Billings, Montana: A Geographic Guide

Location and Physical Geography

Billings is located in south central Montana along the Yellowstone River. With a population of approximately 110,000 people, it is the largest city in Montana and serves as a hub for the surrounding region.

Some key facts about the physical geography of Billings:

Latitude and Longitude

  • Billings is located at 45°47′12′′N 108°32′32′′W
  • This puts Billings about halfway between the equator and north pole, giving it a continental climate with cold winters and hot summers


  • Billings sits at an elevation of 3,126 feet (954 meters) above sea level
  • Its location along the Yellowstone River valley causes elevation changes of 500-800 feet within the metro area

Landforms and Geology

  • Billings is positioned where the Rocky Mountains meet the Great Plains
  • The city is flanked by the Yellowstone River valley with sandstone rock formations
  • Nearby landforms include the Pryor Mountains, Beartooth Mountains, and Big Snowy Mountains

Climate and Weather

  • Billings has a semi-arid climate with hot summers and very cold, dry winters
  • Average high temps range from 32°F in January to 87°F in July
  • Annual precipitation averages only 14.5 inches, with most rainfall occurring in spring and early summer

Major Bodies of Water

  • The Yellowstone River runs through downtown Billings
  • Lake Elmo State Park provides water recreation opportunities just west of the city
  • Pictograph Cave State Park contains a large system of caves southeast of Billings

Natural Vegetation and Wildlife

  • Grasses, sagebrush, and Ponderosa pines dominate the natural landscape
  • Deer, pronghorn, coyotes, red foxes, and raptors inhabit the area around Billings
  • Yellowstone wildlife including elk, black bears, and mountain lions can occasionally be spotted

Neighborhoods and Districts

Billings features many distinct neighborhoods and districts that each have their own geography and character. Here are some of the main areas of town:

Downtown Billings

This historic downtown area features government offices, banks, restaurants, shops, hospitals, and high-rise buildings situated along the Yellowstone River. Key sites downtown include:

  • Skypoint – A 31-story tower that is Billings’ tallest building
  • Alberta Bair Theater – A performing arts center and landmark
  • Billings Depot – A historic railway station now functioning as an events venue

The Heights

Located northwest of downtown, The Heights neighborhood sits on a plateau overlooking Billings. It features upscale housing, retail centers, parks, trails, and recreation opportunities. The Rimrocks, a 500 foot sandstone cliff band, delineates The Heights on its north side.

The West End

This mostly residential part of west Billings offers more affordable single-family homes along with key commercial zones. Independent Brew Works and Zoo Montana are popular West End destinations.

Shiloh Corridor

Named after the historic Shiloh Methodist church, this eastern stretch of Grand Ave comprises industrial yards, retail centers, fast food outlets, motels, and Montana’s largest candy factory, King’s Cupboard.

South Side

Billings’ southern districts below the Rims contain a mixture of old and new neighborhoods along with significant commercial enterprises. Southgate Mall and Deaconess Hospital are major area landmarks.

Parks and Recreation Sites

With the Rocky Mountains nearby, Billings offers abundant outdoor recreation in its parks system. Below are some top sites and natural areas in town:

Pictograph State Park

  • Features one of the largest cave systems in Montana with over 100 pictographs
  • Offers camping, hiking trails, interpretive tours, and wildlife viewing

Red Lodge Mountain

  • A scenic ski and snowboard resort just 30 miles southeast of Billings
  • Open for winter sports from mid-November through mid-April

Lake Elmo State Park

  • Situated on a 640 acre recreation site three miles southwest of Billings
  • Provides fishing, swimming, non-motorized boating, picnicking, hiking trails, and wildlife habitat

Phipps Park

  • Large regional park in northwest Billings spanning over 500 acres
  • Contains tennis courts, sports fields, an 18-hole disc golf course, and 10K of trails

Riverfront Park

  • Downtown riverside park with biking/walking paths, picnic areas, and events plaza
  • Offers views of the Yellowstone river and valley vistas

Zimmerman Park

  • Iconic downtown green space informally known as “South Park”
  • Features a duck pond, rose garden, concert pavilion, and Story Mansion

Bodies of Water for Recreation

The rivers, lakes, and reservoirs surrounding Billings allow for outstanding water sports and summer recreation:

Yellowstone River

  • Runs right through Billings; prime for river tubing and fishing
  • Species like trout, catfish, and smallmouth bass fill the river

Lake Elmo

  • Offers paddleboarding, kayaking, sailing and electric boating just west of downtown
  • Sandy swimming beach, fishing piers, and a waterslide area provided

