We’re big out – there’s no denying that. Wide open spaces and views that go on for miles and miles. The land was traversed by dinosaurs, Lewis and Clark, military units and tribes fighting some of the most well-known battles in American history.
One of the best ways to explore Southeast Montana is getting as close as you can to the beauty it offers. Venture into areas less traveled and navigate the land‘s many trails, offering you a chance to get that Instagram-worthy picture. Some of the hikes will take you through the badlands, while others parallel rivers and battlefields.
There are short walks and longer treks so grab some water and your best walking shoes then hit the path to discovery.
Makoshika State Park
Montana’s biggest state park is the perfect place to take the whole family. A wide range of trails at Makoshika State Park give you the chance to stretch your legs for an hour, or a whole day. And who knows, you may see a dinosaur fossil while walking around. There are more than a dozen options to try. For the perfect picture, try the Bluebird (1.3 miles) or Diane Gabriel (1 mile) trails. Both feature overlooks with spectacular views of the badlands. One of the most popular trails is the Cap Rock Trail (0.5 miles), with a natural bridge for the perfect photo opp—and views for miles.
Tip: Looking to stretch your legs even more? Start at Gunners Ridge and take a couple hours to travel the different paths in the east side of the park, eventually ending up at Hungry Joe point. Return to your vehicle via the park’s road. Check out this map to plot out your route.
Four Dances Recreation Area
The Four Dances Recreation Area is one of the most picturesque spots to get a picture in the Billings area. A short 1.8 mile in-and-out hike will take you up to the top of cliffs overlooking the Yellowstone River Valley with unbeatable views of the city and mountains to the West. But don’t be restricted by the main trail, as there are bigger hiking loops, plus benches for a place to reflect and interpretive signs. If you’re heading out during the summer, the Bureau of Land Management typically supports an on-site host.
Tip: This is a great place to take in a sunrise or sunset but don’t forget about the monthly full moon – it makes for a moving experience.
Reno-Benteen Entrenchment Trail
Why not take in some history on your hike? The Reno Benteen Entrenchment Trail runs an eighth of a mile at the site of the Reno-Benteen Battlefield, the “opening” stage of the Battle of the Little Bighorn. This marks the spot where Reno and his troops retreated after his attack and met up with Benteen. While on the trail, you can still see evidence where the troopers used butts of their guns, cups and whatever they had to dig an entrenchment line. A red cross marks where a field hospital was set up as make-shift military medics aided the wounded as the men held off further attack until rescued the next day. Throughout the Battlefield, you will see headstones (placed to best of historians’ knowledge) to mark where both warriors and troopers fell more than 100 years ago.
Tip: There is a 4.5 mile tour road to get to the trailhead. Take the audio tour to experience the narrative tour of the battles.
Medicine Rocks State Park
While the trails through Medicine Rocks State Park aren’t very lengthy, you’ll see unique sandstone rock formations which date back centuries. Many describe them as “Swiss-cheese” like” for the way the pillars been shaped by years of wind and erosion. Dawn and dusk are special times and will help you understand why Theodore Roosevelt called it one of the most beautiful places he had ever seen.
Tip: Choose from the Sunset Loop Trail (1.1 miles), North Rock Trail (0.6 miles) or the Dalton Trail (0.8 miles). The latter has a scenic viewpoint and interpretive exhibits along the pathway. Check out a map of the park’s trails here.
If you’re in the mood for something more rugged, the Calypso Trail in the Terry Badlands Wilderness Study Area (WSA) is for you. The primitive 5.5 mile road features access to impressive arches, bridges, flat tabletops, pinnacles, spires and scoria escarpments.
Tip: If you’re planning on taking on this trail high clearance vehicles are highly recommended to get to the spot, and the road can be impassable when wet. Off-roading vehicles and biking are not allowed in the WSA.
Roundup Heritage Trail and RiverWalk
Beautiful views of the Musselshell River await you on these trails. Multiple loops and pathways give you different options for shorter and longer hikes. Right on the outskirts of Roundup, but still secluded enough to feel like you’re out of town, these paths border the Musselshell County Fairgrounds, so you may be lucky enough to see some events going on while walking.
Tip: Hit the trails in the summer or fall if you can. Surrounded by cottonwoods, the paths offer beautiful views of the foliage, including spectacular colors on the trees and bushes. Take a look at the map here.
Once you’ve conquered all these trails and posted pictures with #nofilter, #SoutheastMontana and #OutHereMT to your social media, head to the hiking page on our website, and try the next set of hikes in Southeast Montana. Chances are once you start exploring the beautiful trails out here, you won’t want to stop.