bit taller than the left. 

While many history museums focus primarily on the European-immigrant-fueled history of North America from the past 200 to 300 years, the Western Heritage Center has a permanent exhibit dedicated to Native American tribes, like the Crow and Northern Cheyenne, who called the area home for thousands of years.

Additional permanent exhibits include a replica dude ranch lodge from the 1930s featuring log cabin walls and a stone fireplace. And speaking of log cabins, the Western Heritage Center is home to artist James Kenneth (JK) Ralston’s log cabin studio. 

Ralston’s work focused heavily on what Montana must have been like in the late 1800s and early 1900s as white men increasingly rushed into Native Americans’ lives. His paintings feature covered wagons crossing rivers and stagecoaches rushing across open prairies. He portrays teepees pitched in front of Pompeys Pillar and cowboys moving cattle across the state. 

Sage Advice:  See one of Ralston’s pieces, an untitled ink-on-paper sketch known as “picketed pony,” at the Yellowstone Art Museum when you visit Billings. 

Built in 1946 about three miles west of Billings, Ralston’s log cabin studio was moved to the Western Heritage Center in 2005 and restored to resemble how it looked when it was built in 1946. 

The Western Heritage Center is located at 2822 Montana Avenue and is open from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm Tuesday through Saturday. Admission is currently $5 for adults, with discounts offered to seniors, students, and children under 12. Be sure to visit the Western Heritage Center website for details on current exhibits.


3. Journey into the Past at Yellowstone County Museum

A western town that grew up around the expanding railroad in the late 1800s tends to have a history full of pioneer wagons and log cabins, cowboys and cattle, and Native Americans and a way of life nearly forgotten. And that’s what you can expect to see and experience when you visit the Yellowstone County Museum.

Things you won’t want to miss when you visit the Yellowstone County Museum:

  • The world’s largest collection of Ghost Dance artifacts on loan to the museum from Billings native Larry Williams, including Native American shirts, dresses, pipes, rattles, and drums used in the religious ceremony.
  • Additional exhibits that help preserve and honor the Native American tribes from the region, including Sioux, Blackfoot, Cheyenne, and Crow.
  • The gunshot silhouettes of world-record-setting sharpshooter Tom Frye. The former World War II gunnery instructor spent his retirement years in Billings and created artwork by precisely firing a gun at sheets of metal like those on display at the Yellowstone County Museum.

Located right by the Billings Airport at 1950 Airport Terminal Circle, be sure to take a little time on your way into or out of Billings to visit the Yellowstone County Museum. The museum is open Monday through Saturday (except on major holidays) from 10:30 am to 5:30 pm. There is no admission fee to visit.

4. Admire Native American Art at Pictograph Cave State Park

More than 2,100 years ago, prehistoric Native American hunters made their homes in these caves carved out of the sandstone cliffs by wind and water. They hunted the bison and elk that roamed freely around them, and without Amazon or Etsy to decorate their humble abodes, they painted pictographs on the cave walls.

When excavation of the site began in 1937, archaeologists uncovered more than 30,000 artifacts, including arrows, moccasins, baskets, and jewelry. But when the United States joined World War II at the end of 1941, the project was placed on hold and the site was not adequately secured. As a result, the museum was vandalized multiple times, and most of the artifacts can still not be accounted for today.

In Pictograph Cave, however, you can see early Native American street art in the form of rock paintings of animals, hunters, and other scenes from everyday life long ago.

Although it has a Billings address on 3401 Coburn Road, Pictograph Cave State Park is outside of town, about nine miles southwest of downtown. During the peak season, from the end of May through early September, the park is open daily from 9:00 am to 7:00 pm. The rest of the year, the park is open from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm.

Zimmerman Trail in Billings MT
Zimmerman Trail provides a shortcut to the top of the rimrocks on the edge of Billings.

5. Take a Hike in Zimmerman Park

Brothers Joseph and Frank Zimmerman immigrated to the United States from Germany in the early 1870s and soon found themselves in Montana. Joseph was serving with the US Cavalry, and Frank was working on the railroad that helped create the town of Billings. 

