I have spent the last 3 1/2 months socially distancing in what is truly a magical place, Big Sky, Montana. After a while though, I have felt the need for some new scenery. There are dozens of places to explore in this great state, so we put a plan in place for a road trip . Our home is within an hours drive from the West Yellowstone entrance of Yellowstone National Park, so that was to be our starting point.
We arrived at the entrance just at 8 am, when the gates open. We paid our fee, and were on our way. In the past we have gone straight to Old Faithful as that is on the top of most of our guest’s must-see lists. It is indeed a magnificent sight to behold, but on this trip our route was to take us North to Gardiner via Madison, Norris and Mammoth as we were ultimately heading to the Bear Tooth Highway and Red Lodge.
Yellowstone National Park actually defies description. The spectacular beauty takes your breath away at every turn, and we had an ideal day for it, with magical clouds and the bluest of skies.
We passed multiple spots along the road that were steaming, a hint of the Caldera way down below the surface.
There were Bison on both sides of the road, literally thousands of them, along with their calves in many instances.
There were even Bison in the road, we followed behind this one at a safe distance, with my son and I taking photos out of the sunroof until a Park Ranger passed us by and told us to sit down and put on our seatbelts. This guy was in no rush at all.
The landscape changes constantly, for about a mile we felt we were driving on the moon.
It was hard not to photograph every Bison we saw, they don’t seem phased at all by the attention. There were folks getting out of their cars and trying to get close, but I would not advise that! They most likely are the same people who refuse to wear masks in public…
After driving about two hours through YNP we exited in Gardiner and drove through Cooke City, and very quaint town. We soon came to the start of the Bear Tooth Highway (also called Route 212), a 68 mile road that winds its way across Montana, dipping into Wyoming, and culminating in Red Lodge. The road is only open in the summer, and has the distinction of being an All-American Road, one of the most beautiful in the US. I can attest to the fact that it is incredible.
Although it is only 68 miles long, it generally takes about three hours to drive it due to the dramatic switchbacks and opportunities to get out and admire the views. There is even a spot where you can downhill ski throughout the summer, which is more to say you experienced it then to get any good turns in. This particular vantage point was called the Top of the World, and it really felt that way. It was heavenly.
I am a little ashamed to say that we did not stop at all the vantage points because we actually had a lunch reservation in Red Lodge that we were trying to make. This was the first time we would be venturing out for a meal since March 6! Montana has been blessed with a very low case count, but we have still been uber cautious. While the cases are growing, there have been none recorded (to my knowledge) in Red Lodge, so we took the plunge. Piccola Cucina at Ox Pasture has a terrific reputation, and is a bit of an anomaly as the other Piccola Cucina’s are in NYC and Ibiza. When we walked in we smiled at both the bright sunny Mediterranean atmosphere and the warm and enthusiastic greeting we received. A touch of Sicily in Red Lodge Montana!
Assuaging our anxiety a bit were the masked servers, who were very serious about keeping them in place as they approached the table. Tables were also deliberately spaced from one another. It was such a thrill to sit in a proper restaurant that we were a bit giddy.
The menu is short and concise, but further mouthwatering descriptions came from our server.
When I mentioned I was gluten free, she had many suggestions of dishes that would accommodate my diet.
I chose the Arugula Salad to begin, which was massive. While it wasn’t the best salad I have had, it certainly felt like a real treat to be served, and not to have to clean up afterwards.
We got an order of Arancini to start as well, the portions are very generouse!
My husband and son were tempted by the special pizza (in the background) and Burrata (foreground). Their eyes may have been bigger than their stomachs, but no matter.
They each ordered the Orrechiette with Shrimp. The sauce on both the pasta and the pizza were very rich, as though infused with cream.
I went with the Eggplant Parmigiana (non breaded) which was an appetizer portion, but still huge! It was tasty. I reiterate, the food was very good, not great, but the fact that it was our first meal out made the experience outstanding. The staff was friendly as can be, and the setting very pleasing. The dichotomy of sitting in an authentic Western town and dining on traditional Italian Cuisine was very enjoyable. I would recommend it wholeheartedly.
After lunch we strolled up and down the street in an attempt to burn some calories from our carb laden meal.
Red Lodge is the quintessential Western Town. It was adorable!
After about 45 minutes of strolling we hopped back in our car (not the one below) and headed back to wards Bozeman, and then to our final destination Big Sky.
All in, we spent about 9 hours driving but I would make the journey again in a heartbeat. There was so much more we could have seen and would happily see again. It was therapeutic to be in such stunning scenery, putting the pervasive shadow of Covid behind us if just for a day. When we returned to Big Sky we were greeted by this welcoming committee of Elk. I guess we didn’t have to venture quite so far from home to enjoy the wildlife, but it was worth it!