Pictograph Cave State Park Billings, MT – Art caves


Pictograph State Park

Image source: Montana State Parks

Pictograph Cave State Park is an archaeological site located 5 mile south of Billings, Montana. It is a place to explore the origins of human habitation and their lives through Pictographs (rock paintings) painted in caves. The Pictograph Cave site was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1964, due to its archaeological significance. The park provides unique opportunity to explore the mystery of this extraordinary site, tour the nearby trail and a day out for picnicking.

The Pictograph Cave State Park is cluster of three caves where for five thousand years prehistoric hunters and their historic American Indian counterparts left behind a legacy of painted images and artifacts. Although the interpretation of the cave art is subject to debate, the value of the archaeological site to the history and culture of the human society is significant.

The park site has a pleasant 1/4 loop trail to the caves, with interpretative displays along the route identifying and explaining the natural features, the prehistoric paintings and vegetation found in the area.

Pictograph Cave Site

The cave art images of animals, warriors and even rifles tell a story that has lasted thousands of years. Prehistoric hunters who camped in Pictograph Cave left behind artifacts and over 100 rock paintings. The oldest rock art in the cave is over 2,000 years old.

The park site has three main caves, the Pictograph, Middle, and Ghost cave. The caves were home to generations of prehistoric hunters dating back to thousands of years ago. Pictograph Cave is the largest of three rock shelters and nestles into sandstone bluffs. Pictograph Cave is also the deepest of the three main caves, at approximately 160 feet wide and 45 feet deep.

The first recorded discovery of artifacts and paintings in the caves was made in 1936. The archaeological excavation at Pictograph Cave uncovered an assortment of stone and bone tools, projectile points, a carved amulet, pottery shards, and burned bone. The deeper deposits revealed artifacts from the Middle Prehistoric Period (3000 B.C. to 500 A.D.).

The excavation also recovered revealed large amount prehistoric artifacts. About 30,000 artifacts, ranging from stone tools, weapons, paintings and the instruments used, were excavated from the site.

The pigments used in the rock art provide researchers to date when people inhabited the region and give insights into their lifestyle. The artifacts discovered allow researchers to pinpoint which native peoples used the caves and when they inhabited the region.

On the terrace below the caves, the excavation crew unearthed historic artifacts and remnants of a prehistoric lodge. They also found the remains of at least nine individuals in and around the caves. Some human bones had the same bites and teeth marks of a human mouth, leading to speculations of cannibalism.

The excavation also found stone and bone tools, moccasins, arrow shafts, basketry, grinding stones, and fire-starting tools. All the findings of the excavation are preserved and displayed in the State Museum.

History of the Pictograph cave site

Pictograph caves are one of the most important archaeological sites in Montana. The caves were first discovered in 1938, with initial excavations taking place from 1938-1941. After many years of excavations, more than 30,000 artifacts have been found, including harpoon points carved from caribou horn, as well as 9 grave sites, helping archaeologists and historians to gain a clearer picture of prehistoric life in the area.

Details about the Pictograph cave State Park

Opening Hours: Open daily, with the following seasonal hours:

  • Memorial Day to Labor Day: 8 am – 8 pm
  • September and April: 9 am – 7 pm
  • October to March, Wednesday through Sunday: 10 am – 5 pm

Area: 23 acres

Location: Yellowstone County, Montana

Address: 3401 Coburn Road, Billings, MT 59101

Nearest City: Billings, Montana

Contact: Pictograph Cave State Park Authority – Phone: (406) 254-7342

The Pictograph Cave Site is significantly important location in the existence of the human race.

Activities Available in Pictograph Cave State Park, Billings

The cave site is home to various activities that include:

Archaeology Sightseeing:

The rock paintings provide insights into the life of human ancestors and replicate their thought process. The paintings depict the nature in its raw true state and provide visitors with sufficient sightseeing.


The park site has paved trails to the caves, with interpretative displays along the route identifying and explaining the natural features, the prehistoric paintings and vegetation found in the area. The hiking trail is a short trail falling under easy category lasting only about 30 minute. The half mile paved trail to the caves features interpretive signs about the paintings, the area’s geology and vegetation.


The site includes an un-sheltered picnic area that is an ideal spot to enjoy a shady picnic and a fun day outing. The Pictograph Cave center provides tables and grills for visitors.

Wildlife Viewing

The park site lies under the Bitter Creek region which is home to various wildlife including deer, many species of songbirds, and rattlesnakes.

The other popular activities in the area include:

  • Educational tours:
  • Photography
  • Bird Watching

The Pictograph Cave State Park is a must visit archaeological marvel that was home to prehistoric human life. The site is home to rock paintings that depict the life of human ancestors. It is a great family attraction for a day out in the Billings area.

Plan a trip to explore the origins of human habitation and their lives through Pictographs (rock paintings) painted in caves in the Pictograph Cave State Park.

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