After leaving the army, Joseph turned to sheep farming in the Billings area but faced a dilemma. His ranch was located at both the foot of and on top of the rimrocks, a soaring, flat-topped expanse of sandstone. In order to move his flock from one part of his ranch to another, he had to trek 32 miles round trip due to the rimrocks. Searching for a more efficient route, the brothers joined forces with a miner named Thompson and two mules to blast and scrape a path through the rimrocks called Zimmerman Trail.

Sage Scott standing on a bluff in Zimmerman Park in Billings, MT.
Photo Credit: Sage Scott.

If you fly into Billings, you’ll notice that the Billings airport is built on the rimrocks. But you don’t need to board a plane to see some of the same phenomenal views. A short drive west of the airport on the rimrocks, along a portion of the Zimmerman Trail, Zimmerman Park is one of my favorite places for hiking in Billings, Montana.

But it’s also a beautiful place to walk, run, bike, or climb while being treated to sweeping views of the city below. If you want to walk or hike in Zimmerman Park, there are four miles of trails that range from easy to moderate. Mountain bikers will enjoy the views from the 3.2-mile bike trail with a 366-ft ascent.  

Sage Advice: Here’s a fun fact about Montana legendary sportscaster Brent Musberger was raised in Billings.

Watch for wildlife when hiking in Billings, Montana.

To visit Zimmerman Park, head west on Hwy 3. You’ll see a parking lot about three miles down the road on the south side of the highway. The park is open daily, year-round from 5:00 am to 10:00 pm, and there is no fee to visit.

Fun Fact:  If you want to experience more of the great outdoors in Billings, you’re in luck! There are hundreds of acres of city parks and nearly 50 miles of walking and biking trails throughout the city. And when completed, the Marathon Loop will connect all three major areas of Billings — the Heights, the South Side, and the West End — via a 26-mile, multi-use trail open to walkers, runners, and bicyclists.

Grey Wolf at Zoo Montana in Billings
Photo Credit: Zoo Montana.

6. Walk on the Wild Side at the ZooMontana

Perhaps it’s because Montana is home to several national parks full of animals in their natural habitat like Glacier and Yellowstone, but ZooMontana is the state’s only zoo. Founded in 1984, ZooMontana focuses primarily on animals that call Montana and the north 45th parallel of earth home. The zoo has a philosophy of quality over quantity, focusing on creating natural habitat enclosures for rescued animals.

In the western hemisphere, the 45th parallel north includes the creatures in the Rocky Mountain Adventure and America’s Waterways sections of the zoo. Here visitors will encounter animals like grizzly bears, bald eagles, lynx, gray wolves, and beavers. Visiting ZooMontana also includes a trip across the ocean to the 45th parallel north in the eastern hemisphere where Asian animals like the Amur tiger, red panda, and Sichuan Takin live. 

Sage Advice:  Watch ZooMontana’s grizzly bears, Ozzy and Bruno, on the Billings Gazette ZooCam

ZooMontana’s Homestead Barn features majestic bison, adorable alpacas, and goofy goats and is an accredited arboretum and educational facility. 

Take a walk on the wild side with a visit to ZooMontana at 2100 South Shiloh Road between 10:00 am and 4:00 pm daily. Hours do change with the seasons, so be sure to visit the ZooMontana website for the latest information before you go. 

Sage Advice: Enjoy the most iconic experiences in Big Sky Country by working your way through this free Montana bucket list.


7. Peruse the Pieces at the Yellowstone Art Museum

Founded in 1964, the Yellowstone Art Museum now has a permanent collection of over 7,300 objects of American art with an emphasis on progressive contemporary art from the northern Rocky Mountain and Northern Plains regions. 

