Our Guide To The Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument
The Little Bighorn Battlefield lies in the East of Montana State close to the border with Wyoming.
It’s a place I’ve wanted to visit for many years since reading the books and watching the movies about General Custer and 7th Cavalry’s Last Stand.
There’s something about the story that although very sad, captured my imagination.
I never really thought I’d get a chance to visit the Little Bighorn Battlefield but when we decided to do a USA road trip to Yellowstone National Park in the Autumn of 2018 I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to take a little detour.
The events of the battle not only shaped the history books but also the future of the Native American People as a whole.
So with a little history thrown in, here’s our guide to the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument.
Sculpture At The Indian Memorial Site
On the grassy prairie lands, East of Billings, Montana, a small rise overlooks the surrounding countryside and the Little Bighorn River.
It has become synonymous with that dark time in American history when the Native American people were chased from their own lands and forced onto government reserves.
Its name, Last Stand Hill.
Standing atop the hill I could almost imagine that fateful day back in June 1876 when George Custer led his 7th Cavalry against the Lakota, Cheyenne and Arapaho village located by the Little Bighorn River.
Custer’s Last Stand
Today the Little Bighorn Battlefield is a National Monument that relives the events of that fateful day back in 1876 through a small museum, a 4.5-mile drive, the Indian Memorial, interpretive programmes and guided tours.
If like me you are really interested in the events that took place on the Little Bighorn Battlefield you’ll want to do everything which will take a few hours at least.
Otherwise, a short visit of a couple of hours will suffice.
The Battle Field is spread out over a big area, bigger than I ever imagined actually.
The Little Bighorn Battlefield
Little Bighorn Battlefield – Visitor Centre
The visitor centre should be your first stop on a visit to the Little Bighorn Battlefield to get an overview of the battlefield and the events that took place there.
The park rangers here are very helpful and will suggest things for you to do and in what sequence to do them in depending on your time available.
There’s a ton of merchandise here for sale so if you’re a Custer enthusiast you’ll be spoilt for choice with many books and DVDs on sale.
There’s also a good selection of books on Native Americans as well as items for the younger visitors.
Located in the same building as the Visitor Cantre, the museum is full of information and memorabilia from the times of the Indian wars.
You’ll see uniforms and clothing worn by Custer as well other artefacts from his life.
The Orientation Film
A 20-minute film describing the site and events leading up to the battle plays in the visitor centre regularly and it’s a good way of getting your head around the events that led to the battle.
Park Ranger Battle Talk
On the patio area outside of the visitor centre, park rangers give regular talks about the key events of the battle.
It’s well worth attending the talk as the rangers are very knowledgable and bring the event alive with their descriptions.
The talks are on throughout the day but you may have to wait some times to see one depending on what time you are at the visitor centre.
Custer Exhibit In the Museum
Bust Of Custer
Bust Of Sitting Bull
Little Bighorn Battlefield – Deep Ravine Trail
Starting right by the visitor centre the Deep Ravine Trail is a 3/4 mile self-guided trail that winds its way down to the ravine at the far end of the trail.
Many of the 7th cavalry troopers were killed here as they tried to escape up the hill toward Last Stand Hill.
White, stone makers ( for US troops and civilians ) stand where remains were found after the battle.
Some brown stone makers tell us where the opposing native warriors fell but as most of their bodies were removed to take back to the tipi’s by the river no one is absolutely sure where they died.
The trail is exposed and can get hot and gives you some idea of what conditions might have been like on that sweltering day in 1876.
Seeing the makers dot the landscape is a sombre reminder of what happened here but also gives you a good idea about how the events of that day unfolded.
The trail follows the same route back to the visitor centre area.
Red Granite Markers On The Deep Ravine Trail Where Native Warriors Fell
Little Bighorn Battlefield – The 7th Cavalry Memorial And Last Stand Hill
Atop Last Stand Hill, the 7th Cavalry Memorial sits, its stony grey in stark contrast to the green around it.
The white stone markers that dot the battlefield were where troopers, scouts and civilians fell and were buried after the battle but in 1881 their remains were reinterred in a single grave at the base of this memorial.
Custer and 262 men attached to the 7th Cavalry died that day in 1876 and the losses on the Native warrior’s side numbered 80-100.
Nearby the memorial you can see where Custer and his remaining troopers made their last stand against an overwhelming force.
Estimates put the warrior number at 1500-2000 on that day.
Custer and 41 of his men at Last Stand Hill made desperate attempts to stave off the onslaught, even shooting their own horses to give them some protection as a barricade but in the end, all of them would perish.
It’s a sombre and emotional site to see the group of white stone makers on Last Stand Hill knowing what happened there.
Toward the middle of the group of makers, one is inscribed with Custers name and rank and marks where he fell.
