Billings, Montana may be one of the farthest places—literally—from a Houstonian’s mind when thinking about their next destination vacation spot, but with all there is to see, eat and do within such close proximity, maybe it shouldn’t be.
As the largest city in the state, with a population of just over 109,000, and the regional hub for oil refineries, Billings actually shares a few surprising similarities with the Bayou City. And just as Houston offers unexpected opportunities for tourists, there’s plenty to do in Billings that can easily warrant a weekend getaway or an extended vacation to Big Sky country. Below, four of our favorite reasons to visit the Magic City:
1. Microbreweries everywhere
It’s hard to go 10 minutes in Billings without running into a microbrewery. From Carter's Brewing to Angry Hanks, Uberbrew, Montana Brewing Company, Thirsty Street Brewing Company, Yellowstone Valley Brewing…well, you get the idea.
Don’t worry, you can still get your favorite national brews, but when you’re in a town with as much originality in their beer as you find in Billings, do you really want to stick with the same old thing? Try just one local offering and you’ll find the answer is “absolutely not.”
2. Darn good food
There’s little need to eat at chain restaurants in Billings, and you'll find it's slim pickings in that area anyway, because local restaurants rule the land—local restaurants like The Burger Dive. A small, hole-in-the-wall joint in downtown Billings, The Burger Dive might not look like much from the outside, but this family-owned spot is one of the tastiest restaurants in town.
Brad Halsten, the owner and head chef of The Burger Dive, has been making award-winning waves with his one-of-a-kind creations, such as the “I’m Your Huckleberry” Burger, a 1/3-pound Angus beef patty, smothered in roasted red pepper mayo, topped with bacon, goat cheese and arugula, all finished off with Halsten’s signature Huckleberry Hatch chili barbecue sauce. This burger also recently helped the Dive take home first prize at the World Food Championships last August, and it’s every bit as good as advertised and awarded.
If breakfast is more your style, Bernie’s Diner, in the bottom floor of the Northern Hotel, offers an old-fashioned and delicious diner experience from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. every day. The Elk Skillet, a plate with spicy elk sausage, eggs your way, home fries, black beans, ranchero sauce, queso fresco and mushrooms offers a bit of the local taste of Billings.
3. Sights that deserve to be seen
If you’re more of an outdoorsman, Billings has you covered there too. To get some hiking in, take a visit to either Phipps Park and Pictograph Cave State Park, as both are within 20 minutes of downtown Billings. Phipps Park offers a moderate-grade hike that is also open to mountain biking and horseback riding, while Pictograph Cave is one of the many Montana state parks that offers visitors a chance to view three distinct caves filled with pictographs and drawings from early inhabitants of the land, with some of them dating back 2,000 years.
If you’re looking for something even closer and maybe a bit more leisurely, take a walk along the Rimrocks overlooking Billings. Located outside the airport and a few minutes from the heart of the city, a paved trail runs its way along the rim overlooking downtown Billings, offering beautiful sights, no matter the season or time of day.
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4. A great hub for day-trips or road-trips
If you've somehow exhausted the many options for shopping, dining, drinking and sightseeing in Billings, the city can also serve as a great base for day-trips to other scenic locations. Take a two hour and 30-minute road trip out west to Bozeman, a college town with a lot of character of its own. If you want to hit the slopes in the winter, Red Lodge is just an hour from Billings and offers both great shopping and dining as well as some beautiful slopes to get your fill of powder.
If you’re up for a bit more driving, take the entire day to drive east into North Dakota and visit Mount Rushmore, or head south to the Montana/Wyoming border for a trip to Yellowstone National Park, one of the prettiest sights in all the United States. If you’re looking for a more scenic, albeit longer, road to Yellowstone, take a trip through the Beartooth Pass. The up-close view of mountains and lakes is picturesque in the purest sense of the word, and you'll have no problem understanding exactly how Big Sky Country got its name.