DETAILS: Pray, Mont.
GETTING THERE: Connecting flights from Washington area airports to Bozeman are offered by Continental, Delta, Frontier, Northwest and United. Round-trip fares generally begin at about $800, but discounted fares of about $600 are common, and we recently found a $476 sale price for August travel from Reagan National to Bozeman on Frontier.
WHERE TO STAY: Chico Hot Springs Resort & Day Spa (1 Old Chico Rd., Pray, http:/
WHERE TO EAT: The dining room at Chico Hot Springs isn't fancy, but the food and wine cellars are top-notch. The longtime favorite: beef Wellington, a tenderloin wrapped in pistachio-and-cognac duck-liver pâté in puff pastry; carved tableside for two, $55. Local game is featured when available: A grilled porterhouse of antelope in huckleberry demi-glace was on the menu during my visit. Dinner entrees, including various preparations of fish, lamb, steak and pasta, range from $21 to $29. Sandwiches and soups in the poolside bar are mediocre.
Try the buffalo, elk or beef hamburgers at Helen's Corral Drive-In (711 Scott St. W., Gardiner, 406-848-7627), about a half-hour from Chico.
Among the top evening stops in Bozeman is Montana Ale Works ( 611 E. Main St., 406-587-7700), a totally cool restaurant in a renovated railroad warehouse. A grill room offers intimate dining; a larger space around a big bar with a wide range of microbrews has tables and booths. There is also an outdoor patio in season, and tables in an attached renovated rail car. The menu ranges from meatloaf to paella, with prices from about $10 to $20.
A hip, urbane atmosphere predominates at Plonk (29 E. Main St., 406-587- 2170), a wine bar/bistro with 40 kinds of cheese and upscale organic meals.