Filed under: Family Day Trips, Historic Places & Landmarks, Kid-Friendly Trips, Nature & Wildlife, State & National Parks
Chief Plenty Coups State Park, Billings, MT…
This past week our family went to the Chief Plenty Coups State Park in SE Montana. Located just 40 minutes south of Billings on the Crow Indian Reservation, the park is a little known gem!
Our group arrived shortly after lunch, and spent two and a half hours exploring the well done museum/visitor’s center, Chief Plenty Coups’ house, and the acreage that makes up the park.
The first place that we checked out was the museum, which is a terrific balance of informational displays for adults and hands-on activities for the smaller bunch (and a few olders when they thought I wasn’t looking ). It was bright, clean, and concise; the whole museum is very well done; I was impressed (if you’ve been to MT, you can appreciate that comment – we don’t usually put a lot of money or effort into making our state parks/campgrounds desired destinations – maybe I should say didn’t – I would love to see that change)!
Inside the museum were informative displays, lots of actual articles not just pictures, and all sorts of hands-on activities like puzzles, games, interactive maps, and touchables; we spent about 20 minutes exploring the exhibits on our own. And while we appreciated the museum display experience, the real treat was to come!
Now, we’ve been to at least 89 National Parks, quite a few museums, zoos, and aquariums, and all sorts of kid-friendly locations; we’ve met a ton of rangers and been through dozens of ranger-led programs, all over the country. And the program that was given to us at little Chief Plenty Coups State Park rates right up there with the best of them! Ranger Aaron gave the kids a 45 minute lesson on the bison; how it was ‘Walmart’ for the Indians, including an extensive explanation on skinning the bison and treating the hide. He talked about the different roles between the Indian braves and squaws, and then talked about all the work that the women would have to do to process the bison. He talked about the evolution in process as metal was introduced to the Indians through trade, and then went on to talk about tools including the flint and steel.
After our museum exploring and talk, we went outside and walked the short, paved path to Chief Plenty Coups house. During the tour of the house, Ranger Aaron told us all sorts of interesting information about the building and it’s occupants (including visitors). The house is around 100 years old, and we learned that, while the government made the Crow people build ‘white man’ houses, the Indians often put up teepees near the houses and still lived in them. When the government surveyor would come to make sure the Indians were living in their houses, they would stay in them while he was checking, but then they would go right back out to their teepees in the back yard the minute he had left! LOL!
A National Historic Landmark, the Chief Plenty Coups State Park covers 195 acres, and includes a stretch of Pryor Creek. While you cannot fish on an Indian Reservation, the park is considered it’s own entity, and you can fish within it’s boundaries as long as you hold a MT state fishing license.
Located just 40 minutes south of Billings, the park is staffed from 8 am to 8 pm May 1 through Sept. 30, and from 8 to 5 the rest of the year. During the off season, the visitor’s center is not always open, but the rangers are on-site and will gladly open the museum for you if you give them notice of your visit. Entrance is fee free if you have Montana license plates (including those of you RVers that have LLCs here), and only $5 per vehicle for non-residents.
We would never take our 40+’ 5er through the parking lot in the busy season, but for smaller RVs it’d be fine (no overnight camping). The picnic area is a super place to take a leisurely walk and have lunch; and since it’s pretty out of the way, I don’t know that it ever gets very crowded (a plus in our book!).
Chief Plenty Coups State Park is a great place to spend an afternoon/day, and is a must stop if you like to learn about local history in your travels!