Which Chattanooga-area restaurants serve the best hamburgers?

Travelers in Montana find big tastes in burgers

Contributed Photo by Diane Casanova / Former Chattanoogan John Martin, the new evening anchor at KULR 8 News in Billings, Mont., tries a Best of the Bash burger at The Burger Dive in Billings, one of 27 stops on a Burger Trail through the southeastern part of the state.

Montana is a popular vacation destination for many Chattanoogans, who visit Big Sky Country to hunt wild game, snow-ski or sight-see at Glacier and Yellowstone national parks. If you're planning a trip, the state has introduced a 600-mile Burger Trail through southeastern Montana, with 27 stops promising mouthwatering burgers.

"The team at Visit Southeast Montana wanted to create a trail that would move visitors off of Montana's main highways into the smaller communities of the region, highlighting the charming small towns in Southeast Montana and showing off some of Montana's finest burgers," says Nicole Gonzalez with the Montana Office of Tourism.

The tourism pipeline from Tennessee has picked up, she says, since Allegiant Air began offering nonstop flights from Nashville to Bozeman, Montana.

"Tennessee is a great and emerging state," Gonzalez says.

The Burger Trail is a natural fit in a state known for its grass-fed cattle. The beef industry brings in nearly $2 million in cash receipts annually.

"The beef is top-notch and local," says Chattanooga native Melissa Davis Gehrig, who often visited Montana when her daughter was a student at Montana State University. "We hosted a grad party and grilled burgers for all the kids who showed up. You know the tenderness of the beef comes from the care of the cattle on local ranches."

Former Chattanoogan John Martin, once a familiar face as morning news anchor on WRCB-TV Local 3, has just started a job as evening anchor at NBC affiliate KULR 8 News in Billings, Montana. He's already made a couple of stops along the Burger Trail, starting with the most-popular burger joint in Billings, The Burger Dive.

"I had the Best of the Bash burger," he says. "It's one of their award winners, and I can absolutely see why. It's juicy to perfection with all of the bold flavors complementing one another."

The Burger Trail has more to it than burgers. Each town has its own personality, offering hikes through the Badlands, dinosaur digs, museums filled with regional art or pieces of Western history. Here are five to give you a sampling.

> In Billings, head straight to The Burger Dive. This place has earned numerous awards, among them a win in the World Food Championships for its I'm Your Huckleberry Burger made with goat cheese and a huckleberry/Hatch chili barbecue sauce. It won "Best of the Bash" at Food Network's South Beach Wine and Food Festival Burger Bash and has been featured on the television series "Man vs. Food." theburgerdive.com

> In tiny Forsythe, you'll find huge flavors and servings at The Joseph Cafe. Owners Alecia and Richard Smith have honored the town's railroad history by naming their burgers using railroad lingo, like the Broken Knuckle Burger, a massive creation with pepper Jack cheese, bacon and a crowning jalapeno pepper stuffed with cream cheese. "The Burger Trail has been pretty popular," Alecia says. "People love road-tripping - you have to really road-trip when you're in Southeast Montana." facebook.com/thejosephcafe

> On to Miles City, where a visit to Waterworks Museum and its impressive collection of artwork from regional artists can be capped with a burger at Tubb's Pub. The pub is tucked between two popular bars, making it a busy block on any night - or afternoon for that matter. Your choice of burgers isn't vast, but it's enough to satisfy. The Stuffed Burger wraps two 1/4-pound patties with a choice of cheese and stuffers, including onions, mushrooms and banana peppers. Pat yourself on the back if you can finish this one. themontanabar.com

> The Burger Trail continues in Terry, a small community that has one of the most-popular burgers along the trail, as well as, hands-down, the best fries to go with it. The burger at Roy Rogers Bar, Grill & Casino is best described as West meets South with its Montana beef burger topped with a fried green tomato and bacon. The restaurant's cowboy décor makes this a favorite hangout for the local crowd. facebook.com/royrogersbargrillcasino

> After a full day of exploring the trails of Makoshika State Park in Glendive, cool off with a cocktail and satisfy your hunger with a burger at Gunners Ridge Bar & Grill. On a nice evening, sit outside on the covered patio and take in a view of the Yellowstone River as it flows lazily by. The featured trail burger is a large patty of Kobe beef on a toasted brioche bun with havarti and blue cheese crumbles, lettuce and tomato, thus the name, the Red, White and Blue Burger. Facebook.com/GunnersRidge

For a complete list, visit southeastmontana.com.

Contact Anne Braly at abraly@timesfreepress.com or annebraly.com.