After nearly six months of snow and winter, it’s time to remind ourselves of why we live in Montana — spring and summer.
Maybe this is the year you set out to find new haunts to explore, or revisit places you haven’t been to in years. Earth Day is next Friday, April 22, but you can start celebrating now by looking for scenic spots to set up an easel or a camera tripod or just stretch those winter-weary limbs.
And who better to school us in finding beauty and fun than area artists and photographers?
Here are some picks for the top spots for day trips.
I have a few that I really like.
The first one would be the Pryor Mountains. Go through Bridger and one mile outside of town, you will see the access to national forest land. It’s paved for 1 mile and after that it’s definitely a four-wheel -drive-only road.
What you’ll see: I go to the Pryors to see the flowers in the spring, sometimes the birds and the horses, of course. It’s a beautiful place.
I also like Pompeys Pillar National Monument. They have a new visitors center they opened in 2005 that is really nice.
What you’ll see: Follow the boardwalk to the top of the pillar and from there you can see four or five mountain ranges.
Then, there are the pictograph caves across the Yellowstone River from Billings and then turn south on Coburn Road. They have tours in the summer that will take you to all three of the caves.
What you’ll see: Some of the drawings date back to 7000 B.C. Archeologists there can tell you about them.
My favorite place is the Montana Grizzly Encounter outside Bozeman off the Jackson Creek exit. It’s a nonprofit organization and the entry fee of $7 for adults goes to help feed the bears. There were three bears there, two females and one male. They live in a natural habitat after being rescued from unfortunate circumstances. The females were rescued from a circus in Texas where they lived in a 10-by-10-foot cage.
What you’ll see: You won’t see fencing. A dry moat creates a barrier between you and the bears so there are no fences, making it a great place to take photographs.
amateur photographer and marketing director for the Billings Symphony Orchestra
Sioux Charley Lake, southwest of Nye. I’m planning on going in May. It makes for an easy day trip and you can stop in Nye at the Dew Drop Inn for lunch. It’s an easy 3-mile hike to Sioux Charley and the trail doesn’t gain much in elevation.
What to watch out for: You have to keep in mind with the snow melting, the river does go up. We went early last year and part of the trail had washed out.
The river was so raging in that gorge, it was splashing up on the side of the trail getting us wet. We definitely held our kids’ hands.
What you’ll see: You do have to be careful for bears. It depends on how you approach the trip, is it the journey or the destination?
If it’s the journey, there are lots of swimming holes along the way.
If it’s the destination, there is the lake. There are big horn sheep and definitely moose, sometimes baby moose.
Don’t want to walk 3 miles? There is a short, but steep hike out of the campground to a waterfall.
amateur photographer, community historian at the Western Heritage Center
Our hiking shifts according to the seasons. A place we hike, often in cooler weather, and outside of local places such as Four Dances, Swords Park and Phipps Park, is north of the Yellowstone River, north and northeast of Billings. We take our dog Sophie and explore for fossils and other signs of life. We hike north of Pompeys Pillar and north of Shepherd on several large tracts of BLM and state land. It’s rugged country, often better for hiking when it’s a little cooler out. It’s an area of hot dusty summers, with no water and lots of rattlesnakes, but during the cool of spring, fall and winter, it’s fantastic country.
Things you may find: Horny toads, praying mantis and rattlesnakes. “We found a praying mantis that is gray, not green and the horny toads when you put them on the ground match their environment well.”
In Roundup, we have a trail along the Musselshell River that is just a nice place to walk in the spring. It goes down by the fairgrounds and you can get to it easily from town.
What you’ll see: There are lots of big old cottonwoods, pine trees and birds. It’s a nice place to paint.
amateur photographer, marketing director at Venture Theatre
My husband, Andre, and I try to look for someplace where he can throw a Frisbee and I can take photos. We really love the area of Diamond X at Phipps Park, which is west of Yellowstone Country Club on Molt Road. We like to explore that part of the Rims along the railroad trestle. The folf course is tough, but there are established trails.
What you’ll see: The rock formations are beautiful. We went there at dusk, which is a great time to take pictures, but a horrible time to play disc golf.
curatorial assistant at the Yellowstone Art Museum
I used to go every spring to the Pryor Mountains to see the new baby horses. It’s really cool up there when it starts to turn green.
What you may see: I just love to see the horses with all the babies, and to see the stallionsw competing over the females. A lot of times, there is a BLM ranger up there and they know every single horse and will answer questions. One year I went up there, there was a guy from France taking photographs.
ceramic artist, director of the Moss Mansion
Years ago, we used to drive around, looking for places to take pictures. There are all these cool little places to go. The drive to Lewistown is one of the prettiest drives ever. Sometimes we forget. We always look to the south to the beautiful mountains, but there is cool scenery other places, too.
What to do in Lewistown: The Lewistown museum is fabulous. It’s all family stuff. It’s so personal. A lot of times it’s grandma’s wedding dress right there as you walk in the door. And the volunteer who is working there is the granddaughter of the woman who got married in 1908.
Where else? There are also great little museums in Roundup and Big Timber. These are all nice day trips. Pack a lunch, or eat at the A&W if you’re in Roundup and then come back to the big city of Billings.