Yellowstone (south-central and
southeast Montana) Livingston
Billings – Red Lodge
South-central and southeast Montana is Yellowstone. Most of this region is vast, mostly treeless, plains, extending west from the North Dakota border to the city of Billings. Southwest of Billings, the plains give way to beautiful mountains.
The history of the region centers around the great Yellowstone River. The Yellowstone River begins in Yellowstone National Park. The river meanders northeast across the plains of southeastern Montana, until it joins with the Missouri River in North Dakota. The Yellowstone is one of America’s last free-flowing rivers. It is clearly a national treasure.
Buffalo and other wildlife flourished along the Yellowstone River’s broad valley and the adjacent plains, during the early 19th century. The river served as a lifeline for the Native Americans.
Today, the Yellowstone River Valley is a highly productive agricultural region, producing crops as diverse as alfalfa, sugar beets, and corn. Large numbers of Hereford and other cattle are raised on ranches in Yellowstone Country. Cities, such as Glendive, Miles City, and Billings, have prospered because of the presence of the river.
THE UPPER YELLOWSTONE RIVER VALLEY
Billings, Montana (pop. 110,323) is the chief city along I-90 and the upper Yellowstone Valley. Billings is a good base from which to make forays to other places and attractions in south-central Montana and northern Wyoming. Yellowstone National Park, the Little Big Horn Battlefield National Monument, and Cody, Wyoming are not far from Billings.
The city of Billings has an unusual and unique setting, built as it is at the foot of a massive wall of rimrocks. In geologic history, the Yellowstone River cut deep into the earth creating the present day Yellowstone Valley. This action exposed the magnificent sandstone cliffs which are today the city’s landmark. From the valley floor near the river, it’s more than 460 feet to the top of the rimrocks. A park on top the rimrocks offers fabulous views of the distant Pryor Mountains and the Rockies farther to the west.
The Yellowstone County Museum is near the Billings airport. It’s small, but all the good historical stuff is here. In downtown Billings, on Montana Avenue, the Western Heritage Center features super exhibits about the homesteading era in Montana.
ZooMontana is one of the top attractions in Billings, Montana. Visitors can view wildlife in natural habitats. The zoo is proud of its waterfowl, owl, river otter, and Siberian tiger habitats. The zoo also features a Sensory Garden with native and exotic plants. At the Homestead exhibit, kids enjoy a collection of domestic animals. ZooMontana is located a few miles west of the city on Shiloh Road.
If you want to experience Native American culture, it’s on display at Crow Fair, a huge celebration held annually in mid-August at Crow Agency near Hardin and not far from Billings. Crow Fair features a rodeo, parade, powwow, and horse races. A lot of fun and enjoyment for all at this popular event. Crow Fair is sponsored by the Apsaalooke people of the Crow Indian Reservation. In 2019, this event runs August 14-19.
Pictograph Cave State Park is a few miles south of Billings. In prehistoric times, Indians camped at the cave and added some 106 primitive paintings to the cave’s sandstone walls.
|Billings has excellent Hotels|
|Ledgestone Hotel||(406) 259-9454|
|Home2 Suites by Hilton||(406) 252-2255|
|Riversage Billings Inn||(406) 252-6800|
|Hilltop Inn by Riversage||(406) 245-5000|
Shopping is excellent in Billings, Montana. The first stop for many visitors is Scheels in west Billings. Scheels sells things for outdoor activities, such as camping, fishing, and hunting. Rimrock Mall on the west end of town (24th Street West) has a large mix of stores to suit every taste.
Bistecca at the Granary has the best food and atmosphere in Billings. The Granary’s bar is special and a delightful place to have a seat even if you only order a Coke. The Granary is open for lunch and evening dining and located in a quiet neighborhood on Poly Drive. For an extra nice atmosphere and good prices dine at Jake’s restaurant downtown. For yummy seafood and ribs, try Montana’s Rib & Chop House on Majestic Lane in the far west end of Billings. Don’t miss McCormick Café’s sandwiches and fresh-baked goods. McCormick Cafe is on Montana Avenue downtown.
