You don't have to drive too far out of Billings, Montana, to find outdoor recreation and more wild west history. The region is diverse with terrains to explore including mountains, rivers, and canyons. History buffs, in particular, will find this region's national monuments, historic sites, and old west atmosphere fun to delve into.
See Pompey's Pillar National Monument
This is a must-stop for history buffs. Located just east of Billings off of Interstate 94, Pompey's Pillar is a fascinating historical spot with unique physical evidence of the Lewis and Clark expedition. On the return route from the Pacific Northwest, a party headed by Clark separated from the rest of the expedition to follow the Yellowstone River. William Clark carved his name and the date on a sandstone rock formation, which he designated as Pompey's Pillar after Sacagawea's son (Pompey was the child's nickname).
The site is now preserved as Pompey's Pillar National Historical Monument, with an interpretive center and trail.
This National Monument preserves and interprets the site of one of the late and most notorious battles of the 19th-century Indian wars. The battle between 263 U.S. Army soldiers, led by Lt. Col. George Custer, and thousands of Lakota and Cheyenne warriors took place on June 25—26, 1876.
Today, visitors to the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument can learn more about those fateful days by taking a self-guided walking and auto tour, by experiencing the exhibits and film at the official visitor center, and by exploring some key sites on the battlefield.
The Yellowtail Dam on the Bighorn River created a vast reservoir that extends over 70 miles down into Wyoming. Passing through colorful canyons, the Bighorn Lake, and the surrounding landscape provides opportunities for outdoor recreation of all kinds, from fishing and boating on the lake to camping, hiking, and wildlife watching.
Stop by the Yellowtail Dam Visitor Center to learn more about the natural and human history of the canyon through films and exhibits.
South of Billings, in Lovell, you'll find a relatively small mountain range which is home to a free-roaming herd of mustangs. Visitors to the Pryor Mountain area will enjoy wildlife-watching along with interesting geology and historic sites.
To learn more about the Pryor Mountain mustangs, visit the Pryor Mountain Wild Mustang Center museum in Lovell, Wyoming.
Located within the Crow Reservation south of Billings, this official historic site preserves the farmland and home of Chief Plenty Coups, a famous chief who was known for peace-making. Visitors to this day-use state park will enjoy a visitor center with interpretive exhibits, hiking, wildlife-watching, and fishing.
Special events include Native American Heritage Day, held in September, where you can see a parade and Crow drummers and dancers.
This mountain resort town is a fun place to wander and explore. Red Lodge is located an hour south of Billings in the foothills of the gorgeous Bighorn Mountains. The charming downtown offers numerous shops and eateries in historic buildings.
Local attractions include the Carbon County Historical Society and Museum. The museum is housed in a 1909 brick building and features exhibits on the history of Carbon County, and a shop with western-related books and gifts.
Red Lodge is located at the east end of the famous Beartooth Highway, considered one of the most scenic drives in the U.S.
There are a number of scenic driving routes you can explore both east and south of Billings. All of these drives have an Old West flavor, featuring river and canyon scenery. Loops that include driving east on Interstate 94, then cutting south on one of the state highways, and returning to Billings via Interstate 90 are popular.
The Billings Scenic Drive is a marked route that takes you around Billings and also outside of Billings to Chief Plenty Coups State Park, Pompey's Pillar, Clarks Crossing, Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument and the Beartooth Highway. You'll never be far from Billings.
Hike the East Lake Rosebud Trail
The East Lake Rosebud Trail in the Custer Gallatin National Forest will take you to a number of scenic lakes depending on how far you want to hike.
To get to the trailhead from the Beartooth Ranger District Office on Hwy 212 in Red Lodge, drive north on US Hwy 212 for 2.1 miles. Turn left (west) onto MT-78 and drive 19.7 miles. Turn left (south) onto Roscoe Rd. Drive 2.3 miles, cross the bridge and turn right (south) onto East Rosebud Rd. Drive 10.6 miles and until you dead-end at the trailhead.
Visit the Wildlife
At the Yellowstone Wildlife Sanctuary in Red Lodge, you can visit the walk-through facility to see and learn about wildlife such as black bears, foxes, wolves, birds of prey, mountain lions, bison, and more. There are tours available as well as classes.
The wildlife sanctuary is open to the public on Saturdays and Sundays, except for when the staff and volunteers are off-site for education programs and field trips.
Go Horseback Riding
You can ride on the reservation near Custer's Battlefield National Monument or along the Pryor Creek with wranglers and horses from Western Romance Company.
They offer scenic rides from several locations for both beginners and experienced riders. The company also offers wagon rides and pack trips.