From horse tails to mountain bike trails, I explored the countryside that envelopes Billings, Montana. With amazing trails in all directions from Billings, it was easiest and most comfortable to basecamp in Montana's "big city". I definitely took advantage of the plush accommodations and tasty menus around town!
This article was created in partnership with Visit USA Parks. All photos by Emily Sierra Photography.
The Best Basecamp
I landed in Billings after traveling up and over Beartooth Pass. This was certainly the most unforgettable way to arrive at Montana's Trailhead! Massive, jagged peaks soar on all sides of the highway that lead to the city. Last year when I visited the area, though, I flew into the Billings Logan International Airport. I compare all air travel to that experience now, wishing for more quiet and quaint airports like the one in Billings. Even getting a rental car was an easy, simple process!
Stay + Eat
I loved staying at the Northern Hotel in downtown Billings with modern touches and a convenient location. The foodie in me was so excited at the creative menus around town, and meals to fit every appetite. I was delighted with fresh menus at The Fieldhouse and Walkers--restaurants that are a far cry from a typical Montana steakhouse. Another favorite spot, highly recommended by a variety of locals, was the Burger Dive. This was the perfect place to load up after a big morning on the trails.
From the Saddle of a Horse
Within minutes of Billings, I was at Theresa's family ranch for a horseback tour. Her family has maintained ties to this ranch and the land since the 1940's! I loved how personable Theresa was on the ride, and her knowledge of local flora, wildlife and history. Bitter Creek Outfitters cap their tours at six people, so we were pretty much guaranteed a quiet, personal experience. Moreover, the scenery was spectacular and so serene. I couldn't believe we were just outside the city! One of my favorite stops was at a rock ledge overlooking Pictograph Cave State Park--another important, and beautiful, local sight. Horseback riding is a quintessential Montana experience, and heading out with Theresa felt truly authentic.
From the Saddle of a Mountain Bike
There are many trails around Billings, but I'd like to introduce three of my favorites that I explored. These trails are all within an hour of Billings, each offering a unique adventure. For detailed information and any last-minute gear, swing by the The Spoke Shop in Billings.
Zimmerman Park and the Rimrocks
I don't know what I love more: the views on this trail or the exciting natural rock features. Zimmerman Park has one main trail that flows throughout, but there are several other side trails that branch off, so you can really build your dream ride. I would recommend this ride in the evening to fully soak up the gorgeous setting sun. Take stops along the famed Rimrocks and enjoy the valley views below. Oh, and did I mention the proximity to Billings? Yeah, the trail is literally minutes from downtown!
Acton Recreation Area
This mountain bike playground is only 40 minutes from downtown Billings. I drove through farmland and prairies wondering where the hills were, when suddenly--Acton Recreation Area appeared! I was warmly greeted by a couple of gentlemen who helped establish the mountain bike trails out there and were psyched to take another lap and show me the trails. Loads of berms, bumps, jumps, and rollercoaster riding wind around sandstone and ponderosa pine. This place is so much fun!
This was certainly one of the most unique rides I've ever completed! In one moment I was chugging up the Meridian Trail, and the next I was standing underneath an enormous art sculpture. Spanning the 12,000-acre working cattle and sheep ranch are various large-scale art sculptures with miles of trails connecting them. The Tippet Rise Art Center also hosts classical chamber music in both indoor and outdoor spaces. "Tippet Rise celebrates the concept that art, music, architecture, and nature are inextricably linked in the human experience, each making the others more powerful," (tippetrise.org).
All of this beauty is further enhanced by the backdrop of the Beartooth Mountains in the distance. Riding here is not for the faint of heart (I rode approximately 15 miles and climbed over 2,000 ft. to see all the sculptures), but it's certainly spectacular and totally worth the effort! I loved reaching a sculpture, walking around and underneath it, and being the only one there to appreciate it. Thanks to the center's reservation system, Tippet Rise will never be overcrowded. Oh, and it's totally free to ride and appreciate the art out there!
From the saddle of a horse to the saddle of a bicycle, I really enjoyed what Billings, Montana has to offer. There are so many unique ways to appreciate the local flair in and around the city!