Hit The Road!

When the wanderlust sets in and your family is in need for a change of scenery, hidden treasure ready to explore and discover is only a short car ride away. We call these locales "home town gems." Some are tucked away right here in Billings, others are a little bit of a hike outside the city limits but all are unique in their own right and sit ready for different kinds of family fun. While some of these treasures are seasonal, we think they are worth a mention. From great eats and educational opportunities to serene settings and sweet treats, these off the beaten path places are full of small town charm.

1. Sweets & Serene Scenes

No matter how large your sweet tooth, Cole Drug in Big Timber can surely satisfy. "People come from all over the world to try our Huckleberry Milkshake," says the store"s manager Stormy Stevens. If a milk shake doesn"t suit you, how about the "Big Timber", which offers nine scoops of ice cream and nine different toppings all for $9.99? This larger-than-life sundae is no doubt perfect to share.  This old fashioned soda fountain also offers floats, ice cream sodas and all kinds of snacks. After you"ve eaten your sweets, head for the hills 27 miles south of Big Timber along Secondary 298. There you"ll find the Natural Bridge Falls. This spot offers a spectacular view of the Boulder River Falls, a picnic area with scenic overlooks, interpretive panels explaining the falls and paved trails.

How to get there: Cole Drug is located at 136 McLeod in downtown Big Timber. The Natural Bridge Falls is located 27 miles south of Big Timber on Secondary 298.

2. Run with the pigs
Come to the place where pigs do fly! Here at the Bear Creek Saloon and Steak House, you can place a wager on your favorite porker, grab a cold beverage, and dine on one of the best char-grilled steaks around.  What"s even better? All funds raised at the pig races go to benefit area students in the form of scholarships. To date, the races have helped dole out close to $100,000 in scholarship money. The saloon is open Thursday through Sunday starting at 5PM with race time beginning at 7PM. While you can have a fabulous meal nearly year round, the pig races are seasonal, so mark your calendar for next Memorial Day weekend online casino when the pigs will once again "fly" each weekend through Labor Day.

How to get there: Located in Bear Creek, Montana just seven miles east of Red Lodge on Highway 308 between Red Lodge and Belfry.

3. The Dino Lab
Here in dinosaur country, there are riches from our prehistoric past just waiting to be uncovered. Want a front row seat to some of the excavation action? You don"t have to go far!  The Dino Lab takes bones and specimens collected by the Judith River Dinosaur Institute to their official repository here in Billings where workers continue their research and prep the bones for possible exhibition. Here, you can enjoy a tour and see this state-of-the-art lab up close and personal.

How to get there: Located at 1518 1st Ave. N Ste. 2. For more information or to schedule a tour, call 406-696-5842.

4. No City Slickers Here
Bittercreek Outfitters, a family-run cattle ranch, feels like an escape just minutes from the streets of downtown Billings. Here you can experience the natural beauty of the Yellowstone Valley by horseback. You"ll take a journey over the rims to view the city and the surrounding mountain ranges like you have never seen them before. This 7,000-acre working cattle ranch also offers overnight stays in their rustic cabins.

How to get there: The ranch is located at 2400 Coburn Road in Billings.

5. Serving Up a Slice of Montana

Take a trip to the beautiful Stillwater Valley and check out Montana Jack"s. In addition to the gorgeous views, you can dine on made from scratch meals whipped up with local ingredients. This Fishtail, Montana hotspot once known as Montana Hanna"s is open May through October and offers friendly, down-to-earth service with incredible ambiance.  From oven-roasted pork chops to Surf and Turf and even a selection of gluten-free meals, the owners promise your mouth and stomach will leave happy. Not to mention, you"ll love every minute driving there along the Beartooth Mountain range.

How to get there: Located in Fishtail at 1383 Nye Road.

6. Hook, Line & Sinker
Pack the kids up for a family adventure and hit the road toward Sheridan, Wyoming. Along the eastern slope of the Bighorn Mountains, you"ll find the Story Hatchery and Visitor Center. It"s the oldest continuously operating fish hatchery in the state, which stocks nearly 250,000 fish each year and processes up to four million trout eggs to be used in the state"s fish culture program.  You"ll see lake trout, brown trout, rainbow trout and even the only known captive golden trout brood stock in the nation. Visit the newly renovated Visitor Center to learn about the hatchery or buy some pellets for .25 to let the family feed the fish. In spring and fall you might also see deer, marmots and the occasional moose, bear or wild turkey. For more, visit wgfd.wyo.gov

How to get there: Take I-90 south toward Sheridan. Take Exit 33 to State Highway 87 to State Highway 194. The Story Fish Hatchery is located at the end of State Highway 194.

7. Pathway Through The Bible
Enjoy a little piece of heaven at the Pathway through the Bible. This illustrative rock garden offers familiar Biblical scenes played out in a beautifully serene garden setting created almost completely from local stone. Here, you"ll find scenes from creation in the Book of Genesis, take a trip to Mount Ararat from the days of Noah and will be led through the garden to the empty tomb of Jesus. Each rock structure is meant to evoke a different story that you"ll find in the Bible. It"s a self-guided tour that guests can feel free to roam and explore at their pace.

How to get there:  Located about 30 miles southwest of Billings along Highway 212 just north of Joliet.

8. Pieces of the West
High atop the rims sits a little century-old cabin that is packed with riches from this area"s history. At the Yellowstone County Museum, you"ll find 5,000 square feet of space that offers more than 23,000 artifacts from prehistoric times all the way up to the present. The museum seeks to preserve a piece of Montana"s frontier history with everything from one of the first chuck wagons to traverse this land to the museum"s infamous stuffed 2-headed calf.

How to get there: Drive into Logan International Airport, past the front of the terminal, around the west parking lots and follow the road as it curves to the east. The museum offers free parking and admission 10:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.


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