Standing in line at the coffee shop in Big Sky, the gentleman behind me recommended his favorite bagel sandwich to me. While out taking pictures people constantly stopped to point out all the best places to photograph. I’ve traveled all over the world, but this community in Montana is the friendliest I’ve encountered.
People come to Big Sky for the adventure and decide to stay for the lifestyle. Even after only three days here I understand why.
Greta’s trip to Montana was sponsored in part by Visit Big Sky.
Big Sky Resort became the largest ski resort in the USA in 2013 when it consolidated with Moonlight Basin Resort. The resort has been open for summer activities since 2005, although summer typically brings in only about 50% of the visitors that come for the winter activities. That’s a shame because there are twice as many activities to do in the summer. The resort includes many family activities: a spa, ropes course, numerous hiking and mountain biking trails, and even an archery range for starters. In September, Big Sky Resort hosts ‘The Rut’—a 50K race that features 500 runners gunning straight up Lone Peak. The resort also has six options for housing, and several restaurants.
Lone Peak Expedition is a 2.5 hour tour that takes you to the top of the mountain. The expedition starts by taking the chairlift to the summit, then transferring to an all-terrain vehicle that drives up a short, steep road with hairline turns to the Big Sky Tram, which continues the tour to the top. As we bumped our way up the steep, rocky road in our all-terrain vehicle the guide explained that “it took 300 helicopter flights back and forth to the peak in order to get the Big Sky Tram up and running.”
The summit of Lone Peak is 11,166 feet high. On a clear day you can look out at three states and two national parks, plus look down on Big Sky and the exclusive Yellowstone Club. Each unique landscape has an information board describing the mountain range you’re viewing. Our guide explained the shape of Lone Peak, which is perfect for long ski runs, as a “Christmas Tree Laccolithic Volcano.” She further explained that “Lone Peak had wanted to be a volcano, lava seeped up through half of it but never erupted, instead seeping out the sides.” You can get to the summit of Lone Peak by hiking or by taking the Lone Peak Expedition Tour, which includes a ride to the top on the Big Sky Tram.
Fly fishing is a way of life for those that live along the rivers of Montana. The Gallatin River, where Brad Pitt was filmed in “A River Runs Through It,” is roughly 115 miles long and flows into the Missouri River. Hire one of the seven fly fishing outfitters - like Lone Mountain Ranch - to guide you in different fly fishing techniques, such as the overhead cast or the roll cast. They also teach you how to read the water to find where the fish are hiding, from depth, to ripples, to temperature. For example, water temperature is a good indicator of when a fish will bite the fly nymph -- too cold or too warm and they become lethargic, which makes for a long day of fishing. My guide was a patient teacher and a cheerleader. When my casting left a lot to be desired he said, “The fish doesn’t care what the cast looks like, they only care about the drift.”
Gallatin National Forest has 1,500 miles of trail systems for horseback riding, starting at the entrance of Gallatin Canyon, where Big Sky is located, to West Yellowstone. A 2.5 hour ride will take you up into the mountains for breathtaking views. Riding experience of all levels is welcome, although a shorter ride is recommended for beginners, as you’ll be feeling the burn the next day! Six horseback outfitter options exist, and all have all with access to unique trails and tours.
Yellowstone National Park, America’s first national park, is well known for its Old Faithful Geyser, which erupts approximately every 88 minutes. It also includes the Yellowstone Caldera, the largest super-volcano in North America. Nearby the Yellowstone Grand Canyon is a spiritual ground for the Shoshone Indians; in the rocks of the canyon they see the faces of their ancestors. As our guide drove us through Firehole Canyon Drive I was struck by the diversity of the park’s scenery, from mountains, to grasslands, to waterfalls and steaming geysers, every turn in the road led to new wonders.
The Old Faithful Inn is the largest log structure in the world. Rooms that are located in the ‘Old House’ section of the inn maintain the log character and charm, and while they do have in-room sinks, you’ll need to share the marble and tiled bathroom facilities with other guests. There are even private bathtub rooms where you can relax after a hard day of hiking.
Yellowstone Luxury Tours will customize a trip into Yellowstone National Park that will match your interests. Your tour includes a day-long trip with up to eight passengers, a picnic lunch, plus pick up and drop off at the your hotel for $799. Our tour guide, Randy, was a walking encyclopedia. He is a naturalist who worked for the national park service and who spent several winters living in Yellowstone in almost complete isolation. His unique perspective and knowledge was so vast that many other Yellowstone guests stopped to listen to his stories as we went along.
“People don’t realize how dangerous buffalo can be. They can jump 6-ft. in height from a single stance and reach 35 mph in just three strides (10-ft. long strides),” our naturalist guide explained when discussing the dangers of approaching a wild animal. From bald eagles to elk, from bears to coyotes, from moose to mouse, the opportunities to see wildlife in Big Sky are endless. While the rain kept most of the wildlife in hiding during my stay, I was fortunate enough to see bald eagles fly overhead, buffalo, and even a mother moose with her calf.
In the cooler months, restaurants like Lotus Pad Asian Cuisine are cozy places to retreat after a long day on the slopes. In the summer they offer outdoor seating and seasonal menus using fresh ingredients and a variety of flavors. Bucks T-4 Restaurant is recognized as one of the finest dining experiences in Montana. Excelling at wild game, they have plates ranging from red deer to a vegetarian cauliflower “steak." My entrée was duck “fixed seven ways,” including a confit and a yolk cured in sea salt, served on top of duck bacon.
Choppers Grub and Pub is an upscale sports bar with a penchant for fancy bikes, an extensive wine list, plus 100 types of beer. There is usually music or some form of entertainment. It is also a favorite hangout for locals. “A guy will walk in and yell ‘I just got an elk!’ grab a beer, and get a group together to help bring it down the mountain,” a patron told me as I sat next to her at the bar.
An array of options for lodging—from hotels and condos to dude ranches to personal homes and luxury stays—are available in Big Sky.
River Rock Lodge is located in town center, with easy access to restaurants and shopping. Bring along your room key as you enjoy the town- River Rock Lodge has paired with many of them to get you deals and discounts. If you happen to be traveling with your dog, they have a few dog-friendly rooms for an additional $50/night. Book early as they go fast!www.riverrocklodging.com
Lone Mountain Ranch or 320 Ranch are the rustic, guest dude ranches that offer the complete experience, from horseback riding to rustic BBQ meals to log cabin sleeping that you’d expect from a trip ‘Out West’. www.lonemountainranch.com or www.320ranch.com
Big Sky Luxury Rentals will set you up in a high-end property based on your needs, pricing beginning at $199/night and going as high as $2,999/night.www.bigskyluxuryrentals.com
Big Sky Resort has an extensive list of options for lodging; ranging from condos to cabins to hotel rooms.www.bigskyresort.com