by Maya Dollarhide | May 02, 2017
It is easy to fall in love with the Big Sky State, known for its majestic natural beauty and embodiment of the American West's maverick spirit. Meeting planners will appreciate the great values and modern amenities found in Montana's cities, while enjoying the surrounding landscapes of rivers and mountain ranges.

Billings, the largest city in the state, offers six convention hotel properties, and an additional 5,000 rooms all within the city limits. Logan International Airport services five major airline carriers and 10 direct flight destinations across North American cities, including Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles. Nearly all hotels offer shuttle service to and from Logan Airport, located just minutes from downtown, which is good news, because Billings is an on-foot kind of destination. The sandstone mountain skyline inspires awe even before visitors hit the tarmac.  

"Arriving in Billings, guests are always pleasantly surprised," says Stefan Cattarin, sales manager for Visit Billings. "From arrival by air, you land on top of what locals call the 'Rimrocks,' 200- to 500-foot sandstone cliffs that border the north side of the city. Immediately you're met with a beautiful view of the Yellowstone Valley and downtown Billings."

The Northern Hotel and the DoubleTree by Hilton are two popular choices in the city's downtown neighborhood. The four-star Northern underwent a renovation three years ago, transforming the historic hotel into a sleeker version of the original, while retaining its timeless charm. The Northern offers 12,000 square feet of meeting space that can host up to 700 people, and 160 guest rooms. There are two on-site restaurants, TEN, a fine-dining establishment offering modern American cuisine, and Bernie's Diner, which serves modern comfort food for lunch and breakfast.

Check out the Red Lion, Radisson, and Big Horn Resort, too. All three are large-scale convention properties, located in the West End neighborhood near the gorgeous Rimrocks. The Big Horn Resort offers 13,000 square feet of meeting space, 108 guest rooms, plus a 27,000-square-foot indoor water park, The Reef. Larger groups may appreciate the spacious Radisson Hotel, which boasts 316 rooms and 50,000 square feet of meeting space. Afterhours, groups can congregate at the on-site Yellowstone Valley Steakhouse for certified Angus beef, or sip a signature cocktail at the Yellowstone bar.  The Red Lion Hotel and Convention Center is home to 230 sleeping rooms, over 20,000 square feet of meeting space, and lies steps away from a variety of dining options from BBQ to burgers.  

Groups can fish in the Yellowstone River, hike the Rimrocks, bike the trails, saddle up on a horse, or even take a Segway tour of the area. "We are anxious to share the beauty that our state has to offer," says Cattarin. "We expect groups to meet in Billings, take full advantage of our amenities, then get out and explore the mountains, rivers, and plains of Montana."

Visitors interested in learning more about the state's history and culture should make stops at the Yellowstone Art Museum and the Western Heritage Center. Both will rent out space for small, private events, too.

Hit the Highway
While car rentals are not necessary in Billings, they come in handy for day trips or post-meeting excursions around the state. Billings serves as a gateway city to one of the country's most scenic drives -- the Beartooth Highway (watch for the bison) leads straight into the historic Yellowstone National Park. Or saddle up and see the sights on horseback via Bitter Creek Outfitters. No previous riding experience is necessary, claims the website. Located just southeast of Billings, the firm charges $80 per person for a two-hour ride.

For groups interested in exploring the state beyond its largest city, check out The Ranch at Rock Creek, The Resort at Paws Up and Triple Creek Ranch, all located near Missoula, Montana. Bozeman may also appeal to smaller groups, especially to fly-fishing enthusiasts. Fun fact: Robert Redford's blockbuster film, A River Runs Through It, was filmed partly in Bozeman. Helena, the state's capital, offers multiple venues, hotels, and opportunities for unique group experiences.  

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This article appears in the May 2017 issue of Successful Meetings.