Billings Backyard Trails: Adventure in the Magic City

June 2020 | article and photos by jamie blotske

"There's NOTHING to do here."

A statement I have heard one too many times as a Billings resident.

Honestly, there was a time in my life I would have agreed. Growing up 40 miles west of Billings, in the small town of Columbus, I lived my childhood in the heart of an area some might consider Montana's capital for outdoor adventure.

Raised a Wild Child

Long before a cellphone, I had a fishing rod, rafting oar, and a tent pole in my hand. My dad taught me how to catch rainbow trout around the age of 8. We had our own raft and spent our summers floating the Stillwater, riding the white water rapids, and cliff jumping into the deep, slow-moving pools along the river bend. We spent many nights in a tent, stargazing, telling stories, and laughing at the many bodily noises made in our small sleeping quarters. Dad was always to blame, no matter who the actual culprit was! We spent a lot of time in the Beartooths, hiking to places such as Mystic Lake, Woodbine Falls, and Sioux Charley Lake. I distinctly remember getting my first bee sting on one of these trails!

The Big City

It shouldn't come as a surprise when I say Billings was the "big city" with "big city" amenities like Wal-Mart, Rimrock Mall, and endless fast-food options. We came to Billings for dentist appointments, swimming lessons, and school supply shopping.

Billings had movie theaters, not mountains.

Billings had hotels, not hiking trails.

Billings had Applebee’s, not adventure.

Or so I thought...

If there is one thing I have learned as an outdoor enthusiast, adventure is more than just an action or an exciting experience. Adventure is also a mindset, a way of thinking, and an approach to life. 

Love Where You Live

Years later, married with three children, Billings is home, and we love it here. More than anything, my husband and I want to give our children a childhood with exposure to the great outdoors, opportunities to passionately love it as we do, and the mindset that adventure is more than mountaintops and raging rivers.

Our family loves to hike, and when you love something, don't you want to share it with the world? Shout it from the rooftops? Well, here I am today, shouting out our favorite trails in Billings, Montana.

Trails to Trek

Four Dances Trail - Favorite spot to catch a sunrise or sunset 

Located southeast of Billings, take the Lockwood exit off of I-90. From there, take Coburn Road for about 1.5-2 miles before taking a right onto the dirt road that leads to the parking lot area.

This trail is a 2.5-mile loop with amazing overlooks of Billings and the Yellowstone River. I can't tell you how many times I've had people look at our pictures from Four Dances and say, "Is that here in Billings?" Yep, it sure is!

Phipps Park - Best trail to get your heart pumping

On the very west end of Billings, headed towards Molt, you will find Phipps Park. As you near the train track bridge, slow down because the parking lot is immediately to your left once you drive underneath it.

This is another 2.5-mile loop with a 400ft climb to the top. If you really want a workout, run this baby! It is also a great spot to pull up a rock and catch a sunset.

Zimmerman Park - Best view of Billings and the three surrounding mountain ranges

Located on the rims, head north on Zimmerman Trail, right off of Rimrock Road. When you get to the top at the roundabout, head west, and the parking lot is to your left.

Zimmerman provides several outdoor options, such as hiking, biking, rock climbing, rappelling, and sightseeing. On a clear day, you can easily spot the three mountain ranges - the Bighorn, Pryor, and Beartooth Mountains. 

Riverfront Park - Favorite place to casually stroll and get lost in a storybook setting

Located south of Billings, take the South Billings Boulevard exit and make your way towards the river. You will see the park entrance to your left, just before the bridge.

The thing we love most about Riverfront is the trees. As you make your way around the loop, behind the lake, the trees form this natural tunnel that creates a storybook feel, as I previously mentioned.

John H. Dover Memorial Park - Blotske family favorite

From Airport Road, heading east, take a left on Main Street in the Heights. Stay north on Main until you reach Wicks Lane. Take a right on Wicks, left on Bitterroot Drive, and then a final right on Mary Street. Follow Mary for about a mile before finding the parking lot, which will be to your right, on 5 Mile Road.

Why our favorite?

You can dip your toes in the waters of the Yellowstone River or head for higher ground to catch a spectacular view of the river and the city of Billings looming in the background. The 2-mile loop includes a few super cool swinging bridges, and lastly, we have always had the place to ourselves. Billings' best-kept secret? Maybe?! See for yourself!

Honorable mentions: Swords Park, Two Moon Park, trails to the north/northeast of Yellowstone Country Club, Shiloh Conservation Area, Mystic Park, Lake Elmo State Park, Pictograph Caves State Park 

Find YOUR Adventure!

Remember, adventure is what you make it to be. In a world saturated with technology, your mental health needs you to step away, get some fresh air, get your blood flowing, and soak up some vitamin D. Our kids need it too, and this is a wonderful way for your family to disconnect from the distractions of social media, cable TV, video games, etc. and reconnect as a family unit. It's cliché but true: Kids won't remember their best day of television.

Originally printed in the June 2020 issue of Simply Local Magazine

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