Billings isn't necessarily the first place that springs to mind when you think of hiking. As Montana's largest metropolis, it's a city that's better known for its urban attractions than its natural ones. But as anyone who's visited the city will attest, the opportunities for stretching your legs in nature are just as ample as the opportunities for everything else. Surrounded by numerous state parks and interwoven with a wide network of trails, the city offers excellent hiking in stunning surroundings. If you're keen to explore the best of the city's trails, don't miss our traveler's guide to hiking in Billings, MT.
Lake Elmo State Park
You don't have to go far to enjoy some great hiking in Billings. Lake Elmo State Park is set right inside the city limits on the northeast side of the city. Spread over 123 acres, the park offers numerous opportunities for recreation. Among its features include a 64-acre reservoir with three beachfront areas, a fishing pier, a kid's playground, a fenced-in dog park, and several grassed multi-use areas. As stepoutside.org notes, along with being a great place to swim, picnic, fish, birdwatch, and sailboard, the park also offers some lovely hiking opportunities along its 1.4-mile hiking/ nature trail. The trail is fun, easy, and blessed with some great views. As an added advantage, dogs are allowed - just be sure to keep yours on a leash if you bring them along.
Swords Rimrock Park
Swords Rimrock Park is blessed with numerous attractions, not least an intricate trail network that covers a variety of terrains, skill levels, and challenges. As visitmt.com notes, the hiking opportunities in the park include 2 miles of paved trail along with a 5-mile trail that leads to the Yellowstone River. Along the way, you'll get to enjoy breathtaking views (including panoramas of all five mountain ranges that circle Billings: Absaroka-Beartooth, Big Horn, Bull, Crazy, and Pryor), historic icons (including the burial sites of Crow Indian Chief Black Otter and Yellowstone Kelly), and plenty of wildlife spotting opportunities.
Pictograph Cave State Park
Located just 15 minutes from downtown Billings is Pictograph Cave State Park, a magical park blessed with stunning nature, a fascinating visitor center, and some great opportunities to stretch your legs. Central to the park's allure is a series of caves that display rock art believed to date back over 2000 years. The caves can be reached via a very pleasant 1/4 mile loop that takes in several interpretive displays, along with a couple of shaded picnic areas and numerous opportunities for bird spotting. The visitor center is as worthy of your time as the park's numerous trails are: over 30,000 artifacts have been evacuated from the site over the years, all of which are now on proud display. If you've ever wanted to check out some ancient stone tools, instruments, and weapons, this is the place to do it.
With its location just next to the Convention Center, Riverfront Park is a little slice of nature in the heart of the city. With a park shelter with BBQ grills, a large kid's playground, and a sand volleyball court, the park is understandably a popular destination for families looking for some fun and recreation. Thanks to the excellent network of trails spanning the length and breadth of the park, it's also a huge hit with hikers. Expect gorgeous river views and the kind of wide, paved paths that are ideal for all skill levels and age ranges.
DanWalt Gardens is a gorgeous oasis of horticultural beauty set right in the heart of Billings. Packed with fruit trees, roses, peonies, and irises, this fragrant little paradise is a great place to escape the noise and crowds of the city and get back to nature. A lovely walking trail leads you all the way around the gardens, taking in plenty of benches to take a break, numerous water features, and even a charming little bridge. If you want to enjoy a peaceful stroll without working up too much of a sweat, it's ideal.
Jim Dutcher Trail
As TrailLink notes, the Jim Dutcher Trail is a 6.5 mile, paved pathway that meanders alongside the Yellowstone River through eastern Billings up to the northeastern neighborhoods of Billings Heights. The trail is flat and smooth enough to suit all ages and skill levels. Dotted along the way are numerous community parks that offer benches and picnicking areas to break up the journey. Start the adventure at the wooded Two Moon Park before heading south through Earl Guss Park (being sure to check out the waterfall while you're there) to finish at Mystic Park. If you want to extend the experience, you can connect to the 2.2-mile Alkali Creek Trail at the trailhead near Earl Guss Park.
Descro Park Trail
If you're looking for a short but enjoyable walk, Descro Park Trail is ideal. The half-mile trail passes alongside the parkland that connects Broadwater Avenue to Central Avenue. Despite being short, the trail offers some great views, peaceful surroundings, and the opportunity to stretch your legs without leaving the city limits.
Phipps Park Trail
Phipps Park Trail is a 2.5 mile, moderately challenging hike that follows an old frisbee-golf course. The first half of the trail is fairly steep, but it's wide and smooth enough not to present any difficulty. At the top, there are two separate trails to choose between, both of which are relatively easy and offer stunning views over the surrounding landscape. Just be aware that bugs can be a problem, so be sure to pack some bug spray before you head out. Dogs are allowed but will need to be kept leashed.
Four Dances Trail
For a close-to-town outing that offers challenge and reward in equal measure, don't miss Four Dances Trail. The route takes in some of the best highlights of Four Dances Natural Area, including sweeping views of Billings and ample opportunities for wildlife spotting. The smooth, well-maintained path includes an easy upper section, a swooping descent to the river, and a hefty 400ft climb to the top. Along the way, you'll pass by the iconic "Yegen Bros" slogan scrawled along the sandstone cliffs (which, tempting though they may look, are much too unstable to be climbed). As the trail lacks shade, be sure to wear plenty of sunscreen and (if possible) time your visit for either early morning or late in the day.
Written by Dana Hanson
Read more posts by Dana Hanson