Here’s what you won’t want to miss when you visit the Yellowstone Art Museum:

  • Edith Freeman Collection. Born and raised in Eastern Montana, Freeman mastered woodblock printing to use a single block of wood to capture the rimrocks, prairies, rivers, and wildflowers of the land she loved.
  • Works of Will James. Born Joseph Ernest Nipplei Dufault in Quebec, this French Canadian learned to be a western cowboy and assumed a proper cowboy name when he immigrated to the United States. Ultimately penning Smoky the Cowhorse, for which he won a Newbery Medal in 1927, the Yellowstone Art Museum has the largest known collection of Will James’s work.
  • Visible Vault. Usually off limits to visitors, the Yellowstone Art Museum allows guests to pick up a key card and head to 505 North 26th Street behind the museum and get a peek at the behind-the-scenes work going on at the museum. Don’t miss the chance to watch objects be photographed and catalogued, restored, or prepared for exhibition. 

Related Article:  5 Tips to Help Kids (of all Ages) Appreciate Art Museums

Visit the Yellowstone Art Museum at 401 North 27th Street. The museum is typically open Tuesday through Sunday from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm. It is open until 8:00 pm on Thursdays and on the first Friday of each month. 

8. See the Sights via an Interactive Scavenger Hunt

Interactive scavenger hunts are one of my favorite things to do in a new city. Sharing the destination’s sights, history, and culture, (with a touch of humor), they are a fun way to get the lay of the new land. 

Starting at St. Patrick’s Co-Cathedral, a Gothic revival Catholic church built shortly after the Moss Mansion in 1904, this interactive scavenger hunt of Billings, Montana, includes both the Western Heritage Center and the Yellowstone Art Museum and is a fun way to explore the town.  

A young performer on stage at the NOVA Center for the Performing Arts in Billings
A young performer on stage. Photo courtesy of the NOVA Center for the Performing Arts Facebook page.

9. Enjoy a Show at NOVA Center for the Performing Arts

As the mother of two high school theatre performers, I know quite well that art isn’t always sketches, paintings, sculptures, and shots fired through metal sheets. So if the performing arts are more your style, you’re in luck when you visit Billings.

Leveraging local talent, the NOVA Center for the Performing Arts offers a wide range of performing arts under one roof, including drama, musical theatre, improvisational comedy, and opera.

Visit the NOVA website for a calendar of events, including the current season’s performances, special festivals, and annual fundraisers.

Sage Wine Tasting at Yellowstone Cellars in Billings
If you like wine, you'll enjoy a tasting at Yellowstone Cellars and Winery in Billings, MT.

10. Spend an Afternoon Tasting Wine at Yellowstone Cellars & Winery

In the unsuspecting location of Billings, Montana, winemaker Clint Peck turns grapes from small, family-owned vineyards in Yakima Valley, Washington, into a selection of 3,700 cases of French oak barrel-aged red and white wines at the Yellowstone Cellars and Winery. And just like Chef Gordon Ramsey could make a mouthwatering beef Wellington far from England provided he had quality ingredients, the same can be said for Clint Peck’s wines.

While the tasting room might seem a bit “light industrial” upon arrival, it’s nicely decorated with wine-themed accessories and includes an inviting outdoor patio surrounded by flowers. The servers are knowledgeable and attentive, and it’s a great way to slowly pass an afternoon with friends, enjoying good wine and pleasant company.

Related Article:  5 Things to Expect When You Visit Yellowstone Cellars & Winery

Spend an afternoon tasting the tempranillo or sipping the syrah by visiting Yellowstone Cellars & Winery at 1335 Holiday Circle, located in the southwestern part of Billings. Light food pairings like gourmet cheeses and flatbreads are available. During the summer, live music fills the air on Friday and Saturday evenings. Or you can take your musical talent for a test drive during open mic night on Wednesdays from 7:00 pm to 9:00 pm.

Charcuterie Board at City Vineyard in Billings MT
Pair your pour with a delicious charcuterie board! Photo courtesy of City Vineyard Facebook page.

11. Treat Your Taste Buds at City Vineyard

While Yellowstone Cellars and Winery is all about its amazing wine, City Vineyard gives wine lovers the chance to take their taste buds outside of Billings without fighting traffic or standing in line at airport security. 

