Pictograph Cave

Pictograph Cave State Park

Useful Information

Location: 10 km south of Billings. I-90 exit #452 Lockwood, 10 km south on Coburn Road.
Open: MAY to SEP daily 10-19.
For groups (30+) reservation required.
Fee: Montana Cars free, Other Cars USD 5.
Classification: Speleologyerosional cave ArchaeologyPainted Cave
Light: not necessary
Guided tours:
Address: Pictograph Cave State Park, 2300 Lake Elmo Drive, Billings, MT 59105, Tel: +1-406-247-2940.
Terri Walters, E-mail: contact
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
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early 1900s popular stopping place along the stage route between Billings and the town of Coburn.
1937 site attracted national interest when amateur archaeologists discovered deposits of prehistoric artifacts.
1937 site acquired by the Montana Highway Commission.
1937 excavation by the Works Progress Administration (WPA), directed by H. Melville Sayre from the Montana School of Mines.
1939 sandstone museum built below the caves.
1940 the archaeologist William Mulloy replaces Sayre as project director.
1941 archaeological excavation ended due to World War II.
post war site vandalized.
early 1960s the Billings Archaeological Society started a movement to protect and promote the cave.
1963 Billings mayor Willard Fraser signed an agreement with the state to manage and develop the site.
1964 designated a National Historic Landmark.
1969 renamed Pictograph Caves State Historic Site.
1991 declared a State Park.
AUG-2008 construction of a new Visitor Center and new paths.
JUL-2009 VIsitor Center opened to the public.


Pictograph Cave is a complex of three overhanging rocks, rock shelters used by the native inhabitants to draw pictures. This caves are called Pictograph Cave, Middle Cave and Ghost Cave. The location was used by prehistoric hunters over centuries, more than 30,000 artifacts have been found so far. Only one cave is accessible to the public, the others are closed to protect them.

The pictographs are 106 rock paintings, red, white, and, occasionally, yellow figures painted across earlier paintings in black. Typical are pictures of coup sticks, warriors in full regalia, turtles, bears, and bison. They were first documented by H. Melville Sayre in 1937 during an excavation. The same excavation revealed stone and bone tools, projectile points, a carved amulet, pottery shards, and burned bone. The oldest remains were from the Middle Prehistoric (3000 BC to 500 AD). The upper layers show occupations by nomadic buffalo hunters armed with bows and arrows during the Late Prehistoric (500 AD to 1800 AD).

This cave is not a show cave, it is not interesting from the speleological view, but it is an important archaeological site. The cave is one of numerous fluviatile caves formed by the erosion of a long gone river.