For general information about Billings, read the Billings city guide.
Red Lodge (pop. 2,237) is a small, alpine village. At some 5,555 feet in elevation, Red Lodge is a good place to stay cool when towns further out on the plains bake under the summer heat. During the winter season, skiing is a favorite activity at Red Lodge Mountain ski area south of the city. The Yellowstone Wildlife Sanctuary in Red Lodge is a popular attraction for tourists.
Locals and visitors enjoy tasty cuisine at the Carbon Fork restaurant in downtown Red Lodge. Try their Huckleberry ice cream for dessert, so good. There’s a lot to love at the Carbon Fork. Foster & Logan’s Pub & Grill on main street is another spot to have a good meal. A special at Foster and Logan’s is a Folo’s Dog, a 1/4 pound all beef hot dog with extras for only $7.95. Bogart’s serves a variety of Mexican food.
The Rock Creek Resort (1-800-667-1119) is located a few miles south of Red Lodge on U.S. Highway 212. The nearby Old Piney Dell Restaurant and Bar is a favorite dining spot for locals. The restaurant has a very pretty setting, along the banks of Rock Creek.
If discovered, everyone stops at the Montana Candy Emporium on Main Street in downtown Red Lodge. Old time candies and huckleberry delights sold here. Chocolates and hard candies too. So good!
For lodging, stay at the Pollard Hotel (406) 446-0001. The Red Lodge Inn (406) 446-2030 in Red Lodge is also a good choice. For lodging in a country setting try Blue Sky Cabins (406-446-0186).
Yellowstone National Park is the main outdoor attraction near Red Lodge. The ascent into Yellowstone Park begins on the spectacular Beartooth Highway (U.S. Highway 212), just outside Red Lodge. The Beartooth Highway winds its way up the mountain and the drive is an absolute thrill. Panoramic views delight motorists at every turn in the road.
The mountains and foothills near Red Lodge offer many outdoor recreational opportunities. Many made possible by the Beartooth Recreational Trails Association. Hikers have many trails to choose from. This organization also promotes bicycling and Nordic skiing.
Travel Tip: Alternate route to Yellowstone National Park from Red Lodge, Mont.: from Red Lodge, take Montana 308 east to Belfry, then Montana 72/Wyoming 120 south to junction with Wyoming 296, then take Wyoming 296 (Chief Joseph Scenic Highway, also called Sunlight Basin Road) west to U.S. Highway 212 and the entrance to Yellowstone National Park.
A neat way to view Red Lodge is to drive into the town from the east on Highway 308. The road enters the city from a high elevation, revealing Red Lodge nestled in the beautiful valley below. Highway 308, itself, is an interesting drive, as it winds through the hills past the old coal mining town of Bearcreek. The Bearcreek Saloon and Steakhouse is the main show in town. Try their Weizen or Glacier Ale.
Travel tip: Bring a warm jacket or sweater. It’s often very cool in mountainous areas, even in July.
At Livingston (pop. 7,401), the Yellowstone River takes a sharp turn south toward Yellowstone National Park and its source high in the Absaroka Mountains. The beauty and wildness of the Yellowstone River is an awesome sight to behold as it flows near Livingston. The area south of Livingston is know as Paradise Valley.
Livingston is an old railroad town that hasn’t changed much in the past 100 years. Still attractions abound. The Yellowstone Gateway Museum is a popular stop to learn Montana history. Excellent art galleries are found downtown. Don’t miss Don Bailey’s Fly Shop for everything fly fishing. The stock of fly patterns and fly fishing gear is absolutely amazing.
The Livingston area is vacation headquarters for south-central Montana. Outfitters offer horseback riding, float trips, wildlife viewing, fishing and other outdoor activities. Dude ranches are a big attraction in this part of Montana. An extra nice guest ranch is the Mountain Sky Guest Ranch near Emigrant.
