From the winding waters of the Yellowstone River to the jagged peaks that stretch across the horizon, there’s no shortage of inspiration to be found in Billings, Montana. Among the locals in the state’s largest city, you’ll find a vibrant community of artists, makers, chefs, musicians, and more.
This story was created in partnership with Visit Billings. All photos by Katie Cooney.
With more than 100,000 residents, it’s no surprise that Billings has found its niche as Montana’s Trailhead for arts, culture, history, and adventure alike. Between the food, music, art, history, and craft brewing scene, it’s easy to fill up a visit to Billings—and not to mention any hiking, biking, kayaking, horseback riding, or other adventures you’re looking for!
As both an artist and an adventure-seeker, I had to check this place out! From my artistic lens, check out these ideas to send you in the right direction as you plan your visit!
Montana’s History Hub
Founded as a hub for railroad expansion in the late 1800s, Billings sprang to life on the northern banks of the Yellowstone River. Today, Billings celebrates its unique western heritage through a modern lens.
Billings serves as the perfect basecamp to visit unique historical sites like Pompeys Pillar, which bears Captain William Clark’s signature—the only remaining physical evidence of the Lewis & Clark Expedition! If you’re up for a short drive (or on your way out!), don’t miss other opportunities to see history in person: check out Pictograph Caves State Park to view prehistoric drawings, or Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, the site of Custer’s Last Stand.
Back in town, be sure to save time to visit the museums dedicated to the history of the area! At the Yellowstone County Museum and Western Heritage Center, you’ll take a deep dive into the natural history, culture, and people of the Yellowstone Valley and surrounding area.
If you’re like me and love architecture, Billings will be a feast for your eyes—from beautiful old homes to the restored train depot and Moss Mansion, there’s something to see around every corner.
Expect the Unexpected
Billings keeps its spirit young with its flourishing arts and music scenes. A large local amphitheater, state-of-the-art performing arts center, and a handful of live music venues keep the town bustling with headlining acts.
While you’re out exploring, be on the lookout for public art and local galleries: local and visiting artists have painted the town with picture-perfect murals just waiting for you to pull out your camera. I was pleasantly surprised to discover the growing public art scene in Billings and eager to peek into every alley to see what I might find!
As an artist, I’m always on the hunt for great art museums, and Billings did not disappoint! If that’s also you, make sure to pay a visit to the Yellowstone Art Museum, home to Montana’s largest collection of contemporary art! The YAM also has a visible vault, where visitors can watch visiting artists at work and peer into the museum’s vast collection of art. How cool is that?!
And no, I didn’t forget the music! We’ve all missed live music, and Billings offers lots of opportunities to see a show. A large local amphitheater, state-of-the-art performing arts center, and a handful of live music venues are just the beginning!
I was fortunate to catch a symphony performance at the recently reopened Alberta Bair Theater, a highlight of my visit! The theater brings a wide variety of acts to the Northern Rockies; from country and jazz music to ballet and modern dance, musical theater productions, a talented local symphony orchestra, film festivals, and more.
Go Beyond the Montana Staples
Come to Billings hungry, and I guarantee you’ll leave happy—I did so myself! If you can pull yourself away from all the excitement in town, the foodie in you will be delighted to go beyond the expected Montana steakhouse and find a tantalizing array of local eateries with creative, made-from-scratch menus.
Start the day off at the Sassy Biscuit for southern eats like cinnamon-pressed shortcakes and delicious chicken and waffles, then work up an appetite on the Billings Brew Trail, visiting nine award-winning local craft distillers throughout Historic Downtown (all within easy walking distance of one another!).
After you’ve sufficiently sampled local beverages, tuck in for a delicious meal at local favorites like Walkers Grill, Ciao Mambo, or The Marble Table. It’s hard to pick a favorite, but I’m still daydreaming about the delicious burrata and red curry that I had at Walkers! If you’re headed out to catch a show or simply want to keep the night going, enjoy a craft cocktail at TEN, a modern eatery inside the historic Northern Hotel; or Big Dipper Ice Cream if you’re in the mood for a sweet treat!
All of that … and more!
If you’re not too exhausted from soaking up all the arts, history, and delicious food that Billings has to offer, remember that this city is nicknamed Montana’s Trailhead for a reason! Outdoorsy culture seekers will be pleased to find rock climbing, rafting, skiing, mountain biking, and horseback riding as just a few options for getting outside in the Billings area—and it’ll all have you coming back for more.