Stargazing in Big Sky Country
There are a handful of images that come to mind when one hears the name Big Sky Country. Wide open fields rolling into the horizon. Towering mountain ranges chased by endless highways. Great, lumbering clouds as far as the eye can see. Yet, to fully appreciate the depth of our state’s unofficial moniker, the sun must retreat and our eyes must turn upward. Stargazing in Montana will not disappoint. Summer nights may be short, but they are sweet, offering a rich reward to those who stay up past their bedtime.
You don’t have to be an aspiring astronomer to enjoy this peaceful pastime. From seasoned stargazers to wide-eyed amateurs, these four places will offer some of the best views of the night sky. Pack a backpack, make some tasty treats and hit the road for celestial summer fun.
26 miles from Billings
- Take King Avenue West to 88th Street West and turn right.
- Take second left onto Lipp Road.
- Right onto Buffalo Trail Road.
- Left onto Molt Road.
On the outskirts of town, allow yourself to be transported to the Montana of old. Homestead buildings and rustic structures lend this observation point a true country feeling. While taking in the night sky, you can tell ghost stories or listen for train whistles in the distance.
Clarks Fork of Yellowstone River
15 miles from Billings
- Take 90 West.
- Take exit 434 onto US 212 toward Red Lodge.
- Turn left onto Thiel Road.
The junction of the Clarks Fork River and Yellowstone River outside of Laurel lends itself to easily accessible stargazing. Watch the night sky come alive both above and below as it reflects across the flowing waters. The glow of city lights adds a cool effect for photos.
Big Horn Canyon South District Lovell, Wyoming
90 miles from Billings
- Take Interstate 90 west for 12 miles.
- Turn exit 434 for Laurel/Red Lodge, Montana.
- At the exit ramp, take a left onto US 310 East/US 212 South. Follow this highway for the next 12 miles.
- Turn left at US 310 East and follow the highway for 63 miles to Lovell, Wyoming.
- Continue through Lovell then take a left onto US 14 East.
Along the edge of the Custer National Forest is the Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area. Though it may take some extra travel time, those willing to make the trek will be in for a treat. The remote area is widely free of light pollution. On clear nights, the sky is dark and beautiful, revealing a myriad of stars even the most casual observer can enjoy.
Beartooth Pass Overlook
69 miles from Billings
- Take 90 West
- Take exit 434 for US 212 toward Red Lodge.
- Continue south and west along US 212 onto Beartooth Highway.
For nearly 70 miles, the Beartooth Highway winds its way through the Beartooth Mountains, unfurling among peaks that reach over 12,000 feet. High atop this famous, albeit treacherous, stretch of road are spectacular spots for summer stargazing. Seen at twilight, the afterglow of the sun and lights of Red Lodge cast a warm haze on the horizon. Depending on the season, astronomy buffs will rejoice at the chance to see Jupiter, Venus, the Milky Way and the Northern Lights all from the same vantage point.
Special thanks to Trevan Hiersche, TrevanHiersche.com, for the night sky photos.
Things to Bring
Picnic Backpack Cooler with Blanket, $81.99 at Bed Bath and Beyond
Combine the ease of wearing a backpack with everything you love about a picnic. The insulated cooler will keep drinks and food chilled and the pack includes a convenient wine holder and blanket. Inside you’ll find wine glasses, flatware, napkins and more.
16-ounce Handmade Soy Candle in Citronella, $20 at TheMontanaHomesteadEmporium.com
Let this stylish candle add to the ambiance while hints of citronella keep insects at bay.
JBL Go Portable Speaker, $25 at Walmart
Space is silent, but your evening doesn’t have to be. Put together a mellow mix and enjoy the crystal-clear sound of this compact wireless speaker. Compatible with iOS or Android. Rechargeable battery works with any standard USB port.