We have been to Billings, Montana, many, many times, but our family had never been to Pompey’s Pillar National Monument, just 25 miles east of Billings, until recently! In fact, we didn’t even know it was there until a couple of years ago.
Pompey’s Pillar is the location where William Clark (of Lewis & Clark Expedition fame) carved his name and the date of his visit, on a rock bluff next to the Yellowstone River. The Expedition had split up to explore and map more territory, and William Clark’s route brought him down through this area on July 25, 1806. Today, over 200 years later, we can still see the marks that William Clark left on the rocks here – they are the only remaining on-location, physical evidence of the L&C Expedition!
The monument is located on 51 acres of Bureau of Land Management holdings, and has modern facilities. There are numerous walking paths (including some ADA compliant) including along the Yellowstone River, and a picnic area.
We were surprised, upon arrival, to find that this park, while located on BLM land, is a beautiful park with a fabulous visitor’s and interpretive center. This 5700 sq ft center was just opened in 2006, and includes a great museum with educational exhibits about the expedition.
Inside the visitor’s center, you will also find restrooms, drinking fountains, and a small but nice gift shop. This location is staffed with rangers and volunteers, and even offers a Jr. Ranger program! We asked for Jr. Ranger booklets first thing (free at this location); the park also loans out clipboards and pencils for doing the program with.
We always look through the books well so we know what is expected for each age group/child, and so that we don’t miss anything during our visit to the different areas of the parks.
For this location, the kids each had to do at least 6 pages. The activities were of varying difficulty, and there were some that Caleb could do with very little help, so he was able to do the program here.
The kids got a start on their booklets while I found some Pompey’s Pillar pencils to add to our Jr. Ranger pencil pouch that we keep in the van, and a bumper sticker for the back of the toy hauler (yes, we are putting bumper stickers on the new rv 😉 ). Unfortunately, no penny pressing machine here.
The visitor’s center offers a short video near the entrance to the museum. We always try to watch the videos first so that we have an overview of the events, and know what we want to learn more about (and just what we are seeing!) when we go through the exhibits.
There were multiple hands on activities for the kids, and they had to find several items in the museum in order to complete some of their JR activities.
The museum contains gorgeous paintings by J.K. Ralston, one of my favorite highlights of the park, that recreate possible scenes from the expedition based on journals left by Lewis & Clark.
After we completed our inside work, it was time to visit the monument! Because the engraving is located near the top of the rock face, a staircase and boardwalk was built to get to the actual location of Clark’s signature. This area of the park is not handicap or stroller accessible. There are 115 steps, and some ramps, to reach the engraving, but it is an easy walk for kids.
A nearby plaque gives more information about the events here, which is especially helpful if you are visiting when the center is closed.
At the other end of the bluff is an overlook platform (after more steps and ramps) that gives a beautiful view of the surrounding (now) farmland and bottom ground.
It is not hard to imagine William Lewis and his fellow explorers floating down the Yellowstone River here and stopping in the shade of this rock cropping
before continuing their float back down the river and towards home.
The park offers several short walks, some paved and some not. There are picnic tables in a few areas of the park, so even though it wasn’t a long distance from the truck, we packed our lunches (along with hats, jackets, and water bottles).
After we thoroughly explored the grounds, we found our way back to the visitor’s center where the kids turned in their completed Jr. Ranger booklets.
So, what did The Tribe think of the park? Pretty Cool! And we should have visited years ago!
Here are our FYIs and tips for visiting Pompey’s Pillar National Monument:
*This park accepts the National Park Service’s America the Beautiful pass program, including access, senior, and active duty military. If you don’t possess this inter-agency pass, admission is just $7/vehicle.
*Everything is a bit of a walk. There are handicapped parking spaces right next to the visitor’s center (which is handicap accessible), but otherwise, the parking lot is a short walk away, and the monument beyond that. If you don’t want to carry the littlest ones that far, bring a front pack or backpack for them.
*If you have children ages 5 to 12 (or so), check out their Jr. Ranger program (if you haven’t heard of, or done, a NPS Jr. Ranger program before, you can find out more about it here). Depending on age, plan on 20 to 30 minutes for older kids for this one, and an hour or so for the younger ones.
*Down below the engraving ,between the pillar and the river, is a recreation of the rock face that Clark engraved his signature on. This is a great visit for those that are unable to walk up to see the actual engraving, but it’s also a fun stop for the kids – pack along a few pieces of paper and do a crayon or pencil rub of the engraving.
*The main entrance and the visitor’s center are closed October through April. May through September, the main gate is open from 8am to 6pm, while the visitor’s center is open 9 to 6.
*Even if the park is closed for the season, you can still park at the entrance (use the self-pay station for entrance fees) and walk the 1/2 mile road to the monument. The visitor’s center will be closed, but the paths, boardwalk, and steps to Clark’s engraving, as well as the valley overlook, are still accessible. The park is open to walk-ins from dawn to dusk.
*Take your lunch – this park is located in beautiful and serene surroundings (pretty much in the middle of nowhere) and there are no local eateries. You won’t want to leave anyway.
If you would like to learn more about visiting Pompey’s Pillar National Monument on your own expedition, you can find their government page here. Happy Exploring!