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Southeast Montana’s Big, Open Spaces are the Perfect Place for an Escape: Part II

 Aaron Theisen

Southeast Montana’s Big, Open Spaces are the Perfect Place for an Escape: Part II

We all know Montana is big, and the space Southeast Montana covers is a big portion of the state. In Southeast Montana’s Big Open Spaces are the Perfect Place for an Escape: Part I , we told you about the public recreational land, national forest land, lakes, rivers and fishing access sites. Here, learn about national monuments, historical sites, state parks and biking trails across Southeast Montana.

National Monuments

There are two of these spots in Southeast Montana. The Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument encompasses two battlefields, the Reno-Benteen and Custer. The monuments, which includes the Indian Memorial, commemorates the fight between the U.S. 7th Calvary Regiment and the Sioux and Cheyenne tribes as the latter fought to preserve their way of life. Several hundred troops were killed during the two-day battle on June 25-26, 1876 including their leader Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer. The battlefields are separated by a 4.5 mile self-guided driving tour. The visitor center offers exhibits to better explain the logistics of the battle.

Pompeys Pillar National Monument contains the only remaining in-the-field, physical evidence of William Clark and Meriwether Lewis’ expedition to map out the Louisiana Purchase. Captain Clark carved his signature into the stone pillar, about 25 miles east of Billings. The interpretive center helps visitors to trace Clark’s journey through the Yellowstone Valley in 1806.

Photo Credit: Nathan Satran Photography

Historical Sites

Montana’s historical roots run deep. Hear about dinosaurs who wandered the land millions of years ago. Trace the path of Lewis and Clark’s journey through Montana as they worked to map out the western territory. Learn about the Native Americans who have lived on the land for centuries, their fight to protect their homes and how their heritage and culture remain strong.

We encourage you to visit one of the more than 20 historical sites across Southeast Montana, including Camp 21, General Custer’s camp site in 1876 or the Historic Bell Bridge in Glendive, which is reserved for pedestrians and bicyclists for a more intimate view of the Yellowstone River. The Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument and Rosebud Battlefield State Park are just a couple of the many battle sites scattered across the land. Find a full list of all the historical sites here.

Photo Credit: Nathan Satran Photography

State Parks

Eight of the 55 state parks in Montana are in the southeast portion of the state, including the largest one, Makoshika State Park, famous for the dinosaurs that roamed it millions of years ago. Makoshika offers numerous hiking and biking trails, camping spots - including a teepee at site 15 - wildlife watching and more. Or, take a shot at the disc golf course. Dino nuts will enjoy the Paleo Adventures every Saturday.

Chief Plenty Coups State Park honors the last recognized leader of the Crow tribe and his efforts to unite his people with the United States in the early 1900s. Visit Plenty Coups’ log home and store or stop at one of the tables along the Pryor Creek for a picnic and wildlife watching.

Take a dip into the reservoir at Lake Elmo State Park for a swim from the sandy beach or boating excursion with the family. Bring along the dogs for a (leashed) walk on the trail around the lake while bird watching or take a chance at fishing off Roger’s Pier. Finish your day at the interpretive center 

At Medicine Rocks State Park, you’ll be fascinated by the sandstone rock formations and the hieroglyphs painted on them that have withstood centuries of weathering. Take advantage of the park’s primitive camp sites and trails or sit and observe the mule deer, antelope, Woodhouse’s toad and sharp-tailed grouse that call the area home.

As the name implies, Pictograph Cave State Park is home to rock paintings done by prehistoric hunters thousands of years ago. More than 30,000 artifacts from the settlers were found in the area. Walk the path with interpretive signs. For best viewing, visit after rain or some snow, as the moisture accentuates the pictographs.

Looking for a perfect place along the Yellowstone River with ample bird watching in the shade of cottonwoods? Look no further than Pirogue Island State Park. Nearly three miles of trails provide ample opportunity to view the wildlife. When the weather is hot, you can cross side channels and wade in the water.Rosebud Battlefield State Park gives visitors a deeper understand of the battle fought between U.S. troops and Indian armies just eight days before the Battle of Little Bighorn in June 1876. Here you can walk the trails or go off the path and imagine the cavalry charging down the cliffs. Or, climb to the top of the cliffs to view the petroglyphs painted centuries ago when the land was used for hunting and gathering.

Photo Credit: Andy Austin

Biking Trails

You’ll find more than 70 miles of formal biking trails in Southeast Montana. Billings boasts a system with nearly 50 miles of paved/hard surface trails, as well as dozens of miles on on-street riding. For the more experienced riders, the Zimmerman Park Trail offers spectacular views of Billings near the Rims, while the Marathon Loop will take you on a ride around the entire city.

The Acton Recreation Area north of Billings has its own set of trails including the Heag Road or Rollercoaster Trail for bikers. Looking for something a little more difficult? The Calypso Trail running through the Terry Badlands Wilderness Study Area offers beautiful scenery and a more difficult dirt road to follow. Make sure to stay on the trail, as off-roading isn’t allowed. Or, take your pick from the different paved trails throughout Makoshika State Park.

Find a full list of trails here.

If you’re keeping a running tally, the numbers are staggering. Approximately 524,000 acres of National Forest Service land. Nearly 70 miles of formal biking trails. More than 30 fishing access points along five major rivers and seven lakes. Two national monuments and 15 historic sites. Eight state parks with more than 16,000 acres. And approximately 40,000 acres of BLM land designated for recreation. Even if you’ve already explored some of these areas, there are many more waiting for you.

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