The 7th Cavalry Memorial
Stone Markers Show Where Troopers Fell On Last Stand Hill
Stone Marking Where George Custer Fell On Last Stand Hill
Little Bighorn Battlefield – Driving Tour
From the visitor centre area, the 4.5-mile Battlefield Road heads out to the other side of the battlefield.
Custer originally split his cavalry unit into three to attack the Native village ( which was much larger than he thought ).
His other officers Reno and Benteen had been fiercely fought and had to retreat to an area now called the Reno – Benteen Entrenchment.
Battlefield road roughly follows the ridgeline of the hills above the Little Bighorn River.
Interpretive boards have been erected along the roadside to give you information about the key events and where they happened over the battlefield.
Like I said before the battlefield is huge and there was a lot going on during the battle.
Driving the road gives you a really good idea of the layout of the land and its features and how the battle must have played out.
The View Out Over The Battlefield From Battlefield Road
Little Bighorn – Reno – Benteen Entrenchment
At the far end of the Battlefield Road, you’ll find the Reno – Benteen Entrenchment Trail
After being fought by so many Native warriors the men of Reno and Benteen’s company’s retreated to this high point overlooking the Little Bighorn River.
They were surrounded on all sides by Native warriors.
As you walk around the loop trail you can see remnants of rifle pits where troopers dug shallow pits in the dry earth to protect themselves from the advancing warriors.
During the time this separate fight was going on, Custer and his men had ( unknown at the time to Reno and Benteen) been overwhelmed at Last Stand Hill.
The men at the entrenchment were desperate but somehow survived the onslaught throw the night into the next day.
It’s difficult to get a sense of the horror they must have faced but walking the site gives you the best idea you could get.
The day after the battle the whole Native village had gone, 7000 people upped and disappeared.
A Memorial To The Troopers Who lost Thier Lives At The Reno – Benteen Battlefield
Marker Of Where A 7th Cavalry Trooper Fell
Little Bighorn Battlefield – Indian Memorial
One of the most poignant and moving sites at the battlefield is the Indian Memorial across the road from the 7th Cavalry Memorial.
The memorial completed in 2013 is a reminder of those Native Americans that died in the battle and also a reminder to the struggle that they have faced as a race.
It’s a circular memorial with inscriptions, sayings and a beautiful sculpture.
It’s a place to linger and take in the enormity of not just the battle but what it represented for generations to come.
Part Of The Indian Memorial
Little Bighorn Battlefield – Custer National Cemetery
To one side of the visitor centre stands the Custer National Cemetery.
Although remains of the troopers killed during the battle of the Little Bighorn are buried at the foot to the 7th Cavalry Memorial, a National Cemetery was established in 1879.
As the conflicts all across the Western States drew to a close and forts were dismantled, the remains of military personnel killed at battles all across the region were moved to the Custer National Cemetery.
As the years went on men and women killed in other conflicts such as the American – Spanish war and Vietnam were buried here.
At the time of writing approx, 4,950 military personnel are buried in the cemetery.
It’s a lovely spot to wander through the manicured lawns that overlook the Little Bighorn River in the valley below.
The Custer National Cemetery
Being at the Little Bighorn Battlefield was quite strange after reading so much about the events that happened there and of course, brought it all to life.
Knowing what happened there gives it a solemn air but we would still recommend a visit there to gain an insight into one of the most pivotal events in the history of the American West.
After the battle, the lives of the Native American people would never be the same again but in some ways, it was a changing point for both sides.
Whatever your personal views on the Indian wars and the treatment of the Native American people, visiting the site you can’t help but feel a sadness for the losses on both sides.
The site is big and there’s actually quite a bit to see so give yourself plenty of time for your visit and for contemplation.
A View Of Last Stand Hill
The Nitty Gritty
How To Get To The Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument
The Little Bighorn Battlefield is located just over 60 miles South East of Billings, Montana and about an hours drive.
You’ll need a car to get to the Battlefield as it’s quite remote.
Where To Stay
We stayed in Billings and drove out to the battlefield from there.
Costs And Opening
At the time of our visit ( September 2018 ), the cost for a private vehicle including all occupants was $25.00
This includes everything on the site except any private tour you may want to do.
The park is open every day except Thanksgiving, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day
The park opens at 8 am but the closing time depends on the season.
Give yourself plenty of time to visit and do all the things on offer.
Wear a hat and suncream as the battlefield is exposed and has no shade.
Bring water with you or fill up your bottles at the water fountain outside the restrooms.
There’s no cafe or restaurant on site so bring snacks with you.
Start your visit at the Visitor Centre and check out the orientation film and ranger talk to get a good overview of the battle.
Make sure to do the 4.5-mile battlefield self-guided drive.
Enjoy your delve into history.
A Marker Stone Near Last Stand Hill