Summers to me mean about only one thing: Grill season. Most nights I like to start up my own backyard grill and mix in some wild onion to my Montana-raised Angus beef, but on occasion I like to treat myself to some of our delicious burgers in and around Big Sky. Here's my top 5 must-try burgers for summer 2015 in Big Sky:
By Word of Mouth
A swanky little bistro in Town Center, By Word of Mouth boasts one of the best burgers in Big Sky: The BYWOM Burger. This burger tops most basic burgers with caramelized onions, a local Wheat Montana bun, and a touch of slightly sweet ingredients in its secret sauce. A basic burger with a twist of creativity makes for one delicious dinner.
The Montana Smokehouse in the heart of the Mountain Village is a great lunch burger because of its fresh and light ingredients without the richer sweeter ingredients in say the Lone Peak Brewery or By Word of Mouth's burgers. Grilled fresh, this local Montana beef is juicy with a slight hint of a special spice and comes with a choice of homemade BBQ sauces.
The Bunker Bar & Grill
Not only is The Bunker Bar & Grill a great burger because of its great price and great view to accompany it, this burger tastes like a backyard BBQ. Check it out with a Montana Microbrew and fries on Monday night's Burger Night (only $12).
Lone Peak Brewery
The best thing about the Lone Peak Brewery's burger is not what you would think. It's not the fantastic local brew on Nitro tap that balances a great burger, it's the special Mack Attack Sauce that's not necessarily on the menu. The menu boasts a fantastic choice of burgers, but my favorite order is one that only goes on special now and again: The Mack Attack. Double patties, special sauce, and the works make up one of the best burgers in Big Sky. I love this burger.
Smokejumper Café (West Yellowstone)
When in West do as the locals do and check out Smokejumper Café for a great breakfast or an even better burger. The friendly staff is just one element that goes into making a fantastic burger, the reasonable pricing, regional beef, and choice of Bison burger are also reasons this burger makes my list. I like the quaint vibe and the high quality ingredients can't be beat.
The Bunker Burger
If I could describe Big Sky Resort's High Ropes Course in one sentence it would be: It's an exhilarating experience that takes a bit of nerve. But I'm not going to just describe the High Ropes in one sentence because it's a grander participation with oneself and ones friends than one sentence will allow.
On Monday morning I went with my colleagues (and friends) to try on a team building exercise at the High Ropes Course about a 20-minute walk from the Mountain Village Base Area. I use the words "try on" because looking at the eight of us one might not guess we were extremely outdoors-oriented with the drive to try anything.
Guides Emily and Kimber led us through a brief, yet thorough training and practice session and then sent us on up the 30 feet to the first platform where nothing separated us from the ground except the obstacles we were attempting to cross.
I clipped my "lobster claw" carabiners, which were connected to my harness via two solid ropes, into the first line and started across the Picnic Tables. Once I got across the Picnic Tables the only element that was unoccupied was the Tire Swings. I thought to myself: "I can do tire swings, I used to play on these all the time as a kid." Stepping out onto the first tire I quickly realized the Tire Swings are one of the more difficult elements in the course because they started to twist me around, which meant the ropes connecting the line and my harness were also twisting around making it impossible to move on to the next tire. As my arms began to ache from holding on I quickly stepped back to the first tire and up onto the platform to regain my composure. This was going to be harder than I thought.
After a few minutes of letting my arm muscles rest I jumped out onto the Tire Swings again, this time moving quickly from tire to tire until I was across all six and onto the opposing platform. That was satisfying. I then took what felt like a leap of faith down onto the wire holding up the 2x4 wooden beams or "chopsticks" and maneuvered my way between each beam, crossing one foot over the beam and then the next. Somehow the wire I was balancing on made me feel less secure than a swinging tire. Yet standing on a firm platform on the other side was again so satisfying.
We all tried most of the elements: Chopsticks, Monkey Tails, Ship's Crossing, and the ever conundrum Lily Pads, but my favorite was the Tire Swings. Possibly because it was the first tough obstacle I conquered, but it could also be my favorite because it was just fun to stand up there, 30 feet above the ground, and feel a little nervous excitement of problem-solving something so many people will never even try.
I can't think of a better way to start off the work week or to bond with friends over the absurdity and exhilaration of swinging from some ropes.
Sheila climbing up to the first platform. Photo: Michel Tallichet
Big Sky Resort's High Ropes Course. Photo: Michel Tallichet
TRAIL RUNNING... This sport can be enjoyed easily in Big Sky, Montana. All you need is yourself, maybe a friend or two and a dog is good too. Bear Spray, you want that, just in case and it makes you feel safer as you soar through the forest. You will need a pair of running shoes and comfortable clothing. Depending on your distance maybe some energy gels or a bar and water. Most importantly you need a trail to run. There are many trails to choose from, pick up a map in Big Sky Sports. Here are a few of my top picks:
THE NORTH FORK TRAIL 16 to BEAR BASIN
This rolling up hill out-and-back is 10 miles. You can keep going to the saddle and make it 12 miles or further to Summit Lake 15 miles out-and-back. Want more? Keep going to Hellroaring (24 miles) or Spanish Creek (19 miles) Trailheads but you will need to set up a shuttle for your return. Start at the North Fork Trailhead located off of Lone Mountain Trail.