Cooney Reservoir

  • This state park 30 miles south of Billings provides boating, sailing, fishing, camping, hiking, and swimming

Bighorn River

  • Cold, clear mountain river fed by the Bighorn Mountains’ snowmelt
  • One of Montana’s blue ribbon trout fisheries; located 50 miles south of Billings

Canyon Ferry Lake

  • A popular recreation lake for boating and fishing 28 miles east of Billings
  • Set in the Big Belt Mountains; known for trout, walleye, perch and kokanee

Boyd Lake

  • Small fishing lake stocked with rainbow trout just southeast of Billings
  • Also offers ice fishing opportunities in winter

Climate and Weather Patterns

Billings’ inland location far from oceans results in extreme seasonal temperatures and low humidity. The city has a cold semi-arid climate characterized by:

Hot, Dry Summers

  • Daytime summer highs average 85°F but frequently exceed 100°F
  • Humidity ranges from 20% – 55% in summer
  • Subsoil irrigation is needed for gardens/lawns due to low rainfall

Extreme Diurnal Temperature Variation

  • Big swings between daily highs/lows due to the dry air
  • Overnight lows frequently drop to 55°F despite 100°F+ afternoon readings

Bitterly Cold, Dry Winters

  • Average highs are 32°F in January but dip well below zero overnight
  • Very low humidity results in dry, powdery snow
  • Subzero stretches lead to thick ice on ponds/lakes

High Winds Year-Round

  • 30+ mph wind events occur during all seasons
  • Chinook winds can quickly spike temperatures while stirring violent dust storms

Frequent Hailstorms

  • Mid-summer hailstorms often pelt Billings
  • Hail up to baseball sized damages gardens, vehicles and roofs annually

Annual Precipitation and Snowfall

  • Billings only averages 14 inches of precipitation per year
  • Seasonal snowfall averages around 50 inches due to the cold, dry winter climate
  • Much of the scant moisture comes from spring/early summer thundershowers

Natural Disasters and Risks

Despite seeming isolation from turbulent weather events, Billings faces seasonal threats including:

Summer Hailstorms

As mentioned above, large hail often accompanies severe summer thunderstorms, damaging homes, businesses, and agriculture.

High Winds and Tornadoes

Strong winds frequently gust over 60 mph in the Billings area and can spawn tornadoes.

Winter Blizzards and Subzero Cold

From September through May, extreme cold, heavy snow, and icy conditions surge down from Canada and Alaska. Treacherous travel, infrastructure damage, and livestock losses can result.

Dust Storms

Blinding dust storms arise when extreme winds roar across eastern Montana’s arid plains surrounding Billings. These events lead to multiple-vehicle highway crashes causing injuries and fatalities.


Rapid snowmelt or extreme rainfall often overflows the banks of the Yellowstone River and smaller creeks, forcing evacuations and road closures.


Grassland wildfires fueled by high winds and searing heat threaten homes and structures on Billings’ outskirts during summer and early autumn.

Unique Geographic Elements

Beyond the features covered already, below are some unique natural formations and sites characterizing Billings’ distinct geography:

The Sandstone Rimrocks

These iconic yellow and brown sandstone cliffs flank Billings, providing an unmistakable natural backdrop that shapes the city.

Pompey’s Pillar

A National Historic Landmark just east of Billings featuring 200+ native petroglyphs and Captain William Clark’s 1806 carved signature.

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  • Start out going northwest on Main St toward N 28th St. Take the 1st right onto N 28th St. Turn right onto Grand Ave, then quickly turn left to merge onto I-90 W toward Sheridan. Follow I-90 W for approximately 70 miles, then take exit 442 for Blue Creek Rd toward Billings. Turn right onto Blue Creek Rd and the destination will be on your right after about 0.3 miles.
  • Head west on Main St toward N 29th St. Turn right onto N 29th St, followed by a slight left to merge onto I-90 W. Stay on I-90 W, driving for roughly 70 miles, before taking the Blue Creek Rd exit on the right. Take the ramp onto Blue Creek Rd and go straight for 0.3 miles until you arrive at 3910 Blue Creek Rd on your right.
  • Start by getting on I-90 W from Main St. Drive on the interstate for about 70 miles then take exit 442 to merge onto Blue Creek Rd. As soon as you exit, turn right to continue on Blue Creek Rd. 3910 Blue Creek Rd will be around 0.3 miles down the road on your right side. The travel time should be just over an hour from downtown Billings.