For premium lodging, stay at the all new Sage Lodge, about 25 miles south of Livingston on U.S. 89. Dining on site. (855) 400-0505. The Murray Hotel is another good choice. (406) 222-1350. The 2nd Street Bistro in the Murray Hotel offers a tasty dining experience. For breakfast or lunch, try Pinky’s Cafe, also downtown.
From Livingston, two highways run south towards Yellowstone National Park. U.S. Highway 89, located generally on the west side of the Yellowstone River, is the main highway and it carries most of the heavier traffic. Starting a few miles south of Livingston, East River Road, Montana Route 540, branches off to the east of U.S. Highway 89 and continues south on the east side of the Yellowstone River for about 31 miles until it reconnects with U.S. Highway 89.
Montana Route 540 is a very scenic drive, as the road runs close to the flank of the towering Absaroka Mountains. The highway offers wonderful views of Paradise Valley, the Yellowstone River, and the Gallatin Mountain Range, which flanks the west side of Paradise Valley. Traffic on Montana Route 540 is usually light and moves more slowly, giving travelers a chance to view the full beauty and grandeur of Paradise Valley. If travel time is not an issue, taking this scenic road is very rewarding, an experience that creates life-time memories of Montana travel.
Chico Hot Springs Resort is just off U.S. Highway 89 near Emigrant, and about mid-way between Livingston and Gardiner. Founded in 1900, Chico offers a variety of lodging, two open-air mineral hot springs pools, several dining options, and a Tasting Room. A day spa and other activities make Chico a fun and exciting destination. (406) 333-4933.
Yellowstone National Park
Most Americans dream of visiting Yellowstone Park at least once in a lifetime. And for good reason. The park is famous for its numerous geysers, hot springs, and fumaroles. Old Faithful is the park’s and possible the world’s best know geyser. Seeing Old Faithful erupt and shoot million of gallons of steaming hot water hundreds of feet high, against the backdrop of a blue sky and the surrounding black forest, is an experience long remembered. The gush of approval from onlookers, always present in big numbers when Old Faithful erupts, adds to the excitement of the moment.
Perhaps a surprise to many first-time visitors, Yellowstone Park is heavily forested. The most common trees in the park are lodge pole pine, fir, spruce, and aspen. A few years ago, major forest fires burned thousands of acres of forest in Yellowstone. Today, recovery is well underway with millions of young trees covering the mountains and valleys.
Tourists come to see the animals. And they aren’t often disappointed. Elk, buffalo, bighorn sheep, and grizzly bears call the park home. Coyotes, mountain lions and many species of birds are common, too. Wildlife is especially abundant in the Hayden Valley between Canyon Junction and Fishing Bridge. Yellowstone Lake, in the southeastern part of the park, is a favorite of fishermen.
The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River is one of the most beautiful sights in the park. The river flows through a deep gorge, cut into layers of yellow-colored rocks. Near Canyon Village, the river cascades over the Lower Falls of the Yellowstone. The Lower Falls is a special place to stop on every Yellowstone vacation. Osprey nest in the conifers high above the river’s gorge. Travel tip: Shoot lots of film here.
Check out Yellowstone National Park’s Web site for more information. See the National Park Service’s map on how to get to Yellowstone. For weather near the park go to the Weather Channel for the current conditions and forecast for West Yellowstone, Montana.
One route to leave or enter Yellowstone Park is along U.S. Highway 89, the Gardiner, Montana entrance. The highway follows the course of the Yellowstone River. The Absaroka Mountains, home to gray wolves, black bear, and other wildlife, tower above the roadway.
Lodging in Yellowstone is handled by Yellowstone National Park Lodges (866) 439-7375.
