Relative isolation has helped preserve the Custer Battlefield National Monument in near-pristine condition, and that makes it hard to get to. But visitors will find spectacular scenery along the route to Little Big Horn and some of the nation's best-loved national parks within easy (by western scale, at least) driving distance, making the battleground a good place to include on excursions to Yellowstone or Glacier national parks, or the Black Hills of South Dakota.
GETTING THERE: Several airlines, including Frontier, Western and Northwest Orient, serve the Billings, Mont., airport, about 65 miles from the battlefield. Western and Northwest feature direct flights from Washington, with special fares that can run as low as $220 to $260 round trip. Most major airlines now fly to Denver for as little as $160 round trip, and for another $98 to $120 Frontier will make the connection to Billings. Most of the cheaper fares have restrictions on length of stay and days of the week you can travel.
GETTING AROUND: You'll need to rent a car in Billings to make the drive to Little Big Horn. The Battlefield is easy to get to, less than a mile from and within sight of I-90.
WHERE TO STAY: There are three plain but clean motels in nearby Hardin (population 3,300), about 13 miles from the park -- the American Inn, the Lariat and the Western.
Billings has the usual range of chain hotels and motels: Best Western, Sheraton, Holiday Inn, Quality Inn, Ramada Inn, TraveLodge and Regal 8.
Rates range from $28 to $40 a night in Hardin, and from $28 to $75 in Billings.
WHERE TO EAT: Montana's native cuisine is cheeseburgers and chicken-fried steak, and the state ranks right up there with Ireland, Great Britain and the Netherlands for forgettable food. Don't expect much and you won't be disappointed.
OTHER ATTRACTIONS: Montana is a state of beauty and breadth that features hundreds of miles of wheat fields, lush rain forests and the impressive and humbling vistas of the northern Rockies. Backpacking, hunting, white-water rafting and trout fishing are just a few of the attractions.
The northern entrances to two national parks -- Yellowstone (with its geysers and bears) and Grand Teton (with spectacular scenery) -- is only 125 miles southwest of Billings.
Glacier National Park is quite a bit further -- about 350 miles to the northwest -- but worth the trip. Mt. Rushmore and the Black Hills lie 240 miles to the southeast.
Closer at hand are more sobering sights: The Northern Cheyenne reservation, with pink and lime-green houses that dot the hills like Easter eggs, and the Crow reservation, traditionally torn by internal politics, are close impoverished neighbors.
WHAT TO TAKE: Sunglasses, suntan lotion and comfortable shoes. The imaginative visitor can spend a day on the sun-swept, hilly battlefield, at the adjacent national cemetary and in the modest but interesting visitor's center.
OTHER RESOURCES: "Son of the Morning Star," by Evan S. Connell (North Point Press), or "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee," by Dee Brown (Bantam paperback), are excellent histories of the events that led to the battle. The visitor's center has a wide selection of books and pamphlets, especially those by Thomas Marquis and John M. Carroll.
The bus ride and guided tour of the Reno-Benteen battlefield should not be missed. Don't be afraid to ask the park "interpreters" a lot of questions -- they love to spin tales.