THE GRIZZLY LOOP
This true cross country lollipop loop is 5.9 miles- Start at Porcupine Trailhead. At almost 1 mile in right before the second bridge take the trail to the left follow signs to first creek where this lollipop loop starts. If you choose to go left then follow all junctions' right that should bring you back around and if you choose right- follow junctions to the left until you get back to the lollipop stick. If you are running toward Lone Mountain you are headed back to the trailhead. Porcupine Trailhead is located on highway 191 just north of the Gallatin Riverhouse Grill which is a great post run refreshment stop.
This up and around and down loop is 4.5 miles. Start in Big Sky Resort's Mountain Village, grab a trail map from Basecamp (they are free) then start trotting. This loop is part of the Rut 11k and 50k races in September. Grab a bite to eat at MT Smokehouse in the plaza when you finish.
Another trail running tip: It's good to let the wildlife know you are there. I like to give a good loud "Hey Bear" when I am entering or exiting wooded areas, descending into or ascending out of drainages or if I can't really see what is around the bend. Give it a try.
Upper Beehive Basin Trailhead
I'm not a Mom, but I am an Aunt. A proud Aunt of two amazing girls who are 9 and 13 years old. I have a huge respect for my brother and sister-in-law who keep these two girls entertained. When we all go on outdoor excursions, I'm the first to say, "okay, Aunt Sheila needs a break." It's not that I'm too out of shape (let's face it we could all be in better shape), but I'm not seasoned in running around with these energetic young ladies. Honestly, that is why I love the Mountain Village plaza at Big Sky Resort.
Aunt Sheila can lounge with a beer while the girls enjoy multiple activities within a "look at me, Aunt Sheila" proximity. I don't have to move. Now, understand, we just went up the Scenic Chair Lift Ride and hiked down. I deserve this beer and those girls are like the energizer bunny (and just as cute, I must say). They've hit the bungee trampoline, are taking turns on the climbing wall and giant swing, while I cheer them on between sips and putting on sunblock (yes, I made sure they were lathered up too). When they've used up their turns, we'll hit the new miniature golf and try to find gems in the new Gemstone Mining area. I just love everything being within steps of each other. The older niece has been following in her Aunt's footsteps by taking up Volleyball (sorry, Bro, Basketball is a out) and there was even a sand Volleyball court in the plaza so we could pepper a bit (this is when two people bump, set, and spike toward each other).
I love these girls and any time I get to spend with them. The day will be topped off with pizza at Andiamo Italian Grille, just a hop, skip, and a jump (literally) from the Gemstone Mining. Hopefully they'll sleep soundly to be bright-eyed and bushytailed for the next day's adventures in Big Sky.
Scenic Chair Lift at Big Sky Resort.
When the rain comes it's only natural to look to local museums and theaters for inexpensive and fun entertainment. For me that means Bozeman's Museum of the Rockies, West Yellowstone's Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center or IMAX, and Big Sky's Lone Peak Cinema.
Founded in 1957, The Museum of the Rockies is a Montana staple with dinosaur specimens from all over Montana including the largest Tyrannosaurus Rex collection in the world. A great time to visit is when the museum's curator of paleontology, Jack Horner, is speaking, or time it just right to catch a light show in the Taylor Planetarium. I would also highly recommend the current temporary exhibition: Chocolate, which delves deep into the science behind the delicious dark treat.
Catch another glimpse of dinosaurs in Jurassic World at Lone Peak Cinema or on the IMAX in West Yellowstone. Nothing beats a rainy day like the movies, but I enjoy the drive to West Yellowstone to check out Hollywood blockbusters, new to the regional IMAX, or to see a movie like Titans of the Ice Age, about great wooly mammoths. The field-trip type science experiences in and around Big Sky, Montana, cannot be taken advantage of enough. Last year I had the chance to catch Yellowstone Wolves and Alaska. Neither would I have seen if I did not live so close to such amazing facilities or in a community that values using technology to express nature.
From time to time when I do drive down to West Yellowstone I stop at the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center to see the northern saw-whet owl Acadia, who is blind in one eye after being hit by a car, but is easily the cutest owl I've ever seen.
Rainy days in Montana are a normal part of spring and early summer, but they are easily enjoyed with the right plan and right attitude. The clouds are breaking up as I write this, yet now all I want to do is hold an owl named Acadia.
Northern saw-whet owl Acadia at the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center.
Trex at the Museum of the Rockies.
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