A scenic forty-mile drive south of Bozeman lands you in Big Sky, Montana; this resort, big on alpine allure, has seen a lot of growth in recent years and is slated to really blast off within the upcoming decade. And yet it’s doubtful it will ever become crowded. No, lift lines are more for Vail. Here in Big Sky you’re still too remote to have crowds become an issue. With the acquisition of Moonlight Basin and Spanish Peaks in 2013, Big Sky proudly boasts “the biggest skiing in America.” Indeed these purchases made Big Sky really big in terms of skiable terrain. Their amenities are keeping up with the boon, too. And there’s no doubt that some might venture here just to have the luxury of riding in one of their new, heated six-person chairlifts. With a plexiglass bubble to block the wind, that’s what you’d call one heck of a six pack.
The really big news is that Big Sky has developed Big Sky Town Center over the past decade and it has become a vital place of activity for the resort, something very much needed in this remote locale that has been largely populated by wildlife (and not people) for centuries. It’s no wonder there’s a Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center nearby in West Yellowstone! Speaking of Yellowstone, know that Big Sky Resort is considered basecamp to Yellowstone National Park. Their lineup of summertime activities in particular ranks tops.
If you’re into Nordic skiing, you can glide over eighty-five kilometers of groomed cross-country ski trails at Lone Mountain Ranch in Big Sky. There’s backcountry skiing in the region as well. Definitely line up a guide for that!
Ski the cold smoke up north at Bridger Bowl, just twenty minutes from the town of Bozeman. It’s a local’s ski area par excellence, which means you’ll see a lot of good skiing and riding and people that know how to have fun.
Also in the Bridger Mountains, you can find all kinds of ways to recreate at the Crosscut Mountain Sports Center. They have a terrific bunch of cross country ski trails. There’s backcountry access but make sure you know what you’re doing and where you’re going there as well. Like many of the other trails in the region, most of these runs turn into terrific hiking and biking terrain once the snow melts.
Everyone loves a good snow year. A healthy snowpack benefits one and all, especially when it comes to river rafting on the Gallatin, Yellowstone and Madison Rivers. (Typically in the mountains–especially in the northern Rockies–last night’s snowmelt is today’s water.) Montana Whitewater Rafting & Zipline Tours is the place to go for thrill seeking on and off–or rather above–the water.
Surely you’ve seen A River Runs Through It. Filmed in the area on the Gallatin River, this movie captures the rapturous delight of communing with nature in a tranquil and drop-dead gorgeous setting. Hey, and you never know, you just might see Brad Pitt stepping out of the woods to cast a line.
Whether you’re fishing or floating on it, or just walking along the river’s edge, you must also experience the mighty Yellowstone River. As the longest undammed river in the United States, it’s an outdoor enthusiast’s paradise. It’s still wide and wild and one of the most scenic places in the country. Several great outfitters can be found in Livingston where you can be paired up with some of the best fishing guides in the country and also be set up with the gear you need to embark on an excursion, whether guided or solo. You can’t go wrong with Angler’s West Flyfishing or Dan Bailey’s. And remember, always tip your guide. Your ski instructor too, for that matter. Just sayin.’
Gallatin River Guides are also an excellent resource for fishing in and around Big Sky. Sometimes they even take you to high alpine lakes and secret fishing holes. They operate year round, so be sure to pack lots of woolens.
Depending on the river’s flow, it’s super fun to be out in a raft, a kayak or if you’re really good, a paddle board. That’s outside of winter, of course. Rubber Ducky River Rentals can hook you up and even provide some good pointers to keep you afloat.
Thinking about ice, rock or mountain climbing? What about backcountry skiing? As stated above, best to line up a guide, especially here in the northern Rockies where the weather can be fierce. Montana Alpine Guides, based in Bozeman offers the expertise of many super-pro guides. You can also learn and/or practice your climbing skills at Spire Climbing Center, located in Bozeman as well.
OK, let’s dial it down a bit. How about a nice, easy hike for the family, one out in the middle of spectacular nature that offers views of a towering waterfall? Plus, it won’t cost you more than the price of gas, drinks and sandwiches for your picnic lunch. Go to Palisade Falls in Hyalite Canyon, a short drive from Bozeman, for this and lots of great photo opps, too. The “M” trail is also very popular and offers spectacular views of the valley.
After all this outdoor activity, you may want to go to the Bozeman Hot Springs for a nice soak.
For a true Montana experience after a big day in the big outdoors, spend your evenings listening to live music at Pine Creek Lodge or the Old Saloon, both in Livingston. They serve up tasty food there as well.