Exploring the Southeast Montana Burger Trail, One Bite at a Time

June 1, 2024

by Jessica Renstrom | Photo courtesy of SEMT Alex Kim and Sara Hollenbeck

If you’re looking for an excuse to travel this summer while also experiencing the best of Montana’s local eateries, look no further than the Southeast Montana Burger Trail.

 Launched in 2022, the Southeast Montana Burger Trail spans 13 counties in southeast Montana. The Trail features 23 locations showcasing the most delicious, finger-licking local favorites. “The selected stops were strategically picked to divert travelers from the highway and introduce them to the charming rural towns that might lack appeal but boast remarkable dining experiences,” states Sara Hollenbeck, Marketing and Content Specialist with Visit Southeast Montana Tourism, who helps oversee the Burger Trail. “Indulging in a delicious burger is a beloved tradition, particularly during a road trip.”

And since no road trip is complete without a trusty map to guide the way, you’ll want to check out the map of the Burger Trail before hitting the road. You can find all the locations of the Southeast Montana Burger Trail on the downloadable map at https://southeastmontana.com/burgertrail. QR Code This comprehensive map can guide you to each burger destination and offers detailed information about the unique flavors and signature meal each restaurant offers.

In addition to the downloadable map, the introduction of the Burger Trail’s new mobile passport makes starting your journey to burger bliss even easier. Sign up via the Visit Southeast Montana website (southeastmontana.com/burgertrail) QR code and your pass is delivered to your phone via text – no download required. Once you have the passport and ensure your location settings are turned on, simply check in to the location you’re at, and - voila! - You’re one step closer to becoming a “Burger Boss.”

Foodie adventurers hitting the Trail this summer can expect to be rewarded with some fantastic prizes (beyond their taste buds’ delectable experiences). Participants get a Southeast Montana Burger Trail sticker after checking in at four locations on the mobile passport. After sampling eight different burgers along the Trail, you are officially deemed a “Burger Boss” and will be sent a T-shirt to show off your “Boss” status to all your family and friends. Your pass will automatically update each time you check-in, allowing you to keep track of your progress and how close you are to achieving the boast-worthy Burger Trail prizes.

I chose to begin my mobile passport at Billings’ Stacked, featured on the Trail for their ZooM Burger, named after ZooMontana. The blackberry roasted jalapeño sauce combined with goat cheese, fried green tomatoes, and a drizzle of honey makes this menu option a mouthwatering choice. I’d recommend pairing your burger with good company and Stacked’s incredible truffle fries for a meal you’ll want to repeat.

When asked if she’d chosen a favorite burger on the trail, Sara replied, “That’s like picking my favorite child. I’d probably go with The Mother Of All Burgers—the MOAB—from Powder River Lanes in Broadus, Montana. It features a third-pound patty, assembled between thick-sliced Texas toast and filled with grilled onions, jalapeños, and nacho cheese. I like to bowl, too, so it’s double the fun.”

“Or…” continues Sara, “I would go with Ekalaka's Favorite Cowboy Burger at the Wagon Wheel Cafe. This quarter-pound patty is paired with substantial crispy onion rings, thick-cut bacon, jalapeños, and Swiss cheese drenched in locally made honey barbecue chipotle sauce. Favorably, the bun is sturdy enough to capture all the sauce without getting soggy part way through. Honestly, though, you can’t go wrong. We have tried them all, and they all deserve their spot on the trail.”

Each location on the Southeast Montana Burger Trail boasts a unique, tasty entree built by the hands of a talented Montanan, like BJ Schoelkopf of BW Grill & Bar. After purchasing the restaurant in October 2020, BJ created their signature BW Burger: a third-pound burger drizzled in their homemade sauce.

“When I build my burger, it’s from the bottom up,” explains BJ. “The sauce hits your tongue first, followed by the crunch of the lettuce, dill of the pickle, heat of the onion, and then the sweetness of tomato. There’s a method to the madness.” If you’re ready to take a bite out of a BW Burger, follow the Trail map to Hysham’s BW Grill & Bar.

 Venturing farther south on the Burger Trail, you can find a delicious twist on tradition, deviating from the standard beef patty. Crafted with 100% buffalo meat, the Buffalo burger from Crow Agency’s Custer Battlefield Trading Post & Café is expertly grilled to perfection and served with all the classic toppings. It is another stop you won’t want to miss.

From branded buns and Texas toast to fried green tomatoes and jalapeño aioli, there’s something for everyone on the Southeast Montana Burger Trail. Beyond the meals you’ll enjoy, the Trail will take you through many of the towns and cities that make up the Big Sky State’s close-knit communities and allow you to explore Montana's lesser-known but truly remarkable destinations. “As you navigate the Burger Trail, you'll discover the true spirit of Montana captured in each bite,” explains Sara. “These welcoming joints will not only satisfy your hunger but also deepen your love affair with Montana, one delicious mouthful at a time.” 

Ready to get started? There’s never been a better time to pack up the car, download your passport, and venture out to become the next “Burger Boss.” I’ll see you on the Burger Trail!

Originally printed in the June 2024 issue of Simply Local Magazine

Check this article out in the digital issue of Simply Local here!

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