Travel tip: Yellowstone National Park is a big, big place, so plan your time carefully, when driving to and inside the park. Stay overnight at West Yellowstone or Gardiner, Montana (both cities are near the park’s entrance), then get an early morning start into Yellowstone.
THE LOWER YELLOWSTONE RIVER VALLEY
I-94 is the main route in southeastern Montana and Yellowstone Country. Visitors entering Montana from the east usually stop in Glendive (pop. 5,332). Glendive is a sleepy, small town, built around ranching, the railroad industry, and tourism. Makoshika State Park, an area of rugged badlands located east of the city, is a popular attraction.
Medicine Rocks State Park is another little-known treasure in southeast Montana. The park is located south of Glendive near the village of Ekalaka (pop. 445). Over millions of years, wind and water erosion have eroded the landscape in this area, leaving exposed huge irregular-shaped masses of sandstone. The rocks stand like behemoths and rise high above the surrounding grassy plains. The rocks are testimony to the passage of geologic time and a sign of ancient, mysterious times when ferocious dinosaurs roamed eastern Montana.
The Best Western/Jordan Inn (406) 377-5555 and the Astoria Hotel & Suites (406) 377-6000 offer good lodging in Glendive.
Miles City, Montana (pop. 8,647), also on I-94, is the cowboy capital of the world. This prairie village is home to the famous Bucking Horse Sale (3rd weekend in May). If there are real cowboys left in the world, they all must live in Miles City, Montana.
Tourists often go hunting for Montana moss agates in the nearby Yellowstone River Valley. The moss agate is a type of quartz gemstone. Amateurs and rock hounds dig through gravel deposits along the river to find the agates. When cut and polished, moss agates make beautiful jewelry.
The folks of Miles City are especially proud of their modern public library, which, by the way, is a nice place to seek refuge on a hot summer afternoon. In July the sun bakes everyone and everything in Miles City. On a typical summer day, Miles City’s weather makes a traveler from south Texas feel right at home. For lodging in Miles City, try Holiday Inn Express (406) 234-1000.
From Forsyth (pop. 1,869), travelers can continue west on I-94 and follow the Yellowstone River to Billings, or leave the interstate highway and go west along U.S. Highway 12 to Roundup and into the heart of Montana’s ranchland. Forsyth is a nice place for a short visit. Hungry travelers stop early to beat the huge crowds that always show up at the Joseph Cafe. Fitzgerald’s Restaurant is a good choice, too.
Off the interstate highway, reminders of Montana’s pioneer days are evident for all who care to explore. Old homesteads are always an interesting find. Near Hysham (pop. 301), an old log cabin sits quietly and abandoned on the short-grass prairie. An ancient windmill stands nearby, and rattlesnakes hide under wind-dried boards. Horseshoes lay scattered on the ground by the broken down corral. Dreams long forgotten. Who might have lived in a place like this? Were the days happy and prosperous? On a warm summer afternoon, a visitor to the cabin is greeted by curious mule deer. The mule deer soon become spooked by the “intruder” and run slowly to the surrounding hills.
Travel tip: Pictures okay, but don’t mess with private property.
Before the mountain men, prospectors, and settlers moved west, Montana was home to thousands of Native Americans. The Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, near Hardin (pop. 3,829), is testimony of their valiant efforts to protect their land from outsiders. The U.S. Army had been sent west by the government to subdue Native Americans. At the famous Battle of the Little Bighorn, June 25-26, 1876, various tribes fought back and were victorious. Sioux and Cheyenne warriors led by Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull delivered a deadly blow, killing George Custer and many soldiers. An outfit called Apsaalooke Tours offers a one-hour tour of the site. A stop here is a must for all who travel this way.
Travel tip: There’s no sales tax in Montana, so buy now.
Montana History Remembered
In the early 19th century millions of buffalo roamed the prairies of Montana. By the year 1883, the vast buffalo herds, mainly shot and killed by buffalo hunters for their hides, virtually disappeared from the plains.
Copyright © 2019 John Sandy