Last Updated on July 7, 2023
Montana is a big, diverse state with 147,000-square-miles, a little over a million people, seven Native American tribes, and a changing landscape from mountains to plains.
A climber’s paradise, Montana is home to 244 peaks from 10,000 to nearly 13,000 feet in elevation and 100 named mountain ranges, many of which are part of the Rocky Mountains. The plains of Eastern Montana stretch as far as the eye can see and offer uninterrupted views of the sunrise and sunset.
Breaking Montana into sections to visit makes for a more manageable trip. Southeastern Montana is rich in Native American culture and history from Lewis and Clark’s expedition to the days when homesteaders eked out an existence in the unforgiving climate and landscape.
With an international airport and plenty of lodging and dining options, Billings is an ideal home base for your stay. Excursions to recommended sites are easy day trips.
Montana is called “Big Sky Country,” and these big skies and vast prairies provide a dramatic backdrop for the natural wonders, national monuments, and cultural treasures you’ll find here in Southeast Montana.
- Little Bighorn Battlefield National Historic Monument – Crow Agency, MT
- The Tomb of the Unknown American Soldier and Custer Battlefield Museum – Garryowen, MT
- Big Horn County Historical Museum – Hardin, MT
- Attend a Pow Wow – Crow Agency, MT
- Pompey’s Pillar National Monument – Pompey’s Pillar, MT
- The Range Riders Museum – Miles City, MT
- Big Horn Canyon National Recreation Area – Fort Smith, MT
- Moss Mansion – Billings, MT
- Zoo Montana – Billings, MT
- Pictograph Cave State Park – Billings, MT
- Chief Plenty Coups State Park – Pryor, MT
- Burger Dive – Billings, MT
- Billings Brew Trail
Little Bighorn Battlefield National Historic Monument – Crow Agency, MT
During the great Sioux War from 1876 to 1877, the U.S. government made every attempt to round up and exterminate the Plains Indians and place them on reservations, clearing the way for homesteaders and gold miners making their way west.
Although eventually the government’s plans would come to fruition, the battle at the Little Bighorn River was a setback. General Custer and more than 270 of his men died in the battle against the Sioux and Cheyenne warriors.
The monument and museum honor both the Native American warriors and U.S. Cavalry soldiers who lost their lives here. Rangers give lectures on this complex battle, while local tour operators are available for hire.
The monument is 63 miles south of Billings via Interstate 90. Opening hours vary by season. More information is available on the park’s website.
The Tomb of the Unknown American Soldier and Custer Battlefield Museum – Garryowen, MT
The little known third tomb of an unknown American soldier (the others are in Arlington, Virginia and Pearl Harbor, Hawaii) is located in Garryowen, Montana, a few miles south of the Little Bighorn Battlefield.
A headless U.S. Cavalry soldier from the Little Bighorn battle, whose remains were found 50 years after the fight, were buried here in 1926.
A gem of a museum is located here as well. The museum displays the only known signature of Chief Sitting Bull, a leader of the Sioux, as well as his death mask. General Custer’s leather gloves and U.S. Cavalry weapons are also in the collection.
A display case houses original books from the Lewis and Clark expedition and the largest collection of American West photographer, David F. Barry, who captured images of many who later met and died at the Little Bighorn battle.
The museum’s website gives opening hours and admission fees.
Big Horn County Historical Museum – Hardin, MT
Start by visiting the main museum that lays out the history of the area and houses Native American artifacts, a display on cowboy artist, Will James, and historic documents and photographs.
Step back in time as you explore the historic buildings that cover the museum’s 35 acres, including a fully restored farmhouse, train depot, church, blacksmith shop, barn, and mercantile. Each is loaded with period furniture and artifacts.
The museum’s website provides additional information and directions. Hardin is 40 miles from Billings on Interstate 90.
Attend a Pow Wow – Crow Agency, MT
Each August, the Crow Nation hosts a powwow open to the public.
To say it’s a feast for the senses is an understatement. Dancers wear traditional regalia complete with eagle feathers, ribbons, and beads made from chewing tobacco tins. Headdresses and beaded leather moccasins complete the outfits. Drummers beat a communal drum while singing traditional songs.
Pompey’s Pillar National Monument – Pompey’s Pillar, MT
Lewis and Clark traveled westbound together through present day Montana in 1805. Eastbound, the two split up to explore more territory. Lewis used a branding iron to claim the territory he discovered—none of the marks have survived. Clark, on the other hand, etched his signature in a sandstone formation he called Pompey’s Pillar.
