We’ve made no qualms about the great times we’ve had in Billings, Montana, and no review series would be complete without a write-up of one of the best places in the area, the Western Heritage Museum. Sure, it’s historic, and sure, it’s fun and interesting, but more than any of that, did you know it’s also Smithsonian accredited? Well it’s that, and affordable too!
The Western Heritage Center is a regional museum that interprets and reflects the life and culture of the Yellowstone River Valley. It’s located conveniently in downtown Billings in a cool old mansion, which was later made into the Parmly Billings Library before becoming the museum it is today.
The building is obviously listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and you might be able to guess that just by looking at it, but it’s been brought up to all kinds of modern safety codes, so it’s exciting, though not the dangerous kind of exciting.
They have a collection (partly onsite and on-display, but much of it is safely in storage) of more than 16,000 artifacts, and you know it’s “all that” because scholars and students of history from all over the United States (and the world, let’s be honest) have done research from their archives and collection.
And apparently about 53% of the estimated 22,000 annual visitors are from within the state of Montana, my point being that in addition to being a cool touristy thing, it really is mcuh more than “just another tourist attraction.”
The museum is open Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., closed on Sundays and Mondays and legal holidays, and you can get in for just $3 if you’re an adult. Students are just $2 and kids under 12 are free… that means our party of five cost $6 to get in, and we had fun, fun, fun.
See it’s not just stuffy history stuff. As you can see from our pictures, there’s kind of a million things to do there, and each is as good as the one before it. You can dress up like old west city folk, play with a wooden train set designed to honor the railway heritage of the area, or just check out all the cool stuff.
And if you really want something different, consider this: Right out front, literally beside the steps of the center, there is a log cabin… not just any log cabin, mind you, it’s the actual studio of famous Montana artist and icon J.K. Ralston, who did all his works from retirement until he passed right there… well not right there in front of the center, it was moved there much later, but they have live interpretation from an expert in there throughout much of the season, and your museum admission gets you in.
For more information or special needs, check them out online at www.YWHC.org or call them at (406) 256-6809.