Billings began as a byproduct of the railroad industry and came to be known as the “Magic City” due to its spectacular and seemingly instantaneous growth. Those visiting Billings, now the largest city in Montana, see the city’s history brought to life at the Western Heritage Center, which is located, appropriately, on Montana Avenue. The Heritage Center collection depicts the histories of area residents, from the Crow and Northern Cheyenne tribes who preceded the railroad to the frontier people who built Billings.
Another popular destination for history enthusiasts visiting Billings is the Yellowstone County Museum. Tourists enter through a 100-year-old cabin, which boasts a visitor roster including former president Teddy Roosevelt and Wild West legend Buffalo Bill Cody. Museum exhibits focus on life in the Yellowstone River Basin from the prehistoric era through America’s Westward expansion to modern times. Visitors enjoy the authentic cowboy gear, Native American handcrafts and an antique steam engine on display.
An additional taste of yesterday’s Billings awaits art lovers at the Yellowstone Art Museum. Its collection of cowboy artist Will James’ work is the largest of its kind in the country. Journey further back at the Pictograph Cave State Park, whose walls reveal some of the earliest forms of art, in over 100 rock engravings created as many as 3,500 years ago.
For a broader view of the Billings landscape, take in the whole city and surrounding foothills by hiking or biking along the famed Rimrock Trail, on the north side of town. Miles of trail offer glorious sights of five mountain ranges over varying terrain, with the easiest going at Zimmerman Park.
In Downtown Billings, the Alberta Bair Theater is a must-see for architecturally-minded tourists. The theater was built by Twentieth Century-Fox in the 1930s and now houses the Billings Symphony Orchestra. A few blocks away, the Moss Mansion is another impressive edifice, known for its stately design by Henry Janeway Hardenbergh. The red-sandstone mansion was built in 1901 and is decorated magnificently to impress those visiting Billings during the holiday season.
Most vacationers are tempted to sample the vast lands of Montana with satisfying day trips from Billings. Sixty-seven miles to the southeast lies Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument and Custer National Cemetery, which memorializes the participants on both side of the infamous land battle.
A half hour to the northeast, on an easier day trip from Billings, stands Pompey’s Pillar National Monument, a towering sandstone formation that rises against the broad, blue Montana sky. Explorers Lewis and Clark viewed this landmark back in 1806, as evidenced by Captain Clark’s carved signature.
Back in Billings, the city offers much down-home, Western-style grub. But it’s also a rising culinary star, and Montana Avenue’s Q Cuisine demonstrates that with its creative take on modern American fare. Feast on pan-roasted quail, Kobe short ribs and citrus-glazed sea bass before venturing next door to Carlin Martini Bar and Nightclub for a kamikaze martini. Then, proceed to MetraPark, the largest entertainment complex in a five-state area, for a concert, sports match or rodeo.