With a variety of red and white wines available at the wine bar, City Vineyard makes it easy to sample wine from west coast destinations — like California, Oregon, and Washington — as well as overseas wine regions such in France, Italy, Argentina, and New Zealand. 

And, if that isn’t enough to entice you to stop by, City Vineyard also has a wide variety of foods that pair nicely with the wine you’ve selected. Check out their soups and salads, sandwiches and boards, and more! 

You’ll find City Vineyard at 1335 Golden Valley Cir, just east of the Yegen Golf Club.  

Pompey's Pillar before a storm
Storm clouds roll over Pompeys Pillar near Billings, Montana

12. Take in Panoramic Views at Pompeys Pillar

While not in Billings, this is a bonus recommendation just a short drive from Billings. 

Called “the place where the mountain lion lies” by Native Americans, Captain William Clark (of Lewis and Clark fame) named it Pompeys Tower. And Nicholas Biddle, the first editor of Lewis and Clark’s journals, changed the name to Pompeys Pillar. (Mmmf. Editors.)

But who in the heck is Pompey? 

Let’s start with his mother. 

Sacagawea was a Shoshone woman and important member of the Louisiana Purchase entourage. Pregnant with her first child, she joined the expedition in the winter of 1804 and was critical to its success. Her son, Jean Baptiste Charbonneau, was born a few months later, and the European explorers on the team nicknamed him Pomp. 

At just 51 acres, the Pompeys Pillar National Monument is one of the smallest national monuments in the United States. But it still offers several unique experiences. Climbing the 200-foot-high rock outcropping named for Sacagawea’s son will treat visitors to breathtaking panoramic views overlooking the Yellowstone River. 

Just because William Clark carved his name into the soft stone wall of Pompeys Pillar doesn't mean that you're invited to do the same.
Located about 30 minutes northeast of downtown Billings at 3039 US Highway 312 in Pompeys Pillar, Montana, the monument is only open seasonally from late April through October. Sage Advice:  See several recommendations on this list — Moss Mansion, Pictograph Cave State Park, and Pompeys Pillar  — AND explore Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument on this action-packed day trip from Billings, Montana.

To Visit Billings Montana

How big is Billings, MT?

Billings is the largest city in Montana. The Billings metropolitan area has a population of approximately 172,000. 

What county is Billings, MT in?

Billings is located in Yellowstone County and is the county seat.

Does Southwest Airlines fly to Billings, MT?

As a HUGE fan of Southwest Airlines, I’m sad to report that they don’t currently fly into Billings Logan International Airport. However, Southwest Airlines begins flying into Bozeman, about 150 miles west of Billings, on May 27, 2021. Looking for the best flights to Billings? Click here!

How far is Bozeman from Billings, MT?

Bozeman is about two hours directly west of Billings, MT, on I-90.

How far is Yellowstone National Park from Billings?

Allow about two hours to travel from Billings to the East Entrance of Yellowstone National Park near Cody, Wyoming. If the weather permits, I highly recommend traveling to Yellowstone National Park’s Cooke City entrance via MT-212. Also known as the Beartooth Highway, it’s one of the most scenic drives in the US.

Sage Advice:  The only  Yellowstone Park entrance year-round is the north entrance in Gardiner. And even when open for the season, all entrances are subject to closure based on weather conditions, forest fires, and other factors. Be sure to confirm that your selected entrance is open before heading to Yellowstone National Park.

What's the best place to stay in Billings?

There are a wide range of accommodations in Billings. The Boothill Inn & Suites is the top-rated Billings hotel on Trip Advisor based on traveler ratings, and breakfast is included! For the most bang for your travel bucks, check out the SureStay Plus Hotel by Best Western. You can see photos of the property here.

Have You Visited Billings, Montana?

What are your favorite things to do in Billings? Any additional tips and tricks to pass along? Share your experiences in the comments section below.

Looking for more information to plan your Montana vacation? Check out my free Montana travel guide to help you plan your trip to Montana including the best time to visit Montana, what to see and do in Montana, the best places to stay in Montana, where to eat in Montana, and more!

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