Pompey was the son of Sacajewa, a Native American woman who accompanied the expedition and served as an interpreter, a liaison with tribes they encountered, and a guide.
Clark’s signature in stone claimed the area for the U.S. government. Today, a stairway leads visitors to a viewing platform of the signature.
The monument’s museum details the Lewis and Clark’s expedition and has a replica canoe and buffalo boat.
Pompey’s Pillar is 31 miles east of Billings on Interstate 94.
The Range Riders Museum – Miles City, MT
Open from April 1 until October 31, the Range Riders Museum is chock full of artifacts, memorabilia, an extensive gun collection, and a collection of horse drawn buggies and old fire engines. Displays run the gamut from dinosaur bones collected from Eastern Montana to cattle brands and barbed wire that were a part of the life on the range.
A walk through the museum offers a glimpse into 1800s Montana with a replica of main street’s millinery shop, saloon, and post office.
Miles City is 144 miles east of Billings on Interstate 94.
Big Horn Canyon National Recreation Area – Fort Smith, MT
Bighorn Lake spans the Montana-Wyoming border. Here boaters, fisherman, hikers, and campers can experience the raw beauty of the colorful, striated canyon walls.
Teepee rings and old homesteads are accessible only from the Southern District entered near Lovell, Wyoming. Wildlife, including bears, deer, Bighorn sheep, and the Pryor Mountain wild horses, call the area home.
The Northern District, accessed via Fort Smith, Montana, is known for its boating and fishing.
Of note, no roads within the park connect the northern part and the southern part of the park in Montana and Wyoming respectively.
For directions and a list of activities by district, visit their website.
Moss Mansion – Billings, MT
The architect for the Plaza and Ritz Carlton hotels in New York designed this home for Preston Boyd Moss, a Billings entrepreneur, in 1903. Original fixtures, furniture, letters, and photos grace the home and offer a glimpse into the life of the wealthy at the turn of the century.
The museum is open from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday for self-guided tours. Docents give guided tours Friday and Saturday at 1 p.m.
Zoo Montana – Billings, MT
Wildlife viewing is unpredictable. Viewing wildlife at Zoo Montana is a sure thing. Exhibited animals native to Montana include bison, river otters, grizzly bears, wolves, lynx, wolverines, badgers, and bald eagles.
A petting zoo allows kids of all ages to interact with farm animals.
The zoo is open daily except for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day. Hours and admission prices are noted on their website.
Pictograph Cave State Park – Billings, MT
Ancient people used this area as a gathering place centuries ago. Whether it was the water or medicinal plants that drew them here is not known, but their drawings of animals and battles in caves eroded from a sandstone cliff remain. Archaeologists uncovered over 30,000 artifacts here, dating back 2000 years. A sample is on display in the visitors’ center.
The park is closed Thanksgiving, December 24th, 25th, and 31st, and January 1st. For hours, see their website.
Chief Plenty Coups State Park – Pryor, MT
Chief Plenty Coups’ homestead, store, and farm are open to visitors. Within the home, photographs and memorabilia document the life of the last traditional chief of the Crow Indians. He aligned his tribe with the U.S. military during the Sioux Wars and helped his tribe transition from their days following bison on the plains to non-nomadic life on a reservation.
Each August, a celebration honoring Chief Plenty Coups takes place with dancers, drummers, and traditional foods including fry bread and bison.
Directions and visitor center and park hours are available here. Pryor is 35 miles south of Billings by way of state highways 416 and 418.
Burger Dive – Billings, MT
Brad Halsten wasn’t trained as a chef, but don’t underestimate his skill at the grill. He serves his award-winning burgers for lunch everyday but Sunday. My favorite is the “I’m your huckleberry” burger—voted the Burger Champion at the World Food Championship in 2016. It’s a tangy-sweet-salty combination of goat cheese, huckleberry chili sauce, and bacon on an Angus burger. Yum.
Billings Brew Trail
From start to finish, this downtown trail is 1.5 miles long and allows you to quench your thirst along the way. Test the best local brews and beverages at Billings’ six breweries, two distilleries, and a cider house on this self-guided tour. Several locations serve appetizing, budget-friendly food.
VisitBillings.com provides the trail map.