Billings, MT – 20 years can REALLY change a town

We lived in Billings, MT 20 years ago before moving to Texas.  We’ve been back a few times, but our visits were so packed that we didn’t have time to look around.  This time we spent 10 days at our daughters (thanks girl for the driveway:)) and while she worked, we caught up on our projects on the camper.  So between driving around to all the hardware stores, we made sure to go to all the sporting goods retailers — Big Bear , Scheels, and Cabela’s‘s.

Part of the Rimrock trail


Full size ferris wheel in Scheels

Scheels was a big surprise from the small store it was 20 years ago – it is really a destination store now with a full size ferris wheel inside, 6 different ‘photo opportunity’ booths, huge 2 story curved saltwater aquarium, a bowling alley and more.

We were buying bear spray so this photo opp was irresistible

We were buying bear spray so this photo opp was irresistible

Billings has one of the largest trade areas in the United States because it is the trade and distribution center for most of Montana, Northern Wyoming, and western portions of North Dakota and South Dakota.  The population is only 166,000, but since it draws from such a huge geographic area for people’s retail shopping, it feels much bigger because of the large retail base.  There are so many hotels because families come from rural farms/ranches for the week or weekend to shop all the big named retailers you won’t find anywhere else in Montana.  (It doesn’t hurt that Montana has no sales tax either.)

It is a neat town – it is developed at the base of an 800 ft tall towering rock wall (The Rims) and you can see eight different mountain ranges from the Billings area.  We swear that it also has more coffee shops than any other city in the US per capita (besides Seattle) with Starbucks, two large local chains, and every large parking lot has a 10 x 10 ft drive up coffee shop.

Lake Elmo State Park

Lake Elmo State Park Beach area

Lake Elmo State Park has a  Dog Beach

Lake Elmo State Park has a Dog Beach

We enjoyed some bike riding and walking at a overlook linear park along the rims for a spectacular view of the city and nearby mountain range.  We also walked the short (1 1/4 miles) walk around Lake Elmo State Park, a day use only park.

One of the negatives is that we swore there was price collusion in gas prices.  There must be 60 gas stations and EVERY SINGLE ONE had the same price of gas and diesel.  Prices changed (higher of course) while we were here and all stations changed to the same prices.

How can every station be the same?

How can every station be the same?

Also for those RV’ers needing to find a dump station in Billings – if you buy something from Cabela’s you can use their dump station for free with a code they give you at the customer service desk, otherwise it is $5.

Next we’ll meander up to Glacier National Park to hike and start our journey to Alaska.


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